Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trip Recap, Part 4



It rained and puddles formed below the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, I decided against going up the Eiffel Tower.  After all, I have to have something to do the next time I go to Paris, right?

Lots of souvenir hucksters were actively selling paraphernalia round the tower.  I even saw a couple of guys pack up and flee when the cops came.  I wondered if they were illegals or simply unable to pay the fine, whatever it is for selling shit without a vendor permit.

Anyway, the tower is quite awesome.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Trip Recap, Part 3













The view from the first place we visited (extended family), but didn't stay. Instead, we dragged our bags around the corner to the smallest apartment in the world.

Soon after snapping this photo, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, which I am sure you have already noticed, is at the top of the frame.  Visiting what is arguably the most iconic edifice in Paris, was a great way to start the vacation.

I did have a quick nap in this apartment, which was nice, but way too short.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Look at my CD Collection, part 4 - Laurie Anderson


I acquired a cassette copy of Home of the Brave years ago from a friend (Thanks Pete).  At the time, I was fascinated by the guitar playing of Adrian Belew, who showed up on the three glorious King Crimson albums in the 1980s, and many more later on.  The first of that trilogy (Discipline) remains as perhaps my most favourite album of all time, but more on that another day. Anyway, Adrian plays some wicked guitar on Mister Heartbreak and Home of the Brave.

Later, I added some Laurie Anderson vinyl to my collection, most of which I still have.  Yes, I am old enough to remember vinyl.  I regret selling some of my records when I became infatuated with compact discs, mostly because early digital mastering really sucked, but it has gotten better.  Still, there is something about the warmth of a vinyl recording that is lacking on CD.

The most perplexing thing about Laurie Anderson is not her weird music; that, I like.  The first track of hers I ever heard was O Superman and I couldn't really believe what I was hearing.  I still think this song is awesome and I continue to appreciate the bizarreness of it.  I have included the video below, thanks to YouTube.  As I was saying, the most perplexing thing about Laurie Anderson is that she married Lou Reed.  I am a huge Lou Reed fan and I have all of his albums and those of The Velvet Underground too.

(see other posts about Lou: one, two, three)

So, although I like Reed's music, isn't it generally agreed that he is somewhat ugly?  Who am I to judge?, you might ask.  Good point. Someone once said that beauty is only skin deep.

Anyway, I have three Laurie Anderson CDs and some vinyl.  I like her music very much.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Remembrance of Things Past

With the temperature hovering around minus 11 Celsius, and knowing that by cycling, I would create a wind chill on top of whatever the wind chill was this morning, I dressed warmly for the ride in to work. The choice of clothing included my new Caribou Sorel boots (good to minus 40 degrees), a winter coat, (suitable for cycling), and two additional layers below. I pulled on my Hot Paws mitts that have never failed to keep my hands warm. Below my helmet, I wore one of those furry hats with the earflaps. The only thing that was cold was my face, and I can't do anything about that because a scarf causes my glasses to fog up and then freeze, leading to a potentially dangerous situation.

I wheeled around the corner and the fist thing I saw reminded me of my youth. A high school student ambled along in nothing more than a hoodie. He had no mitts or gloves, no hat, and no boots. He reminded my of my winter high school days, but even then, I elected to wear mitts and a coat. I just avoided hats, mostly because I hated to disturb my nicely coiffed hair.

I reflected for a moment about how old I have been feeling recently. Happily, I noted that I don't really care if anyone sees me wearing a hat anymore, just as long as it lacks those ridiculous pom-poms.  I hate pom-poms, and I have previously owned hats that forced me to hack off the dumb pom-pom.  Who created this abomination anyway?

I wonder if this kid will be found later, frozen and blue.  I would have said frozen in s snowbank somewhere, but there really isn't any snow to speak of in Tdot at the moment.

A Look at my CD Collection, part 3

Because I have nothing else to write about ...

Africanesque

It's often difficult to recall when or why I have acquired certain CDs. I have no memory of when I bought this one, but I think I picked it up on the basis of its price and on the fact that it contains a track by Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder (Diaraby) and another by Henri Dikongué (Ndol'asu). Also, I was really interested in African Music, at one point, especially musicians like Babatunde Olatunji. There's something about African drumming that really appeals to me.  I love Brazilian drumming too.

Africanesque is a fabulous introduction to African music, containing roots music and well as other genres, like European fusion.  It represents many, but not all, African nations.  But, unless you like African music, you probably wouldn't like this.




Arabica - A North African Voyage into Sound 


It's often difficult to recall when or why I have acquired certain CDs. I have no memory of when I bought this one, but I think I picked it up on the basis of its price, since I had no idea who any of these musicians are.  The CD contains traditional North African musical styles fused with Arabian, Middle East grooves and European electronica.  Some tracks are better than others.  It's not a brilliant collection, but it's not too bad.


My goal for today is to finish my Christmas shopping.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ZF has a New Pair of Boots

Yup, I bought a pair of Sorel Boots.  My feet have never been so warm. As a matter of fact, as I cycled home this evening, I wondered if perhaps they were too warm.  But, the temperature will drop lots more, and I will be grateful for the superior warmth of these fine boots.  Sorel ought to pay me for such an endorsement.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Look at my CD Collection, part 2 - John Hudak

I downloaded two releases (legally) by John Hudak with -1348- from The Internet Archive some time ago.  The Internet Archive is a great source for all kinds of things, especially music.  If you are a Dead Head -- and I am not -- you should definitely check it out.

I am really interested in musical experiments, and I am fond of minimalism, drones, and repetition.   That's not to say that I don't enjoy a fine melody, because I do.  There is something about extended drawn-out soundscapes that contain very little in the way of variation.  Of course, this reminds me of a dinner party I had at my house once for an association of which I was president.  I put on Steve Reich's Music for Eighteen Musicians, thinking that it would be a pleasing accompaniment to dinner and conversation.  About 15 minutes into the piece, someone (perhaps the secretary or the treasurer) complained that the music was giving her a headache.  Good thing I hadn't put on Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood!

Reich's piece has much more going on in it that I require.  There have been times when the drone of a piece of machinery has struck me as the perfect piece of music.  I also like symmetrical structures.  If you add these two together, it says a lot about what I like photograph, normally. Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon is a fine example of ambient minimalism.  It's 61 minutes of perfect music, and not just for Thursday afternoons.  I also like noise, or music from the avant-garde that employs dissonance and atonality. There are lots of examples of this genre, of course, but to give you some examples, I would suggest the music of John Cale and Tony Conrad from the Inside the Dream Syndicate years, as well as the music of Lamonte Young right through to Sonic Youth and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

I think I am getting sidetracked.

