Dec 312005

Ever wonder if you are allowed to take photos of something? Wonder no more. Andrew Kantor has a guide up on his website, and a new article at USAToday. Good info, I recommend everyone take a look.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Aside from sensitive government buildings (e.g., military bases), if you’re on public property you can photograph anything you like, including private property. There are some limits � using a zoom lens to shoot someone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy isn’t covered � but no one can come charging out of a business and tell you not to take photos of the building, period… Further, they cannot demand your camera or your digital media or film. Well, they can demand it, but you are under no obligation to give it to them. In fact, only an officer of the law or court can take it from you, and then only with a court order. And if they try or threaten you? They can be charged with theft or coercion, and you may even have civil recourse. Cool.

See also: The Photographer’s Right by Bert Krages (AAL)

Via Digg.

Update: You can always take the sneaky route as well

If someone asks you to delete a photo from your camera, and you really want to keep it, don’t sweat it. Show them as you delete the photo, then take out the memory card and swap it for another. When you get home, use to un-delete the photo. They’re happy because they think you deleted the photo, and you’re happy because you didn’t. Hooray! Via Eaglefire

Dec 232005

Tom is on a roll; another interesting These Days on KPBS. The topic for this segment is consumerism and the holidays. His guests were Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, the always entertaining Rev Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping, and Philip Gay, professor and chairman of the sociology department at San Diego State University.

It is an interesting topic to me, as I have been trying to reduce my consumption over the past few years. It went as expected, with Rev Billy giving his always entertaining sermon, and Tom not knowing what the hell to do with him. The good Rev rambles a bit (mostly anti-chain), but always makes me laugh.

Kalle talked a bit about the start of Adbusters, then focused on manufactured culture and the over-consumption that it promotes. Philip Gay seemed to be there mostly as an apologist for consumer culture – insisting buying crap in stores was a perfectly legitimate and even spiritual response to the holiday. A plastic whatever from China has the same value as spending time with family or a handmade gift. Everyone go back to the mall and buy, Buy, BUY! I found this statement from him at the end of the program particularity depressing:

“Most people get through the holidays because they will be doing it next year. The same thing, buying the same kind of presents for the same people and shopping at the same malls. And they are doing it because they like to do it. Because they get some satisfaction and fulfillment out of doing it or they wouldn’t continuously do it. Plus, Christmas is the season that you buy gifts and consume… And sorry, but its not all spiritual. This is the time you save money and buy gifts for people.”

Uh, I’m going to guess he is in the “Receiving Gifts” Love Languages camp. I kid. Sort of. The statement above seems particularly naive coming from a sociology professor. He seems to be saying enjoyment or pleasure are the only reasons that people do things? I guess things like implied obligation, family tradition, marketing, and (manufactured) culture don’t affect people at all. I know a few people who would rather not do the gift part of the holiday, guess they are freaks.

The panel was asked about how to navigate a commercial Christmas. Other guests had called in previously to talk about mall-gift alternatives – pooling money for a vacation from one caller, and homemade gifts from another. Kalle seemed quite realistic about it, guessing that it would take five years or so before you change a family’s culture towards a new outlook. Philip on the other hand said don’t bother trying to change. Dual incomes means no time, just shop your way to happiness.

When it comes to gifts, I am typically on the “I don’t need anything” end of the spectrum. One of the best gifts I’ve received in the last few years was a jar of home-made highbush cranberry jam, from my sister. Anna swings towards the other end, and is one of those people that loves to buy gifts for people. For our wedding, however, neither of us saw the need for gifts, so our invites initially said just that. That didn’t go over well. People were almost insulted at the request, and it seemed as if we were going to get gifts anyway. So we broke down and put up a wish list. But, we also included links to a number of different charities. Many people donated, but more chose to give something physical. The safe bet I guess.

This Christmas I told people that they could always donate rather than send a gift. It will be interesting to see how many people take me up on it. I’m tempted to have an all donations Christmas next year, but it might be tough to pull off. Christmas seems a little less pliable to others than to me for some reason. I suspect my experience of growing up during a some lean Christmas’ gave me a different perspective on the season. Or, I could just be a leftist puritan grinch. Careful, I might steal your tree.

Dec 222005

Anna and I drove from La Jolla to Mission Beach yesterday to run some errands. A lot of people, but the sights were pretty impressive. The waves were breaking far off the coast, and were huge. Even though they broke, they still had enough energy to maintain a lot of power, all the way to the beach. There were a few surfers trying to get out, but most couldn’t make it past the soup. It was a lot of work. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me, but I managed to take a few photos with my grubby cell phone.

Dec 222005

(This is an older post that I never got around to publishing)

I certainly can’t fault Jim Kunstler’s view of recent development in Calgary“..archetypal city of immense glass boxes in a sterilized center surrounded by an asteroid belt of beige residential subdivisions.”

It is sadly, very true. The last 15 years of Calgary growth have been all sprawl and generic suburbs. I moved to Calgary in 1996. Our house (once rented, now Colan owns) was not far from downtown, only about a 10 minute drive, or 20 minute bus & train ride. To the east and north of our house there were several farmer’s fields. Full of hay, horses, and gophers. Only the gophers are left. Ten years later, the house is surrounded by big box suburban malls and business parks. Chili’s, BestBuy, and every other store you find in every other suburb in North America.

