Ottawa Like a Local

January 5, 2017 – partial blog post rescued from drafts – as a rescue post, I must warn it is very fragmentary with a lot of incomplete info

If you want to explore Ottawa more as a local, it helps to understand the structure of the city.  There are a few key neighbourhoods and streets.  Shopping and restaurants are almost all strung along just a few streets, which were key streetcar routes for Ottawa’s streetcar suburbs.

The main two streets are the long north-south Bank Street and the long east-west Somerset Street (which turns into Wellington and then Richmond as it continues west).  For those with a historical bent, these are the equivalent of the cardo maximus and the decumanus maximus.

Neighbourhoods strung along Bank Street, starting at the north and heading south, are:

  • the Central Business District (CBD), a typical business tower area from Wellington to Gloucester
  • Centretown, which runs from Gloucester to the highway (Queensway, 417)
  • the Glebe, which runs from the highway to the canal (Rideau Canal)
  • Old Ottawa South, which runs from the canal to the Rideau river

Bank continues south of that, but after that it’s into far suburbia basically.

Neighbourhoods strung along Somerset Street West, starting at the east and heading west are:

  • the Golden Triangle (a residential neighbourhood) from the canal to Elgin (more or less)
  • Centretown, from Elgin to Bronson (more or less)
  • Chinatown, from Bronson to the train overpass
  • Hintonburg, from Breezehill to (at Garland, Somerset Street West turns into Wellington Street West)
  • Wellington Village
  • Westboro

Because Westboro, Wellington Village and Hintonburg are all one continuous stretch, they tend to blur together (Westwelliburg) and even locals have trouble remembering exactly where the boundaries are.  Hintonburg used to be a lot rougher, but it is in full gentrification mode now.

Other streets and neighbourhoods of interest are:

  • the Little Italy neighbourhood on Preston Street from
  • Dalhousie Street from (sometimes called “North Dal”)
  • New Edinburg, particularly along Beechwood from
  • Elgin Street in Centretown, from Wellington south to the highway

To understand the structure of Ottawa, while the population is notionally 1 million, there’s a very suburban distribution, with roughly 20,000 in the core (Centretown), about 180,000 in the inner-ring suburbs (many of which listed above), and the remaining 800,000 in outer-ring suburbs and rural areas.  Many people also live “across the river” (the Ottawa River) in Quebec, but the river serves as a fairly substantial barrier – people tend to stick to their side.

NYT 36 Hours in Ottawa 2017 – comments

With Canada as the New York Times #1 destination for 2017, the NYT has followed with 36 Hours in Ottawa by Remy Scalza.  Overall the selections are good.  As a Centretowner I may regret the Market-centricity, but he did go to both North Dal (which is often overlooked) and Hintonburg. I’ve linked to some of my recommendations at the bottom.

  • Parliament Hill – yes
  • Major’s Hill Park – yes but it’s a bit of a mess in the winter
  • Château Laurier – yes
  • Métropolitain – ugh, no, I don’t like it
  • Riviera – yes
  • The Manx – yes
  • Art-is-in – yes
  • Maker House Co. – I have never been
  • Hintonburg Pottery – I have never been
  • Tooth and Nail – yes
  • Moulin de Provence – I would lean no, I never go there – Market touristy
  • House of Cheese – yes
  • Stubbe Chocolates – yes but I would have chosen Cylie in North Dal instead, although in fairness Cylie is closed for all of January
  • BeaverTails – I guess it’s a thing one has to do – Market touristy
  • Play Food & Wine – yes
  • Copper – I have never been
  • Château Lafayette – um, no, it’s a dive bar
  • Heart & Crown – I guess so?
  • National Gallery – yes
  • Workshop – I think so, but I don’t think I’ve been
  • Goods Shop – yes
  • Bridgehead – sure
  • Victoire – yes
  • Museum of Civilization (History) – yes

Overall as these things go, a good collection of Ottawa venues, with the constraints of some Market-centricity.  And there’s only so much one can fit in a 36 hours article.  I would have been inclined to Whalesbone Elgin over Métropolitain.

