My last night in La Rochelle

La Rochelle at night

La Rochelle, one night when I remembered my camera

Well, here it is: the final night. I’ve been in La Rochelle, France for about three-and-a-half months, and it will definitely go down in my big book of Life as “an experience“.

I’m starting to gather my thoughts together. I suspect that the next weeks will be filled with many such posts, as I think over things and re-read my journal and go over my many photos (5800 so far!).

But right now, I’m thinking of today — or more, really, of tonight.

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A Self-Portrait in Three T-Shirts

I’ve done my laundry today.

In packing to come to France, I had to pack only what I needed. It was confirmed that there was a laundry room in the building, so that meant I could carry less, and worry less about having to truck laundry around a new city.

Then it came down to the question: what do I pack?

Far beyond the simple question of the ideal blank forms of things I’m going to need (so many each of shirts, underwear, socks, pants), the question really revolves around a much deeper point: who am I going to appear to be?

Perhaps it is inevitable that I feel some nostalgia now, with less than a week left in this town that has been my home for three and a half months. It’s not all been good — often quite stressful and frustrating, actually — but I’m trying to take what gems I can from it all, see what of myself I have learned or how I might have changed, see what of the world I have learned or experienced.

And yet, it was while going down to get my laundry out of the dryer that I had this more interesting thought: what does my laundry say about me?

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Dispatches from Behind the E-Curtain: No Peanut Butter In France

No, this isn’t about peanut butter being blocked by my ISP…

Those woes continue unchanged, by the way. Recently, it seems that tinurl was added to the list of forbidden sites, which seems like nothing more than a foolish inconvenience. (In case you aren’t aware, tinyurl is nothing more than a URL-shortener: give it a long, complicated URL, and it makes a small one of it. It can point to anything, and when you visit a tinyurl it redirects you to the original. In other words: tinyurl has no content, and it’s explicitly transformed into the original URL, so there should never be any reason to block it.)

No, this is not about that, although it’s on my mind pretty constantly.

This is about me being bored, and wanting to share some parts of my trip with someone – anyone.

This is about me still trying to find the benefits of my trip, to find that “sunny side”.

Actually, this is about peanut butter.

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Dispatches from Behind the E-Curtain: Where I Can’t Go

Just fired off another angry email about the blocking on my Internet services, and I thought I’d post an update.

No, nothing has come of my emails (aside from practicing my French, and using Google translate as a crutch ;)), but the list I’ve been keeping has been growing longer.

I’m not counting all the blocked sites — a guy’s gotta some privacy! ūüėČ — but this is the example list that I’ve been keeping as my hammer in the emails I’m sending, and I thought I’d share. Also, many of these sites have content on other sites, so many other pages are broken or at least battered. I recently noticed, for example,¬† that Expedia, while accessible on its own, apparently relies on Microsoft for some of its content, and Microsoft.com is blocked.

(Actually, I just realized that this reduced list is just the one’s I’m making a case with, so I’ve added a few more sites that are not crucial but are blocked as well. Heck, while creating this page, I found about a dozen more…)

Keep in mind that the only policy that was ever specified to me was a block for bandwidth concerns.

Before I give the list, let’s play a game, shall we? In the comments, drop me a link to your local-ish newspaper that’s online, and one of your favourite, regularly-viewed sites (relatively clean! no porn!) — if it isn’t already blocked.

I’m curious how much more of the world I’m missing..

Again: a word of caution: this isn’t about France, this is about ARPAE. One company holds all the blame here.

Here’s my list, organized a bit by site type:

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Dispatches From Behind The E-Curtain: Where the Hell is Canada?

I continue to find myself frustrated, annoyed and frequently, screamingly mad at the inexcusably and inexplicably blocked Internet service here. I can find no rhyme nor reason behind it, and my emails go unanswered.

I’ll keep sending them, see if anything happens. With each one, I send the increasingly longer list of improperly blocked sites, and my introduction to the email gets a bit wordier, and perhaps a bit less civil.

The only trend that I can really see so far is the alarming number of news sites that are blocked. I mean, I can understand blocking YouTube, by why block The New York Times? The LA Times? The Daily Gleaner??

(Curiously, the don’t block the ultra-picky Gleanerisms criticism site..)

