3 years with an e-bike

My Bike, as I unboxed it.

A little over 3 years ago, I tore my ACL. It wasn’t awesome. I was in constant pain, and worst of all, I couldn’t ride my bike – my primary means of commuting. I decided that an electric bike would help keep me moving and active.

In October 2016, I brought home a VanMoof Electrified S (that link actually goes to the current model, the S2). I was immediately in love with my bike. I think I only rode my former, much-loved MEC Hold Steady (matte-black version) once more before it was sadly stolen in March of this year.

My VanMoof is definitely a v1 device – even the 2017 version of the same bike had some notable improvements. That being said, 3 years in, I’ve come to know it pretty well, and with that in mind, here’s some things I love, and things I don’t.

The Awesome

  • the integrated lights! I don’t know why this wasn’t immediately stolen by all commuter-bike manufacturers, whether electric or not. I have mine set to “Auto”, so they just come on or turn off based on light levels, and I never have to think about bike lights again.
  • Electric-assist: I know, it’s an electric bike, but riding 10-15K a day, with assist that “smooths out the hills” is still revelatory.
  • Quiet. I’ve read that both the 2017 model and S2 are even quieter, but this bike is already much quieter than virtually every other electric bike I come across. There’s a light whisper with the regular e-assist, and a slight whine when I engage the boost feature. Speaking of…
  • Boost! There’s a button on the handlebar to get a boost of extra power beyond the assist level – this is very handy to keep chill on hills, starting up at lights, or when heavily leaden with bags.
  • The design remains distinctive and lovely. I get questions or appreciative comments monthly, even 3 years later.
  • Ride comfort. This is a well-built bike made for a comfortable ride, and is quite smooth.
  • Battery life. I bike 10-15K a day in my commute, and I generally only charge my bike once a week. I think it advertised 100K and 3 years in, I feel I regularly get pretty close to that. Except in wintertime, when the batter is notably worse.

The not-great.

  • The touch interface. Mine has simply never worked reliably enough to use. I’m supposed to be able to touch turn it on, adjust assist levels and what not. I just pretend it isn’t there.
  • The app. It’s pretty bare bones. It loses connection with the bike semi-regularly so I have to force-close and restart it. I wish it integrated with GPS tools like Strava or Runkeeper to pass on information. I’d love to look in my VanMoof app to see total miles, average speed, time spent with what level of assist/boost, etc.
  • The bike software itself. I’ve had my bike “crash” 3 times (about once a year). It takes resetting the software, a process that itself means plugging the bike into a powered micro-usb cable for a bit to reset itself. 3 times in 3 years isn’t a lot, but it does always seem to happen at the end of a long ride when the battery is low, coincidentally right when I’m about to ride up a big hill
  • Speed settings. My bike seems really happy cruising along at about 18-20 km/h. Which is fine, but definitely much slower than a lot of other e-bikes run at. The Boost, for instance, doesn’t work if you’re going more than 20km/h. I find when riding on the flat, once I hit a speed of about 22-24k, the bike feels like it is actively resisting me, rather than assisting me. So, 18k is fine, but often not as fast as I feel I could go without additional effort, but the bike feels like it is fighting me if I do.
  • Weak motor. I joke that my bike is made for Dutch Hills (Holland is famously flat). It really struggles up the bigger hills in town – from false creek up Ontario st is a daily ride for me, and it whines somewhat ominously, and even the boost, while definitely helpful, means I still get a workout up there (maybe this is good?). Compared to a Trek ebike I was able to try out, I’m clearly not getting the same level of push up a hill though.
  • No gears. I don’t want many, but from that one time I did a tour of burrard inlet, biking from home, across the lions’ gate, along and back over the second narrows, having a gear to help me climb hills better, rather than relying on the underwhelming motor would be nice.
  • Cheap/bad parts. VanMoof definitely skimped out on some of these. The stock pedals and cranks look and feel cheap. The brakes have been problematic the whole time – indeed, the first time I took my bike to a shop to get my brakes adjusted, the comment was “Oh, these are really bad – you should replace them soon”. for a $3K bike, that’s not cool.

Other notes

This isn’t so much about the bike, but rather Vancouver – I don’t feel like I can ride this bike and park it anywhere – even with the “smart lock” and tracking technology built-in, Vancouver is so bad for bike theft that unless I know I’ve got secure bike parking or The Bicycle Valet at my destination, I won’t ride anywhere I’d have to leave my bike out of sight.

