Catching up with a few Radical friends

Not long after our trip out to the Lower Mainland entered the books, I hit up some old friends of mine through Twitter, to see if they’d be interested in a get-together. I hadn’t actually seen some of them in over a decade (even Joel I hadn’t seen in at least three years), and it just seemed a perfect thing to do.
Twitter has become a perfect way of bringing people together. Just as last year, when I met up with my old friend Sonny, I’m finding Twitter to be an intensively useful tool to meet up with friends long-unseen. In this case, it became a catalyst, and we dragged in a non-Twitterer while we were at it.
And it was a good evening, however short.
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Great Canadian Video Game Contest

In a previous life, I worked for Radical Entertainment, maker of video games. Very fun company, very fun job. Well, when I wasn’t writing technical documents, which is about the most boring job I think I’ve ever done.
Even though it’s been almost 7.5 years, I do still miss working there. But I know that today, Radical’s a very different place.
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2002, A Year in Review

“Another year, come and gone” it wasn’t. This has perhaps been the single most turbulent year of my life. I had the deep low of my father’s death, coupled with the meteoric high of participating with the CBC 50th Anniversary train. Many times I thought I was going to lose my sanity or even my job. Perseverence, not to mention blind faith, helps moves things forward. But I did live up to a few things last year (see [[2001, A Year in Review]]): I spent more time out of the office. Not really getting a life, but it’s a start.
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2001, A Year in Review

It’s been quite a year — but aren’t they always? I suspect when I stop having years like these, I’m gonna get bored real quick. It’s had more than its fair share of ups and downs, but it’s not what I would call a “bad” year (events of 11 September notwithstanding, of course).
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Visiting Vancouver, Blue Jays and Mariners Baseball Game in Seattle

It was once said that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Fear is the oppressor of souls and nations. It is the beginnings of hatred and suffering. And it’s what has kept me away from Vancouver. Fear of my past. Fear of opening old wounds.
This is why on Friday past, one year, two months, and four days since I left Vancouver, that I felt it was time to face those fears.
Well, actually, it was a month earlier that I made the decision, but you get my point…
It basically stemmed from one email I received from my friend Greg, suggesting I come out to see a baseball game in Seattle with some of my former co-workers (and current friends) from Radical. It was part spur-of-the-moment, part “I really need to get out of this office for a couple days!”, but when it really came down to it, it was time for me to go back.
I’d had the opportunity a couple times before, the most recent previous one being an invitation to Katrina’s “Glug” party, a tradition she and Guy have at Christmas. However, I’d never really felt ready. I had always said I was busy (which was true), but primarily, I knew that mentally and emotionally, I hadn’t forced off my demons — I wasn’t ready to go back.
Rising early on Friday, I made my way to the airport to catch my 7:50am flight to Vancouver. I took public transit, partly for the heck of it, and partly so I’d get a better idea of times for the next time I do this. Not having the best information available on times and schedules, I ended up with about 20 minutes to wait for the bus once I’d reached the end of the C-Train line.
I watched the sun rise above the houses, casting long shadows across the bus terminal, and shedding light on a dawn of reawakening. (It’s amazing the stuff you can dish out when you’re being philosophical, eh?) It was my first real thoughts about what I was about to do. Would I run into my past, and would she confront me? Would I see any of her friends? And more importantly, what would I do? These were questions I was unable to answer, even though I’ve been thinking about that very thing for over a year.
Soon I found myself at the airport, awaiting the boarding for the flight. Unlike my previous flights with Air Canada (see [[Christmas in Oakville, New Years Eve in Calgary]]), this flight left right on time. The flight was uneventful — up, breakfast, read, down. All told, about an hour and 10 minutes.
Descending into Vancouver was … weird. I recognized everything. Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster, the Port Mann Bridge, Metrotown, the Richmond Auto Mall, IKEA. It almost felt like I’d never left, but at the same time, there was a strange feeling. Something between excitement and knowing you’re being watched.
BC Transit being on strike, I had to take a taxi to get out of the airport. (Although Greg had offered to pick me up, I had told him not to waste his time — I knew he already had a killer schedule, and going to the airport is quite a bit out of his way.) The trip was quite, pleasant, and a brisk drive down memory lane. In less than 20 minutes, I was standing on the corner of 10th and Granville, wondering what I was going to do next.
The first thing I did was call Lee, who had been Radical’s Director of QA and the coach of the Rad Sox. Being already at work, we agreed to meet that night, as planned, at Soho’s in Yaletown. I so proceeded to step #2 — wait. I wanted to hold off until about 9:30 before calling Katrina (another friend and former co-worker), but I didn’t want to disturb her too early in the morning. (More on this in a few paragraphs.)
So it was off to one of a thousand local Starbuck’s to indulge in my second hot chocolate of the morning (the first being at the Blenz in Calgary airport). I sat, sipping my venti, and really thought about where I was. I actually sat with my back to the door, a little worried about who might walk through it.
Irrational fears are the worst kind.
After pondering the state of affairs for about a half hour (ventis are pretty big), I retreated to the moist Vancouver air, and proceeded to contact Katrina. I had hoped to meet up with her that morning, as I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do that day. I had originally hoped to meet up with Lee for coffee, and then visit with Katrina later that morning. However, things don’t always go according to plan — Katrina was busy getting all the things she and her husband needed to pack everything in their home so they could move to San Francisco.
I sat next to Katrina for two years. She’s one of the people I miss most about Vancouver, along with several of my co-workers. They were what made my life there happier than it would have been. But now Katrina was also an ex-Radicalite, and moving on with her life by accepting a position at Pixar. Yes, the same people who brought you the “Toy Story” movies and “A Bug’s Life”. Not only am I impressed, but I can actually say I know someone at Pixar. This was too cool.
Resigning myself to having a morning on my own, I proceeded to run errands. First was a quick stop to the bank to deposit a rebate cheque (I had to deposit it in person, and getting to the bank during the day ain’t easy). I then stopped quickly at Bernard Callebaut to pick up some chocolates as a kind of “bon voyage” present for Katrina and Guy.
Then I wandered. I wander well, particularly when I have nothing else to do, and I know (more or less) where I’m going.
