Friday, December 29, 2006

We're not going to take it

This is no longer timely but Joe enjoys this rendition of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" by Twisted Sister so I'm posting it for him. Merry Christmas, baby!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Waiting with trepidation

A few months ago, the trailer for 300 was released and I was stunned. I had heard that a movie adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel would be made but I did not expect it to look like the most fantastic nightmare.

I realize that I should try to calm down since I ruined Borat for myself by overhyping it over several months. But, in this case, I can easily come up with reasons why I might not enjoy 300.

  • I was not a fan of Sin City. It looked great but Frank Miller's clichéd dialogue and cast of caricatures were too exasperating. I do not expect much progress in 300, since the source material was written before Sin City.
  • The story of the 300 Spartans battling the Persian army sounds like the kind of heroic underdog story that contemporary audiences love. However, upon closer inspection, the Spartans come across like a bunch of Aryan jocks. Here was a society that shunned the handicapped and the weak. It was their ruthless practice of weeding out so-called inferiors, like leaving babies in the wilderness to see which ones would survive, that eventually contributed to the decline of the population, and hence, their society.
  • Pitted against the racial homogeneity of the Spartans are a bunch of coloured people and the physically deformed. When Frank Miller transforms the Greek turncoat, Ephialtes, into a grotesque hunchback, he participates in the kind of vilification that is usually only found in childish fairy tales. As an adult, equating minorities and the ugly with evil is harder to swallow.

Having said all this, I will probably see 300 in March, unless it gets a 'Rotten' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

PS, fanboys/girls, I am prepared to be told how wrong I am. I have not read Frank Miller's graphic novel so feel free to school me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chit chat fodder with stuffing

A co-worker once told me that she dreaded meeting an old drunken uncle at Christmas gatherings because he was unpleasant and hostile. Upon noticing her nose ring, he once ask her, "Does your boyfriend grab that when you're doing it?" Fortunately for her, he no longer attends family gatherings.

If you are forced to converse with relatives and you would rather not explain your career or personal choices, here's more chit chat fodder, courtesy of my former customs broker.

Eat like an athlete
U.S. consumers are purchasing an unprecedented amount of sports nutrition products having spent nearly US$4-billion on this category last year with spending poised to grow to $4.8-billion by 2010. For many consumers, sports nutrition items represent a hoped-for short cut to better health. Sports bars, drinks and gels make up the largest share of the market with sales of over $3-billion in 2005.

Cats thank him, too
A Japanese scientist who invented environmentally friendly sources of light has been awarded the Millennium Technology Prize, worth over US$2-million. The award recognizes his inventions of blue, green and white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and the blue laser diode. Blue LEDs are used in flat screen displays and blue lasers will be in the next generation of DVD players. White LEDs could provide a sustainable, low-cost alternative to lightbulbs, especially in developing countries.

Big pimping on the green
Across the U.S., an obscure new hobby is emerging, racing golf carts. People buy old carts for peanuts and bring them up to speed with lift kits, oversized tires, more powerful engines and roll bars. It is estimated that as many as four million Americans may own these vehicles, capable of speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. They are particularly popular in Arizona, California, Georgia and Florida.

More than one stiff
Five people in China have been detained for running striptease sendoffs at funerals. The once-common events are held to boost the number of mourners as large crowds are seen as a mark of honour.

Price check on religious artefact
Since the 10th century, travellers to Cornwall in the UK have been helped by hundreds of distinctive Celtic crosses carved from rough hewn granite which mark the route. But a recent wave of thefts, fuelled by Cornish nationalism, has prompted officials to adopt a 21st century solution to protect the ancient signposts. They are now being fitted with microchips about the size of a grain of rice which are glued to the crosses before being smeared with dirt to disguise them. If found, a scanner can reveal where the cross came from.

China: "We are filthy"
The government of China admitted recently that its water is unfit for drinking and has announced plans to spend US$150-billion over five years on sewage and water treatment facilities. By the end of last year, a total of 278 Chinese cities still had no waste water treatment facilities and pollutants in industrial discharges were often above permitted national standards.

Increasingly fat and jolly
The number of overweight people in the world has now overtaken the malnourished for the first time.

Monday, December 18, 2006

All I want for Christmas is...

I laughed pretty hard at this. Maybe Saturday Night Live doesn't blow as much as I thought. Or maybe SNL should just become the Andy Samberg Sing Song Hour.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stay away in droves

Dear Geeks and Fanboys & Fangirls,

I'm begging you, please do not go support Eragon in the movie theatres. It looked like a piece of crap when it was featured at Comic Con this past summer and its 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes only confirms this.

First, why do you insist of reading the same material over and over again? I have never read the book by Christopher Paolini that the movie is based on but from the synopsis alone, I would say that the story has been done: ordinary peasant boy turns out to be destined for greatness and to become the saviour of his people against an evil leader. Didn't you already see Star Wars? Haven't you read David Eddings's Belgariad series? Perhaps you've heard of a small movie called Lord of the Rings? How about the New Testament of the Bible?

And speaking of LOTR, doesn't 'Eragon' sound suspiciously similar to 'Aragon'? Was Paolini incapable of coming up with a more original name for his protagonist? An online fantasy name generator could have helped mask the creative void.

Even if you do find comfort in the familiar, you must have some sort of pride left; 20th Century Fox is insulting your intelligence. The studio thinks that if it enlists the two biggest FX studios, Industrial Light & Magic and Weta, to essentially recreate LOTR, you will lap it up. The Eragon trailer could have simply cut and pasted battle and evil horde scenes from the LOTR and there would have been no discernable difference.

Please prove to the studios that fantasy enthusiasts are not undiscriminating drones who will pay to see anything with magic and dragons.

On Monday, when box office numbers come out, I will find out if I should be gnashing my teeth and tearing out my hair.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Top Ten Things I Remember from 2006

This was going to be a top ten list of world events in 2006 but then I realized that the only way I was going to remember news items before December was to look it up on Wikipedia. In which case, you might as well visit Wikipedia's 2006 entry and read it for yourself.

Instead, I present to you a sad testament to my shoddy memory: Top Ten Things I Remember from 2006.

1. Belinda Stronach is a wild party.
Belinda had already created a national soap opera in 2005 when she defected from the Conservative party and jilted Peter McKay in one fell swoop. Belinda did not disappoint in 2006 when her relationship with married hockey thug, Tie Domi, was revealed in court papers. Then there was the continuing sage with Peter McKay where he allegedly referred to Belinda as a dog in the House of Commons. Oh, Belinda! Will you ever stop?

2. Comic Con and California
One experience burned into my memory that I did not recall in my previous blog entries was an encounter with some shirtless hicks in the parking lot of Mission Beach. They were wedged in a tiny car with the windows open about two car spots down from where we were parked when they tried to make vaguely hostile small talk with us:
Hick: How are you doing?
(Unsure he is speaking to us or a guy passing by, we ignore him)
Me: Yes, we do.
Hick: Then why didn't you talk to us?
Me: I wasn't sure you were speaking to us or that guy that just passed.
Hick: How are you enjoying yourselves?
Me: We are enjoying ourselves, thanks.
Hick: Have a nice day.
Me: Thanks. You, too.
It should be noted that neither of the hicks smiled the whole time and that last exchange felt like a cop warning with the subliminal message of "God speed thee through Texas before the Klan finds you." Shortly thereafter, Joe and Alex made the wise suggestion of parking somewhere else, even though our original intention was simply to drop stuff off in the car.
For more of my California adventures, see here and here.

3. Tobogganing on New Year's Day
2006 became the year that many of my friends became more like the career-oriented, sleep deprived adults that Toronto culture encourages you to become. However, before all that, a group of us went tobogganing at High Park. I miss engaging in silly group activities.

4. Art and real life
2006 brought a number of art shows that I treated as party opportunities for my friends, but in the end, art and parties don't pay. While doing a craft show, I discussed this with a former teacher, a man who lives frugally in the bush of Northern Ontario.
Me: "I don't want to do art for profit. I'm thinking of doing it on the side so that I'm not compromised by the bottom line. You know, like a Sunday painter."
Him: "Never call yourself that! Don't ever use that term! No person or gallery will ever take you seriously."
So, as of Fall 2006, I have been on "sabbatical" and I'll be returning to art work "on the side" in 2007.

5. Part Time Work
I have worked part-time for all of 2006: intially to support an art career, later on, because I could not find a full time job. While the idea of being viewed as a slacker grates me, part-time work has not been all bad. I have been able to meet up with friends during their lunch hour, visit my cousin who is currently on maternity leave, do chores on weekdays thus leaving my weekends free, run and read. It's not a bad existence if you can afford the financial constraints and the snippy comments from envious friends.