You may wonder if I’m happy with my bike, based on that list of pros and cons above. In short, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. The bike is amazing, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Particularly the newer models, which all have very directly addressed several of the problems I’ve seen with it.

Everyone should ride a bike more – and if you need some help doing so, I cannot recommend an e-bike enough. And in 2019, your options are much broader as to what’s available, for a surprisingly reasonable amount!

La La Land: a sort-of review

Griffith Observatory

I watched La La Land just over a week ago, and have gone through a sort of evolution in my thinking about it:

  1. During the movie, i was fully in love with it. The cinematography, the acting, the music, the decoration.
  2. Then it ended. That Ending! I really wasn’t sure what I thought about it.
  3. Walking out, chatting with Leah, I absolutely loved the movie again – it was chipper and light and lovely and everything I’d wanted in the movie when I was walking into it: it met – and exceeded – all my expectations.
  4. Over the week, I kept thinking about the movie, and, slowly, a comparison came to me. Have you ever seen the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the SameIf you haven’t, don’t. If you’re not a Led Zeppelin fan, there’s no reason to. If you are, don’t: nothing destroys your heroes like humanizing them. However, I think there’s a lot of similarities between some principals at play. The Song Remains the Same is a display of musical virtuosity: Musicians at their best, knowing this, and playing with that fact. It is both stunning, amazing and worst kind of Music-God onanism – guitar solos, drum solos, weird “ahh”ing vocal solos.
    La La Land is that. Damien Chazzelle is Really. Really. Good – and he knows it. And this film is film-making wankery at its very worst. It is so self-knowning, and winking and mannered. So yes, it is amazing and wonderful to watch – in the moment – but, like unnecessary guitar solos, afterwards, it leaves you annoyed.
  5. It strikes me (now) as incredibly sexist: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), careens through this film, ending up getting almost exactly what he wanted at the beginning of the film. While he ostensibly takes actions for Mia (Emma Stone), he still never sacrifices for him. Both he and Mia are performers, and yet, somehow, he never once sees her perform, while her story arc is continuously informed and catalyzed by her watching him perform. She has to give so much of herself – to him, to her career – and he doesn’t really give anything. Even his so-called sacrifice (taking a job he doesn’t really want so she’ll see him as a success), is wildly successful, and leads directly to him reaching his own goals.
  6. Still though, that ending.  I could probably watch that end-sequence 100s of times, never tire of it, never not see/think something slightly different. Even as I write, I both hated and loved the ending, and, following on from that, everything that precedes it.

Vance Joy at the Orpheum

One of Liam’s favourite artists is Vance Joy, who’s an Australian folk singer, in the vein of Jack Johnson, that is to say he’s very charming, pleasant and not particularly challenging, so absolutely radio-friendly and enjoyable.

As a last-minute thing, I found a pair of reasonably-priced, decent seats at the Orpheum, and so suddenly I was taking Liam to his second concert ever (his first being Mumford & Sons out in Surrey).

And… it was perfect. He was happy – singing along, clapping along, dancing in front of his seat – exactly what I want as a parent when I take him to something for him, rather than for me. The late night definitely meant a few yawns, and I think he’d have preferred if people didn’t stand up for the whole concert, but a rousing success.

The show itself? Well, it was mixed. The opening act, Rueben and the Dark were excellent. Really enjoyed their show, their energy, their music – Liam too – he immediately wanted to add their stuff to his music.

Rueben and the dark
Rueben and the dark

Vance Joy was charming as all heck, telling short stories to intro the songs he was singing. But… it all felt a little too pleasant. Charm, not excellence was the tenor of the night. The quality of songs is also widely varied – I’m not sure if he has on occasional collaborator who is responsible for his 3 (to date) radio hits, but they (+ 1 other) stood head-and-shoulders, quality-wise, above most of his material. Then, closing the night, he covered Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, which.. while an excellent cover, really showed up his own music as lacking a certain something.

But – maybe that’s just where we are. According to one story Vance Told, just 2.5 years ago, he was playing the Media Club, just him and a guitar. And now he’s got 2 sold-out shows at the Orpheum. That’s a pretty good 2 years of work. I definitely enjoyed the show – he’s so damn pleasant you’d have to be a real asshole to not – but, I can’t say he was excellent.