Since I really do not like listening to music on a computer, I burned the two John Hudak releases to CD.  They are:

-1348- and John Hudak - Tacitus Journey
-1348- and John Hudak - The Idiot

These releases contain hints at some of the things I mentioned above. You might not like it, but you just might.  Hudak's discography is quite long and he has made appearances on many other recordings, if you care about that.

Three more days of work, and then I am off until January 4th :-)

Monday, December 14, 2009


A Look at my CD Collection, part 1:
1-Speed Bike: Droopy Butt Begone!

This was the first release (2000) from Aidan Girt, the drummer from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Exhaust.  I believe that he played drums on the first release from A Silver Mt. Zion entitled: He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms.

For this release, Girt re-used some of his old beats. He cut them up, looped them, and added some field recordings.  The last thing you will hear is the sound of a toilet flushing to compliment the final track, Any Movement That Forgets About Class Is A Bowel Movement.

Constellation records describes the CD as follows:
The heart of the record finds slow loping beats ebbing and flowing around a beautiful palette of melodic figures and harmonic whirrs on “Just Another Jive-Assed White Colonial Theft”; a sustained hip-hop groove anchoring the playful sample stew of “Why Are All The Dogs Dying Of Cancer” and the house-inflected beat workouts of “My Kitchen Is Tiananmen Square.” link
I couldn't have said it any better, so I won't even try.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Some Recent Reads

OK, so here are a bunch of mini reviews/comments on some of the books that I have read recently, which probably means within the last couple of months, or so.  I am sure that I have missed a few.

Justin Cartwright - In Every Face I Meet

I still fail to understand why Justin Cartwright is not more famous.  He ought to be.  This book was short-listed for the Booker Prize.  It didn't win.  I am not certain that it should have won.  It's good, for sure, but not his best.  I still prefer White Lightning, but this is certainly a good book.  I'll give it an 8/10.

Jess Walter - Citizen Vince

I don't normally read crime fiction.  There might be crime in the fiction I read, but the genre is not something I normally check out.  I can't really say why that is.  It just is.  So, I read Citizen Vince mostly because I liked what was written on the back cover.  The blurb mentioned sex, drugs, prostitution - all good things, really.  It mentioned mobsters and a cross-country chase.  While it is true that all of these elements are part of this book, I have to say emphatically that the blurb is over-written.  That's not to say that I was disappointed. After all, the book is a lot more subtle than the blurb would have you believe.  The protagonist is not such a bad guy, for a bad guy.  He's truly reformed, though still earning some money on the side by means of a few illegal activities.  So, yes, he's a bad guy doing bad guy things, and yet we like him in a noirish way.  He's alright, in many ways, and one feels for his plight. The book is alright too, but I wouldn't suggest that you read it.  I would suggest that you read the blurb and then decide if you want to read it.  Just remember that the cover copy is over-written.  I give this book a 6.5/10. If you are one of those crime fiction readers, you would probably rate it higher, maybe even an 8.5/10.

Paul Quarrington - King Leary

Paul Quarrington could be my favourite Canadian writer.  Sadly, he has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  I have read many of his books and recently read King Leary while on the train to Montreal. Leary won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.  Stephen Leacock was a funny Canadian writer who wrote lots of funny things, by the way.  This book is probably deserving of the award, as it is funny and a good read.  But, I have very little to go on, since the only other Leacock winner I have read is Jake and the Kid by W.O. Mitchell, but that was really read to me in public school by the teacher a long time ago.  I tried to read Barney's Version, another Leacock winner, but found it unbearably boring.  My fav Quarrington novel has to be Whale Music, but his best piece of writing is The Boy on the Back of the Turtle.  I give King Leary 8/10.

Jim Thompson - After Dark, My Sweet

I don't normally read crime fiction.  Wait, I already said that.  This book, however, might better be described as pulp fiction, but not in a Tarantino kind of way.  It may be that Jim Thompson has been overlooked as a writer, despite the evidence that he was on to something.  This book was made into a film.  I know, that's not really a good indicator of a book's relative value, but it is interesting to consider, especially when you note that other Thompson books were filmed as well. These books include The Grifters and The Getaway, which was filmed twice, I believe, the first time by Sam Peckinpah.

Anyway, I liked this piece of noir pulp fiction and I am thinking that I should locate the film.  I'll rate this book a 7.5/10.

Louis de Bernières - The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts

This book is a satirical, magical, and hilarious look at a fictionalized nation in South America.  The writing is so genuinely terrific that it is a difficult book to put down.  Other words that might describe this book could be zany and beautiful and violent.  At the heart of this book is a parody of third world banana republics, filled with unusual characters and with hilarious yet poignant observations.  It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it.  I have almost finished the second book in the trilogy: Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, which is funnier that it's predecessor.  The third and final book in the trilogy - The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman - is waiting for me on my bookcase.  The first two books in this trilogy deserve a rating of 9.9/10.

Don Delillo - Falling Man

I never thought that it would happen, but Don DeLillo has finally penned a novel that I did not like.  Sure, there are the usual pieces of genius and his poetical use of the English language, but this book left me unimpressed.  Let me just say that the dialogue irritated me. No one speaks the way they do in this book.  It doesn't mater who the character is, everyone speaks in a jarring, fragmented fashion that is difficult to accept.  I appreciate what DeLillo is trying to achieve, but I am not convinced that he pulled it off.  For that, I have to give this a 6/10.

Graham Swift - Out of this World

This is perhaps a minor work from Swift and, while I think I enjoyed it, it really didn't stay with me.  I have no complaints, no praise, and not much at all to say about it.  The book is fine, but not at all out-of-this-world.  If you are planning to read Swift, better start somewhere else, say with Last Orders.  6.5/10 for this one.

Gao Xingjian - Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather, Stories

Are these really stories?  They feel more like random pieces of prose.  I suppose that they qualify as both.  This is an entertaining book and it's extremely well-written.  It's enjoyable, but I didn't think too hard about what I was reading.  The words just flowed over me and I absorbed them.  8.5/10

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wet

So, I cycled today, which may have been a mistake.  I discovered that my boots are no longer water-proof and so my feet were swimming in cold water by the time I was less than halfway through my ride.  I have a dry pair of shoes in my office, which I am wearing without socks.  I hope the socks dry before my cycle home, but it probably will make no difference, since the boots have no chance of drying in such a short period of time.

It's a shame because I bought a crazy-ass pair of boots that are good to minus 40 and water-proof.  In fact, I used them to shovel the wet wintery sludge from my sidewalk this morning.  I felt that they were too cumbersome to cycle in, but they would have been a much better choice.  Fashion should never trump comfort.  That fashion can lose out is a sign of age, if you ask me.  By this logic, I am not yet old.