6. Running a Marathon
Plenty of time to run meant a perfect reason to tackle a marathon. The long training schedule was frustrating but on one of my longest runs (32km), I felt like a machine. Everyone should experience what it feels like to be able run for hours, if only so they know what to aim for when exercising rather than an unrealistic body image.

7. UFC
Ultimate Fighting Championship became a source of entertainment for me and Joe in 2006. The real violence and accompanying commentary from the couch by our friend, Heny, who hails from the bars of Hamilton (enough said), made for a guilty pleasure. We are looking forward to the hot man-on-man action of Liddell vs Ortiz on December 30! Let's get it on!

8. Older = Hotter
I saw Depeche Mode in concert in 2006 and Dave Gahan has never looked better with his shirt off at 44 years of age! It became a year of noticing hot older men on display: George Clooney (45), Daniel Craig (38), Brad Pitt (43). As usual, hot older women were not as prominent but after watching Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Nicole Ritchie in action in 2006, women like Salma Hayek (40), Sophia Loren (72), Halle Berry (40), Gong Li (41), and Judi Dench (72) became the definition of sexy. Yes, Judi Dench - see her in Casino Royale and tell me there isn't sizzling sexual chemistry between her and Daniel Craig.

9. Borat
I first heard about Borat in the spring, saw snippets of the movie at Comic Con in the middle of summer, then finally saw the movie in the fall. Sadly, I overhyped it for myself but some things never grow old; like the video of Borat singing Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" surrounded by winsome, young girls, before a sudden segway into Color Me Badd's "I Want to Sex You Up" while the girls around him strip down and dance in front of a screen that flashes words like 'Sexy Time' and 'Prophylactic'. Sadly, this magical video has been removed from YouTube, which became a corporate whore in 2006.

10. Baby time
My peers have started procreating and this prompted introspective thought as to whether I, too, want to breed. I have decided to put off the decision for one more year and make 2007 the year I live dangerously! Then, in 2008, I will find out if I am barren.

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Work until you die

As of Tuesday, December 12, mandatory retirement in Ontario will be abolished.

Apparently, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons applauds this change, saying that it will "benefit older workers who want to continue working". 'Want' is the operative word. Besides the choice that this move has granted to potential retirees, I see few benefits.

I come from a generation that still wanders in career purgatory thanks to the huge number of baby boomers wedged in many higher paying jobs. In contrast, when my parents came out of post-secondary education, they were actively recruited by companies offering salaried positions with benefits and a pension. Nowadays, individuals who obtain the few permanent positions with health plans and a pension are considered lucky.

However, my parents' generation are not immune to this new reality. Many of my mother's former co-workers found themselves accepting early retirement packages out of fear of being laid off in the 90s. These workers then found themselves new positions on contract or even part-time. Now, they do roughly the same job but without benefits and in a state of insecurity. One of my mom's friends has worked as a temp on contract for five years.

The fact is that many workers will take advantage of the abolishment of mandatory retirement not because they are respected academics who want to continue doing stimulating work at their university lab. Rather, they must work in order to survive.

The setting is ripe for a future that sees me desperately trying to show my boss that I am still viable at 65 so that I can afford to buy coal for the stove at home and maybe some matches from that matchstick girl. And when they line up the politicians and the rich at the guillotine, I'll learn how to knit if only to show myself viable for the revolution.

That reminds me: One of the best contemporary renditions of Charles Dickens that I have ever read is Jack Maggs by Peter Carey. Gone is the Victorian sentimentality, replaced with a more realistic ruthlessness, but Carey retains the intrigue and plot twists. Give it to someone for Christmas and watch their face blanch.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Ten Online Procrastination Tools in 2006

Now that it is December, the media will soon review 2006 and rate different aspects of this past year. I present to you the first of my series of 2006 Top Ten: Online Procrastination Tools.

Speaking of procrastination, I recently bought myself a home wax kit and made use of it when I really should have been preparing for a crucial job interview. I really enjoy getting rid of unwanted hair but this kit took it to a whole new level. In fact, I might have taken it too far. My already skimpy eyebrow now look like they are in a state of moulting. I can only hope that they didn't distract my interviewer too much and that they will grow back in time for a wedding that I'll be emceeing in early January.

Top Ten Online Procrastination Tools

1. Perez Hilton - this guy blogs like Dymaxion World except about stuff that I care about like Britney's hairless crotch and which celebrity is secretly gay. I couldn't have gotten through my first month of work with my crazy boss without Perez.
Casualty from 2005: E Online - now that I have the uncensored smut from Perez Hilton, I don't need the weekly, cleaned up gloss of the E website.

2. The Star - I don't even understand why people buy The Toronto Star anymore when they offer everything they print for free online. Not like those cheap assholes at The Globe and Mail and The National Post -not that I would read The National Post, even if it was free.

3. Red Flag Deals - Actually, this is Joe's #1 online procrastination tool. He will even forsake quality time spent with me to search for a good deal so this must be one hell of a website. It must be.
Casualty from 2005: - Basically a marketing tool for a corporation (possibly Procter & Gamble), it offers the same narrow selection of coupons repeatedly. But if you consume Gay Lea whip cream all the time, you'll love it.

4. Wikipedia - I tutor a teenager who relies on Wikipedia as a reference source for her essays. I tell her it is not considered a reliable source but when she asks why, I can only shrug and say, "Why be truthful when you can be entertaining?" (Note: That's not actually what I say. I am more responsible than that. Please hire me.)

5. Internet Movie Database - I enjoy finding out how old actors are, what movies they have done, finding out who their co-stars were, finding out how old their co-stars are, etc. It's like playing 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' without the competition or the companionship.

6. - Most other fashion websites are stingy on content and only selectively display parts of a runway show., the online home of Vogue and W, offers photographs of the complete collection for major designer collections. You'll be able to judge for yourself whether the potato sack dress is here to stay.

7. Xiao Pangzi, Who pissed in your cornflakes?, Of No Import, etc. - I tend to visit my blog and blogs linked to mine because it is easy. It should be noted that visitors to my blog usually come through Cornflakes because it has an easy to type URL.

8, 9, 10. My email - I check my email like a fiend. I acknowledge that I have an addiction in that I usually do not feel whole if I do not check my email at least once a day. Joe and I even used Alex's PSP to check our email while in California, as slow and laborious as the process was. Even more sad than an email addiction is this: while at an internet cafe in California, Joe searched Red Flag Deals of Canada. Sad.

That's more of a Top Eight list, which does not sound as catchy as Top Ten. Can you suggest any online procrastination tools?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lock the door, throw away the key

Let me simply say that Michael Richards' verbal diarrhea has been so ridiculous that I cannot take it seriously. His hateful rant at the comedy club could only have been drug-induced since any racist with half a mind would been more subtle (think Russell Peters). His spluttering apologies and desperate, clammy grasps at civil rights leaders for redemption are embarrassing, to say the least, because they are so transparently self-serving.

The latest turn of this train wreck is, of course, litigation. The two men who were the targets of Richards' anger have enlisted an attorney to help obtain a personal apology and "maybe some money". Apparently, they were "humiliated, and even scared at one point", despite the fact that they were in the company of 20 friends.

The Associated Press article is hilariously dismissive of the whole case as it recounts in the following order:
"Our clients were vulnerable," [the lawyer] said. "He went after them. He singled them out and he taunted them, and he did it in a closed room where they were captive.''
The video of Richards' outburst shows several people getting up and walking out as he shouts at the audience.

Michael Richards is an idiot and anyone who seriously considers him a threat is naive. The targets of his rant are shameless opportunists. Now that they have all been clearly identified, let's just ignore the whole thing; like a bad migraine, the event serves no purpose and just makes my head ache.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Your friendly neighbourhood rapper

I just found out from that rapper, Warren G will be a participant in the latest season of VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club"! Just how much extra fat is Warren G carrying to make this humiliation worth his while? Most hip hop fashion flaps at muumuu like proportions anyways.

Back in the 1990s, when Warren G released classics like "Regulate" and "This DJ", I never would have imagined that the smooth rapper would end up on a weight loss reality show.