If you want to check out Centretown, I have a blog post on Centretown restaurants and shopping and a newer post Ottawa restaurants and shopping.

What DS9 I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

In general I have always liked DS9 better than TNG, because it is darker and has more complex characters and more believable inter-character dynamics.  But I have to say when I tried to watch the first season again, they definitely didn’t hit their stride early.  A few seasons on though the show started working well.

5×02 The Ship – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is good except it is odd that the destruction of the ship in orbit isn’t part of their discussions.  It doesn’t really make sense as a standalone episode; you have to know the entire Dominion storyline to understand the various Dominion characters.

5×10 Rapture – Wikipedia (spoilers)

I just like something about the idea of having to choose between visions and living your life.

5×06 Trials and Tribble-ations – Wikipedia (spoilers)

Fluff, but they do a really good job visually of fitting into the original series episode.

The obvious episode to watch would be 4×03 The Visitor, which is probably DS9’s best episode, an analogous episode to TNG 5×25 The Inner Light in that it’s not really a DS9 episode at all.

August 6, 2016  What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

What is Tron about?

The Financial Times Alphachat podcast had a go at reviewing Tron and Tron: Legacy.

I won’t discuss Tron: Legacy because I found it an odd pseudoreligious mishmash.

For the FT discussion of Tron, I think there were some interesting ideas, in particular Tron as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but I think that they missed two key elements of 80s culture, in particular 80s young male videogamer / computer user culture.  (Young male because that’s the reality of the culture at the time.)

The first is video arcade and videogame culture.  There is a history of young men, particularly of an intellectual bent, finding ways to escape the reality of their constrained lives.  In the 80s this would manifest in classical ways such as the escape into books, particularly science fiction and fantasy, either at home or by escaping to the library, but also in new ways, such as playing Dungeons & Dragons and in going to the arcade to play videogames (and eventually playing videogames at home, once home computers became more widely available).

Tron, as a 1982 movie, hits on exactly this arcade escape moment in culture.  Imagine the daily routine, where adults rush you to go to school, and then you sit in a desk in a row being lectured at by adults in school for hours, but afterschool, you get to go to the local arcade and for an hour or so you’re flying a spaceship, shooting lasers.  If you go to the arcade enough, you become very familiar with the games, and when playing them you kind of disappear into the game.  So at a certain point it becomes natural to wonder what it is really like inside the game.  These spaceships you fly around, do they have a crew?  What’s their life like?  What do they do when you’re not playing the game?

So on one level, that’s really all that Tron is about, the simple question of what it would be like to be inside a videogame.  This is not a new concept, it’s just Alice down the rabbit hole, but in a new context.

The second element of 80s culture is the very stark distinction between corporate computing and home computing.  In that era, the corporate computing world, the adult world, is full of men (almost entirely men) in identical blue suits, selling big mainframe computers to do stunningly boring things (mostly financial things).  It’s a centralized, corporate, conformist, colourless world.  Which is to say, many teenagers’ nightmare world.  Contrast this with hobbyist computing, a world of individual creativity, individual control, decentralised, colourful, fun.

So on another level, Tron is basically about young computer hobbyists versus a gigantic corporate central computer.

Seen in this light, the most direct modern analogue of Tron is not Tron: Legacy, but The Lego Movie.  It asks whether Lego is about centrally-designed, glued-together Lord Business adult world, or about a creative world for kids.

These two threads of videogame culture and hobby computer culture are the core of Tron, its master code.  You can see this digital DNA evolve in many different ways in the years afterwards.

For example the most direct descendant of Tron is the (excellent) ReBoot TV series, which takes place in a world where the inhabitants are periodically sucked into videogames.  A more recent movie incarnation would be Wreck-It Ralph, which is also about the life of videogame characters between the moments when their games are being played.  But we can also look to less direct inheritors, such as Run Lola Run (Lola rennt) which has the concept of rebooting (restarting) a series of events and playing them out differently, or taken to an extreme, the (in my opinion underrated) Edge of Tomorrow, where the character plays out the same events over and over again, trying to get to a final win, exactly as one does when trying to master a videogame.  Even the TV show Community had an episode about playing a video game.