But, that wasn’t really the point last night. The point was to go with Liam to see someone he really likes, for him to experience the pleasure of live music being played well in front of other like-minded fans and that, that was everything I could have wanted it to be. Liam’s just now developing his own distinct tastes in music, and I look forward to learning from him about new and different acts in the way I started teaching my parents about music I discovered, sharing back. This night was a great start to that, sharing his enthusiasm.

Albums of the year – 2015

I used to do this regularly (see 20042005, 2006, 2008, 2009 & 2010), but apparently haven’t done it in a while. I suspect that it is no coincidence that my stopping this corresponds directly with Kellan’s arrival in my life.

But this year has felt like a particularly good year in music, and one where there’s been lots of changes in how I listen to music (good bye Rdio! hello Apple Music!). So, as in previous years, here’s an alphabetical list of albums that I liked a lot. Unlike previous years, I won’t be linking to Amazon, because who buys music anymore! Also – only a top 8 this year: If I had to think about it, it didn’t make the list. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I really loved at some point, but these albums all stuck with me.

Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

A stunning mix of gospel-blues-electronica, powered, unerringly, by Brittany Howard’s unbelievable voice, this album has the distinction of being my most-played album of the year. I couldn’t get the first eponymous single out of my head

Depression Cherry

Beach House – Depression Cherry

Lush, ethereal, moody. Dark like a grey afternoon, but maybe just after the rain has cleared, this feels like a slightly rawer album than their last.

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Björk – Vulnicura

A strange, moving, personal album about painful divorce, it is cathartic, raw, and even occasionally really hard to listen to.

Roses

Coeur de Pirate – Roses

A most Canadian of albums, this was my favourite “pop” album of the year. Introspective lyrics and some well-done orchestral arrangements make this a lovely listen.

Art Angels

Grimes – Art Angels

Local-via-Montreal wunderkid Grimes can really do no wrong in my book. I’m not sure I “get” this album, but I sure can’t stop listening to it! One reason I really like this is in comparison to her last – she, as I understand, wrote, performed, produced, art-directed – the whole thing on here. Incredible craftsmanship.

In Colour

Jamie XX – In Colour

The standout techno album of the year, an amazing, astounding mix of anthemic and yet somehow really small, detailed, personal music. It also has this weird sense, from the earlier-era samples carefully paired with modern collaborators of being not really of today of being a really timeless, yet somehow immediate, album

To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

I’m not really knowledgeable hip-hop, but some albums cross over – this one crossed way over. It felt like a window into a completely different world – as Pitchfork wrote, this album is “black as fuck”. It tied together social consciousness and politics lyrically, with amazing music. This album was my intro to Kamasi Washington, who’s album The Epic should probably be on here too.

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Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Right up there with Vulnicura as perhaps the most depressing album of the year, this is also one of the most beautiful: a loving, detailed look at Sufjan’s parents. Not self-pitying, not aggrandising, but a really intense look inwards that we all get to peek at.

Design & Content Conference: A sort-of review

So let’s get this out of the way up front: I have a lot of bias regarding the Design & Content Conference:
My company was a sponsor of the conference.
– The host & organizer, Steve Fisher, is a good friend of mine.

I’m not going to review all the talks — the levels were very good, with 2 exceptions, but wanted to highlight some, as I talk about the “structure” of talks and what I like and don’t. This conference, as I experienced it, consisted of 4 types of talks: The Story, The Essay, The Review & The Editorial. I’ll use examples of talks to talk about each. It should be noted I’m not a public speaker (though I’ve been thinking a lot about giving it a shot), and it’s entirely likely I’m making up terms for actual styles that already exist and are described, so… well. I’m already here, so let’s just dive in.

The Story

The Story talk is where the speaker guides you through one or more related tales, and uses these tales to illuminate her point. Sort of like fables of old, where the story contains important lessons. These are generally always my favourite talks, because I love stories and parables.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s talk, let’s just get this out of the way, was one of those really special, you-just-had-to-be-there, life-changing sort of experiences, which makes it hard to review in any way. As soon as video is up, go watch it. Better yet, find out where she’s next giving this talk and pay more or less whatever it takes to see this. Seriously. That good.

Sara’s talk consisted of 3 short, personal stories, all relating to the central theme of kindness. Her slides, which was common in story-style talks, were additive to the talk, but not required. Progressive Enhancement, if you will.