I remember walking the 1.5 KM trip to and from high school in minus 20 or worse weather and foregoing a hat.  I was too concerned that someone would see me.  Dumb, you say and I agree.  On those days when it was even colder, I would take the route less travelled, with my toque on, taking a risk that someone would see me, and then removing the hat for the last part of my journey, as I closed in on the school.  Yes, it was dumb, but I never got any frostbite.  Oddly, I wore my hat after school during winter track when we ran around the frozen streets, but I guess the coach prevailed upon us.  At least I am now comfortable wearing a hat, so maybe I am aging after all.

OK, well, maybe I can dry my socks using the hand dryer in the bathroom ...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Road (The Movie) - Two Ratings

If the success of a movie is to be measured by how faithfully it translates the written word to the big screen, then The Road deserves a score of ten out of ten.  The cinematography is sublime.  The disintegrating post-apocalyptic world is rendered hauntingly and precisely.  It's a grey world with little to no colour.  It's a depressing landscape filled with dead trees, an ashen sky, burnt out cities, and roving bands of cannibals.  All of this is impressive and faithful to my reading of the book.

The plot, too, follows very closely that of the book and I have no issues with omissions or minor changes.  For this, I give the movie a ten out of ten and would argue that this film is the best possible adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel.  But, that doesn't necessarily make it a good film.  At the conclusion of the film, C. assessed it at 6.5 out of ten.  She might be right.

I really like the novel.  It is a gripping story and I read it compulsively.  Good books don't always make good movies, and The Road is a prime example of that phenomenon.   So, while it may well be a great book, the movie just doesn't work.  Still, I would give it a 7.5 because I liked the novel so much.

With the exception of Wonder Boys (as I often mention), I generally prefer the novel to the film adaptation, and so it holds true for this film too.  Read the book; skip the movie.
Happy Birthday to....

Me.

I'll be in an all-day colloquium today and an all-day meeting tomorrow :-(

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Down with Twitter!

My experiment with Twitter ended a few weeks ago.  I posted my last so-called tweet is late October, and now, I move on for many reasons.

1) Twitter is a dumb word.
2) Tweet is even dumber.
3) 140 words is too short for anything but a semi-grammatical grunt.
4) I kept attracting unsavory followers offering hidden links to scandalous sites.
5) Twitter is continually over-capacity.
6) I am all for Web 2.0, but Twitter's purpose is to limited that I only ever see things like: I am about to take a dump; I am off to the to store to buy condoms.  In other words, it is a constant source of useless micro-information.
7) I don't need constant reminders that people lead boring lives.
8) I already have a few Ego 2.0 outlets, and don't need another.
9) I really think Twitter inflates one's perceived sense of importance.
10) Twitter would have been much better if I had thought of it and had given it a good name.

I hope Twitter dies and soon. Down with Twitter!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gormenghast

Recently, I read the first two books in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, Titus Groan and Gormenghast.  I really have no idea why these books are classified as fantasy.  I shy away from the category, lest anyone think that I spend my time in dark basements playing Dungeons and Dragons.  I have never played Dungeons and Dragons and don't want to start.  Let me also say that I have never read Lord of the Rings, so I can't really make any statements about it, beyond what I know about the films.  As you might recall, I had a hard time staying awake during the first two films and didn't bother with the third.  Even typing that statement about LoR made me very tired.  This is just to say that I am not very knowledgeable about fantasy.

I came to Gormenghast accidentally, having seen part of the TV series years ago, but then forgetting about it and not remembering what it was that I saw.  Such is my sieve-like brain.  Anyway, I read the first book on the strength of some really fabulous recommendations from many respected people, including Robertson Davies and Anthony Burgess, whom I greatly admired.  To my amazement, there is very little that is fantastical about these books (or, perhaps I really do not understand fantasy).  Having just read some Dickens, I would suggest that they fit more easily into that genre.  They are gothic and grand and thoroughly Dickensian, but maybe better written.  It's clear that Peake is a poet for his prose is indeed poetry.

Naturally, I had to watch the British mini-series after reading the books.  I am somewhat disappointed.   Except in the case of Wonder Boys, I always find that the book is better than the film or mini-series.  The Gormenghast books are vastly superior to the mini-series and I was left feeling a bit betrayed.

About the series, I will say this: I liked the casting, generally, but hated the music completely.  I found the numerous plot changes to be irritating.  I realize that certain things need to be edited out to fit running times and commercial breaks, but leaving out characters and changing fundamental plot elements baffles me.  I found myself becoming irritated by these many changes and hoping that perhaps someone with a greater sense of loyalty to the books will one day make a faithful adaptation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

C@#* Explosion!

So, there I was, walking down a peaceful tree-lined street in Toronto, just minding my own business, when I shoved my hand deep into my pocket and pulled out my iPod Touch.  Ah, I love this fine piece of equipment.  It's smooth, shiny, and wonderful to hold.  I inserted the earbuds into my ears to fire up the tunes.

Remembering that wifi was still enabled, I decided to turn it off, so as to save some battery power.  As I was doing this, I noted the names of the wireless networks in this fine neighbourhood.  There were several nondescript Bell networks with boring names like BELL127; there were a few people who had applied names to their networks, like Lisa this or John that, and many such derivatives with a few pet names thrown into the mix, and possibly a superhero or two.

But then I saw a most curious wireless network called - get ready for this - Cock Explosion!  I am not lying.  Lots of thoughts passed through my head, like, what if his mother comes to visit and wants to hop on his wireless network with her little pink netbook?

Dude's Mom: "What's your network name?"

Dude: "Cock explosion."

Dude's Mom: "What?"

Dude: "Cock explosion."

Dude's Mom: "You're network is called cock explosion?"

Dude: "Yeah, cock explosion."

Dude's Mom: "Why would you call your network cock explosion?"

Dude: "Why not?  Cock explosion is a great name. It's very visual."

Dude's Mom:  "I'm afraid to ask what your network key is..."

I am sure that his dad would understand all of this, but not his mom.  A colleague told me a similar story about a network in NYC he encountered that was called something like Porn-Loving Bi-Girl.  A father would understand that too, but not a mom.

But, back to the story.  You see that I made the assumption that this is a network operated by a male.  I mean, what women would called her network Cock Explosion?  I can think of a few good names for a racy female network, and this doesn't make the list.  CG later suggested that perhaps it belonged to an escort who was very good at her job.  I am not convinced, but I give him marks for coming (if you'll excuse the gratuitous use of that word) up with alternative suggestions.