Interestingly, I haven’t found a French newspaper that has been blocked yet. If I didn’t know better, I would be tempted to assume some basic bigotry on the part of the ISP/lodging host. However, as the old saw goes: “never assume malice where simple stupidity will suffice”. Or, in this case: “massive stupidity”.

I’ve been glad that neither the CBC nor (most of) Google seems to be blocked yet, and Twitter has been my regular lifeline to friends, now that Flickr, Libsyn and incredibly¬†Feedburner have been discovered to be blocked. Google Reader continues to function, albeit without most of the pictures, so I get a little news and get something new to read occasionally.

Now, I don’t really consider myself a newshound. At home, I tried an experiment, and I got the daily local newspaper for a year. (Actually, it’s been almost a year and a half.) I read it, as much as I could, each day. The form factor didn’t really agree with me — I like newsprint, but I don’t really like the massive, awkward paper — but I found it interesting. When I return, I plan to continue to get the paper.

I do read plenty of RSS feeds. I’m not entirely sure if that’s just a distraction, but I do pick up on a lot of really interesting things and ideas. I read lots of tech-related blogs, a few odd-based blogs, stuff for geeks/nerds/dweebs/whatever.

Now that I have an iPad, I expect to do that more and more — well, once I get home, to a reasonable Internet service, of course. Here, I can load it with the many research articles and books I already have digital forms of, but I can’t access the iBooks store (or anything, really) with it.

I’m not particularly patriotic — I like some aspects of living in Canada, and it seems pretty reasonable most of the time when compared to a lot of other places in the world, but I don’t tend to do much flag-waving. Or, arguably, I’m very Canadian, as I’m not really sure what it actually means to “be Canadian”: the Canadian identity is truly a mystery. All I can say is that I’ve bought into the ideal that we are somehow moderate, open-minded, free-thinking, accepting individuals.

But looking over my RSS feeds, I wondered: where’s the Canada there?

I’ve got a couple of CBC feeds (New Brunswick news, general news, the Spark radio show) but the list got thin after that. There’s Lamespotting, a blog about public stupidity, mostly in Saint John. Thoughtwrestling, an eminently readable blog about creativity, problem-solving and more, from the same mind that also brought me Broadcasting Brain. (He’s also from remarkably close to my neck of the woods, which I find very encouraging, as I often wonder if the region hasn’t realized the current date..)

To get even more hyper-local, there’s a blog run by my flatmate where he opines about roleplaying-game design — particularly his own (and various random, bloggy things).

And then…?

Hmm..

Where’s the Canadian tech ‘zines? Where’s the equivalent to Lifehacker? BoingBoing? Slashdot? Gizmodo? Techcrunch?

What about smaller blogs? I find a bunch of blogs through podcasts (and vice versa), but there really don’t seem to be a lot of those, either.. Or rather, there aren’t a lot I’m actually listening to, or are on topics I really am interested in. Or have an episode in the last year..

Someone mentioned Rabble, so I’m checking it out. However, I’m weary of politics — both the ultra-conservative, do-nothing-say-little politics of big government and the cry-to-the-hills, more-radical-than-makes-sense kind. Frankly, neither side seems to do more than be opposed to each other, and thus, no progress is made.

I am about to commit a terrible sin: I am about to start talking as if I really have any sense at all what Canadians are like… It is, from my observation, the one thing that we do have in common, this strange notion that we all speak for each other..

I start to wonder if this isn’t some part of the root of the problem, that Canadians are so busy saying “We’re not Americans!” (and, to a lesser and more historical extent, “We’re not British!”) that we avoid doing anything much at all. I see a lot of “same as it ever was” in Canada, and we’re so busy not being something that we fail to be anything at all..

There are a few really fantastic companies in Canada: RIM, Dream Pod 9, the CBC, and…

Hmm.. that’s all I can name. What’s on your list?

So, tell me where I’m wrong. Tell me that Canada is every bit as progressive, aggressive, forward-marching, eager, expressive, creative, etc as we hope it is.

I don’t want sentiment. I know people filled with each of these things. I also know that most of them are frustrated by backward support architectures, inferior technology adoption, lack of financial support, insufficient public interest, no venue to really shine.

Show me the blogs. Give me the podcast links. Give me details.

Show me that Canada deserves to be thought of as important to the future.

Make me care, but: show me, don’t tell me.