The Essay

The Essay talk is, to my mind, the most basic kind of talk. Think of your standard university essay with an intro, several key points, and a conclusion. That. They tended to be more technical, and, as a group, tended to use slides to explain points (or to repeat what they were saying). I feel like this might sort of a “beginner’s” format, or a safety format. With the exception of Rebekah Cancino & Eileen Webb’s talks, who rose above, these talks were the least interesting to me. One, they tended to be drier, but two, I don’t really want to have to read lots of text on a slide, and information-dense slides were common elements amongst these. Really, nothing is more off-putting than a speaker half-turning their head to read the slide out loud to me.

The Review

James White’s talk, Design Renegade, should have been one of those god-awful masturbatory “portfolio review” talks that artsy designers seem to like to give. But. It wasn’t. It rose above, way above thanks mostly to his unbridled energy, humour and pace. It reminded me very much of a talk by Aaron Draplin I saw a couple of years ago. Packing hundreds of slides into a rapid-fire cross-section of his professional and personal explorations it was wonderful, although, I suspect that how my inner 13-year-old comics-obsessed self identified with it helped. I spoke to several others who were much less enamoured with the talk. Given the nature of the portfolio review talk being very much about the speaker, the success of these would likely be directly impacted by two things: how much you like the speaker’s work; how much you like the speaker. Self-hagiography is a dangerous game.

The Editorial

This style I named because it straddled a line somewhere between a story and the essay. While the essay talks were very linearly-structured, and stories were pretty loose, the editorial tended to talk around a particular point, and were more opinion than essay (which had a veil of objectivity), without the flourishes of the story. In particular, Denise Jacob’s & Parker Mclean’s talks fell into this category. Denise was opining on how to be creative through banishing your inner critic (oh how this talk spoke to me!), while Parker was giving a whirlwind tour through how & why to make accessible content & design decisions. Denise’s slides tended to be illustrative of her points (often literally, with heavy use of photos), while Parker’s slides seemed, for the most part, to be punchlines, or accessories to his jokes. This style of talk greatly appeals to me intellectually, as while it demonstrates clear expertise, it couches it in experience & opinion, so comes across didactic than the essay-style talks.

Special Mention: The Click-bait

I want to take a moment to talk about Jared Spool’s talk, which was great (as his talks are — this was the fourth time I’ve seen him speak). Very Much an Editorial-style talk, but he’s sort of the Buzzfeed of this — in a good way. Everything is set up in a slide that shows some obscure image, and Jared will ask a question to the audience about what they think it means “Look at this graph — You’ll never guess what happened next!” over and over. Which…when I’m thinking back, really should have been annoying. And, perhaps it was. I don’t particularly like being asked an actual question that is really rhetorical. But. And it’s a really big BUT. It was awesome. I learned a lot about metrics (and how/when to ignore them/go beyond them), it was hugely entertaining, and a great way to close the conference.

In Toto

Really, it’s hard to believe that this was the first time this conference was put on — it was so smooth, so well run. Live captioning! Excellent, diverse, high-calibre topics! Tasty lunches! A party at Science World! The Venue itself isn’t fantastic — no coffee allowed in the auditorium, it was split across two-levels with some odd narrow hallways, but the team at the venue clear is great. Linking to the conference to two other Vancouver events: Style & Classmeetup & Creative Mornings was an interesting initiative to showcase Vancouver’s culture. I’m less convinced of the Creative Mornings inclusion (caveat: I didn’t attend Creative Mornings) only because the post-event chaos made the start of Day 2 a little weird.

When it’s announced next year, definitely grab a ticket. I hope I can still be involved somehow too.

Marvel Unlimited & digital media ownership: some thoughts

I’ve been buying comics weekly since I’ve had an allowance – about 30 years or so. 98% of them are Marvel comics – and in particular the X-men and the “street heroes” (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spiderman). About 4 years ago, I more or less stopped buying physical comics and switched to buying Digital Comics – this coincided, not at all incidentally, with my buying my first retina iPad. But I was still spending a fair amount of money each week on comics, and, while physical comics come with definite ownership, the built-in DRM of the Comics apps (Marvel, Image, Comixology) meant that I didn’t really feel like I was buying comics any more so much as I was  licensing them. I have a similar experience with other digital media.