My immediate reaction is that this guy must be a porn hound.  I imagined him (but not in any great detail) ending up like Quagmire, once he had discovered the wonders of broadband.  Now, there was no way to figure out which house this Cock Explosion was emanating from, and even if I knew, I would have steered well clear of it.  There were no obvious signs anywhere as to which of these properties was home to Cock Explosion.  I couldn't see any Farrah Fawcett posters in the windows, at any rate.  I detected no one furiously closing curtain or blinds.  It was all peaceful, but I wondered, if I stood there long enough, if I would be able to hear any cock explosions.  I decided that this was not a good idea, and resumed my journey, up to a pub to meet two friends and have a beverage.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carrie Prejean

Why is it that every loser on the planet has been on Entertainment Tonight but not me?  I deserve to be on that show as much as these other mercenary fame-hunting idiots.  Quite honestly, I don't know who most of the people are on the show, but the whole experience is like a train wreck.  I mean, the cult of celebrity has come to a point where the so-called celebrities are nobodies.  If you don't believe me, just check out Dancing with the Stars. This is the best they can do? The definition of star has fallen to such a point where even I qualify as a star.

Now, after that preamble, we come to Carrie Prejean.  I have a vague memory of Carrie Prejean saying something ludicrous and sexist about same-sex marriage.  She is a right-wing homophobe.  I just read that she had used some of her pageant winnings from the Miss USA pageant to buy breast implants.  I guess she has to prepare for a career in porn, should this beauty thing not work out.

Then there was a breach of contract and a settlement of some sort, and now she is selling her book.  I can tell you that even if I were trapped in a space ship for three or four months on my way to Mars with only her book for a distraction, I would not read it - well, maybe for a laugh, but reading it would probably lead to permanent brain damage.

Serendipitously, I clicked on a CNN video of her being a jerk on the Larry King Show.  Have a look as the spoiled brat has a tantrum on the air:



Talk about a little princess.  I have to say that the word inappropriate was an inappropriate choice or words. And then, I discovered that there is a sex tape.  Big deal.  I suppose she is trying to keep up with Verne Troyer.  I mean, who doesn't have a sex tape?  Even I have a sex tape.

I am angry with myself for giving this small-brained so-called beauty pageant queen with a face like a razor blade even more publicity.  The good news is that she will suffer the ignominy of having her book remaindered soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shopping with the Ancient and the Insane

I took last Friday afternoon off to get some stuff accomplished prior to a busy weekend.  First, I decided to do the grocery shopping.  What's going on with Friday afternoons in grocery stores?  Why are so many weird people allowed to be in public on Friday afternoons?

Immediately upon entering the store, I was confronted with a man who seemed to like talking to pumpkins.  He then turned to me and discussed the prices of produce as compared with all of the other local stores.  Pumpkins, he assured me, were cheaper here than in the other shops, but then he seemed a little perplexed that I did not buy any, but then neither did he.  Pumpkin man moved sideways to examine the butter nut squash and he tried to persuade me to buy one, which I did, because I needed one.  He then went off to have a conversation with the avocados.

I had to wait to select apples, because someone had unfolded his flyer across the entire bin, as if it were his personal table.  And, let me tell you, all of these people were armed with flyers, man.  They were buying items simply because they were on sale.  How else do you explain someone buying liver?  I know, some of these people are from that age group that still believes that liver is good for you.  Suckers!

I put my earbuds in and walked the aisles with a great deal of difficulty because Friday shoppers seem to have no understanding of how to park one's cart so as to let others pass by.  I was stuck behind a woman accompanying her blind husband who, quite frankly, was squeezing the mangoes a bit too hard.  I felt worried for the melons in the next bin.  Is it possible that he thought that he was at home and that those mangoes were really his wife's ... ?  Well, never mind.

I continued around, marveling at the toothless hoards drooling over the saltines, the aged ambling about with able walkers, one of whom was sniffing chicken wrapped in plastic, and those who seemed to have no business in a grocery store whatsoever.

I quickly skirted the near riot by the Depends, and then made my way to the check out, where the person in front of me had all of her credit cards declined; she had no cash to speak of with her.  Quickly, I backed out only to end up behind some belligerent jerk who argued over the limits.  For some reason, he wanted more than 10 cases of pop.

So, my new rule is to avoid Friday afternoon shopping, unless I have no choice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trip Recap, part 2

What was I saying again?  Oh yeah, I never argue with free.

One's senses always seem to be heightened when one takes to the streets of a new city.  Cities smell different.  They look different. They feel different.  Dragging my suitcase over to the world's smallest apartment, I keep noticing how weird everything was.  I blame part of that on sleep deprivation.  So, over to the apartment, from one tiny elevator to another tiny elevator, past a smoking dog.

I am not claustrophobic, but this free apartment is insanity.  Now, if someone gave me title to this apartment for all time, for me to use whenever I dropped into Paris, I might say no.  Free accommodations are fantastic, and I never say no to free, but next time I just might.

Once the bed was unfolded, the entire room was filled, save a small alleyway around the perimeter.  Now, you might think that would be OK, but the roof had a serious pitch on the east side, upon which I bashed my head several times.  Of course, I am well accustomed to head bashing, and have reduced my brain cell count by a factor of ten over the years, so I ought to be used to this, but it turned old very quickly.

To stand at the sink (yes, there was a sink in this room) meant that one had to tilt one's head a good thirty degrees to port and stand as far west as possible.  Below the sink were an assortment of pots and pans, but bending over proved problematic.  Next to the pots was a small bar fridge.  Above the fridge sat a two burner hot plate, but I feared actually using it without a good deal of scrutiny because I felt that the sloping ceiling, skimming the tops of the pots, would burst into flames at any second.

Believe it or not, they managed to fit a shower stall in the room, right at the entrance.  Aside from when I was sleeping, this was the most comfortable spot in the room, but I did keep smashing my arms against the enclosure and usually managed to accidentally turn the water off a few times during each shower.  So, we had a room not much bigger than a double bed, a sink with bar fridge and shower stall.  Oh, and there was no bathroom: the whole place was a shower room, really, what with the steam flowing out of the shower stall.  I just had to hang up my shirts and let them steam.

So, to use the facilities, one had to trip down the hall (bonjour here, bonjour there, along the way) until one came to a toilet room.  Now, if I stood in front of the toilet to micturate, the entire quadrangle became intimately acquainted with my anatomy.  There are no secrets in Paris, I guess.  If one had to sit, they quadrangle people got a view of the back of your head.  No big deal there.