I headed towards downtown along Granville. I decided I wanted to go to Burrard Inlet and look around. It wasn’t a great day — the sky was overcast and I was being spit on periodically from above — but it was good day for looking around. But being in a wandering mood, I made a side trip through Granville Island, one of my favourite places in the city.
On my way in, I stopped to donate some spare change to Jack “The Bear”, a self-employed social worker who strives to make his “group” (whomever they are) better off. I’d seen and heard of this guy before, and not being in a rush, I allowed myself (somewhat unwittingly) to end up in a half-hour pseudo-speech. He’s an articulate man, and he certainly has some interesting ideas. I tried to offer a few suggestions (his ideas, though good, need the odd improvement), but getting a word in edgewise is … well, let’s just say it’s easier sliding papers between the blocks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
I wandered about the Island a bit, and went into the market. They say that smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers. The second I walked in the door, it felt like someone was force feeding me 1,000 TV channels at once as snippets of two years suddenly raced through my mind. Some good, some bad … but after a moment, all I could smell was the produce, and food is always good. It took a lot of will power to get out of the market without buying anything.
I exited the Island via the Aquabus, which ferried me to the other side of False Creek. This was far better than walking all the way back to the foot of the Granville Street Bridge, and then walking all the way back downtown again. I hadn’t really noticed how much I missed the smell of the sea, not until I got near the water. The smell is unmistakable, and wonderful. I think I was a fish in a previous life…
The wandering continued as I worked my way down Granville. Not much had changed — same stores, same buildings, even some of the same people. The city line had a few new condos, and there was the odd old building reduced to a parking lot, but otherwise it was the same. Tagging (a form of graffiti) was very prevalent, especially at the Paradise and Caprice theatres (both now closed). Not unsurprising, I hate to say. The Eaton’s was open again. A new pub sat kiddie-corner, which had been abandoned or under construction during the entire time I was in Vancouver. A new London Drugs is open at the corner of Granville and Georgia. It used to be book store, which went under when Chapters moved into town. The London Drugs had moved from its old store further down the road, now open to anyone silly enough to lease the space.
Canada Place was seeing some new construction. I had vaguely remembered a plan to expand the pier to increase convention space. The plan, it seemed, was thoroughly under way. As such, my favourite vantage point to view Burrard Inlet was unavailable. Instead, I took up a viewpoint on the promenade between Waterfront Station and the Province’s building.
Although the view was essentially the same as the last time I’d viewed it, something seemed different. Not as much life — it seemed almost a little dead. I don’t know if it was a changed perspective due to my departure a year earlier, or if it was the weather. It almost looked like someone had dropped out some of the colour from the image I was seeing.
I was still a little afraid, I think.
Through Waterfront Station, and onto Water Street, I walked through Gastown. Not much had changed there, either. A couple stores had moved, a couple closed, and one lot (or building, I’m not sure which) had been opened up. I think there had been a restaurant there once, but I can’t really remember. The same burned out husk of a building sat across the street from the Olde Spaghetti Factory, though the structure supports had been beefed up a lot. I shook my head, wondering what on earth was going on there.
I turned up Carrall Street, and headed back towards False Creek, Science World glinting in the distance. In moments, I realized that I’d made a bit of a blunder. This is what I get for pondering and not paying attention. I found myself at the corner of Carrall and W. Hastings. It’s known as Pigeon Park, and has the highest murder rate of any location in Canada. It’s not pleasant during the day … but you don’t go near it at night. I briskly walked through and on across the road. I didn’t feel safer until a couple of blocks later.
I stalled a bit longer (I wasn’t due at Radical until almost 1pm) and made a side trip through the International Village, a large mall, still mostly empty over a year and a half since it opened. It looks really nice, but I wonder how much money they must lose from the lack of tenants.
Up Abbott, I arrived at Pacific. This took me over towards Quebec Street, and onto Terminal Avenue. I was in the home stretch. Aside from Greg, I hadn’t seen anyone from Radical in over a year. Fear was rapidly being overcome by nervous combination of excitement and panic.
My first run-in was with Fernando and one of the Foundation developers, whose name I couldn’t remember, even though he started at Radical the same day I did (my panic began to rise as I realized I couldn’t remember names). A few moments later, I entered the foyer of Radical’s new home, and headed right to the top floor.
The receptionist I didn’t recognize. Lisa was gone, so I find out, having quit back in the summer. Greg could not be found, nor could Joel. Luckily, we could find Neall. As I waited for him to arrive, I heard my name being called by Allison. She had also started the same day as me, but unlike myself, was quite comfortable at her job. She looked good as ever, and still bore the same wonderful smile she always seemed to have.
Neall hadn’t changed much, either — though I was just as happy to see him again. The reunions started to come quickly as Dave appeared through the main door, and Fred from the back office. Names were flitting around in my head so fast, I knew I was going to be in trouble. I nearly forgot Fred’s…
Neall offered to take me on a quick tour, and show me what Radical had moved in to. Having used up all their old space, Radical had taken a lease in a near-brand new building, and had the interior made up to their specifications. It’s quite nice, really … especially the log cabin in the common room.
Yes, a log cabin. It’s their home theatre. I’ve seen and heard of some pretty wacky things in companies, but this is one of the wackiest. The common room at Radical is two stories tall, and easily big enough to fit a small house. It also has a 270+ degree view of Vancouver, including what must be a magnificent view of the North Shore.
A new building, but it wasn’t much different than the old building — totally organic space, managers in the middle, work teams scattered around the outside. Greg had commented that Critical Mass’ building looks more polished, but for the environment, I know a lot of people here would prefer Radical’s setup.
Eric was still in a dungeon. This is where he likes to be — in the dark, away from everyone. I assume it lets him get on with his work. Martin was with him, discussing physics calculations. Mark was in the office he shared with Neall, looking none the worse for wear. Across from the office was Jean-Luc and Senta (whose name I sadly forgot, and I felt like such a heel for forgetting it), and a desk away was Nigel. He summed up my return rather succinctly: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Down the floor, I ran into Lisa (the office manager) and Cliff (one of the IT guys). I inadvertently interrupted their conversation, but they didn’t seem to mind too much. Neall took me down a floor to show me around a bit more. There were a lot of familiar faces, but many of them without names. I was now feeling particularly bad about forgetting so many people. It wasn’t until later that I remembered Yayoi’s and Rod’s names, something I’m not horribly proud of. Jesse seemed a bit surprised to see me, but then I don’t think he knew I was coming out.