Warren G is just the latest example of the gentrification of rap. Black men from the projects don't look so threatening when they worry about their paunch and create entertainment for the whole family. For example:

  • Diddy (or whatever he calls himself now) used to hang out with Biggie Smalls and other individuals of ill repute. Now, he throws parties in the Hamptons with his pal, Ashton Kutcher.
  • Snoop Dogg used to look mellowed out by the permanent haze around him. Recently, Snoop made a public declaration that he no longer indulged in the weed (a short lived refrain according to a recent drug arrest) and turned to self-parody in Starsky & Hutch and Soul Plane.
  • Ice-T use to be a self-professed "Cop Killer". Now, he plays a good cop on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit".
  • Ice Cube used to scare parents when they heard him advising their kids to "fuck tha police". Now, he embraces the whole family with films like Are We There Yet?.

I am not in favour of keeping black rappers in the margins of society but is looking harmless the only way to bring them into the mainstream? The transformation that seems to be required of hiphop artists in order to be accepted is comparable to the famous Saturday Night Live skit where Natalie Portman became a 'gangsta rapper'. Portman's transformation was played for laughs in that we would never seriously consider her having street cred because of the skit. Yet we're supposed to believe that Ice Cube is now a children friendly entertainer because he's helpless against kids in a family comedy?

Well, at least Ice Cube was clearly comfortable with his weight when he ate his way through xXx:State of the Union.

"Shaken and stirred" or "Licence to thrill" or "I like!"

I saw Casino Royale and I loved it! Combine this movie with Borat and I haven't been this eager to throw money at a box office in, possibly, years.

The experience of seeing Casino Royale was better than Borat since I expected nothing of the latest 007 franchise. Also, unlike Borat, the best parts were not already shown in the trailer.

The Casino Royale trailer made the movie look like a typical action thriller. Yet, here was a action flick that actually offered original chase sequences, a believable love story, and truly dirty innuendos. And any film that features significantly more male than female nudity holds a special place in my heart.

I did not have strong objections to Daniel Craig as Bond. Having seen him in Layer Cake, I thought he would be a good fit. It was a shame that unimaginative bullies like the one behind the website, (mysteriously defunct), attacked Daniel Craig without having seen the movie. The anonymous cowards used puerile tactics like posting a scene on YouTube from the film, Enduring Love that featured Daniel Craig kissing a male co-star then citing it as proof of what a travesty Craig's James Bond would be.

The idiots behind and their like can keep Pierce Brosnan and the last three Bond films, which pretty much meld into one film in my memory. James Bond was becoming indistinguishable from Austin Powers with the ridiculous 'world domination' villains, over the top gadgets, and a male lead that is promiscuous yet completely neutered.

When Daniel Craig finally identified himself as James Bond in the movie, the audience at my screening clapped and cheered. That means money well spent.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thanks for nothing, Vincent Lam

Photo: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star
I was shocked and dismayed to learn that Vincent Lam had won the Giller Prize yesterday. It is the fairy tale ending to a fantastic journey that saw a hospital ER doctor write a book of short stories, get published, then get nominated for a prestigious literary award.
I am not objecting to the excellence of Dr. Lam's work, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, since I have not read it nor the work of any of the other nominees. What I am upset about is the nonstop grief that I will get from my parents when they hear about the win.
For years, my parents tried to wean me onto the idea of becoming a doctor. "You're smart," they kept insisting before referring to a memory feat I used to perform as a preschooler where I would recall my father's credit cards in order. To my mind, this showed the promise of a great con artist and not a doctor. Plus, a second aunt, twice removed or whatever, was also a doctor so by some genetic relation, I should also have medical abilities in me, so the logic went.
Unfortunately for my parents, science and math did not come easily to me. English and visual arts did. I fought for years with my parents to avoid becoming a doctor or a nurse or a scientist. On angst alone, I was bound to become an artist, a profession my parents equated with "living on the street."
I finally got my way and my parents settled into a state of resignation. I had my fun with art for a few years but it turns out that my parents were right: art doesn't pay.
As I struggle to find a more practical way to make a living, it's a bitter pill to see Dr. Lam dabble successfully in both worlds. His winning novel will only rouse my parents to wag their finger at me, saying, "See! You could have become a doctor and done art successfully as a hobby, too." To his credit, Dr. Lam objects to anyone referring to his writing as a hobby since it hardly qualifies as a relaxing pasttime for him. I pout sullenly, nonetheless.
So, thanks Vincent Lam, thanks a lot. You have raised the bar for scientific and artistic professionals everywhere and given at least one set of Asian parents fodder for another round of 'I told you so'.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Borat! Will I like?

After four months of waiting, it is finally here! Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan! I really hope I didn't overhype this for myself.

If you can't be bothered to get to a movie theatre to see it or find it morally repugnant, enjoy this until you come around:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Chit chat fodder cornucopia

Here's the latest chit chat fodder courtesy of my former customs broker.

$200 even less popular than $50
The Bank of Canada has withdrawn a proposal to introduce a $200 banknote after a survey of retailers revealed strong opposition. 59 per cent of those surveyed said they were opposed, with 40 per cent "strongly opposed." The central bank had been looking for a higher-denomination replacement for the $1000 banknote after it ceased to be printed in May, 2000, to help thwart money launderers and drug dealers who prefer large bills.

Oompa Loompas in disguise
Even before the recent security scares, the Conference Board in the U.S. found at the start of the summer that 40 per cent of consumers had no plans to take a vacation over the next six months, the lowest percentage recorded by the group in 28 years. About 25 per cent of American workers in the private sector do not get paid vacation time. Another 33 per cent will take only a seven-day vacation. Some companies are shutting down completely twice a year to ensure people stop working.

Better in the hand than on the wrist
Last year, the U.S. watch market saw a 4.9 per cent dip in sales. Rival electronic devices such as personal digital assistants and cellphones are the reason. Even sales of watches under US$50.00, rarely affected by overall market trends, are down.

Spray me guilty
Rich people can beef up their home security with the automatically activated SmartWater spray system. The technology, mounted on the walls or the ceiling, squirts the intrudes with a solution containing a unique forensic code that remains detectable on the skin and hair for weeks and on clothing indefinitely.

Pirates will become robbers
Films arrive in projection rooms as 10,000 feet of film printed as a copy of the original. Now, digital projection systems are the latest thing. The release copy of the movie is delivered on a hard drive, sporting 100 gigabytes of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, a digitally scanned copy of the master film print. Once put into place, the movie is simply unloaded to a server and is one button-push away from being digitally projected. The biggest advantage of digital projection is picture quality.

More discounts on naughty foods predicted
New research in the U.S. confirms that grocery circulars announcing the latest grocery specials are an effective means of connecting with consumers. Grocers spend some US$8-billion on feature ads each year, which amounts to two per cent of their sales. The research shows that at least 10 per cent of shoppers chose their store based on the week's ads and that shoppers were most influential when the ads promoted discounts on cereal, snack chips, pizza, cookies and hot dogs.

Unpopular paint has its day
An unpopular pigment used by 18th century artists could lead to more energy efficient, faster computers. Cobalt green, as it is known, has been tested by a US team who believe that, because of its magnetic properties, could be used in "spintronic" devices. Spintronics involves manipulating the magnetic properties of electron to do useful computational work. Cobalt green is a mixture of zinc oxide and cobalt and artists of the 18th century found it expensive and that it created relatively weak colours.

Nerds: 25 years in the making
This past August saw the 25th anniversary of the personal computer with the introduction of the IBM 5150. Costing $1,565, the 5150 had just 16K of memory, about enough for three or so e-mails nowadays. This machine which was developed by a team of 12 IBM engineers, altered the way business was done forever and sparked a revolution in home computing.

Spinach, carrot juice and now, cantaloupes
Cantaloupe melons have been identified as a common source of food poisoning. Researchers who studied records in Canada and the U.S. identified almost one large outbreak caused by cantaloupes every year over a 30-year period. It is believed that the problem lies in the rough skin of the cantaloupe being hard to clean meaning that bacteria on the outside can contaminate the flesh when it is cut open.

Shop until you drop
Shanghai has constructed a massive underground bunker complex capable of sheltering 200,000 people from a nuclear attack. The million-square-foot complex connects to shopping centres, office buildings, apartment buildings and the subway system via miles of tunnels. The complex has water, hydro, lighting, ventilation and protective doors and can support life for as long as two weeks.

Self-help is cheaper
A recent study shows that shoppers purchase impulse items such as snacks, candy, beverages and magazines 45.5 per cent less often when they use self-checkout than when they use a staffed checkout lane. The impact is greater for women, 50 per cent, versus a drop of 27.9 per cent for men. In 2005, consumers spent over US$111-billion on self-checkout transactions at retailers, up 35 per cent over the previous year. The average number of items in a self-checkout transaction is 6.7 with a value of $32.85.