There was no sink in the toiletroom, but there was a sink that looked positively Roman outside, or you could walk back to your room, tilt your head 30 degrees to the port side, and wash your hands there, but jumping into the shower was actually easier.  If you hung your towel and clothes correctly, you could get a good motion going and be fully clothed with just a few twists and turns and grunts and almost no bruises.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trip Recap, part 1

It's funny how I spent three weeks in Europe and haven't really said much about it. So, I guess it's time. Speaking of time, I am aging. Years ago, I took the night flight to London and, when I arrived, I continued throughout the day even though I did not sleep on the plane.  By the way, I am envious of those who can sleep on trains and planes. I can't do it. Anyway, years ago, I popped off the plane in London, and engaged with the city. I slept later, as usual.  It was no big deal.

This time, I was whacked after the flight to Paris. I could barely keep my eyes open. Eventually, I decided to take a nap, and left instructions to be woken in 1.5 hours. I woke up in a daze and stumbled around the apartment as if I hadn't slept for days. I was confused, couldn't think straight, and hardly knew where I was. But then, I looked out the window and saw the Eiffel Tower and the traffic on Rue Montparnasse and quickly figured it out. So, the lesson to be learned is that I am getting old. Crap

The good news about the flight is that Air Canada came up with very good gluten-free food options that were also free of dairy! I was quite impressed. Ages ago, when Air Canada offered no such menu choices, I requested a fruit plate, thinking that such a menu item would contain fruit. Sure, there was a bit of fruit, but the thing came with a baguette, half a pound of cheese, and a piece of cake. In what universe is that considered to be a fruit plate? The poor fruits were seriously outnumbered by glutinous substances and congealed bovine slime!  But, back to the story.

This trip to Europe was so many months ago, I can't even remember what we did on day one, other than transport our bags to the smallest apartment I have ever seen.  Really, it was a room, a closet, in fact.  It was so small, that to rent the place would be illegal according to the various laws of France.  But, it was free, and I never argue with free.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Take a Walk on the Wild Side



I bought two pairs of shoes last weekend in Montreal. On Saturday night, we had a couple of drinks at Bily Kun, and met up with a friend from TO.  Damn, it gets cold early in Montreal.  Winter must suck in Montreal.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Trip

I am off to Montreal tomorrow and will return Sunday.  Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ESL-isms

I know a woman who collects funny ESL sayings. I think she started this because her mother referred to the the HMV music stores as HIV. I knew another person who called a hangover an overhang. Hilarious indeed. A colleague just sent me an email, and instead of saying, "no one can remember anything," she wrote, "No one can remember everything!" I can't argue with that, can I? Anyway, this reminds of a Bruce Cockburn album called You've Never Seen Everything.  So true.

I AM NOT SAFE

Check out this freaky email message I received in two different email accounts:

From DIGO GROUPS izubeidat@psi.uned.es
Sent Monday, October 12, 2009 12:30 pm
Subject YOU ARE NOT SAFE

with respect to you i signed a contrate deal to accasinate you, but my feeling's wont allow me to do that because of your personality. please reaply me now.for forther information.I expect you to reaply withen 3 days of reciveing this message.

I have grown accustomed to all manner of spam that insults my intelligence, like that from Nigerian Princesses, who think that they need my help to cash a cheque. It's ludicrous. But, threatening someone with assassination (or, accasinatation) is going too far, if you ask me.

But, what really irritates me is illiteracy. I know that spammers routinely misspell words to get past spam blockers. So, if it were up to me, I would construct an email filter that blocks any messages with more that a few spelling errors or grievous errors in syntax.

Maybe someone could do that for me. Please!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Comments Comments Comments

I am not certain if I am busy or distracted or lazy, but, as you may have noticed, I have not gone out into the blogosphere and left a trail of pithy comments for ages.  You may have also noticed that I have not posted very much lately either, and that is because I am either too busy or too distracted or too lazy.  You see, the post is part one, and then one has to turn around and leave a trail of pithy comments all over the blogosphere, a task I currently find too troublesome since I am either too busy or too distracted or too lazy.  This is odd, really, because no blogger should feel that s/he can't blog simply because s/he feels that s/he will fail to uphold the other end of some tacit social obligation.  So, that's that.  I plan to post more soon.  As for commenting, we will see how it goes.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Owls

As I was walking down the street, a bird fell out of a tree and landed on my shoulder.  It was difficult to see it, because of where it chose to alight.  Have you ever tried to look at your shoulder?  I could feel its feet, gripping my flesh, making me a bit nervous.  Just then, I looked to my right and noticed two other birds on a branch right near me.  Clearly, they were siblings.  I had no idea what kind of birds these were, and I felt foolish, because I should have known.

As I was deep in thought, trying to put a name to these birds, a man walked past carrying a black bear.  I asked him if he knew what these birds were.  They were owls.  Yes, owls, but they looked like they had been bred with penguins.  I panicked, ducked a little, looked to the sky, fearing I was about to suffer the same fate as Lord Sepulchrave, 76th Earl of Groan.  My companion, to whom I hadn't paid any attention until then, clearly had no such fear.  All I could think to do, once I had noted that the sky was clear, was to take these orphan birds to some sort of animal hospital or bird sanctuary.

I strapped them to my bike, and headed out, finally finding such a place. However, when the warden of the bird sanctuary inspected my owls, he concluded that they were stuffed.  Indeed, as I ripped open the plastic bags that I had sealed them in, I agreed that they were plushies.  But, as he left to finish building his grand piano, these owls became more animated and then I realized that they were hungry.  Seeing no mice or other types of rodentia lurking about, I found apples in a neighbouring farm.  I stole some apples from the hens, and fought my way into the dusty road (feeling a bit like the father in The Road, who finds ash-covered apples in a dead orchard), and tried to orient myself.

I decided to head south, toward the amber light, and then my son woke up and woke me up too. It was 4:55, and I never got back to sleep, but I heard the little one sawing logs for the next two hours, while my brain obsessed about things, like why I couldn't get back to sleep.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Talk Talk Talk

A librarian I know once said that she became a librarian because she didn't like public speaking or computers. She now realizes how ridiculous this sounds. Most academic librarians spend all day in front of a computer (currently, that's my new iMac) and some of us spend a lot of hours in classes handing out wisdom. Today, I did my annual talk to 150 1st year students in a certain professional department. I think this was my fourth session so far this term. Last week, I spoke to 110 science students. I have more sessions coming up, including a three hour research methods class for some masters students. Who would want to listen to me speak for three hours? I don't even think Barrack Obama could hold their attention for that long.

Well, that's all I have to say about that. I guess I have to get back to work and continue being a bad blogger.