Returning to the seventh floor, I finally found Greg. He immediately started to apologize for not being around. Greg was up to his neck in E3 preparations. The game he’s working on has to be down there for exhibition, and there were still a lot of issues to clear up. Although it had been planned a month in advance, I hadn’t picked the best weekend to come out.
Just before lunch, I finally ran into Tim, my old boss. He’s now one of the VPs (Neall is now the head of Pure3D), although I don’t know of what specifically. He had always been a fairly serious person while I was there, but he seemed somehow happier. I’m not sure if it was the haircut, but he looked better off.
Members of Pure3D (Neall, Mark, Nigel) and Pure3D alumni (Kevin, Greg, Gabe, and myself) all went out for lunch, to a place called The Whip. (Gabe picked us up; like me, Gabe is also an ex-Radicalite.) It seemed somehow wrong that we weren’t eating anything Asian. Pure3D ritual had been typically Chinese. This was definitely not Chinese … although it was very tasty. The conversation, though, was definitely Pure3D.
The more things change…
After lunch, I finally met up with Joel. He’d been a bit of a harder character to find, being the lead programmer for one of Radical’s projects (meetings being the bane of his existence). He looked tired, like everyone else on the team. Being sick probably didn’t help much, either. We talked for a while, but I chose to keep the conversation fairly short, as he was busy dealing with the crises of getting a game ready for E3.
I took the opportunity to leave Radical and go visit with Katrina and Guy. By now, it was raining outside, so I was quite happy to find the Aquabus still running between Science World and Stamp’s Landing, where Katrina and Guy live. They were home, and it only took a few moments (with a bit of direction) to get down to their slip.
Oh, did I mention they live on a sailboat?
This was why it was so difficult for them to get ready to move. Not only do they have to pack their belongings, they have to move their house as well. Logically, not an easy move. But they seemed fairly calm about it — most people get downright cranky when they move.
I spent most of the afternoon with them, talking for a while, but them helping them pack. It was partly because I wanted to get the skinny on their move. It had come out of nowhere (at least from my perspective), and I was very curious to get their thoughts on it. They were excited. New place, new challenges, and it sounded like a lot of fun. Not wanting to get in their way of packing, I’d also offered to help them pack. Katrina and I spent the afternoon wrapping things in bubble wrap.
I probably stayed longer than I really should have, but I felt compelled to not just drop in for a few minutes and then bolt. After all, I’d spent two years sitting next to Katrina, working with her, talking with her, and learning from her. Besides, until I go to San Francisco, I don’t know when (or even if) I’ll ever see her again.
At 7:00, all three of us had to leave. Katrina and Guy were going to a friend’s place, and I was due to go to SoHo’s and meet up with Lee (and hopefully, people whose names I could remember). Despite being nearly 40 minutes late by the time I got there, I was the first to show. (Hopefully, we didn’t scare off any other potential revellers.) The second person to arrive was Ryan, a Radicalite whom I wasn’t sure was there to come out with us, or was meeting other friends. Luckily, he remembered me, and reintroduced himself. I was glad, because even when I was at Radical, I really didn’t know who he was…
We talked at length until Lee arrived. You’d swear no time had passed since the last time I’d seen her. She didn’t look a day older, and was just as upfront as ever, just the way we love her. It didn’t take long for any awkwardness to pass. Soon, we were embroiled in animated conversation, along with one of Lee’s co-workers, who had also come out. Not too many Radicalites (ex or otherwise) came out that night, although I was very happy to see Lisa (the ex-receptionist) again. I’d always thought I’d gotten along with her very well, and had missed saying “hi” to her every morning.
Somewhere in the evening, I stopped looking over my shoulder. I stopped looking in the shadows. I stopped being apprehensive. It was like I suddenly knew the story, like I’d already seen the movie and knew exactly when the creepy, half-dead monster leaps out. It was like the fear had dissipated like morning fog. Sure, the past will always be there, but spending the day in Vancouver, and with my friends, had shown me there was nothing to fear. It was only then that I truly felt relaxed.
Neall appeared around 10:30, and joined our little group. Greg made a brief appearance, only to apologize for not coming out. The debate of where I would stay that night (begun earlier in the day) apparently had been solved — Neall would drop me off at Mark’s on our way home in preparation for the next day. This left Greg to quickly go to a friend’s birthday party, catch a few hours sleep, and get back to work early the next day. Sadly, because of the deadline, Greg wasn’t coming with us.
Neall and I finally managed to leave SoHo’s around 12:30. I gave Lee a big hug (we’d had a good, deep conversation for most of the night, and I remembered all over again why I missed being around people like her), and stepped out into the cool night. Neall and I walked back to Radical, enjoying the walk, and talking about the state of Radical. It was refreshing to see how things had evolved since I’d left. It was very reassuring to see that management (including Neall, now that’s he’s part of the “establishment”) still has a firm grip and good steer of the Good Ship Radical.
Fires were raging when we got into the office. A Pure3D patch hadn’t taken well, and Neall had to help out Vlad (the technical director) to get the software working again. Also, we were giving Eric a lift, and he was still working out a few issues with a demo he was programming. (He’d been at it since late Wednesday, I believe … non-stop. He hadn’t gone home.) Due to these reasons, we didn’t leave until nearly 2:30. This also meant I was now staying at Neall’s, because it was now too late to go to Mark’s.
I crashed on Neall’s couch that night. I was exhausted. I’d been up for just about 23 hours straight since that morning, walked about 10 kilometres since that morning, ate almost nothing outside of a sandwich at lunch, and was ready to fall dead. I was asleep in seconds.
The alarm came far too early for my liking. But we had to get rolling fast — we had a baseball game to go to. Although the game didn’t start until 1:05pm, we had to pick up Neall’s sister, drive to Mark’s, pick up Gabe, and then drive to Seattle. It’s not a long drive, but it still takes time. Although we moved as fast as possible, we were delayed by a mysterious case of nose bleed, which I have yet to explain. (It plagued me the entire weekend.)
