This is the view from the cable car station on Grouse Mountain, just north of Vancouver.

NBC Sports has selected this spot to set up its Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics studio.

Grouse may be one of the view places in the world where one can hop on a city bus and be skiing just a short time after having walked on the beach.

In the summer it's the home of tourists and exercise enthusiasts who experience the hiking and other outdoors activities in and around the nearby peaks.

I celebrated my birthday by walking in the area, hiking along the north side of the mountain where I was surprised and scared out of my wits by a large bear on the trail. I was very happy to later celebrate my escape with a bottle of beer and by taking in the view from the peak, at just over 1,250 meters above sea level.

A view of English Bay

Here's one of my sketches of English Bay from Vancouver's West End.

From this densely populated area of apartment buildings and hotels the view looking out to sea is spectacular, especially at sunset. Tankers arrive from far away ports and wait in the Bay to be called in to the harbour for loading. They have become an integral part of the city's view. At twighlight, they turn their navigation lights on and they twinkle out on the water. The building on the right with the dark ring around it is the Empire Landmark Hotel, which sports a rotating restaurant on the top floor.

According to, the area acquired its name from the 1792 meeting between the British sea captain Vancouver and his Spanish counterparts Valdez and Galiano. The same meeting resulted in the naming of the Spanish Banks nearby, an area which is home to three of Vancouver's best beaches.
This is a quick sketch of the view below Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge as seen from the seawall in Stanley Park. Structures like this fascinate me. Thousands of tons of steel suspended in the air, held up by cables hundreds of metres in the air, vehicles and passengers crossing it every day. It's an amazing sight from both below and from above the road surface. When you're looking up from underneath you can clearly see all the support beams and how the weight has been been distributed; you hear the rumbling of tires over grated steel as vehicles move over each section.

Completed in 1938, the Lions Gate Bridge spans the First Narrows section of Burrard Inlet, linking the city of Vancouver with the municipalities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver on the northern shore of the Inlet. The construction of the bridge was made possible by a purchase of land by the Guinness family, the same family related to the famous Irish beer. Together with other entrepreneurs, in the late 20s and early 30s they bought a large tract of land on the mountainside in West Vancouver. This allowed the project to proceed, as many local residents and business people were originally against the idea and had voted against it.

The bridge is popularly known as the Lions Gate, because it points in the direction of the Lions, two mountain peaks north of Vancouver.

The other day, I rode my bicycle across it. There is a separate sidewalk and bike lane on either side of the road surface. Only a handrail remains between the bridge and the empty space below. For someone like me who's not comfortable with heights, it takes a bit of courage to ride your bike next to that rail, but the view is spectacular.

Here's an overhead look , taken by a photographer in a seaplane landing in Vancouver harbour:

The bridge is a classic Vancouver landmark. On the day I rode across it, I was headed back downtown when I saw a large cruise ship leaving harbour. I stopped my bike, leaned it against the railing and waited for the ship to pass underneath. With a couple of pedestrians who had also stopped halfway across the bridge, I peered down on the thousands of people who were enjoying the view of the coastal mountains from the deck of the Norwegian Sun. Young people were playing basketball on deck in an enclosed area and the swimming pool was busy; but mostly passengers had gathered in the upper decks in the front of the ship or on their private balconies to get a last look of Vancouver as they headed off either to Alaska or down the coast to California, I don't know which. Everyone waved. The great ship passed. I carefully got back on my bike and headed downhill into the coolness of the forest in Stanley Park.


Aerial photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
For a related story on Stanley Park , see this post.

Solo adventurer takes on the Pacific Ocean and shares all on-line

The other day, surfing through Leo Laporte's popular This Week in Technology site, I stumbled across his archive of weekly web conversations with Roz Savage. Who is Roz Savage? As I discovered, she is a remarkable woman who is rowing solo across the Pacific Ocean. (Think about that for a minute: the Pacific Ocean, alone!)

Her story is one of self discovery. In the year 200o she decided to change her life and embrace one based on adventure and discovery. She left her home and job in England and gradually shed her possessions, keeping only the things that had real value to her. She adopted a new philosophy and later decided she wanted to try something very unusual: row across the Atlantic. Despite her lack of experience, she overcame many obstacles and accomplished that feat. And now she's taking on an even greater challenge, attempting to row from the United States to Australia.

Roz is baring her soul, her ups and downs (literally and metaphorically), daily on the Internet. Roz's boat bobbing out there in the Pacific is equipped with devices that permit her to send e-mails and write a blog. The entries are startling for their honesty and for what they reveal of a psyche experiencing this type of physical and mental test. You can read her comments and see her photos at her site here.

One of Roz's objectives is to raise awareness about environmental issues like plastic pollution, climate change and the destruction of wildlife habitats. She has inspired many with her courageous spirit. She's also become a motivational writer and speaker. Here are some of her life lessons, as she explains on her site:

[Sunday Times, 23 April 2006]

  • Don’t waste mental energy asking yourself if you CAN do something. Just do it. You’ll surprise yourself. I did.
  • Be clear about your objectives. Ignore others, stay true to yourself and measure success only against your own criteria. I was last to finish the race – big deal. I went out there to learn about myself, and I did.
  • The only constant in life is change. So don’t get depressed by the bad times, and don’t get over-excited by good ones. Accept that things are exactly as they are, and even bad times have something to teach us.
  • Life can be magical, but magic only gets you so far. Then you need discipline, determination and dedication to see it through.
  • Hope can hurt. The danger is that you hope for too much and set yourself up for disappointment. Be optimistic but realistic. Nothing is ever as good or as bad as you expect it to be.
  • Be mindful of the link between present action and desired future outcome. Ask yourself: if I repeat today’s actions 365 times, will I be where I want to be in a year?
  • Decision-making: act in faith, not fear, and don’t worry about making a ‘wrong’ decision – the way you implement it is more important than the decision itself.
  • Be your own best friend. The more you rely on other people, the less control you have over your destiny.
  • Be proud of your own obituary: a few years ago I wrote two versions of my obituary, the one I wanted and the one I was heading for. They were very different. I realized I needed to make some big changes if I was going to look back and be proud of my life. I am making those changes, and now I have a life worth living.