Oh, have you seen those Hitler videos on youtube? The video is taken from a feature film. (The original clip is somewhere on youtube) but people keep adding their own subtitles. Some are hilarious, like:






And there are more!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Busy/Beatles/Macs/Roller Derby

Yup, it's September and the kids are back in school, which means I am busy, busy, busy. A colleague of mine refers to the students at this time of year as the "boob and bellybutton brigade." Judging by what I just saw at the reference desk, she is dead-on. Sometimes I like my job.

I have been adjusting to the Mac world. On my desk at work is a brand new iMac. In fact, I am typing on it right now. I am not sure how long the keys will remain white, however. At home, I have a brand new MacBook pro. I like it. Talk about a solid piece of machinery. The bottom is milled from a single piece of aluminum. I've gone over to the bright side, so take that Bill Gates. I have moved into my new office, so everything feels new and improved.

I am kind of interested in the new Beatles remasters, but not that interested enough to shell out for them. If anyone wants to buy me one or both box sets, I'd be happy to allow you to do that.

Did you know that there is a women-only boxing club in TO? I kid you not:


It's cool, but probably not as cool as the rolling derby librarian in Toronto. She is a member of the Death Track Dolls. Someday, I will get out and see them in action.

There: another boring post perfectly-executed.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Darcy Allan Sheppard (Al)

Last night, I joined the memorial ride for Darcy Allan Sheppard, along with about 1000 other cyclists. We headed east on Bloor, rode south on Yonge to Queen Street and then headed up University Avenue. Lots of Police on bikes joined us and blocked traffic to permit the cyclists to make their way. Generally, the cars and crowd seemed tolerant, but I heard a few derisive comments from the sidelines.

In case you have no idea what happened, a couple of nights ago, Michael Bryant, the former Attorney General of Ontario, rammed into Al's bike. Al confronted the driver from the passenger side, then went round to the driver side of the car. Bryant decided to flee, so Al grabbed the car door and hung on, clearly an unwise decision. The fact that he had allegedly been drinking did not help. The amazing thing is what happened next, something that has been caught by surveillance video and witnessed by many people.

Bryant speed away at high speed on the wrong side of the street, later mounting the sidewalk in an attempt to dislodge Al from his car. He drove into mailboxes and poles before Al was finally shaken loose. In the end, his rear wheels drove over the cyclist, killing him. Al was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

It is difficult to defend the actions of an enraged cyclist who grabs onto a car, but I have to think that if I were in that situation, I would have stopped my car. What kind of a maniac makes the reckless decision to scrape the guy from his car? What was his lawyer girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat thinking about this?

Bryant was touted by some as being a future Premier of the province. This is clearly never going to happen, and I have to think that he is cursing himself for succumbing to a fit road rage. At the memorial, someone suggested that he is likely to only get 2 years. That's not enough.

As many of you know, I cycle year round in Toronto and I have had my share of run-ins with motorists. The two groups tend to hate each other, and I blame that on the lousy cycling infrastructure in this city (this view was reinforced by my recent trip to Amsterdam, which is a cycling paradise by comparison). I also blame it on distracted drivers who are always in a hurry.

Yes, there are lots of idiotic cyclists. This morning, for example, I stopped at a red light and watched as 10 cyclists passed me and proceeded through the intersection as if the light were green. This pisses me off because drivers take this as evidence that all cyclists are law breakers. I stop all all red lights. But, I may do a rolling stop at stop signs on quiet residential streets when it is safe and clear. I see nothing wrong with that.

Head over to a main street and I see cyclists with headphones, cyclists racing through red lights, cyclists peeling out of sides streets and on to main streets without looking (I often have to ring my bell at them), cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street, cyclists riding without lights, etc. Listen, my fellow cyclists, if you want respect on the roads, you must ride responsibly, even if it means waiting out 20 seconds at a traffic light when there are no cars coming the other way. To the drivers out there, please share the road. To the city, please invest in more cycling lanes and clear them in winter.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Reading Update (because yesterday's post wasn't boring enough)

To follow on from yesterday's extremely boring post, I offer another extremely boring post about books that I have recently read.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Although I enjoyed this book, I sincerely hope that Dickens didn't always resort to improbable coincidences in his novels. I mean, Great Expectations had enough of that for anybody. Oliver Twist contains even more astounding coincidences. It's a bit tiring and hard to accept, but it does help to wrap up the plot nicely.

This was the second Dickens book for me. It took me many years to finally get around to reading Boz and I am happy that I did. But really, enough with the coincidental plot devises already. A Tale of Two Cities awaits my attention.

Fabrizio's Return by Mark Frutkin

Fabrizio's Return is a lighthearted and somewhat comedic novel about a priest being assessed years after the fact for potential sainthood by the Devil's Advocate, a Jesuit sent by the Pope to ask all of the tough questions and dig around for details. Along the way, we meet many interesting characters, including a rather comedic and insolent dwarf called Omero and Rodolfo, a man who wears a skeleton on his back. The novel features magical potions and seductions and music. All-in-all, this is a very good book.


Rachel Papers by Martin Amis

I have read lots of Amis, but never got around to this one, until recently. It's pretty good for a first novel. It has lots of sex and hilarity. I am not sure what to say about it, beyond that. It's well-written (of course) and a quick read. If you like Amis, you will probably like this.

Other People by Martin Amis

What a strange book is this. There is a mystery at the heart of the story about a woman who has amnesia. She manages to piece together parts of her history, but we are left to deduce other things about her and her past. Personally, I wouldn't rank this as being among my favourite Amis books (that honour might go to London Fields or Dead Babies). Still, if you must read everything he has written, you don't need me to recommend it, because you will have already read it.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I mentioned this book in yesterday's post, but here it is again. I was totally engrossed in this book. Sure, there may be other post-apocalyptic novels out there, but this is a very poetic one. Every time I check Amazon.com for reviews on books I have read, I am stunned. Sure, more than 1000 people rated this as a 5 star book. Bizarrely, nearly 200, or so, seem to think that this book merits only 1 star. I shouldn't be surprised at this stage. Look at reviews for books generally regarded as literary masterpieces, and some doofus will give it one star. Even more perplexing is the fact that Microserfs -- one of the books on my list of the worst books ever written, along with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh - a book that also gets my vote for dumb titles that bear no relation to the book -- receives so many 5 star reviews.

Anyway, The Road is a fascinating book. The prose is powerful and poetic, yet restrained. It paints an evocative picture. I will admit to wondering - as Mister Anchovy did in a comment to the preceding post - how this could possibly be made into a movie. Well, if they take great liberties, then perhaps. I hope it stays true to the book.

OK, no more pseudo-book reviews, at least for a while.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Michael Chabon

Among the books I read recently are several by Michael Chabon. Here are some brief notes.