After a slight detour to pick up Angie (Neall’s sister), we arrived at Mark and Carol’s to switch to a different vehicle. Our trip to Seattle would be in style — a Warner Brothers edition Chevy Venture. Nothing like being able to play video games and watch movies during the trip. Then it was off through to the west end of Richmond to pick up Gabe. It was almost 10am by the time we were all on our way to the border.
We arrived in Seattle around noon. Mark deftly whizzed us through the various onramps and city streets towards the Port of Seattle, where Safeco Field lies. (It’s adjacent to the site of the former Kingdome, now the site of the new football stadium.) You can’t miss Safeco Field — it’s big. And it’s colour is unique for the area it sits in. There I found that Carol wasn’t joining the game with us — she was going shopping while we enjoyed America’s pastime. Unfortunately, that also meant she took the van with her, which contained my jacket. (Upon hopping out, Gabe and I declared that it was warm enough to go without jackets — Angie and Mark were far wiser, and Neall had a heavy shirt.)
Safeco Field, although new and (assumedly) state-of-the-art, was built in the tradition of the great baseball fields: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field, and Comiskey Park. It’s also a dedicated baseball stadium — no other sports (or events, as near as I can tell) occupy the space. The field is grass, and the stands are open to the wind — only the roof rolls shut to block out the rain (important on the West Coast).
Our seats were at first base, about 20 rows up. Aside from the overhang of the upper deck which blocked the view of some of the flies, they were great seats. We were also one row away from the promenade, where we could find virtually any snack food imaginable, including the ubiquitous hot dogs, but also garlic fries, fish and chips, clam chowder, hamburgers, pizza … and all by local companies, no McDonald’s or Versa Foods here.
This was Game 2 in a series between the Mariners and the Blue Jays. The last time I’d seen a Blue Jays game was about 10 years ago in Skydome, though it might have been 11 — I’ve seen so many, I’m not entirely sure. Almost all of my Jays games had been courtesy of a family friend, Mr. Gairdner, who offered us his season tickets from time to time. I had forgotten in those years just how much fun professional baseball really is.
Well, when you’re not freezing to death.
I made one major mistake. I left my jacket in the car. I should have been smart and brought it with me. But no, I thought I was fine. Stupid me. I forgot that I was on the West Coast, where the humidity is much higher. I’m beginning to realize that until the temperature rises into the low 20s (Celsius, of course), it will always be cold for me in the more humid regions of the world. Living in Calgary has dried me out, and my immunity to the cold seems to have waned. I can hack -20 degree weather here quite easily. But minus six in Toronto was brutal at Christmas (I wasn’t even phased by -20 when I used to live in Ontario), and I was finding that even 13 degrees in Seattle was cold, especially with the wind. I chose to put up with the chilliness, rather than fork out the money for a Mariner’s jacket…
The opening ceremonies were a different spin on what I remember from Toronto. Like the Hitmen games I’d seen last month, Major League Baseball now has games to entertain viewers — kids’ home run derbies, and pitching contests. Personally, I think it cheapens the game, reducing the game to almost something of a sideshow.
What impressed me was the singing of the national anthems. They brought in the Walla Walla High School Chamber Group. Although American, they sung perhaps the most amazing rendition of “O Canada” I’ve ever heard. It actually brought a tear to my eye. Mark was the only one of us who sang along … I usually don’t because my singing usually sends people running for dear life. The choir’s rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” was, sadly, typically American — seldom sung the way it was written. There are times I’m glad I’m Canadian, where our national anthem is sung only two ways, English and French, and is always the same length.
I’m not entire sure how many Canadians were there that day (we saw a few Canadian flags floating around), but there was a fair bit of cheering when Toronto took the field. Understandably, though, the cheering was much louder when Seattle came out … especially for their right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. He’s one of two Japanese players with Seattle, and both are immensely popular, the other being closing pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki. They’re good players — Ichiro hits a mean ball, and Kazuhiro throws a pretty vicious pitch.
The game was tight — a couple home runs, some really great fielding, good solid hits, and the odd error made for some really good drama. I remembered watching the World Series back in 1992 in the townhouse I shared with roommates Roger, Ed, and Brian, screaming at the mistakes and groaning every hit the Braves made during the sixth game of the World Series, only to later wake the dead (along with everyone else in the complex) as the Jays went onto victory.
Different team, different city, different opponents, and not even a championship on the line … the emotions were all the same. We all huffed at missed chances, cheered for the really good plays, and whined when the Mariners scored. Luckily, it wasn’t a blow-out for either team — a good solid race clear through. The only way I would’ve enjoyed it more was if I’d been warmer.
By the seventh inning, I was chilled to the bone. Neall noticed my sad plight, and literally gave me the shirt off his back. I knew the four of them were laughing me — admittedly, I was laughing at myself. Once upon a time, the cold didn’t bother me. I hate to admit it, but I’m a damp weather wimp now.
The game ended on a down note — the Jays lost 7-5. After watching the roof close (which is a bit of spectacle in itself), we worked our way out and tried to meet up with Carol. The only problem was navigating through the 42,000 other fans who were doing roughly the same thing. Fortunately for us, Carol and I were both equipped with cell phones, so after a few conversations, we managed to all meet up.
Departing the port, we headed into the downtown area, to Pioneer Square, and the Elliott Bay Book Store. This is perhaps the coolest book store I’ve ever been in. It’s huge — about the size of a chapters, only with more books. And it’s in (what I would assume to be) a heritage building. Being from Alberta, buying books in the States doesn’t really save me any money, so I just took the time to look around.
Hunger soon had it’s call, though, and we were off in search of food. Unfortunately, no-one was particularly helpful in deciding where to go. We drove somewhat aimlessly around Seattle trying to find a place to eat, all the while asking “where are we going?”. We ultimately ended up at 13 Coins, a restaurant Mark had learned about in a travel guide.
One day, I will finally obtain proof that the restaurants that appear in travel guides are only there because the restaurateurs bribed the author. Of all the so-called great places to eat that I’ve read about, only a couple were actually good. Unfortunately, 13 Coins wasn’t one of them.
This place had decor that even Elvis would be terrified of. I was convinced that someone had loved the 70s so much, that they refused to redecorate with anything less awful. But when you take into account the “cheese factor” of such a place, it’s kind of interesting … for a novelty, that is.