Economic loss equals weight loss
The U.S. is warning India that bans on soft drinks like Coca Cola and Pepsi could blight its hopes of attracting American investment. Six Indian states have now announced partial or complete bans on soft drink sales in schools, colleges and hospitals after claims that the drinks contain harmful pesticides. Coke and Pepsi account for nearly 80 per cent of India's more than US$2-billion soft drink market

Impulse buying in seconds
The Polo Lauren Group is taking impulse shopping one step further with technology that allows passersby to purchase clothing they see in the windows of one of its New York stores by using a touch screen on the glass. Projected on the window of the store is a 67-inch image of items. Customers can purchase them by using a credit card swiper on the window.

Big Brother cares about your education
British university students are being monitored by a unique electronic tagging system designed to ensure that they attend lectures. About 1,000 undergraduates at the University of Glamorgan have been issued with key rings containing microchips that store each individual's name and other enrolment data. Every time he or she attends a lecture, the students press the key ring against a sensor that acts as an electronic receiver which records attendance.

Monday, October 30, 2006

My everyday routine

I have not blogged lately because there has been nothing interesting to report - just everyday life happening. But wait! It recently occurred to me that the minutiae of other people's everyday life can be verrrrrrry interesting!

A friend has an elderly uncle from Sweden coming for a visit and she asked what she should show him. My genuine suggestion was to take him on a tour of people's houses - preferably friends - because nothing fascinates me more than seeing domesticity and everyday life in foreign countries.

Luckily, you won't have to board a plane or a car to experience the magical weekday routine of an over-educated, under-employed, middle-class Canadian in Toronto.

I wake up at 8am to CFRB 1010 radio. This allows me to ease into wakefulness and hear what the weather is like. If I am very tired, I will easily integrate news stories into my dreams. I then spend about 20 minutes getting ready for work. This may or may not involve showering depending on how clean I feel.

I eat a high fibre cereal with 1% milk. Any cereal that offers less than 10g of fibre per serving is not worth eating. This high fibre content is necessary to make up for my otherwise low quality North American diet.

I walk 15 minutes to get to work at an institution of high learning. Not having to rely on public transportation or a car has reduced my stress levels like you wouldn't believe.

At work I walk a tight rope to avoid getting on my boss's bad side. The tasks vary so it's kind of like learning a new routine for the circus everyday. I am happy to report that like those 'Factory Worker Safety' billboards, it has been two months without a freakish encounter with my boss.

My job is part-time so I am done for the day at 1pm. I walk the 15 minutes home and usually check the mailbox. I am thrilled with whatever I get, whether it be free samples or my credit card bill. This is contrary to the heavy burden of responsibility that my parents used to warn me about adulthood. I love being an adult (or some version of one) and paying bills! Yah!

I eat lunch, which is usually left-overs from the night before, then I do one or more of the following: financial paperwork, housework, learn software, look for a full-time job, apply for a full-time job, exercise, chase after people who owe me money, or volunteer at a gallery.

At around 5pm, I start preparing dinner for Joe, who works full time and travels 90 minutes by public transit to get to and from work...but more on his daily routine in another blog entry. He usually arrives home around 6pm and then we eat whatever I have prepared. I usually like to avoid pre-packaged food because with the amount of preservatives the average North American consumes, noone will ever fear death again.

After eating and cleaning up, Joe and I swap time between the TV, the Internet and going for a walk. When it comes to TV, we do not have cable. We usually watch shows through the equivalent of an on-screen snow storm - a testament to our desperation for mindless entertainment. Sometimes, we'll even watch programming in languages we don't understand simply because the picture is clear and our eyes are not watering.

Our evening walks usually take place in commerical areas and malls as opposed to a scenic park. Joe and I look at things we cannot buy and talk about products - for ourselves and for others. It's like a two hour infomercial but with health benefits.

We start getting ready for bed around 11pm and are usually in bed by midnight.

Of course, there are variations to my daily routine, but this is pretty much it. Looking over my day, I'm ashamed at how idyllic it looks. Nowadays, it's a badge of honour to be stressed out, caffeine-addicted and have an agenda jam packed with meetings and events. I am currently looking to rejoin my jittery colleauges so perhaps, one day, this blog entry might become as quaint to me as it is to my friend's elderly Swedish uncle.

Please tell me your daily routine. Believe me, I'm fascinated!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Good news! No one died

The 2006 Toronto Marathon took place today and no runner from Oakville or anywhere else died. It seems that the Toronto Waterfront Marathon already fulfilled the marathon body count for the year.

I ran the Half-Marathon and found it thoroughly enjoyable but could see why the Toronto Marathon is the neglected, plain sibling to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

1. The date - The Toronto Marathon usually takes place in mid-October whereas the Waterfront Marathon happens in late September. In a mere three weeks, the weather in Toronto goes from pleasantly nippy to uncomfortably cold. Last year's Toronto Marathon took place in freezing rain. It was unpleasant to say the least.

2. The location - Running through the city is usually my preferred route while training so it is arguable to say that the Waterfront Marathon is more scenic than the Toronto Marathon. However, without a doubt, the Waterfront Marathon is a faster course than the Toronto Marathon. Sure, portions of the Toronto Marathon go downhill, but these are usually accompanied by uphill portions. Plus, the last four kilometers of the course are definitely on an incline - not good after 38 kilometers of pain.

3. The crowds - There are less spectators along the route for the Toronto Marathon than the Waterfront Marathon. I think the reasons are related to #1: who wants to sit outdoors in freezing temperatures unless there are entertaining floats and a jolly fat man throwing candy canes at you?

4. The numbers - We stuck around to watch the front-runners of the marathon come in and were underwhelmed. Watching the first and second place runners race by, I had my suspicions that the Waterfront Marathon winners were faster. Numbers support this; the Waterfront Marathon winner finished in 2:10:15 whereas the Toronto Marathon winner finished in 2:34:10. The Waterfront Marathon first place prize is $15,000 whereas the Toronto Marathon provides its winner with a nice timepiece and merchandise. I guess you get what you pay for.

On the plus side, the Toronto Marathon had a strange SpongeBob Squarepants tie-in this year. SpongeBob sponges were provided to runners on course, volunteers wore SpongeBob t-shirts and caps, and SpongeBob himself showed up at the Start and Finish lines.

I think the Toronto Marathon organizers are on to something. If you can't beat a competing event at their own game, go wacky. The Toronto Marathon already offers a Team Relay option that makes the Marathon a fun party with your friends but how about tackling each of the above problems in the same spirit:

1. Push the date of the event even further back to coincide with Halloween and encourage runners to don costumes. I ran with three men in tutus for most of the Half-Marathon and spectators and runners alike enjoyed how pretty they were.

2. Bands or DJs should be posted at the top of every hill to provide musical accompaniment for the climb then the exhilirating drop. Or maybe a drill coach screaming on a bull horn at the top of the worst hill, Hoggs Hollow. Instead of ignoring the hills on the course, they should be highlighted and made into fun events in themselves.

3. #1 and #2 should solve #3. Who doesn't enjoy costumes and screaming?

4. A timepiece prize is respectable but what would be more fun is the runner's weight in ham, or a $1000 shopping spree at the Running Room with a 10 minute time limit, or a pasta party for 50 of the winner's closest friends. Again, if you can't cough up the cash, go wacky.

Another running season ends and now comes another tough winter of maintenance. I welcome anyone who wants to join me on runs in the dark - costumes optional.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The colour of crass commercialism

For a while, I have become increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of the Breast Cancer Pink Ribbon campaign. Instinctively, I shied away from the pink products because they reeked of Stepford Wife. I was going to work out my more reasonable objections in a blog entry before Samantha King beat me to it with an eloquent article in The Toronto Star.

Excerpts from the article:

The cheerfulness and consumer-oriented character of breast cancer survivor culture can be enormously alienating to women who do not have the financial means or networks of social support to participate in it, not to mention unintentionally working to denigrate those who have "failed" to survive.

This particular problem has been magnified considerably by corporate interest in the disease. [...] Sickness and death do not sell, but images of survivors who are uniformly youthful, ultrafeminine, immaculately groomed, radiant with health, and seemingly at peace with the world, do.

The effect of breast cancer marketing campaigns is to erase from public consciousness the fact that incidence rates remain stubbornly high and newly diagnosed women face essentially the same options — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy — that they did 40 years ago.

That mortality rates have been declining slightly since the early 1990s offers little comfort to the estimated 22,000 Canadian women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.

People often point to the good work that breast cancer campaigns perform in raising "awareness" and argue that regardless of the accompanying messages, pink ribbon products and 5k runs raise large amounts of money for a good cause.