Maps and Legends

This collection of non-fiction pieces is really a showcase for Chabon's vocabulary. If you are looking for lots of examples of purple prose in one manuscript, this is the book for you. Some of these pieces are enjoyable--if overwritten--but others left me cold. I have little interest in comic books, and so I skimmed those essays quickly. I would recommend this book for hardcore Chabon fans only or for those who want to improve their vocabulary.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

As I just said, I have no interest in comic books, so you might wonder why I would read a fictionalized account of the rise of the comic book in America. Good question. I have no idea what the answer is. So, yeah, this is a story about the comic book in the US of A. Despite the subject matter, the book is quite engaging and very well-written. It probably deserves the Pulitzer Prize that it won. While it might not be Chabon's finest novel, it is right up there. The ending made sense too. It is 646 pages, but it didn't feel like it.


The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

I really looked forward to reading this compact novella about Sherlock Holmes, though he is not mentioned by name in the book. I was not blown away. That's not to say that this is not a good and worthwhile read. The story is deceptively simple, and one that ends without the perfect Holmesian deduction; yet, there is something elegant in the writing and the ending, where it is left to the reader to divine the answers.


The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

In my growing list of worst books I have ever read, I will add this piece of garbage. It's perplexing that this novel ever found a publisher. The protagonist is a boring sexually-confused chap who seems to cry a lot. His father is a gangster. The story is dumb. There are sections when the writer slips out of the first-person narrative into an implausible omnipotent first person narration. In other words, he becomes a mind reader. And then there are the little irritating things like tides on Lake Erie.

If you want to read Chabon, skip this one and stick go for Wonder Boys or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or maybe even the book that follows.


The Yiddish Policemen's Union

I am not really sure that I am qualified to comment on this book. There is so much Jewish lore that I do not understand, and I think I missed some of the subtleties of the plot because of that. I hated the first 120 pages and, looking back, I feel that my distaste for this book was a reaction to just having just read Chabon's abysmal first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I was still angry that such a piece of trash was ever published.

TYPU needs an edit. There are digressions that serve absolutely no purpose at all, and make the novel longer than it needs to be. I could give you examples, but I won't. It's a good and interesting book. It's nice to see that Chabon has improved as a writer since his first stinker was published in '89.

This is soon to be a Coen Brothers movie. I would like to see it when it comes out a couple of years down the road.


Wonder Boys
I saw this film ages ago, when I had no idea who Mr. Chabon was. I loved this movie. I still love this movie. Normally, I would never read a book if I have already seen a film adaptation, but I made an exception in this case. I have a nagging feeling that the movie is better. I can't believe I wrote that line, because I have never felt that way before. The book is always better. The book is supposed to be better. Of course, this means that I will have to see the film again to see if I am right about this.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to Work and Getting Re-adjusted

Well, that was a long break from life. I took a lot of time off in August and did lots of stuff, and neglected other things, like a leaking eve on my house. C'est la vie, non? I decided that during my time away that I was not going to come back to my high-paid job. Who needs the aggravation? Who needs the money? The trouble with coming back is all of the crap that piles up. I have lots of it. I will be digging out, going to meetings, teaching some classes. This is why I want to be independently wealthy. Well, that's one of the reasons. I just want to be rich, "%$#&ing fifthly %$#&ing stinking rich." Yeah, that is from a song. I bet you don't know which one.

I read a number of books last month. I may even tell you what they are. I just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road only to discover that a film version will be released in October. That was good timing. I quite like seeing movies after having just read the book, but I don't generally read books if I have seen the film with a recent notable exception that I will relate tomorrow or later, if I can find the time.

And now, I must do some work...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hiatus

I will be taking a hiatus for most of the rest of the summer, but don't be surprised if a podcast should appear here during that time. It might just happen. I shall return.

Since it was raining this morning, I decided to take the subway to work, something I rarely do. I continue to be amazed at what I see on the subway. For one, I still cannot believe that there are people who willingly wear Crocs in public. WTF! To me, that's like wearing your slippers to work/school. Now, I am fully aware that some people reading this post probably own Crocs and will swear that they are the most comfortable footwear they have ever owned. Well, good for you. They are ugly and dumb. Unless you are a child, leave the Crocs at home. Wear them to the beach, if you must.

As I have said very many times, I am stunned that any woman would apply makeup in public. I gather it's because they are pressed for time, or something. Who knows? This morning, I watched two young women apply all manner of face paint while sitting on a crowded subway car. The one on the right spent about 15 minutes applying mascara to her upper right eyelash: it just went on and on and on. The other had a tray of various blushes, eye shadows, lipsticks, etc. The oddest thing is that she devised a new (well to me anyway) use for a dessert spoon.

From my position, I was uncertain as to what exactly she was doing with the utensil. I came to two possible conclusions: she used the spoon to apply mascara; or, she used it to curl her eyelashes. I wish I had an answer. I should probably add, for the sake of full disclosure, that I really do not like makeup, especially lipstick.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Ugliest Male Celebrity

Last Friday night, while freezing on a Queen Street patio during Toronto's unseasonably cold summer, this topic came up. I have to say that creating a list of the ugliest celebrity women would be far easier (think Sarah Jessica Parker or Celine Dion).

Now, two of the women in attendance have been embroiled in this argument for some time and are deadlocked: For them, it's Gerard Depardieu versus Notorious B.I.G. While I think that there is some merit to both making the list, Notorious B.I.G. is (I guess that should be was) far uglier.

But, for my money, I suggested one of the three Jerrys: Jerry Stiller, Jerry Orbach, or Jerry Lewis. Of course, one could easily add Jerry Seinfeld. Other names that came up were people like Keith Richards, Conan O'Brien, and Edward James Olmos. Wait, I suggested those three. Later, I regretted not adding Hervé Villechaize or Axl Rose or Ron Howard. Someone said Bryan Adams, but I am not convinced.

So, is it Gerard Depardieu or Notorious B.I.G.or someone else?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Moving Offices, again

As I pack up my office for yet another move to a temporary office (my 7th office) and, ultimately to my brand new office (my 8th office), I am left to ponder movies. You have seen the segments where disgraced employees are escorted out of the building. Or, in other cases, people who have quit walk out of the office. Inevitably, they carry one file box with a few items including: a picture frame, a coffee mug, maybe a pennant for their favourite baseball team. That's it. It's always the same. I'd need a small van. Seriously.

In three years, I will again move to a new office. It's a fact, kids.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Go to Hell Purolator Courier

Just to review, I have already posted about an infuriating encounter with Purolator Courier. So, just to prove that this was not an isolated incident, I can tell you about a recent event.