The quality of the food, so I’ve found, usually matches the decor. And believe me, it was pretty darn hard to find something on the menu that I wanted to eat. (Mind you, it was mostly because I was still full from the hot dog, chicken strips and fries, and the tepidly bland hot chocolate I’d had at Safeco Field.) I settled on a Philadelphia Steak Sandwich, which turned out to be a small piece of beef on garlic toast. Not great, but I’ve had worse.
The trip back to Vancouver was marked with the showing of “The Matrix”. (Note to self: Make sure there is a video system in my next car.) Despite it being one of my favourite movies, I still fell asleep for about an hour or so. The movie ended just as we were pulling into Richmond, and dropped off Gabe. The next stop was at Radical, where I was going to meet up with Greg. I grabbed all my things (I’d brought my bag with me), and said goodbye. I called up to Greg, who came down to let me in. A quick thumbs-up sent Mark, Carol, Neall, and Angie off into the night.
Greg, along with several of his team members, were hard at work on their game. It was going to be a late night, which Greg immediately started apologizing for. But frankly, I didn’t mind hanging out at Radical. I always liked hanging out there, even when I was the only one. It was a fun company, and near as I can tell, still is. Greg and I struck a happy medium — while he coded, I would test.
So for the next four hours, I played a game that no-one will see for about four months. And no, I can’t tell you anything about it. I will say this — it’s a LOT of fun. Greg, like most of the programmers I worked with at Radical, are wizards — they can churn out some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen or played. This game was no different. Although it won’t set any new standards for graphics, the game play is outstanding … definitely better than another game that will ultimately be compared so when it finally ships.
The game doesn’t wrap up until early August. So why the crunch in early May? The Electronic Entertainment Exposition, known as E3, which is in mid-May. This is when all the Christmas games first appear. This is when game companies try to outdo each other. This is *the* event if you work in the video game industry. And this game is debuting there. Like any good video game project, they were under the gun to tweak enough stuff to make it play really well, and make a lot of people very jealous.
Personally, I think they nailed it perfectly.
Somewhere around 2am, Greg and I headed out for his place in very east Burnaby. We stayed up for a short while and talked, but we were both so tired, we opted for sleep instead.
Sunday morning came around 9:30. I was still exhausted from the day before, but rose and showered and prepared for the day. Not there was much to prepare for — there wasn’t much on the agenda. A quick breakfast at IHOP, and we went back into the office. We weren’t there too long, as I had to go to the airport. This time, Greg drove me out, which I was thankful for (the transit strike makes getting a taxi outside of the airport rather difficult). I bid him farewell, he drove back to work, and I checked in for the flight.
I slept on the way back, though not intentionally. I was utterly wiped. I hadn’t been so active in so long that my body simply wasn’t ready for it. I vaguely remember something about 35,000 feet, and something about returning my seat to its original upright position. Next thing I knew, I was hopping the bus home. And as we all know, home is where the heart, bed, and 50″ TV are. This was where I was determined to spend the next several hours … sleeping.
Unfortunately, it seemed that my vacation would be cut short. Crisis at Critical Mass — the site I was working on had basically fallen apart in my absence. Somehow, I’d become the centre of communications, and without me around, everything came to a halt. I didn’t get home until 1:30am.
I look back at my weekend, and I actually have to force myself to believe I was actually there. With all the apprehension I had towards going back, I now find it hard to believe I did it. But I know I did, and I’m glad I did. I’m glad I saw my friends again (despite the fact that I feel like a twit for forgetting names). I’m glad I saw a Blue Jays game (even though they lost). But most of all, I’m glad that my past is now just that — behind me. All that’s left is the possibility of the future.
Vancouver is a destination for me. Not to live, but certainly to visit. I will see sights I never saw, I will do things I never got the chance to do. I’m content that no matter what I see and do, it was because of me (with a lot of support from my family and friends) that I’m capable of doing it. And so long as I know people in Vancouver, or at least have an inkling of a reason, I will go there, and I will enjoy myself each and every minute.
At least when it isn’t raining.

2000, A Year in Review

It’s been one of those years. I really hope I don’t have to go through another one like that again. Clich├ęd though it be, it was a year for rediscovery — mostly of myself. I lost my self-identity in Vancouver, allowing myself to be overwhelmed by another. It takes a while to rebuild that sort of thing. It’s not done yet, but having gone through that I know now what to avoid should I ever be so stupid as to get myself into that situation again…
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Why I Don't Want to be a Technical Writer Anymore

It’s been a busy beginning to the year. I think it’s just a sign of things to come.
You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been — didn’t I send all those logs during Christmas? Where are all the ones from January? Well, truth be known, I simply didn’t get around to them.
Like I said, it’s been a busy beginning to the year. Upon returning to the Lower Mainland, we had to take Allison to the hospital again. This time it was for a possible infection in her surgical wound, which we had noticed on New Year’s Day. Allison was also beginning to run a temperature, so the viral experts wanted to keep an eye on her. As it turns out, the panic was for not — she had the flu. A rather nasty case of it, too. Luckily, Lorna graciously came over and kept an eye on her (and cleaned our apartment stem to stern) while I went to work.
The following week, I started my night course. Once a week for two and a half hours, I go to SFU’s downtown campus for a class on “Concepts and Practices of Technical Communication”. Sound like a beginner’s level course? It is. My manager suggested it. I feel insulted. I slept for the first three classes, and it was only with the help of caffeine that I’ve made it through the others. I’m learning virtually nothing and I’m the youngest in the class.
Which brings me to my impending change in profession. Technical writing is … uh … technical, and … important … ah, who am I kidding? It’s boring me to tears. I can’t stand it anymore. I want out. Luckily for me, I’ve had side projects going to keep my skills up in the web. It seems like I’ve got the right skills at the right time.
I’m declaring to my manager today that I want out of technical writing. I’m hoping to become the new web guru ’round these here parts. We don’t have one, and as recent history seems to be indicating, we could use one. There’s only one issue — whether the company thinks this is a good idea.