But this position raises its own set of questions: What exactly are we being asked to gain awareness of? And how is the money being spent? For those campaigns and events that venture into specifics, awareness usually means preaching the benefits of early detection through mammograms.

Although [mammograms] might prompt people to discover if they already have breast cancer, this selective brand of awareness asks individuals to take personal
responsibility for fending off the disease, while ignoring tougher questions related to what might be done to prevent it in the first place.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nuit Blanche Part Quartre: More than words

Okay, words are not enough. See for yourself.

I'm starting to look like a Nuit Blanche stalker. This is the final installment, I swear.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nuit Blanche Part Trois!

From the impressive turnout throughout the night, I would say that Nuit Blanche was a success. In spite of the chilly, wet weather, large masses of people clutching Nuit Blanche booklets were seen roaming all over the downtown core, even as I bowed out shortly after 1am.

Complementing the official events were entertainers with an entrepreneurial spirit. Like the guys who cruise in their convertibles through the club district during the summer, the neon cyclist seen above was a creative type taking advantage of a ready audience. While stopped at a red light, I ran up to him and asked if I could take his photo. He didn't reply but instead, reached down to switch on additional lighting on the frame of his bike for an even more photogenic experience.

Also taking advantage of a mob ready to be entertained was Zanta, profiled by Flocons. The Toronto street character posed for photographs with enthusiastic fans and, contrary to appearances, was coherent enough to direct me to turn my flash on when my camera failed to capture his pose. I followed his advice and got the image on the left.

The Church of the Redeemer was an official Nuit Blanche site. Kelly Mark's neon sign spelling out "Hold That Thought" was prominently placed above the church's front doors. That was the extent of the exhibit. Yet, misguided art enthusiasts streamed into the open doors of the church looking for more and the church did not turn them away. In a possible PR/flash conversion strategy, visitors were allowed to flood the church, sit in the pews and line up for confessions. My companion, Ken, joked about Indulgences being for sale which sent me running out the doors to the nearest bank machine.

I saw much more than I have listed in my blog but not as much as I had intended. For instance, I completely missed Zone C, which featured the Queen West galleries. My only hope is that Nuit Blanche will become an annual event and return next year. And knowing what I know now, I will prepare by sleeping all day Saturday, wearing hiking boots, and sustain myself on a steady supply of Red Bull from a hydration backpack. Oh caffeine, how much I needed thee!

Nuit Blanche Part Deux!

My previous blog entry, "Nuit Blanche Madness!" was written at 3am and featured only the Nuit Blanche exhibits strong enough to overcome the incoherent mess that I become at that time. And now, the rest of the story.

The artistic events that garnered the most reaction from visitors were usually the ones that interacted with the public on a large scale and/or worked with the environment it was in.

In Pursuit of Happiness by Tanya Mars did none of the above. Spectators looked on in confusion as two lethargic women, sitting at opposite ends of a long table, ate some elaborate looking cake. On the table was more cake, piles of plates and cutlery wrapped in napkins. It was supposed to be "an opulent all-night party [...] so decadent as to incite debauchery" but it just became a puzzling and boring tableau. It would have been nice if all the guests who had come to visit the party were actually invited to have some cake or if the women stayed in character while engaging the public.

Boredom turned to obnoxiousness as members of the public loudly asked why the women looked so grumpy and when they could have some cake, too. No response from either of the women except to place a plate of cake onto of their fancy hats. Weak.
Model for a Public Space by Adrian Blackwell was made specifically to engage the public and facilitate conversation. In the impressive circular, ramping amphitheatre, guest speakers were scheduled throughout the night to help along the discussions. The artist himself was the featured speaker when I arrived and he was speaking about the way urban environments, like the ones featured in Nuit Blanche, naturally bring about art and culture. It was a case of preaching to the converted since all who were present were pretty much urban art enthusiasts who would gladly support any initiative that fed their interests.

One dissenting voice did rear its head: a man objected to the idea that events like Nuit Blanche were widely accessible. He believed that initiatives for the public should be simple in order to reach the widest audience. The man was obviously looking for a fight but he did raise some valid points. Blackwell's reaction was to look blankly at the speaker then shrug his shoulders. Another member of the audience broke the awkward silence by taking one of the man's points out of context and turning it into a joke. The conversation then continued with everyone asking polite questions of Adrian Blackwell and the one dissenter walked off in a huff.

Even though I essentially agree with everything Blackwell proposed, there is no denying that his proposals are not appealing to a wide public - for instance, the 905 suburbs. And Blackwell's reaction to dissent didn't exactly facilitate public debate as the space was intended to do. Almost everyone in the audience was of a certain age, income and education bracket. And almost all nodded in agreement. The whole circle of 'yes men' turned me off.
I was really looking forward to Position Yourself in a Network of Possibilities by Samuel Roy-Bois because it was supposed to be a recreation of the dance floor from the 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever.

It was a close enough facsimile but, when I arrived, noone was dancing on the floor. Everyone just watched as the floor lights pulsated to the beat of the free style jazz (!) being blasted from the speakers. Then some drunken frat boy had his girlfriend mount him before dancing an impressive one-legged, improvised jig. Without a doubt, it was entertaining but it also highlighted how ridiculously inaccessible Roy-Bois's choice of music was - especially after attending Ballroom Dancing (see previous blog), where the playing of music by the Pussy Cat Dolls created an unpretentious environment conducive to unreserved public interaction.

Blogger won't let me post any more photos here so on to the next posting!

Nuit Blanche Madness!

I'm sorry to say that I only lasted from 8:30pm to 1:30am but I enjoyed myself thoroughly and can barely think straight. Here are some highlights from my experience of Nuit Blanche.

Fog in Toronto #71624 by Fujiko Nakaya
In the thick of the installation, created by numerous fog machines, you couldn't see more than a few feet in front of you. Luckily, noone was running around haphazardly thanks to the slippery mud underfoot. The majority of pedestrians stayed on the asphalt walkway to avoid the mud, creating a traffic jam reminiscent of rush hour on the Don Valley Parkway.

The Pillow Fight League
The fighters and referees flew in from nowhere and set up a fight circle outside the Royal Ontario Museum. All the fighters were costumed women who were ready to rumble for three minutes. After the two athletes seen above finished their bout (the fighter in the black won according to judges picked from the audience), spectators were invited to try their hand at the sport. I narrowly avoided being volunteered into the ring by my 'friends' and missed out on a mouthful of pillow. The crowd chanted like bloodthirsty children in the schoolyard: "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Ballroom Dancing by Darren O'Donnell
Darren O'Donnell was the mastermind behind Haircuts by Children, which I supported in theory previously. Now, he tries to convince people to trust 10-year-old DJs. From the lengthy lineup outside the venue, I would say that the majority of attendees were convinced. Inside the gym was a massive dodgeball session involving adults. Noone was really dancing to the Beyoncé track chosen and played by an actual 10-year-old DJ. Everyone was just intent on bouncing a ball off someone's head - again, like bloodthirsty children. I was balled in the face three times.

More photos to come later. Must sleep now.

Friday, September 29, 2006

What to do on Saturday September 30

This is a late posting, especially since most people do not surf the internet outside of work, but if you do not have anything planned for Saturday night (7pm to 7am Sunday morning), experience Nuit Blanche Toronto!

This is a combination of everything I enjoy: running around the city, nightlife that has nothing to do with going to a club or bar, and interactive art.

Some of my personal favourites:

HOW TO RESPOND IN AN EMERGENCY: A series of incidental performances and spontaneous outbursts by authority figures and security guards, 2006 Diane Borsato
A car is up on the curb, throbbing with base, vibrating with music. A pair of cops is on the scene. They are agitated. The moment calls for immediate action. They step up into the headlights, take each other into a dramatic embrace and begin to dance.

Ballroom Dancing: Darren O'Donnell, Performance
Dare to dance with Darren O'Donnell to the tunes of his team of 10-year-old DJs. Children and adults alike are invited to play in a gymnasium transformed, disco lights and all, into a kid's ball-room-meets-nightclub DJ-ed by children. How often do you give yourself over and dance with abandon to Sean Paul? Rest assured if 10-year-old kids are DJ-ing, you'll likely hear him more than once.
A nap area is provided for adults who need to crash.

Call On Me Anytime: Sabrina Saccoccio, Social Experiment/Performance Art
What ever happened to the custom of calling on people? Prior to Nuit Blanche, a calling card is delivered with the promise to return. Join the artist as she calls on her friends at their homes. This intimate investigation of impromptu community attempts to access the hospitality of five friends in one night. A performancecome-social-experiment, being turned away is a possibility, but a living room dance party may also be in the cards.

