Tag Archives: UBC

UBC Engineer Pranksters to Pay the Price

Well, every year the engineers at UBC pull some sort of magical engineering feat and suspend or put a vehicle or some other object in an odd place. When one goes looking it’s hard to get an accurate list of what was done and where. Even the engineers’ own site lists little. This is probably because the admission of specific pranks could garner infamy and charges.

Over the years they have done a variety of pranks, the most enduring being suspending or placing a VW Bug somewhere off a bridge or the first time, on top of the Ladner clock tower on UBC grounds. Other Beetles have been suspended off the Lions Gate bridge and the Golden Gate bridge, bringing some international notoriety to the merry band of pranksters. The ‘geers feel a strong need to prove their engineering prowess but they received a failing mark for last week’s prank on the Ironworkers’ Memorial bridge in which they may have damaged the cables to the bridge and the car plunged into the drink.

The five culprits were arrested and released (a local catch and release program for engineers), could face charges of mischief over $5000 as well as discipline through the university. The other third of all these pranks is that usually they ask for a donation of $100-$1000 to a hospital or other cause, which, from what I can find, has never been paid by mayors or members of parliament. So, good harmless fun right? The other third is that often the “ornaments” are left blocking traffic or the removal of such blocks traffic and costs Vancouver a good chunk of money.

There have been other pranks. Supposedly they once put a giant engineer’s jacket on the Inukshuk near Stanley Park and it was filled with clothing for the homeless, or they made a giant sculpture of tin cans (with food in them) that then went to the food bank. I can’t find record of these two but after this botched attempt and perhaps a hefty bill to pay back to the city, engineers will try more socially responsible pranks.

There are others that may not disrupt traffic but cause anger or consternation, such as the theft of the Speakers’ chair from the legislature. If nothing else, these pranks do point out security issues. There is a wiki entry of some of the pranks, obviously written by engineers, replete with misspellings and purple narratives.

I remember one year when Sophie’s cafe on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano found the giant fork and knife that adorned the entry to their restaurant gone. It was accredited to the geers and the five-foot utensils were returned. Overall it wasn’t a technically hard mission. Someone loosened the bolts when inside the restaurant and then they just came back later and pulled them off of the outside wall. They’ve stolen the Rose Bow trophy from Washington U and the nine o’clock gun in Stanley Park. Always these items have been “found” by engineers and returned.

A rites of passage for upcoming graduates, the geers try to show their wit, creativity and prowess with such stunts. It would be nice if they now start putting a bit more thought into their antics and see if they can benefit some cause more than just asking for a ransom. After all, perhaps these pranks show the shortcomings of many engineered roadways and systems that often have great flaws in them. I think of our Alex Fraser bridge (yet to have a VW Beetle suspended from it) where three arteries lead to the main bridge and merge all at the same point, causing long traffic jams and slow moving traffic. Another piece of engineering brilliance. So I challenge the engineers to try and take their stunts to a new level and add some meat to the bones.

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Genre vs Literary Works

Now that movie technology has advanced, movie makers create worlds with all manner of special effects. There are a great number of fantastical, science fictional works. There is the whole gamut of superhero movies from the various comic books. And then there are movies based on books. Back in the sixties, science fiction movies went way out on a limb when 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed. And then there was Bladerunner, based off of P.K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (an awesome title by the way). There were many others, which ran the range of B and lower–the Godzillas and Blob and other somewhat campy horror flicks.

And then came Star Wars, an epic story with star spanning special effects. Full steam ahead and there are many movies now out at the same time. For example, right now we have Hell Boy II, Dark Knight, Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Mummy III, to name a few. So, a lot of these are good fun and not particularly deep. Hollywood does love to turn speculative fiction into only eye and mind candy. When you look at the evolution of speculative (SF, fantasy, horror) novels, we’ve gone from bug-eyed aliens to very complex stories and worlds that look at the human condition, ethical and moral tales and what-ifs of future technologies.

On top of covering a host of possibilities with humanity, an author has to often create a viable, believable world that works. It must still follow rules and must be shown enough to paint dimensions so the reader can see it. This is of course, much easier in a movie, and yes a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe even five thousand. Good speculative writing is not for the faint of heart, nor for the undisciplined and uneducated.

All of these skills that one must learn for speculative writing apply for any type of writing. Know your market, which means read, read, read. Then write, write, write and learn and perfect. This never stops, ever. I tend to lump all the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and even the myths of long ago under the umbrella term of speculative. In reality, anything that is not considered a history or telling of true life events, is in fact speculative.

Now the truly interesting thing is that a speculative writer can write science fiction and it will be looked down the long narrow noses of literary academics and called “genre” (said with nose in the air, as if smelling bad, and with an English accent). But a literary writer can write something that is speculative fiction and it will be praised and lauded and given awards. Case in point; Margaret Atwood has written two speculative novels (at least that I’ve read): Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale. They are sometimes claimed to not be speculative, or speculative but not science fiction, getting to the fine hair splitting of genre names. But she takes those technologies and does a what-if into the future. That is indeed speculative and even science fiction.

When I was slowly progressing toward a degree in Creative Writing at UBC, one had to specialize in three areas: I chose short fiction, children’s fiction and poetry. In my kiddy lit class, the instructor didn’t like it when we wrote anything to do with fantastical worlds. She said they didn’t sell that well. Well, Ms Alderson, are you eating your hat after the fame of Harry Potter? This attitude was reflected throughout the department. However, George McWhirter who was the department head, and the only person worth his weight in gold, understood that writing well came first and what you wrote came second. He was not of the opinion expressed in The Boston Globe: “[T]he genre of the comic book is an anemic vein for novelists to mine, lest they squander their brilliance.” Ow.

A champion for blending or removing the snobbery borders between genres (or lowbrow and highbrow as some put it) is Michael Chabon. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. For his most recent book The Yiddish Policemen’s Union he was award the Nebula and the Campbell Awards. He was purported as saying the SF related Nebula meant more to him than getting the Pulitzer.

Perhaps with such writers as champions, we’ll see “genre” fiction being treated as writing and not drivel, where the best of all writing will rise to the top and more “genre” works will be nominated for awards. I’m not holding my breath…yet.

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