If Radical chooses ‘no’, I’m in a little hot water. It basically means that I either stick to the old tried and true (i.e. what I’m doing now), or I bail out of the company and go somewhere else. Now, if you’re Radical, and you just denied me my change in career, how long do you think it’ll be before I leave? There’s a huge can of worms here just waiting to be opened. (And I just found out that my execution has been stayed ’til this afternoon, when my manager finally gets in.)
I’m not the only one looking for a change. Last Thursday, Jane dropped by for a brief visit … a visit with a purpose. She was hoping to talk with a company in North Vancouver about a Customer Service Representative position. The company is Hospitality Careers Online, and they provide a list of jobs in the hospitality industry across North America. Jane had already talked to them over the phone, but her current job called her in on the day she was supposed to clinch the position. So she came over to finish the job (no pun intended).
She called the company early the next morning, but couldn’t get an interview until 5:30 that evening. Allison and I would pick her up from North Vancouver and take her to the ferry so she could get back to Nanaimo to get to work the following day. Jane performed admirably at the interview, telling them exactly what she wanted and how she felt about moving to North Vancouver. Allison was a bit surprised that Jane had said she wanted to move to North Vancouver to be closer to a good snowboarding hill. No worries there — the company’s owner moved there for precisely the same reason. Saturday morning, we learned that Jane got the job.
Last week, Allison took her first night course of the year. She’s taking French lessons at the Francophone Institute on West 7th. First off, she wanted to take a course in something, so she had something to look forward to each week. Having the ability to improve her French was the sort of thing she wanted.
So three weeks ago, I took her over for an entrance exam, where one of the Institute’s staff asked her a few questions … in French. This, unfortunately, was Allison’s weak point — she has problems “hearing” French. She can read it and speak it quite well, but that wasn’t the test. As a result, she ended up a level lower than she should be, as was proved in her first class last week.
The amusing part was that prior to her class, Allison was very nervous about being out of her league, that she would be the worst in the class. She couldn’t have been further from the truth. She’s sticking it out though, mostly because it lets her practice speaking and listening to French in a comfortable atmosphere, and she’s already made friends.
Speaking of friends, Stuart appeared here two weeks ago. I got a call on the 28th where an all-too-familiar voice said: “Hi, I’d like to order a pizza.” It was Stuart, informing me that he was coming to Vancouver to take pictures at a private school. He was coming on a short-notice photo shoot for a client, which meant he was also coming alone — Therese was staying in Calgary.
We didn’t see Stuart until after 6pm on Sunday. I picked him up at the corner of Davie and Granville, so he wouldn’t get turned around on my directions (which I was having severe problems making simple, for some silly reason). We went to dinner and played video games at Playdium. It was almost like old times.
The next day we did lunch, prior to his return to Calgary. It was then I concluded that I was going to Calgary myself — I had to see my friends again. It’s been over a year since I last saw Therese, and I miss her dearly (as I do all my friends). I’m going on Thursday evening.
After a lot of debate, we finally bought a new computer. This was the first computer I bought (or at least had a part in buying) that didn’t come from the store I worked at. It was from a place called Addax in Richmond that Allison recommended. It was a good deal, and allows Allison to work a bit more efficiently than before. It also gave us a good reason to buy SimCity 3000. With luck, we’ll turn the old computer into a Linux server. That’s a project on my lengthy list of projects.
I guess that brings me right up to today. Not much else going on, although you can expect another log this time next week.
Until then…

1999, A Year In Review

T minus 206 days until W-Day.
And so the new year begins — the last of the second millennium, Ado Domini (or Common Era, if you prefer). It’s been a rough year for us, with many events having rocked our little world time and time again. Here’s the brief synopsis of the past year:
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Going to Microsoft Meltdown in Seattle

On Monday and Tuesday, I experienced my first real business trip. I probably would be more excited about it than I should be, but we went to Seattle. Whoopee.
Going to Seattle for a business trip is like … well, imagine you could travel from Ottawa to Toronto in three hours on a six lane Interstate highway. (I would compare it to travelling from Toronto to Hamilton, but that’s not fair to Hamilton.)
It didn’t get off to a great start, either. I had to go into the office on Sunday night to finish some work. Allison and I went to the Island Friday night to visit with her family (we hadn’t been over in a couple of months), so I had to leave work unfinished. This was work that I had to take with me to Seattle. It was kind of necessary that I get it done.
We were attending Microsoft Meltdown, which is (for all intents and purposes) Microsoft’s support of the video game industry. Sure, there are companies there that have nothing to do with the industry, but they are few in number.
What we did there was take two of the games we’re developing (our hockey and basketball games) and test them out on several video card manufacturer’s computers. It’s a good way of making sure that our games work properly on different computers, and the video card manufacturers can see what problems their games may have.
Radical Entertainment has a tradition of always leaving a copy of our games with the manufacturers so they can continue testing at their leisure. That’s what I was doing Sunday night — making copies of the games. Sadly, my good friend Murphy decided to drop by that night, so a one hour job soon turned into a five-hour nightmare.
(Just for reference, everything worked just fine, so it was worth the agony.)
I got up a little too late Monday morning (hey, I’d only been asleep for about three and a half hours — I was tired), and was about two minutes late getting downstairs where Neall (one of my co-workers, and our driver to the conference) was waiting.
We picked up Nigel (another co-worker) and Tim (my boss) at Radical, which was a relatively central pick-up location. We then pointed the car south, and headed towards the home of the Space Needle.
Nigel opted to provide the music on our little trip. (Not that we really ever had time to pay attention to it — we spent almost the entire time talking. Natch — *they* spent almost the entire time talking … about cars. I know little by comparison, so opted to listen and be bored for most of the trip.) Referring to Nigel as a “Star Wars Fan” is like saying the Universe is big; he brought along the soundtracks to “A New Hope” (the real name for the original “Star Wars” movie), “Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”, and “The Phantom Menace”. Not exactly what I’d consider road trip music.
Seattle has bad traffic. KOMO 4 News even had a quasi-documentary on it a few months ago. On Monday morning, we figured out what the problem is: No-one wants to carpool.
The I-5 north of Seattle has a carpool lane. Runs right to downtown (it turns into an express lane that literally fires you right through the middle of downtown). It was virtually empty. While the rest of the traffic came to virtual standstills, we were whipping along at 60mph without any worries at all.