I think I'm going to have a fit! I don't usually drink Red Bull but I just might specifically for this event. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Putting the 'O' in politics

Liberal MP Belinda Stronach is singlehandedly reviving my interest in Canadian politics!

Recent divorce court documents allege that Stronach was the 'Angelina Jolie' to former hockey thug, Tie Domi and his estranged wife, Leanne (okay, hardly Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston - but you get the idea).

This is the latest twist in the on-going soap opera that is Stronach's life. Really, it's like a Jackie Collins book: wealthy blond heiress becomes the president of her father's company before turning to politics. Married and divorced twice (husband #2 was a Norwegian speed skating champ!), the tart dated square jawed Conservative, Peter McKay, before publicly dropping him and his party for the Liberals, apparently without warning. In the days that followed, cameras peered at poor Peter as he weepily clutched his dog while hiding out at his father's farm. And just when I thought Stronach had gone straight, the Tie Domi affair comes to light. That strumpet doesn't quit!

Entertainment Tonight Canada covered the Stronach Domi affair with slo-mo cuts of the guilty pair. Not since Pierre and Maggie Trudeau has Canadian politics been so sordid and juicy. It is hard to tell if Belinda is becoming the heir apparent to Pierre or Maggie at this point. Only time will tell if Belinda ends up doing pirouettes behind stuffy monarchs or sleeping with the Rolling Stones then blaming it on bipolar affective disorder. Either way, it's a win-win situation for me.

Marathon Post Mortem

Hanging out at the water cooler...

Me: Sooo...what did you do this weekend?
Co-Worker A: I bought some groceries and then made myself a taco salad.
Co-Worker B: I watched the football games and ate some lard.
Me: Oh really? Well, I ran a marathon.
A & B: Wow! You're a god amongst men!

This is what would happen...if I had any co-workers or a water cooler. But I really did run my first marathon yesterday at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and it was an unreal experience.

I had a lot of things going in my favour. In addition to being giddy from a lack of sleep, I was recovering from a cold. Previously, I had won the first edition of RVD while suffering from bronchitis. As well, I ran my fastest half-marthon shortly after losing my voice. A cold could only mean great things.

I started the day at 6am by stuffing my face with Vector cereal, sports bars and Wonder Bread as quickly as possible. I am naturally a fast eater but the speed required this morning was more on the the level of competitive eating.

At 6:15 am, I was out the door and walking towards the start line. The gun went off at 7am and off we went. Within the first few kilometers, I ran into my friend, Tony, who was doing the half-marathon.

You might remember Tony from my running blog entries around this time last year: I had signed him up for a half-marathon as a "birthday gift" despite the fact that he had only ran one mile in training. He not only completed the half-marathon in the time he predicted (2:30) but went on to do the Run Ottawa Half-Marathon and, now, the Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon without my machinations.

This time around, Tony was even less prepared, having run a total of half a mile in preparation. Yet, Tony is a master of the sprint and stumble. Thus, he was able to keep up with me and finished with his best time yet (2:23). For me, Tony provided enough companionship and distraction to make the first 18 km a fun morning jog.

After separating from Tony, it was a lonely and painful trek from 21km to 29km. My MP3 player helped me like musical accompaniment during a root canal. Only the prospect of meeting up with Flocons and his fiancé, (>_<), at the desolate landfill known as the Leslie Spit, made me pick up my pace in order to arrive at the designated spot at the agreed time. When Flocons and (>_<) joined me on their bikes, I felt like Lance Armstrong minus the exceptional athletic prowess. Both took turns giving me water, offering sports gels and massaging my ego. They even gave me an unfair advantage over other runners when they used their bikes and bodies to help block the strong head wind - just like Lance's Tour de France team. My friend, Effie, flew in out of nowhere at one point and for the next kilometer, I became subject to a session of good cop, bad cop. Encouraging rounds of "you look great" and "keep it up" were sprinkled with "don't stop now, maggot". It was great. Unfortunately, a burst tire took Effie out of the run and it was back to the soothing, melodious tones of Flocons and (>_<). I speed walked kilmometers 39-41 because every part of me ached: my feet, legs, butt, abdominals and weirdly enough, my arm pits. Flocons and (>_<) peeled off in the last kilometer to avoid being berated by race officials and I was left on my own again.

As I struggled to run/walk the last kilometer, a fellow runner named Susan suggested we run together. Once again, companionship helped prompt me to do things that I otherwise would not be able to do. So, I'm sorry to say that within the last 500 meters of the run, I shouted something like, "Pick it up, girls!" and sprinted away from Susan and another female runner for individual glory at the finish line. This antic shaved a minute off my time but it leaves me feeling a little sheepish nonetheless.

I finished in 5:05, just five minutes over my projected marathon time. It was a great experience and one I recommend to everyone: you do not know what it means to be alive until you feel the wonders of runner's diarrhea.

P.S. That's a photo of 75 year old running phenomenon, Ed Whitlock. He ran the marathon in 3:08, which means that by the time I stumbled past the finish line, he probably had had a refreshing nap and was enjoying free lunch and drinks from a throng of admirers. Cheers to that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Superior life forms in our midst

Canadian astronaut, Steve MacLean's recent spacewalk has made me realize that astronauts are superior beings.

Here are people who are not only highly intelligent but also physically fit. Yet, they are not over-achieving corporate assholes who use their brains to serve shareholders then run on treadmills to stave off the imminent mid-life crisis. Rigorous NASA testing weeds out the possibility of an 'asshole in space'. These are well-adjusted and ripped eggheads who just want to go where few have gone before.

But back to Steve MacLean: during his 7 hour, 11 minute spacewalk, MacLean used positive Canuck talk to reassure everyone (“We’ll be taking care of business getting the solar arrays prepared”) and used Flanders-like language when his tool broke ("Son of a gun") while doing what was deemed a "tough and repetitive job". Sadly, in a similar circumstance on Earth, I would have been swearing a blue streak and used violence to solve my problem.

Steve MacLean and his fellow spacies are not as sexy as athletes but it's a shame that their understated excellence is often overlooked in the search for role models for the kids. Perhaps what NASA needs is the bitchy drama of a reality show where the prize is getting shot into space. When this show inevitably gets made, remember that you heard it here first.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today

The events of September 11, 2001, in the U.S. seem like a lifetime ago. The way the world operates and the public consciousness have changed so much in the interim that it is hard to believe that a mere five years have passed.

September 11, 2001, was my first day attending college. Listening to my personal radio on the train, I heard about a plane crashing into one of the towers and I naturally assumed it was caused by pilot error. When a second crash came soon after, I was in shock.

I immediately understood the scope of the attack because I had just visited the World Trade Centre the previous May. I had marvelled at its size; standing at its base and craning my head as far back as I could, I was still unable to see the top.

Ridiculous but true: one of my first thoughts after hearing the beginnings of the collapse of the WTC was, "I never had a chance to get to the top." During our visit to the WTC, my friends and I were too cheap to pay admission into the observation deck and yet too uncouth to be allowed into the restaurant on the 107th floor. I wondered if the rude concierge who barred us from entry on two separate occassions had escaped safely.

However, my full understanding of the severity of the attacks was delayed because my sole source for information was the radio. Without access to television or the internet at home, I listened to CBC Radio day and night to keep up with the latest news. Yet, nothing brought home the chaos and terrifying details like the video footage I saw days after it was first captured.

I now understand the apathy that many disasters are greeted with when media coverage consists of a brief paragraph in the newspaper or a quick mention on the news. Without images, or video, most people just don't have a clear picture on which to build understanding.

Then there is the problem that comes about with an overload of images. I worry that future generations will not understand the impact of 9/11 because they will be so accustomed to seeing the usual images asociated with the disaster. The rawest footage featuring the most grotesque detail came out in the days following 9/11: a lone figure falling down the side of the building, body parts in the rubble, etc. Within weeks, much of the imagery was sanitized and neutered. The twin towers on fire as an image risks becoming synonymous with the Mona Lisa or various war memorials: packed full of meaning for those who remember but remote shorthand for something meaningful for others.

What were you doing on September 11, 2001?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Three punches in the head

After a steady diet of trashy celebrity smut, I thought nothing would shock me. Yet, the news stories of the last few days have created new, raw areas where I thought only thick callouses remained.

First, the death of Steve Irwin. Everyone predicted it would eventually happen everytime he pranced around while swinging a python around his head, but who wasn't shocked when it really did? And a stingray?! I would have guessed something small and deadly like a spider or scorpion would have been Irwin's downfall.