Photo of Roz arriving off Hawaii is made available by her and is used with permission.

If you'd like to listen to her weekly conversations with Leo Laporte, you can find them at Leo's site here.

Is technology dulling our senses?

Has our love of technology so diminished awareness of our surroundings that we are now impaired in our social relations?

I stumbled across two interesting articles this week that highlight this question. One relates to our use of cellular devices; the other to social behaviour in museums, of all places.

USA Today looked at what happens when people spend a lot of time texting, talking on mobile devices or listening to mp3 players. The result is a phenomenon we're all familiar with: lots of us are "present, yet absent." This has many social and personal implications. For example, while on vacation to exotic locales some people walk around with their heads down sending messages instead of experiencing the natural beauty they paid good money to experience. At restaurants, conversations (and relationships) are impaired when we pay more attention to incoming and outgoing messages than the conversation we're also having with our own partners.

Are we becoming "post-human" and are we losing valuable R & R time? Find out in Olivia Barker's story here.

In The New York Times, meanwhile, Michael Kimmelman writes an observational piece about tourists roaming museums. Watching visitors in the Louvre in Paris, Kimmelman asks himself what, exactly, are tourists doing and how do they react when confronted with a work of art? The answer, most of the time, is that they are taking hasty snapshots and moving on. During a morning of observation, almost nobody paused in front of an object for more than 60 seconds.

Kimmelman contrasts this experience with that of visitors in the pre-digital era, when people would bring sketchbooks to museums and interact with a work for much longer. He points out that artists see things differently. "Artists fortunately remind us that there’s in fact no single, correct way to look at any work of art, save for with an open mind and patience," he writes. One cannot review one's "lifetime art history requirements in a day."

Fortunately, not everyone that morning was impatient to move on to the next photo opportunity, as you'll see in the story here.


Thanks to John Lee for his photograph of texting on a mobile phone and to Christian Bauer for his shot of the exterior of the Louvre Museum.

For a related story in Zanepost, see "The present is the only thing that's real."

Solar forest

This elegant concept by designer Neville Mars is an ingenious solution to a question related to electric vehicles. I admit the problem has been tugging at me, too. The dilemma is this: if so many people want electric cars for a greener world, then where is all that additional electricity going to come from? Won't it just boost our demand for even more energy and add to our carbon footprint in other ways?

This clever design answers that question with another : why not solar power?

The trees in Mars' concept have branches that hold photovoltaic leaves. They slowly move to follow the sun's trajectory in the sky and also provide shade. A power outlet is located at the base of each tree trunk so that a driver can recharge a vehicle while he or she goes shopping.

Mars has put together a video demonstration that you can view here. (You will need Quicktime to play it. Let the video load fully before you press the "play" icon. It takes a few seconds.)

Mars founded the Dynamic City Foundation in 2003, an organization focused on researching and designing the rapid transformation of China's urban landscapes. He also launched, a collaborative web site also focused on holistic urban development of China.

You can read more about him at his bio page, here.

Images by Neville Mars

Vancouver's summer

After a week in Vancouver, I'm starting to wonder if this is the same city I visited a few months ago. It's been sunny and very hot for seven days in a row and more of the same on the way. Normally, the city has moderate temperatures and lots of precipitation. Many homes and apartments don't have air conditioning. In the morning, standing at water dispensers in cool office buildings, people have been sharing their insomnia woes. Fans and air conditioners have been flying off store shelves.

Sleepwalking or not, it's still a great time for those who like to hang out at the beach.

But for some, the heat and dry air have been bad news: forest fires in the province's interior and in the mountains have forced residents to leave their homes. The fires have been sparked by lightning strikes, mainly. While crews have battled flames non-stop in the wilderness, including a fire at Blackcomb, near the site of the Winter Olympics, here in the city there is no sign of rain.

We have had artificial fires, mind you, with the HSBC Celebration of Light event, which is an annual fireworks competition on the waterfront. This year it featured teams from South Africa, Canada, the U.K. and China. You can get an idea of what it's been like by watching this casual YouTube video, posted by a local resident.

To the newcomer, Vancouver stands out for its Anglo-Asian-Aboriginal ethnic mix; but it's also a city of many languages. Like Toronto, this city is a true cultural mosaic. In addition, cruise ships arrive at dawn and discharge hundreds of tourists and shoppers fill Robson Street and the downtown core. I've heard Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Russian, Farsi and a whole range of other languages in my walks downtown. The 2009 World Police and Fire Games are being held in nearby Burnaby, and this has added even more visitors to the streets, as groups of fit-looking people (mainly men) wander in groups wearing their national colours. Coincidentally, it's also time for Vancouver's gay pride parade. I'm not saying the two things are related, of course, but you get the picture.

Vancouver is also very cyclist-friendly, with many biking trails in town and near the seawalls. Lots of people also commute to work on their bikes. They've inspired me, and I have bought a bicycle of my own.