And because I wasn’t really buying them anymore…the thrill, the urgency was gone. When I stopped buying physical music, I stopped caring so much about “owning” the music. And so I got an Rdio subscription – which suits me fine. More or less unlimited music, great discovery tools, for a small monthly fee. I kind of feel like I’m renting the world’s greatest music library.

When I stopped buying physical movies, I likewise stopped caring. I still will buy some movies on iTunes, but you know what? 90% of the time I’m perfectly content to wait for the movie to show up on Netflix: again – I’m happy to pay to rent access to a large library.

Books…I haven’t found my Netflix for books, mostly because the digital reading experience for me is much more intimately tied to the device I consume it on. I read only Amazon-purchased books when I had a kindle. Now I have a Kobo (almost entirely because of, at least publicly, how poorly Amazon seems to treat Authors/Publishers), and I buy Kobo books. Also: I *really* like the Kobo hardware. Much more than either Kindle I owned prior. If there was an on-device “Netflix for books”, I’d likely stop buying & immediately sign up for that. But I don’t like reading books on my tablets, so the existing services might as well not exist for me.

So we come back to Comics. About 2 months ago, I decided I no longer needed to be buying digital comics weekly. The pull of some 18,000 back issues available for rent in the Marvel Unlimited app was such a great draw. And so I downloaded it, and it’s been…ok. On to the original point of this, here’s some good and bad things on the Marvel Unlimited app:

  • Good: The experience of reading an individual issue. The pages/images are crisp, and really reward a high DPI screen. I can zoom in to see detail I often couldn’t with physical media. It’s just like the purchased digital issues.
  • Fantastic: Content. Seriously. If you’re a fan of Marvel comics, there’s almost no excuse to not have this app just to get access to all that content.
  • Meh: How the app handles rotation. Some pages/panels are better landscape, some portrait. As you rotate back and forth, it sometimes gets lost and you end up zoomed, or more oddly, back a page. Likewise, it sometimes has issues loading in the issue. Consistently, for me, every 3rd issue in a session, I need to exit, restart the download, before I can finish the issue
  • Good: consuming “official” events. You can just keep reading the next issues.
  • Missed Opportunity: Search. The Marvel Wiki is an amazing resource for discovery. It seems terrible that I can’t leverage that knowledge base, directly in the app, for discovery.
  • Bad: Inter-issue linking. If a comic says “as seen in [title]” in one of those little editor notes, the meta-data for that issue should always link me to that.  This, to me, is an almost unconscionable omission in this app. It’s a rabbit-hole app, and should take every opportunity to send me further down the rabbit hole. Same goes for Cross overs. If an X-Factor story links to a She-Hulk issue, when I finish that X-factor issue, show me the She-Hulk title! Cross overs are nearly impossible to read in the Marvel Unlimited App.
  • Bad: No wish-list. Seriously. Even if it was limited to, say, a dozen titles. let me wishlist items to read later. I can’t keep 18K comics in my head, but I might come across a title while browsing that I want to read later, but not right now. Why can’t I store that desire somewhere? Again. This is a rabbit-hole app. So help go further down that hole.
  • Potential: Sharing/social reviews. I’ve got friends who’re using this app. But I have no way to learn what they’re reading, what they liked, etc. Sharing what comics I’m reading has always been part of my comic culture. So why I can’t I share my reading list with my friends? Or publish quick reviews of issues/titles/storylines to Social Media? Seems a really easy missed marketing opportunity for Marvel

So what’s my overall? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Marvel Unlimited is the worst of all Comic Reading apps – except for all the others. The content is so great that it absolutely trumps the varied experience of consuming the content. But, there’s so much opportunity to grow this app into something amazing, that I’m actually a little sad how poorly executed it currently is.

Ed Note: Marvel – I’d love to help make this app better. Want to hire me?

2nd Ed Note: The cover image has very little to do with the post. But I like coffee and comics. They go well together.

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks

I’m a big fan of David Mitchell – I devoured Cloud Atlas – although, perhaps oddly, I’ve not read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which I suppose is a precursor to this book, so maybe I should have. But, it it’s not necessary to have done so.

Mitchell’s way with prose is second-to-none. He can create a world in a paragraph and destroy all your remaining hopes and dreams in another. He’s also really mastered the multiple-narrator trick. Each sounds distinct in a way that isn’t cloying, but natural.

Holly Sykes, the principal protagonist of this book is, well – she’s one of the best characters I’ve read in ages. She’s inspirational, she’s tough, she’s smart. She’s only the narrator in 2 sections, but features prominently in all.

Here’s an odd thing – with the exception of the epilogue (more in a moment), the narrators are universally dislikable. The other characters get to shine when someone else is narrating them, but the narrators themselves do not. When we first meet Holly she’s a bratty teenager – not horrible, but not exactly nice or good. But, tellingly, you already see the signs of worthiness that the latter narrators will expose. But Hugo, Ed, Crispin & Marinus are all quite unlikable as narrators, though each gets varying degrees of remediation in the eyes of other narrators.

The primary sci-fi element running through the book is forgettable, oddly. Indeed, my least favourite section is the primary dénouement, which is straight-up super-hero-immortal vs super-villain-immortal and not terribly well thought through, I thought. I found its own internal rules inconsistent, which is a cardinal sin for sci-fi/fantasy. But, the book is so good this is easily pardoned. And Holly. Holly’s so damn great to read that she makes this section worth it.

Finally. The epilogue: A post-internet, near-future (30-years-from-now) post-apocalyptic world that is so horrifyingly plausible that it left me fairly shattered after reading. Honestly, the first 500-odd pages are worth it just to read this – but DO read the first 3 sections at least to give this the real weight it deserves.

Lastly, there’s a nice (I’m assuming) hat-tip in the book to Vancouver’s own Douglas Coupland.

Jack White at Deer Lake

I finally saw Jack White last night! Fourth time’s the charm (I failed 2 times during the White Stripes era, once since – a mixture of weather problems and my own incompetence).

Note 1: I did not take the photo this post. That photo is by David James Swanson, whom I understand to be the “Tour Photographer”, and, if I heard the announcement right, both he and Jack White are totally cool with us using his photos. great!

I went with Iva & Leah. Not really Leah’s thing, but Iva was excited, and Leah’s a good sport & I think still enjoyed herself.

This is the sort of live show that I live for: Full of improvisation, different treatments on well-trodden songs, mistakes, and, above all, a showcase of musicianship that only occasionally veered into wankery.

The best: I’m guessing that Jack White & the band make up (or alter) the set-list on the fly. Before each song, there’s this hurried conversation between Jack and one or more band members – whomever has to bring in the song with him, while the others catch up. When they start to improvise mid-song, bringing in snippets of other songs, this requires more conversation. Watching the drummer & bassist intently watching & listening to that musical lead was a highlight.

The mediocre: This band is not quite tight enough for this to work. At least once, the band got confused as to where the song was going, and there were some audible mis-cues.

The bad: With Jack White, I’m beginning to think “less is more”..the songs where he lets his band really stretch out worked the best. His solo & lead guitar work definitely veered into wanking showmanship too often, Ball & Biscuit being the song that really stands out in my mind as Jack White wanking off musically, rather than working the song. But letting his bandmates run – even a gorgeous theramin solo! was truly remarkable.

The inexplicable: Why was the sound so bad? I’ve been to several shows at Deer Lake now, and this was by far the worst. Everything was off. Why was the side-of-stage-piano mic better levelled than the lead? What was wrong with the acoustic guitar pickup? Why was there a distinct right-to-left echo going on? Why the muddy? I was wondering if perhaps they were aiming for some “old school” muddy, mono-mix blues sound…but it didn’t work.

The acceptable: That was a short set…just under 2 hours. I partially blame the rules for playing at Deer Lake…hard to have a long show when you’ve got to finish at 10pm. But boy did they pack a lot into that short set.

The everything-is-alright-in-the-world: Singing the guitar riff to Seven Nation Army with 100s of other humans with the band backing you and Jack White singing over it was a beautiful collective-joy moment, and a great send-off for the night.

So yeah, A good night

The Boss in Vancouver

Bruce Springsteen in Vancouver

Stop. Before you read any more of what I have to say, go read Lauren’s beautiful take on the concert. She’ll describe it much more beautifully than I. She also experienced a very different concert than I. Perhaps the one I wanted to have.

Much like Lauren, seeing Bruce Springsteen live was on my musical bucket list (& perhaps my actual list). I knew going into the show that this would be a tidy, soul-based, big-band experience. But it didn’t connect for me. Maybe it was my vantage point. I was high up, slightly behind the stage as you can see from the instagram above.

It irked me that the band started the show in “mid-concert” form – there was no warming up the crowd, we were just suppose to already be fully swayed by the awesome that is the band, and call-and-answer, sing-along and glory by the end of the first bar. I wasn’t. I don’t care you are, you earn my devotion through the course of a show, not before I show up.

Watching from above, the show seemed so choreographed,  so pre-planned that nothing felt spontaneous. I got the distinct impression that the hand gestures, the rock-god posing – it would have happened whether there was an adoring audience or not – not that there’s ever any fear of there not being an adoring audience at a stadium rock show.

What I love most about live music is seeing musicians on stage who appear to truly love being there, who are present in that moment, with whom I can share a sense of a special moment. At one point Bruce said that he loves his job. Which is great, I’m glad. But I guess I want him to pretend, for me, that playing live shows isn’t a job – it’s a passion, something he simply couldn’t exist without. Because no matter how much you love your job, you can walk away, leave it behind and get back to your life.

I can’t fault the band’s stellar muscianship, his showmanship or the effort put into the show. I cannot believe that at his age Bruce Springsteen can still work a stage the way he does. Hell, I couldn’t keep up with him, and I’m only slightly over half his age (he’s, I believe, 64; I’m 35). But the whole event felt clinical, precise to me. Cynical, even.

Ford Edge, a review

On our recent trip to Florida, we were upgraded from our requested car to a Ford Edge. This was nice, in that with 2 kids, carseats & a stroller, the extra room is always helpful, and that it is remarkably similar to our own car, a Toyota Highlander.

The 2 cars are more or less identical in size: the Edge’s wheelbase is 111.2″, the Highlander’s is 109.8″.  In length/width, the Edge is 184.2″/76″, whereas the Highlander is 188.4″/75.2″. That being said, the Edge feels less roomy inside – at least the driver’s seat feels less roomy – I didn’t sit anywhere else.

The place where the Edge truly shines is the dash/nav system, which uses the Sync tech. The display was clear, easy to see at a glance, provided clear information was very easy to control both with on-steering-wheel controls, and also voice. If we had hooked it up to some sort of internet-capable device, I suspect it would have been even nicer. By contrast, the Highlander’s nav system (nb: we don’t have the new Toyota “entune” system in ours), is really pretty terrible – the voice controls are unusable, the display is so low-res as to be  ugly, I can’t use it if I’m wearing sunglasses, and the audio controls are buried and hard to use. Despite how much better the Edge’s nav/dash system is, there was one clear problem: it seemed to get confused very easily if/as I switched audio sources from bluetooth to usb and back – it would list the wrong artist frequently and I’d lose the ability to control the audio from the steering wheel controls. The only fix I found was to turn off the audio, then reconnect.

This may be a minor thing, but the steering wheel itself was much  nicer in the Edge. It is slightly thicker, and felt much more comfortable in my hands. I also found it easier to adjust the tilt/height to be exactly where I wanted it.

Otherwise the interior was reasonable. The other noticeable interior differences have to do with finish – but I’m not sure there’s a fair comparison because I’m assuming the rental version is the most basic, whereas ours is somewhat kitted out. But! overall, there seemed to be a lot less attention to detail in the Edge: the door pulls felt cheap/flimsy, the cargo mat didn’t sit flush ever, the seatbelt buttons didn’t press smoothly, etc.

The mileage on the Edge was decent – we drove about 500 miles & had to fill up once – and was about 1/2 empty before filling it again to return to the rental place – I had been expecting to fill that more often. Our Highlander is a hybrid, so not a terribly fair comparison, but the Edge’s listed mileage is better than that the non-hybrid Highlander’s listed mileage.

The cars’ handling is very different – whereas our Highlander is best described as “smooth”, the Edge is definitely not – it felt really jumpy at low speeds (starting from stop, for example) and again, at high speeds (80+ mph), felt really shuddery to drive. Both have kick when you need it, but with the Edge, you can feel it moving up and down gears, whereas with the Highlander, its a much smoother transition – I don’t know if the hybrid-electric engine plays a part in that.

Given that both cars have more or less the same starting price ($28K), I’ll take the Highlander over the Edge every time, but, much like my old Ford Focus, Ford continues to impress me – not enough to lure me back to buying an American car, but maybe in a few years.