The latest debate concerns whether the video recording that captured Irwin's death should ever see the light of day. I personally have no interest in seeing the tape because what can be more mundane than some watery image of a man getting stung, even if it is fatal? It's the kind of image that shows up in the Caribbean vacation videos of friends and usually elicits only mild interest. It would be no great loss to the public and yet a great relief to Irwin's loved ones to have the video destroyed

A video that I did watch intently was the Austrian Police record of Natascha Kampusch's tiny prison. As I devoured the fantastic details of Natascha's eight year imprisonment, shock and horror turned to critical concern.

By all accounts, Natascha has had only brief contact with her parents while entering a media blitz less than a month after escaping her captor. If her release had occurred a few years earlier, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have been immediately returned to the care of her mother or father. Yet, because she gained her freedom as a legal adult, everyone appears to accept the entourage of psychiatrists, psychologists, and lawyers, assigned by persons unknown, that keep Natascha far from family and those that knew her before the kidnapping.

A BBC article written just as the details of the story were being released asked psychologists what she should do next. One specialist on abused children recommended a return to "as normal a life as possible." He also predicted that Natascha would have abandonment issues because her parents never rescued her and that she should be reunited with her parents as soon as possible. Thanks to Natascha's expert handlers, a normal life with loved ones is not on the agenda as she goes on another round of media interviews.

Speaking of not normal, Suri Cruise has finally been revealed to the unwashed masses. Yet, having tackled the growing suspicion that Suri either did not exist or was physically deformed, the photos are now fueling new rumours. My favourite, Perez Hilton, has been repeatedly lining up photos of Suri with Katie Holme's previous flame, Chris Klein. The implications are obvious. And then there are those who cling to the fake baby theory by dismissing the Vanity Fair cover as obviously photo doctoring.

A nice scab is developing over the spot where these three stories ripped through my mind. I dare Suri, TomKat and any other celebrity to just try and top this week. It's just not possible. (Giddily preparing to be amazed.)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gamers venture out of the basement

A story in The Toronto Star today examined the growing phenomenon of making over video games as art. In a bid to get their friends off the couch and prove they are not losers, gamers are organizing events where symphonies play classic video game music and video game graphics are exhibited on gallery walls.

Says Tommy Tallarico, video game show host and game music composer, "I'm a composer, I love Beethoven. He's my guy. But if I go to a Beethoven concert, I sometimes get a little bored."
And that's when I feel like grabbing Tallarico by the ear and leading him to a quiet corner for some 'time out'.

I find it sad that the only way someone like Tallarico thinks he can make a symphony accessible to gamers is to play music that they can recognize; like they are incapable of actually enjoying classical music on its own terms. Or gamers can only venture out into a world that accomodates their hobby.

What other hobby group attempts to force their hobby into the wider world in this way? I don't see golfers requesting music played solely with golf clubs and drivers à la Blue Man Group. Or opera fans cosplaying as Madam Butterfly or Figaro at opera conventions.

While I have complained that gamers and their like tend to show a conservative streak despite the fact that they pride themselves on being outsiders, I have faith that gamers can and do leave the security blanket of their consoles behind.

There is a whole world of books, movies, music, food, politics and religion just waiting to be discovered. Take a cue from cultured hooker, Julia Roberts, and go enjoy an evening at the opera. Gaming is better in the middle of the night anyways.

PS I know I promised a blog on CBC Radio but this topic got me angry first. Look, I'll listen to Freestyle tomorrow afternoon, get pissed and soon I'll be typing away like noone's business.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Trash to treasure

Still nothing interesting to report right now. But speaking of interesting, I was recently introduced to an amazing celebrity gossip blog by my new co-workers: Here is all the bitchiness and insider smut that is missing from more mainstream entertainment websites.

Everyday, I sit down at my desk at an institute for high learning and I enjoy:

I still get a daily dose of CBC Radio everyday so it all evens out, right? Okay, I promise to dedicate my next blog to CBC Radio.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Chit chat fodder galore!

Now that I'm running two and a half hours at a time to train for the marathon, I have no time to come up with a clever blog. No brain power left either. By the time I finish my runs, my mind is numb with boredom. Mental note: never run another marathon.

In the meantime, here's the latest round of cool facts from my former customs broker.

Look up in the sky...
Every single day, 2.5-million people now fly through the airspace directly over metropolitan Paris. equivalent to about a quarter of its population.

Those who like to slum, teach
The average American college student graduated this year with more than US$19,000 in debt. Some graduates are now leaving college with student loan debt in the six figures. The rise in unmanageable debt has raised concerns that many graduates won't be able to pursue careers in fields that have traditionally paid modest salaries, such as teachers.

Rise of the fat
Chinese cities have been ordered to put back their cycle lanes in the hope of restoring the nation's image as the land of the bicycle. However, Beijing's most popular statistics is that the city sells 1,000 cars every day. Its least popular statistic is that the length of time it takes to reach any given destination has doubled in 10 years. The government is also considering following London's lead and introducing congestion charges to cut traffic.

Rise of the fat: Part 2
During the last 20 years, the total number of people with diabetes worldwide has risen from 30-million to 230-million and is expected to reach 350-million by 2025. China and India now have the most diabetes sufferers in the world. Today, out of the top ten countries with diabetes, seven are developing countries.

Not burning rubber
A congestion-beating project has been launched in Britain that could lead to some of the UK's 14,500 kilometres of disused railway being paved with rubber. The flexible highways are made of panels of shredded car tires laid over existing tracks. This project will provide a use for some of the estimated 50-million tires disposed of in the UK each year.

50 times the caffeine?
A Panamanian specialty coffee, a rare variety of the geisha plant strain, recently sold for US$50.25 a pound. At over 50 times the price of standard beans, the geisha beat the previous record of $49.75 a pound held by a Brazilian bean. Last year, beans from the same farm sold for $20.00 a pound.

Two girls for every guy
In 2003\2004 there were 1,941 homes for the aged in Canada. Nearly 103,500 women lived in these homes compared with just under 42,400 men. Homes for the aged alone generated C$9-billion in revenue The cost for each resident to live in a home for the aged amounted to $50,126 a year on average, or $136.76 a day.

Magic space train
Rising more than 5,000 metres above sea level, China's newest railway line will be the highest ever built. It is so high that some luxury railcars will be outfitted with oxygen masks for the uppermost elevations. The line will run 1,100 kilometres from Golmud in Qinghai province to Lhasa, capital of Tibet.

Mommy and frat boy need a drink
Sales of coolers to traditional female consumers are stalling and the liquor industry has been forced to turn its attention to heavier-drinking young men to keep the cooler category growing. Women still account for nearly 60 per cent of the C$587-million worth of coolers sold in Canada last year but have been turning to martinis and other mixed drinks.

Nirvana can wait
During soccer's recent World Cup, Buddhist monks In Cambodia who are normally not allowed to watch television, movies or artistic displays, were allowed to watch the games on television providing they did not bet on the games nor cheer or scream.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Oh happy day! I am now employed. And in the knick of time, too. I was starting to get hungry.

My new employer is Ryerson University. As a former University of Toronto student, in my swell college jacket and wearing my sweetheart's real diamante college ring, I used to jeer at "Ry High". But no more! While Ryerson is paying my bills, I spit on U of T for not employing me first.

My period of unemployment has taught me that I am not a model of discipline. Without the structure of work, my exercise regiment grinded to a halt and my personal hygiene suffered. I didn't even blog.

Instead, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness became the guiding light for my daily activities. With the exception of my job search, I dedicated my time to inefficient activities that worried those around me, especially since I was being inefficient while gaining weight and looking rough.

But fear not, friends! I am just like YOU, again. Please call me and we can go out for drinks. I'm back!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mission Accomplished: Part Two

Before regaling everyone with our adventures in Los Angeles, I must quickly recall our day trip to Tijuana. For the record, noone wanted to go to Tijuana except for me and I was misled. I based my decision on an episode of "The Simpsons" where a remorseful Krusty takes the kids to "the happiest place on earth, Tijuana!" The experience has taught me not to believe cartoon characters with questionable morals.

Getting there was easy enough. A trolley from downtown San Diego took everyone straight to the border and we passed through some rusty metal turnstiles into Mexico without even a security check. There were delightful billboards proclaiming "Drug Discounters" and "We Will Beat Any Price". Then came the less delightful three year old beggar and eight year old hawkers of cheap bracelets. The poverty was harrowing and when we finally arrived in the main shopping strip of Tijuana, aggressive shopkeepers had us running for the border after a mere 45 minutes.