And in perhaps the most complete expression of escaping into the virtual world, Ready Player One is basically a book-length fan tribute to videogaming and being inside of videogames.

I was reminded of the ways that young people escape into videogames by the Guardian article No Man’s Sky is Elite for the 21st century. Pointless? Maybe – but also sublime.

On another more literary thread, there are movies about escaping into or falling into a fantasy world, such as The NeverEnding Story, and movies about what is going on with characters in fiction when we’re not watching them, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

The theme of creative youth vs. stodgy adults is of course a very extensive one, but the most direct follow-on to Tron in this case would be WarGames, where a young Matthew Broderick uses his personal computer and hacks into the giant nuclear-controlling mainframe WOPR.  It has the additional theme of the real-world consequences of virtual actions, where the digital game world accidentally threatens the planet, and raises the very real question of whether we use technology and games to avoid thinking about real consequences of our decisions and actions.

It’s important as well to realise that this particular cultural moment, where power shifted from centralized mainframe computing to disconnected personal computers, was transitory and perhaps part of an ongoing back-and-forth between centralization and decentralization.  For a few decades the personal computer reigned supreme, and it was possible to understand and control the computer is very deep and personal ways.  But with the rise of Mac OS X, and in particular the iPhone and iPad, the user was pushed away from direct interaction with and control of the underlying machinery of the computer.  You no longer had to learn to code in order to do interesting things.  Steve Jobs famously had a giant hammer smash dull corporate computing in 1984, but ironically it seems he never wanted users to be programmers, he wanted them to interact with a beautiful surface with all of the coding hidden from them.  With mobile devices and the concomitant rise in cloud computing, in particular cloud giant services like Google and Facebook, the power was taken back from individuals and returned to centralized corporations.

It remains to be seen whether Minecraft (and to a lesser extent the Raspberry Pi) represent a return to a user-centric, user-controlled, user-created computer experience, or whether the corporate cloud will continue to dominate.  One of the great things to see is much more equal use of Minecraft between the genders, which hopefully is the start of a reverse of the 1980s When Women Stopped Coding moment.

Overall I would say that Tron is very richly woven into the tapestry of computer culture and youth rebellion and escape, and has informed the creation of many subsequent books, TV shows and movies (with many more examples than I have given here), in a way that Tron: Legacy really has not.

Do you have a favourite example of a story about life inside a book, videogame or other alternative world?

What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) when it launched, and over the years I have seen every episode many times, despite not being a particular fan of it.

On reflection (and particularly compared to the reboot Star Trek Beyond movie), TNG does have certain strengths that I will cover in a separate blog post.

After several years of being away from TNG, here’s what I watched, in the order I watched, when I could choose any episode:

3×15 Yesterday’s Enterprise – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a combination of “what would TNG have been if it was an action show?” and fixing the rather awkward way that Tasha Yar left.  It works well on both fronts.  (Although TNG messed up its Yaredemption by bringing Denise Crosby back later in an improbable role.)

This episode really works best if you’ve watched at least all of season 1.

7×15 Lower Decks – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is mostly a way to watch TNG without having the focus on the main characters.

There is a similar Voyager episode, 6×20 Good Shepherd.

4×15 First Contact – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a pretty light episode, I watched mainly because I remembered the aliens’ dilemma about what to do about contact.  I had forgotten it has one of TNG’s most awkward scenes, with Bebe Neuwirth as a xenophile nurse.

5×02 Darmok – Wikipedia (spoilers)

As pure science fiction, this is the strongest episode of the series.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

5×25 The Inner Light – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is the most touching episode of the series, but it’s not really TNG at all in any meaningful way, it’s a story that stands alone.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

Many Government of Canada consultations

The Government of Canada is conducting many consultations.

It’s a bit of a challenge to find the major ones on so I’ve made a list below.

Provincial Electoral Reform

There are also two provincial electoral reform (including online voting) consultations running:

Provincial General Consultations

And there are additional provincial-level consultations, too many to list them all, but here are a few:

CLOSED consultations

The following consultations are now closed: