Some randomly-selected impressions of Montréal from a visitor

Just wanted to drop some thoughts, not a comprehensive post, just things that surprised me or I found especially interesting, as regards our recent vacation to Montréal.  Poorly labeled photos from our trip may be found here, and in succeeding albums, if you’re curious.  In no particular order then!:

1. So many beautiful churches.  You could spend a whole trip just visiting churches.  Probably my favorite part of the trip right there – many American cities would love to have just one church of the visual splendor we encountered again and again in Montréal.  A strange thing it must be, though, to be a functioning church and also a tourist attraction.  The Basilique Notre-Dame had a laser and light show one evening we were there, for example (we didn’t go).  Basilique below:

34589817530_9486f24af3_k (1)

2. No free soda refills anywhere!  (Hey, I drink a lot… drink soda a lot.)  Not even that nice America-themed diner we ate at where we were informed “the portions are big because we’re modeled after the states”.  You’ll like your soda with a can, and a glass, and when the can is empty you’re done!  Except for the casino – yes, our city passes came with $25 in free credits, so we visited.  Not only free refills, but actually free soda, period, there.  Casino and Bec below.


3. Some more casino thoughts since I’d never been to one before.  Our city passes gave us $25 in credits – $25 is probably nothing to the casino, the *minimum* bet at Blackjack tables was $10, you could go through $25 in an instant and I’m sure people do.  Slot machines have gotten way more complicated than “line up three of the same and you win” – how about 50 different arrangements that count as some kind of victory?  And finally – a lot of people there just didn’t seem that happy.  The experience was not as glamorous as Oceans 11 might have predicted.  The happiest people we saw were those watching the live music – you know, not gambling.  Below, catching the bus to the casino.


4. And now some thoughts on language!  People really will greet you with “Bonjour-Hi!” – friendly and a way to figure out your preferred language. We bought some items at a convenience store and didn’t reply to the greeting, so the clerk was forced to say “voulez-vous un sac do you want a bag?”  There was bilingual signage, especially, in “official” places (like the airport), but I was surprised how French the city was in terms of conversations overheard and plenty of French-only signage as well.  Just observing people use French was a lot of fun for me – it was probably especially fun watching the children when we visited the zoo.  “Regarde!  Un ours, un ours!”  Photo below is not the Zoo Ecomusee, which we took a train to, but is the Biodome, a sort of zoo closer to the city center.


5. The 747 bus was a great way to get from the airport, and the Metro subway system was a great way to get around town too.  I learned that bus stops were “arrêt”, above-ground “real” train stations were “gare”, and subway stations were just “station”, said as you would speaking French.  Below me in a Metro station.


6. Oh right, other thing about restaurants that struck me was that if paying by credit, they bring the card reader to your table and have you run it.  Makes sense from a privacy perspective, did think it made the experience feel a little less professional/formal as compared to the United States habit of letting the waiter run the card.  Below is Bec at a nice French restaurant with some Quebecois cheeses.


7. Just a few other French word things that surprised me – saw “patate” for potato almost everywhere rather than “pomme de terre”, which is what I learned in school.  Quotations were indicated by << >> rather than, what I at least, would call quotation marks!  Saw “comptoir” which just means “counter” a lot of places to indicate a food place – we had lunch at “Comptoir 21” one day.  Generally was very pleased with my ability to read-stuff, and say stuff if I had time to think about it, understanding what other people were saying as they were saying it definitely the hardest thing.  Below, eat fresh.


8. Just one more thought!  If you’re thinking about traveling from the United States, we found that easy-peasy.  The Montréal airport has space for an *enormous* line when it came to processing travelers entering Canada… and, at least mid-day in mid-May, there was almost nobody in it, we went pretty much straight through, had to answer a few questions about where we were staying to the French-accented border agent, a fine experience.  On the way home, the Montréal airport actually pre-processes US travelers so that, when you land in America, you’re just like another domestic traveler, which is nice.  Below, Montreal from the air as we depart.

18620966_1450774561647462_1476179764934568832_o (1).jpg

Thus ends this random collection of impressions!  To learn more check out the photo link above or, better yet, visit yourself, I highly recommend the trip.

Links I liked, July 19-25 (Bicycle Physics, Hungry Cleaner Shrimps, Family Bikes)

1. The Bicycle Problem that Nearly Broke Mathematics

Terrible headline here, but pretty cool story that goes to show that just because a device is very common, doesn’t mean it is well understood.  A couple snips:

In April 1970, chemist and popular-science writer David Jones demolished this theory in an article for Physics Today in which he described riding a series of theoretically unrideable bikes. One bike that Jones built had a counter-rotating wheel on its front end that would effectively cancel out the gyroscopic effect. But he had little problem riding it hands-free.

This discovery meant that there was no simple rule-of-thumb that could guarantee that a bike is easy to ride. Trail could be useful. Gyroscopic effects could be useful. Centre of mass could be useful. For Papadopoulos, this was revelatory. The earliest frame builders had simply stumbled on a design that felt OK, and had been riding around in circles in that nook of the bicycle universe. There were untested geometries out there that could transform bike design.

2. Trump: Tribune of Poor White People

Everyone was passing around this piece of political/cultural analysis last week – give it a read if you haven’t seen it, any excerpt can’t do it justice.  But I’ll drop one anyway:

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

3. What Happened With the Library Millages

This is a local story but… I bet this sort of thing happens all the time.  City passes millage specifically for library that should increase their “intake” by about $2,000,000 – but actual intake only increases by about $250,000 because the city decreases the amount of money given the library from the general fund.  There is an obvious incentive here to pass specific millages for popular programs (like the library), to free up more general fund money for less popular stuff.  Be aware…

4. A Brief Word to J.I. Packer on His 90th Birthday

Thomas Aquinas died at age 49.  John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards died at 54.  Charles Spurgeon at 57.  Martin Luther at 62.

5. Facebook Messenger Hits 1 Billion Users

There is nothing deep and complicated about this article just… whew.

More than 10% of voice over IP (VoIP) calls occur on Messenger, and 17 billion photos are sent on the app each month. And interactions with businesses have risen sharply. People now exchange 1 billion messages with businesses every month, a figure that has more than doubled in the past year.

6. Heavy Boots

To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question: 1

1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it
a) float away,
b) float where it is,
or c) fall to the ground?

About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?

About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”

7. Cleaner shrimp stuffing his face at feeder ring

OK personal video here – I don’t know how common this is, but our cleaner shrimp has learned that me opening the top of our saltwater aquarium means food is coming, and he’ll now run up and over to the feeder ring and start grabbing food!  On the plus side his actions help the sinking food sink, which I suppose the other fish appreciate.


8. This man rescued a bear from the jaws of a cheese puff bucket

Man sees bear with cheese puff bucket on head.  Man lassos bear.  Man and bear roll around on the group together for a couple minutes (but bear cannot bite man because cheese puff bucket).  Bear gives up and climbs tree, man ties rope to tree, calls authorities to come help bear.

9. Taga 2.0: The Ultimate Most Affordable Family Bike

At the risk of totally getting sucked in by advertisement… this seems like a pretty awesome idea.

10. As More People Get High in Colorado, More Kids Head to the Hospital

By itself, not an argument against legalization perhaps, but legalization proponents like to pretend there is no downside, and that needs to be pushed against.

Although cannabis poisonings in children are not common, the incidents have definitely increased following Colorado’s legalization of recreational use in 2012. The rate of increase in hospital visits is considerable—it doubled between 2009 and 2015—but the overall numbers remain small: 1 child per 100,000 people before legalization and 2 children per 100,000 people after legalization. Numbers of poison control center calls, though still small overall, increased by more than five times.

11. 7-Eleven Delivered a Slurpee via Drone Without Dropping the Scoop Straw

Title says it all.

This week brought to you by blue jays in our backyard.


Links I liked, 8/10/2015 – 8/16/2015 (safe spaces, bad science, internet arguments)

Oh dear, I have been slacking on these lately.

1. The Coddling of the American Mind

OK, everybody on the internet has already linked this article – so if you haven’t read it yet, go do so. Too long to really quote, but essentially about what making colleges places of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”, where “microaggressions” are zealously hunted and punished, does to the way we think.

2. A Scientific Look at Bad Science

Another nice Atlantic essay on why an increasing amount of apparently bad science is being published.

3. There’s a sneaky trick that is allowing this biker to seemingly defy physics by driving on water

A free-body diagram! In a mainstream news article! (But is it correct?)

4. I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos

As I’ve only realized lately, to be a man, and to declare yourself pro-choice, is to proclaim your neutrality. And, as I’ve only recently been willing to admit, even to myself, that’s another name for “wimping out.”

At least that’s how my wife sees it. She’s pro-life, and so she’s been tearing into me every time a new video is released. She’s not buying my argument that, as a man, I have to defer to women and trust them to make their own choices about what to do with their bodies. To her, that’s ridiculous—and cowardly.

Yes, someone unfriended me on Facebook because I shared this article, true story.

5. Whole Foods’ John Mackey: Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism

I don’t watch a lot of video interviews. This was a good one. Made me order his book.


Lot of ideas worth pondering in this essay.

People like to talk a lot about “dehumanizing” other people, and there’s some debate over exactly what that entails. Me, I’ve always thought of it the same was as Aristotle: man is the rational animal. To dehumanize them is to say their ideas don’t count, they can’t be reasoned with, they no longer have a place at the table of rational discussion. And in a whole lot of Internet arguments, doing that to a whole group of people seems to be the explicit goal.

7. Our Southern Mountaineers (1918)

Shot almost a century ago, this 1918 newsreel footage might possibly be the earliest known moving images of Appalachia.

Lake Lansing
Lake Lansing as we flew into town this week.

Historical Information on the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood of East Lansing, Michigan

When we were considering purchasing a home in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood, I tried to find historical information about the neighborhood online and could find precious little.  To my pleasant surprise, after moving in I found the previous owner had left behind some papers that contained just what I was looking for!  So I have digitized them for the next owner-to-be browsing the interwebs.

LCC Student Showcase


Here at Lansing Community College we recently finished out first, hopefully annual (or biannual?) showcase of student work, which we named “Starscapes” since LCC’s mascot is the “Stars”, and we seem to name everything Star-something! We had about 25 student groups sign up to show off their work, which isn’t bad at all for a first run, and attendance was good enough that we ran out of cookies on the first day! (The event was two days total.)

I was quite impressed with how well my presenting students did – this was probably their first poster presentation for many of them, yet they seemed quite at ease. I was proud of them. But what impressed me even more was the crowd – some people attended because they were members of classes, and the professor brought the whole class, but many other people, a surprising number of people to me, just drifted in because they were curious. It reminded me of something the founder of Khan Academy said,

There’s a lot more demand for people who want to just improve themselves than anyone would have guessed.

These weren’t people getting course credit or anything, they were just curious, they just wanted to learn. And they were an encouragement and a joy to talk with – I answered quite a few questions, even though I hadn’t personally put together any of the presentations! We have a great community of learning here.


A pair of interesting articles about transportation

The topic of transportation often interests me. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t have a car, or because of a childhood spent playing SimCity – but I suspect the latter! There were a couple of articles in the October 2012 issue of Reason Magazine that I wanted to pass along.

The first is longer article called “The streetcar swindle“, by Samuel Scheib. The main idea of the article is – Americans have lately become fascinated once again by a transit technology from the early 20th century, the streetcar or trolley. But streetcars are a bad idea almost everywhere – in short, because they act basically like buses, except that they’re slower, and cost a lot more money to build and to operate. There are a few places they make sense – in some French cities, for example, streetcars can navigate into areas not accessible by any other form of public transit. To my surprise Lansing, where I now live, was mentioned as one city where a streetcar system might actually work.

To be fair, I will say that there is one argument I have heard in favor of streetcars not addressed by this article, and that is that because they seem more permanent, they are more likely to stimulate development (versus a bus line, for example). If you take the time and money to actually lay track in the street, the transit line is not going to up and disappear tomorrow. (But, the Reason article does give examples of streetcar lines that have disappeared.)

The second article is called “Bike to the Future“, and is mainly about electric bikes. I thought one interesting point this article made was that we use our cars quite inefficiently – they have room for four or five people and plenty of cargo, and we drive them around with an average of 1.67 persons. Bikes can be a good deal more efficient, but they have obvious drawbacks – they’re slower (though only a little slower in cities), they have a smaller range for most people, they carry less stuff, and they require physical exertion resulting in possible sweating and dishevelment! Electric bikes eliminate some of these drawbacks.

Four signs it’s too hot at the zoo today!

1. All animals with the word “arctic” in their name are given the day off.

The zoo even confirmed this for me.

2. The ostrich looks kind of droopy.

3. Even the camels have fallen over. (“Are you OK, Bob?”)

4. The zoo is misting the penguins instead of the people. (And the snow leopard too!)

There be wildflowers in these parts

And have been for the last couple weeks or so. Just a couple photos from the North Tier Trail in East Lansing today:

And one from Hawk’s Nest park. They are everywhere:

Where I also saw an otter! I think. Couldn’t really see the tail.

It seems another former pastor has started blogging

Robbie Griggs, who was one of our pastors at Central Presbyterian in Clayton, MO, is now writing “The Happy Curmudgeon ~ Culture, Literature, Food, Family, and Biblical Studies”. Look, someone who has just as much trouble narrowing down a topic as me! Today he brings the world “Where the Wild Things Are” read by… Christopher Walken.

I shall add him to the “Blogs of Friends” roll.

Just a couple photos of the Red Cedar River

A visiting student from Tunisia recently expressed to us how beautiful she found the Lansing River Trail, which winds, mostly, along the Red Cedar River. I bike it all the time, it’s my preferred way home from work when the weather is nice and I’m not in a hurry. So I decided to bike along the trail today with a camera – because while sometimes cameras distract you when you should be paying attention, other times they make you stop and smell the roses. You can file this under “appreciating what you have in life”.

What? Oh, the zoo is along the trail too! ‘Tis a tufted deer. A cute, tufted deer.