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!