Returning to the U.S. was an exercise in torture as we stood in line in the hot baking sun, along with everyone else trying to enter the U.S. on a work visa, for over an hour. That's right: we spent more time waiting in line to leave Tijuana than we spent walking around in Tijuana.

If the trip to Tijuana taught us anything, it was that when one smells urine, one should turn around. Joe recalled encountering the scent within minutes of entering Mexico. It was a lesson that would have served us well in Los Angeles.

During our trip, California was in the midst of a heat wave and while San Diego seemed relatively cool, Los Angeles was fully immersed in the stifling heat. Like stupid tourists, we walked around a deserted Downtown L.A. on a Sunday and quickly became dazed and confused. After visiting Little Tokyo, we took a wrong turn into the Toy District and the smell of urine pretty much slapped us in the face.

The Toy District was nothing but a corridor of sheet metal store fronts and a cardboard box housing complex. The homeless populated the area to a degree that I had never experienced in person before. We walked as quickly as possible and avoided eye contact, yet I noticed a repeating tableau of whopping piles of feces on a square of cardboard as we went along. Someone in the area had a sick sense of humour, or maybe artistic ambitions. When we had finally escaped the Toy District, we found the Los Angeles Public Library and comforted ourselves with free internet and educational exhibits.

In a previous blog, one of the directives was to visit In-N-Out Burger and Roscoe's House of Chicken' N Waffles while in California.

As you can see above, I fulfilled the first request after much difficulty. It seemed that wherever we were, there was an In-N-Out Burger nearby yet just out of reach. I am happy to report that we finally made the time and it was worth it. Cheap and delicious!

Roscoe's House of Chicken'N Waffles was also on the list of things to do and we actually passed it during our double decker bus tour of Hollywood. See the photo! But when we consulted with a local, he told us that the grease that dripped from the Chicken was legendary and he convinced us to go eat Argentinian food instead.

Whatever grease we missed out on was made up for by Alex and his bowels of steel. After 12 hours of enforced starvation for the sake of Comic Con, Alex bought a burger from Jack in the Box. It came on a ciabatta bun and looked good but with his first bite, Alex claimed, "I can feel my arteries hardening." It's all good fun until someone gets a stroke.

As mentioned briefly before, we took part in a double decker bus tour of the Hollywood neighbourhood. The first 15 minutes of the tour was quite interesting as we passed the Mann's Chinese Theatre and the Kodak Theatre (new home of the Oscars).

15 minutes into the tour, we had lost our minds to the heat and the sun. In a daze, we passed the place where Marilyn Monroe had her first photo shoot, where some other star had his office, where something something something. All I could think about was the end of the tour.

Other passengers caved in to the torture and started retreating to the lower level while the bus was in motion. The bench two rows in front of me collapsed and sent its passengers tumbling to the ground - and I didn't even blink. My friends proved to be in equally bad shape when my optimistic suggestion, "Oh! Melrose! We should go there later!" was met with silence and sweating.

At the end of the tour, everyone jumped up and ran for the exit. As I stood up, I realized that I had completely drenched my shorts in sweat. I covered up the mess with my bag as much as possible then ran to the movie theatre nearby. For the price of having to sit through Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, I was able to enjoy the air conditioning and give my shorts a chance to make itself presentable.

My advice for anyone who decides to visit San Diego and L.A. is the following:
  • go to Comic Con - it's worth it!
  • otherwise, do not go to Southern California in the middle of summer
  • and if you smell urine, run in the opposite direction - words to live by

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mission Accomplished: Part One

While California conjures up images of bronzed, hard bodies and a
thriving porn industry, our main goal in going to San Diego was to visit Comic Con 2006. I must admit that I was unprepared for the scope and craziness of the event. Unlike other visitors, I did not write up a list of must-have Convention exclusives, must-see panel discussions, and must-harrass artists whose signatures will make your comic worth big bucks. But I did not stay blasé for long.

On Preview Night, those who had pre-registered for the full four days of the Convention were treated to an evening of madness. Visitors were corralled in a lineup that went down the hall, up to the second floor of the convention centre, snaked here and there, and finally led back downstairs. After entering the Exhibition Hall, I was quickly swept up in the rush to get a Nemesis Prime (seen on the right). It was a Comic Con exclusive, which whipped up the froth in the mouths of all Transformers enthusiasts. I found myself in a lineup that circled the Hasbro booth three times and I ended up buying two action figures: one to keep and one to dangle in front of Canadian buyers.

The rest of the convention was pretty much a blur of buying and coveting so here are some highlights.

The rush to get free stuff was insane: free D&D figures,
free comics, free masks. Even free plastic bags were highly prized. I
saw people walk away with an armful of plastic bags for reasons unknown.

Stan Lee took part in the Spider Retrospective panel discussion. It was less about information and more about entertaining a worshipful crowd with delightful anecdotes. A typical exchange between Stan Lee and John Romita Sr came across like geriatric comedy:

SL: That was a fantastic cover

JRS: That wasn't the original cover though.

SL: It wasn't?

JRS: You originally wanted that other cover.

SL: I was a moron!

JRS: We've had this discussion before.

SL: We have?

...And on and on.

The buying power of the fanboy/girl has made major studios sit up and take notice. Snakes on a Plane had a huge plane-shaped python on the exhibition floor and its star, Samuel L. Jackson, came for a panel discussion.

Also in attendance was the Vice President of Twentieth Century Fox who came to the Convention to present some upcoming features that might need the support of fanboys/girls. Viking action film, Pathfinder, was one of them and director, Marcus Nispel, recalled how he had naively taken on the dubious job of remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Seemingly doomed to box office failure, Nispel was advised to take his film to Comic Con where he might find a supportive audience, which he did. It goes without saying that the assumption is that fanboys/girls will pay good money to watch what most would label excreable. Hence, the reason why Nispel was back with his latest offering.

After sitting through Reno 911, Pathfinder, and Eragon (a LOTR cash-in if I ever saw one), we finally saw what I was waiting for: Borat! (Seen above) 'Kazakstan's number one reporter' came to promote 'his country' and his new film. His movie clip featured a nude Borat accidentally assuming various sexual position with his hairy, fat boss while fighting, and left the Vice President of Twentieth Century Fox red-faced and sheepish. As Borat would say, "I like!"

If ever you wondered what John of Dymaxion World looked like, look no further than Bruce Timm. The creator of contemporary cartoon classics, "Batman", "Batman Beyond", "Justice League", and "Justice League Unlimited" was featured in a retrospective despite only having been in the business since 1989.

Timm's panel discussion was one of the best because it was informative about Timm's creative process and gave a behind the scenes look into his various series, yet remained entertaining. Even the audience questions were reasonable and did not fall into fanboy obsessive territory (ie "In Episode #12, why did Green Lantern's ring glow Kelly green and not the Emerald green of Episode...blah blah blah").

Before Bruce Timm's panel discussion, we had camped out in the venue in order to get good seats. Thus, we were forced to sit through the panel discussion for the David Boreanaz show, "Bones". Unfortunately, from the way audience questions were going, you would think "Angel" was still going strong. (See Boreanaz fans above.) Wedgie girl at the front had stayed up until 3am to write a letter to Boreanaz and begged for the chance to give it to him. Boreanaz graciously and bravely came within arm's length of his fan to accept her missive.

On the second last night of Comic Con, a Masquerade was held. This did not mean costumes, punch and social interaction for all. Instead, in true fanboy/girl tradition, everyone sat back and frequently jeered at 48 entries in a costume fashion show.

For the most part, the audience enjoyed anything that was a good facsimile of a familiar character presented in a humourous fashion. For instance, Kang of "The Simpsons" was one of a few impressive homemade costumes that was cheered when he demanded Jessica Alba as an appetizer. Elaborate, original costumes created from someone's imagination just did not cut it.

The crowd's conservative tendencies were also betrayed when a trailer for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was shown before the Masquerade. There was raucous applause from the crowd for what I consider a lazy cash cow for the movie studio, guilty of preying on nostalgia. Like Pavlov's dog, the audience probably would have cheered as loudly for neon surf boards and Atari game cartridges, if those nostalgic objects were also marched onto the stage.

Before we left San Diego for Los Angeles, we also visited Mission Beach, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and the Gas Lamp District. But most importantly, we spent money on knick knacks like Bastardino (shown left) and the Kubrick Alien Comic Con Exclusive.

In Part Two, I'll wax on about my adventures at In-N-Out Burger, the Toy District, and on the top tier of a double decker tour bus in the middle of the afternoon during a heat wave in L.A. Stay tuned!