The growth further away was even more dramatic. Hour long commutes from the south or north ends of Calgary are no longer uncommon. We used to joke that the new McMansions looked like a landfill – the same 3 house colors, and no trees. Turns out they still look like crap, but now traffic is worse.

Dec 202005

On These Days this morning they hosted someone from the NewTithing Group to talk about a new study. The group has just completed a study on quarter of a million individual tax returns. They looked at the charitable donations compared to a percentage of their assets, and the way that broke down into different age groups. The study shows what everyone expects, older people donate way more than younger people. That seems to be the norm in the UK as well.

I need to give more, I have no doubt about that, but even if I did, I don’t believe I will show up in this study. I have some concerns with the methodology of the study. As I understand it, since it relies on IRS tax returns, donations are only going to show up if the submitter has enough deductions to go over the standard deduction. In my case, Anna and I have no house, no kids, and no real deductions. This means we have to exceed $10,000 per year in charitable giving to go over the standard deduction, and thus add this information to the tax return to be counted. While it would be cool to be able to donate that much, I just don’t see it happening.

Dec 122005

I’ve already wrote a bit on my experiences with US immigration and visas. But, since I have two friends going through the permanent residency process, I figured there would be some other people out there that might find this information useful. Some notes to start us out:

– I didn’t use a lawyer. Some people do, but I saw the process as doable by myself.
– The lingo of the applications follows this format: Petitioner = me (Canadian), Sponsor = Anna (American)
– The forms all have pretty good explanations on requirements. You will need a number of passport photos, as well as certified copies of your birth certificates (you and sponsor/spouse). You also will need to bring your passport the with I-94 attached.
– The sumittal fees for forms and additional permits for work and travel add up to over $1000. Not a big deal for me, but there is little doubt that indentured servitude is alive and well in the USA.
– To speak with an Immigration Information Officer (to start the I-485 filing process) you must make an appointment via the Internet at You must bring the printout of your INFOPASS appointment and a photo ID with you. Expect everyone that works there to be a bit pissy with you.
– 1-800-375-5283 is the USCIS help line. They are very helpful for figuring out the form requirements and special case type questions.

The whole application for residency really boils down to two main forms, and their dependencies:

I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative $190

G-325A – Biographic Information – One for the petitioner, one for the sponsor

I-485 – Application To Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status $325

G-325A – I used my existing G-325A from above
I-693 – Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status – It is best if you do this before you submit your paperwork. It cost me around $130, as you have to use one of their civil surgeons (click here to find). The doctor will give you a sealed I-693 to be submitted along with the I-485. Best if you have your vaccination history, or you may need to get some shots.
I-864 – Affidavit of Support – “To show that an intending immigrant has adequate means of financial support and is not likely to become a public charge.” In other words, to show your spouse can support your sorry ass, even if that’s not the current situation.
I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization $180 – You probably want to work while your application is being processed, you need to do this one.
I-131 – Advance Parole (Travel Document) $170 – This lets you travel out of the US while your application is being processed. Once your I-131 application is approved, you will be sent two copies of form I-512 (took a couple months for me). You must carry both copies when you travel out of the US for the first time. On your first entry back into the states, the USCIS office will take one of the copies. Keep the other copy for future travel.

Think you’re all done? Hahah, no. After you file, you will receive a notice in the mail from the USCIS to go get finger printed. It is $70 and relatively quick.

Some time later, you may be called in to be interviewed. Click here to read about my super happy fun time experience with that.

Eventually, a wait of nine months in my case, you will receive a card in the mail saying you are a permanent resident. If you had been married less than two years, you also get to be interviewed in two years to make sure you are legit. Good times.

Dec 052005

Random music reviews and links:

Me and This Army from Panzah Zandahz, a Radiohead mashup. Decent mix, but I’m suffering from a bit of Radiohead burnout at the moment. Maybe it is a case of Cold(over)play-by-proxy.

The always fantastic Sabadabada has been updated with some new records. Head there now for 100% of your daily recommended intake of 60’s Brazilian Bossa Nova, Balanço & Samba.

Brazilian Girls: Brazilian Girls. Every once and a while, Amazon does right by me for suggestions. This is one of those times. If you like Thievery Corporation, the Verve Remixed series, or any Bossa/Samba mixes, you will probably like these guys.

Q-unit – Greatest Hits. 50 cent & Queen mashup by The Silence Xperiment. They did a good mix on this mix, all of it fits together very well, rare for a full album mix. I like it, but I’m not that hot on the whole thing, since I’m not a big 50 cent fan. His lyrics are the standard retarded gangbanger shit, and his droning tone sounds like he is wacked out on v1cod1n.

Danger Doom: The Mouse and the Mask. Dangermouse and MF Doom got together to make a hiphop CD for the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Sounds like a horrible idea, right? Wrong. The cd is awesome. Upbeat and whimsical, the album succeeds on all fronts. Buy this now!

Blackalicious: The Craft. Their last album, Blazing Arrow, had just the right mix of funk and hiphop. This album moves a bit away from the funk, but still has great beats and intelligent lyrics.

Dec 022005

I’ve been throwing a lot of hours around at work this past month, as well as a lot of travel. Once my work day goes over 10 hours, my brain goes to mush and everything else gets ignored. As David said the other day, “Your site is dead”. Yes, yes it is.

But, I hope to get a little phoenix action happening. I should have some more time and content coming soon. In the mean time, amuse yourself with my Chicago photos.