We quickly checked into the Sheraton Seattle and hauled our bags to our rooms. I bunked with Nigel, while Neall and Tim shared a room down the hall. My roll was “Swag Sherpa” (more on that in a moment), so I got to carry the bag full of CDs and other junk we would use throughout the course of the day.
We signed ourselves into the conference, and took a chance to use our first three testing slots (we had to sign up to test our games, which is usually an ordeal — getting a chance to sign up early was a bug advantage). We had to wait until 10am to get the rest of the testing slots, so we opted to have breakfast instead.
By the time we finished, the testing slots were open to a free-for-all. Luckily, the general population was still embedded inside the main conference hall, listening to a bunch of people listening to themselves talk. (Yeah, that’s about how interesting the seminars are.) We took the time to get the rest of our slots for Monday. (Tuesday’s slots wouldn’t open until lunch.)
Unfortunately, none of the testing sessions started until after lunch. This meant we still had three hours to kill. So we did the only thing we could … we tortured ourselves with the seminars.
So, imagine that you’re in a large room with about 400 people. The people giving the talks are boring, repetitive, and really not worth listening to. Imagine that you’ve had only three hours of sleep. Suddenly, passing out face first onto your conference notes doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
If only I had done that.
Luckily, Neall, Nigel, and Tim decided that the speeches weren’t worth the air they were being broadcasted through, and we left.
Lunch came not too long later. A fancy chicken breast sandwich with a small cheesecake for dessert. I couldn’t help but wonder — most of the people here are techies, why on Earth would any of them really be interested in this kind of food. Where were the burgers? Where were the fries? At least they had a healthy stock of Coca-Cola and other similar beverages — it would have been a travesty, otherwise.
Testing began at 1:30. This amounted to us going from room to room in the hotel, installing our games on vendor’s computers, testing them out, collecting t-shirts and other various things used to persuade us to develop on specific boards, uninstall the games, and proceed to the next room. All that ended at just after 5pm.
Tim decided he would disappear to visit with family (his brother works for Boeing), while Neall, Nigel, and I opted to go see Star Wars (again).
Before we headed out, I convinced them to go downstairs to the Product Showcase to see what was there. It’s a good thing, too — we saw a product we had never seen before, and wowed the three of us. 3D glasses.
Yeah, okay, maybe 3D glasses ain’t exactly the bee’s knees, but when you consider that these glasses required no specific hardware, worked (theoretically) on any computer, and required no special programming in a game, we were suitably impressed. Not to mention playing “Star Wars: Rogue Squadron” in 3D was pretty slick. We would make a point of stopping by that company the following day.
Dinner was programmer food: Hamburgers, Pogos, onion rings, pretzels, and pop. Basic junk. (It’s what gets a video game programmer through the day.) Then it was off to the movie theatre around the block.
Star Wars wasn’t playing. (As it turned out, the theatres were *really* small, and the sound was pretty lousy.) However, “The Matrix” was. Neither Neall or Nigel had seen the movie, and while I had seen it twice, I didn’t mind seeing it again. Besides, I had nothing else better to do at the time.
As we still had 40 minutes before the movie started, we hopped over to FAO Schwartz to check out their collection of Star Wars toys. (Still no luck in finding a Darth Maul action figure.)
I will admit, I fully expected Neall and Nigel to not like “The Matrix”. They hate everything. It’s their lot in life. They are, by far, the most cynical people I have ever met. It was a surprise to find out that they thought the movie “rocked”. In fact, they went so far as to say that “The Matrix” set a whole new standard for how much a movie can “rock”.
Upon returning to the hotel, Nigel promptly went to bed. It was 9:30. I wasn’t even close to being tired. So I went back out. (I mistakenly thought that Neall went to bed as well, so didn’t bother to see what he was up to.) I wandered about the area around the hotel for a while, and then went for a walk.
It wasn’t long before I stumbled across Seattle’s Monorail. It was the first (commercial) monorail built in the United States, constructed for the 1962 World Expo. It’s still running, and it looks 37 years old. It costs US$2.50 for a round-trip ticket from Westlake Centre (downtown) to Seattle Centre (where the Space Needles resides). The ride takes less than two minutes, and there are only two stations.
Seattle Centre seems to be a bit of an amusement area. It has the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Centre, an IMAX theatre, a lot of amusement rides. From what I can tell, it’s what was left of the 1962 Expo. (Unlike Vancouver, which sold all the prime Expo land for a song, got nailed with the cleanup bill, and now have to pay exorbinant fees to buy an undersized condo there.)
It took me about 10 minutes to realise that nothing was open, and I wasn’t about to fork out US$9 to go up the so-called Space Needle. I headed back to the hotel.
We started off the next morning by taking our bags down to Neall’s car (so we didn’t have to lug them around all day) and proceeded to breakfast. Then it was off to more testing.
Lunch was an adventure. Nigel sensed a disturbance in the Force (like I said, it would be like saying the Universe is big) … corn and salmon chowder. It was followed by a bizarre vegetable crepe-thing. I was beside myself — who in their right mind would feed video game developers this kinda junk?! I mean, really!
After lunch, it was more testing. But we opted not to go the whole afternoon, and bailed after our 2:15 test slot. We wanted to escape Seattle traffic before it set in. We succeeded … only to land in Vancouver traffic. The latter is far worse.
I arrived at home not long after 7pm, a bit tired, fairly hungry, and happy to be home. Hopefully, my next foray into the business trip world will be slightly more interesting…

Playing Softball with the Rad Sox, Visiting Granville Island, Seeing Alanis Morrisette

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to join the company softball team, the Rad Sox (Rad, as is “Radical”). This was for several reasons: I’d get out more, meet more people in the company that I wouldn’t normally have interaction with, hopefully improve my skills, and have fun.
Two out of four ain’t so bad, I guess…
We’ve played three games now, and we’ve lost each and every time — usually by a very unhealthy margin (our second game was something obscene, like 38 to 3). We practice a lot, usually without a lot of progress, it seems. Although my fielding is better, I still have problems.
For example, on our Friday practice, I managed to somehow manage not to get my glove under the ball. So instead of the ball landing in my glove, it instead drove into the nail of my right big toe. Nearly bent the nail in half. Couldn’t walk very quickly for a couple of hours. Rather painful. Luckily, nothing was broken, and the bleeding was minimal.
So let’s skip ahead to Monday night (don’t worry, I’ll get back to the weekend in a minute). This was our third game, against some other company (we usually don’t know the names). I spent the first half of the game in the dugout (we have too many people for everyone to play the whole game). When my chance finally came up, I raced onto the field (mostly in an effort to warm up — it was very cold last night … did I mention that I’ve taken a strong dislike to the weather in this city?).
I played third. First time that I was brought into the infield. Until then, I’d played the outfield … and sucked horribly. The coaches figured I needed the chance to suck on the infield. So I sat there, ready to play the role I was supposed to play. I made a catch, taking out a runner to third, and overall seemed to be doing pretty well.
Until the next batter came up.
She hit usually down the baseline, or bunted. Either way, Jon (the shortstop) suggested I play a bit closer to the baseline. Sure enough, next hit went straight towards me. It was an easy catch — the ball was rolling across the grass (albeit very quickly). I extended my glove, ready to snatch the rolling ball and throw it to first.
The fields that we play on vary in quality. Some are pretty good. Some are really bad. And then there is Churchill (this is where we played last night). If you removed the grass, it would look a little like the surface of the moon.
When the ball reached about two feet from my glove, it hit one of the many divots/dents/craters in the field and shot up at about a 45 degree angle. Although my brain could not tell my hand exactly where it was going to catch the ball, it did manage to tell my eyes to close and brace for impact.
It’s amazing how much inertia an ordinary softball travelling at 60km/h has. It’s also amazing how much abuse the human nose can take without breaking. But at least I stopped the ball.
While I was reeling backward, trying to figure out whether or not I was upright or dead, the game continued until the ump had the notion to suspend play at one base (or something like that — you’ll forgive me if I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the game). I returned to the dugout to stop the bleeding (which didn’t take all that long, surprisingly). I stayed out for the rest of the game.
So I’m now on partial DL until Wednesday, at which time I’ll figure out how I’m feeling. Hopefully, it’s not too bad…
Anyway, back to Friday. Allison’s sister, Jane, came out to visit for the weekend. Exact reasons, we didn’t know, only that she probably wanted to get away from home for a couple of days. I picked her up at the corner of Granville and W. Georgia, hopped a SkyTrain, and headed for the Old Spaghetti Factory in New Westminster.
Allison appeared about a half hour after Jane and I got a seat, as the weekend traffic made getting across the bridge from Surrey rather difficult. We stuffed ourselves on OSF’s pasta and bread, all the while engaging in conversation.
That evening, we took Jane to Playdium, to engage in some serious video-gaming. >From 10pm until 4am, you can play as much as you like for $25. Yeah, it sounds expensive, but when you consider that most games cost $2 normally, it’s a really good deal. We played a good number of the games until about 1am, when we headed home exhausted.
The next day, we drove down to Granville Island to spend an afternoon roaming around. After managing to find a parking spot (a bit of a feat, now that the traffic levels are beginning to skyrocket) we headed into the Island.
Initially heading for food, we stopped to watch a busker. Allison and I had seen this act before, last summer. Joel from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (at which point everyone was instructed to say “Ooooooo”) was performing the trick made famous by Harry Houdini: Handcuffed, wrapped in chains, placed in a bag, and escape in under a minute. It’s actually a pretty simple trick, once you see how it’s done.
I got abducted as his assistant. Oh yay.
After he made a few cracks at my job (I never bothered to mention I work for a video game company … dopey me), I made an effort to cuff him very tightly. Further cracks wanted me to chain him as tightly as possible. I can only assume that’s why he does that. A poor girl from Delta (the equivalent of Brampton to Toronto) got suckered into checking his pockets for keys … something she really didn’t want to do.
Needless to say, he escaped. In 57 seconds. He held out for three seconds to heighten the drama.
Following lunch, we headed over to the Granville Island Brewery to have a tour, only we missed it by an hour. The next one was at 4:00. Back into the market to get dinner. We bought stuffed pork shops (which are *mighty* tasty, albeit huge), corn, and various vegetables for skewers.
We missed the 4:00 tour because I couldn’t hold out any longer, and had to make a bathroom break. We took the opportunity, though, to get some beer and a bottle of wine.
For my birthday, the Collins bought me a wine rack. Yes, a wine rack. It has a counter on top that we keep the microwave on. It’s very handy. Almost every time we go to Granville Island, we buy a bottle of wine. When we finally get the thing filled, we’ll actually start to drink it.
We spend our time indoors, eating, drinking (beer and daiquiris) and watching “Home Fries”. Seriously messed up movie. Of course, it was written by Vince Gilligan, famous for writing seriously messed up X-Files episodes.
Sunday was a weird day. Allison and I spend most of our time trying to kill time. After we sent Jane on her way, we needed to kill a few hours — we were going to a concert that night.
I will admit that Alanis Morrisette doesn’t exactly rock my world … but she’s a pretty good performer, all things considered. She’s short (at least compared to the rest of her band) and quite energetic. Good live singing voice, too.
The opening acts were Veda Hill (some local performer) and Sloan. Once again, Sloan’s bad luck with sound struck at them — the only reason I knew what song they were playing is because I could figure out the odd guitar chord and drum beat. It wasn’t until “Money City Maniacs”, their last song in the set, that the sound was reasonable. After Sloan’s set, Chris Murphy took a seat in the audience a couple rows behind us, just outside of arms’ reach.
The sound, of course, was tuned to Alanis. Despite the fact that she was over a half hour late hitting the stage, she put on a pretty good show. She did a very interesting rendition of “You Outta Know” — the music was extremely tame (no harsh guitars or heavy drums) for the first two verses. It really showcased the anger that the lyrics exude. Her encore I predicted about halfway through the show: “Thank You” and “Ironic”. But she didn’t end there, playing two more songs before coming back with an acoustical set. Quite impressive. She even let her pianist go nuts for a few minutes, showcasing some of the most amazing jazz-influenced talent I’ve ever heard.
When all’s said and done, it was a good weekend. Now if we can just warm this corner of the country up a bit, it’ll actually get liveable around here.