Because I choose a different MacBook configuration from the standard, I had to order via the online Apple Canada Store. You know what this means: couriers. I purchased two pieces of equipment, which means, they are sending two packages via two separate couriers: the much-hated Purolator and the much-hated UPS. Does that make any sense? So, here's the rundown:

Monday: Note left on my door saying delivery was attempted and informing me that I had to pick up my package up at 800 Kipling Avenue, which is miles and miles from where I live.

Monday: I call and insist on a redelivery. I scheduled that and got a confirmation number, after being transferred to someone who knew what they were doing. In truth, I had this nagging feeling that the package would never arrive, given my history with Purolator.

Wednesday was a holiday in Canada, so it was scheduled for Thursday.

Thursday: part way through Thursday morning, I decide to track my package. Guess what? It is waiting for pick-up at the depot at 800 Kipling Avenue, which is miles and miles from my house. It never made it back on a truck.

The dude on the phone was absolutely no help. All he could say was that the package would not be delivered today. Again, I ask, how can Purolator call itself a courier company? They don't really deliver anything, do they? They make one lame attempt and then make the people waiting do all of the work. Purolator is useless. And, if you don't believe me, just Google "Purolator sucks" and see what comes up.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP

Michael Jackson: I never liked your music. I have never owned any of your music and I never will. The Jackson 5 were OK, though. They had some soul. The single glove never bothered me very much, nor did the pajamas. I'd were pajamas in public if I could get away with it, and maybe even a mask. Why not? I was more confused with ever-changing shape of your face, especially your nose. Why the ski jump at the end? I'd go for something a little more subdued if I were in the market for a new nose. More likely, I'd got for a Tycho Brahe kind of nose.

Ed McMahon: Mr. Sidekick, RIP. I never won the Sweepstakes, not that I tried: the damn thing was way too complicated. I am still not sure if you were funny. My gut says no. It also tells me that you fell short of your potential. Hank Kingsley is the man! Oh yeah, Jeffrey Tambor out-Ed-ed you, my friend. I hope you enjoy showing up unexpectedly at people's houses with big cheques in Heaven.

Farrah Fawcett: You will always be Farrah Fawcett-Majors to me. Damn, I was jealous of the Six Million Dollar Man. He had an action-packed TV show, a hot wife, and action figures in his likeness. And then what? The Fall Guy? A failed film career? I have to wonder if things would have been different had you stayed together. I don't blame you though: he's kind of an ugly man, after all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Temporary Office

It's always a bit weird using someone else's office. You never know what you might find or what you might see. In this temporary office, I have to contend with the pretty pictures on the wall, the odd things tacked to the bulletin board (like one newspaper item on proper business attire), family photos, a series of post-it notes with indecipherable notes, and the general orderliness of the place. I can help but contrast it with mine. My office is in a state of general disorderliness.

But, it's the ergonomics that really gets me. First, the computer monitor is so far forward on the desk, it looks as if it's about to tip over the edge. How could anyone work with their nose pressed against a computer screen? It makes no sense, and I am certain it would have given me a serious headache to use it like that. Of course, I still remember the days when people placed their monitors on top of telephone books, in an effort to make them as high as possible and strain their necks. That made no sense either.

The first thing that I wondered about, however, was how the hell anyone could sit in her chair? It's the same chair as mine, but it has been organized to make it produce only discomfort and pain. (I should point out that there is an even more uncomfortable chair at our reference desk. We have a staff member who transforms this chair into a device of torture every night. Sitting in this chair has given me insights into the practice of medieval torture.

Don't believe me? Imagine sitting in a chair that causes your feet to lift from the ground and your buttocks to feel as though they have been placed into a vice and pulled down towards the floor. It's probably what sitting in a nutcracker would be like. Both chairs suck.

P.S. Just as I was writing this, someone came in to tell me that I can return to my messy office. Hooray! Back to my comfy chair and sane environment. Oh, happy days.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading

Some recent reads.

Great Expectations by Charlie Dickens - It's difficult to believe that I had never read any Dickens until recently. I have no explanation for that omission. I took Great Expectations on the airplane with me and dipped into it from time to time during the trip. Part of it was ruined by the fact that I had seen most of that dreadful film adaptation with Robert De Niro. Oh, man, did that suck. So, I was aware of the plot in general. At the conclusion, I decided that I need to read more Dickens, and so I am currently reading Oliver Twist.

Beside the Ocean of Time by George Mackay Brown - I am amazed that this writer is not more famous. True, he is dead, but one can be famous and dead, right? I mean, he didn't die that long ago, after all. Still, he is dead, and people sometimes forget about the dead, except for Elvis, JFK, and Kurt Cobain, and if my information is correct, Elvis is alive somewhere in the American midwest eating donuts and deep fried bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. That must be the life. Being a dead writer must not be so glamorous. Well, Shakespeare is fondly remembered. Anyway, George Mackay Brown wrote lots of books: poems, stories, novels, non-fiction, etc. He was a real writer. Now, he is dead. The good news is that you can catch up and read everything because it's not like he is going to write anything else. Dead people don't tend to write very much, although there always seems to be something else found in papers and notebooks, just like when singers die and the record companies decide to release songs that were never meant to see the light of day. Or, the company releases a bunch of live stuff or simply repackages songs in a never-ending stream of best of and greatest hits packages, as has happened with The Smiths. But, wait, they are all still alive. Just imagine what might happen when they pass on.

The Three Cornered Hat by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón: -This is a short lusty tale set in 18th Century Andalusia featuring a rather ugly magistrate who tries to seduce the Miller's gorgeous wife. It features clothes swapping, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, midnight escapades, etc. It's like something Chaucer might have written. It's a fast but enjoyable read.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Wednesday morning - my modem/router seems to be dead. I unplug it for the day and hope for the best when I get back that evening.

Wednesday evening - my modem/router is dead. I call Sympatico and get put through a series of maneuvers that I already attempted with no luck, but I play along anyway. The verdict: they are sending me a new modem/router. I should expect it to arrive "in a few days."

Thursday morning - No hot water! I go downstairs and note that the basement tenant is doing laundry. Can he have used all of the hot water? It could be so...

later Thursday morning - I accidentally smash a plate on the floor. I get the broom. I cycle to work without a shower.

Thursday evening - Still no hot water. I think I can hear the dryer still running in the basement. I call the tenant but his phone is out of service. I knock on his door and get no answer. I enter, fearing that something must be wrong. The floor is flooded with water, most of it heading towards a floor drain. I switch off the dryer, which clearly has been running all day.

still Thursday evening - I call the gas company and get a four-hour service window for the next day. I shut the water off to prevent any more damage.

Friday morning - I call work to say that I am not coming in because of my plumbing issues and add that I cannot work from home owing to a lack of internet connectivity. I volunteer to take a vacation day, leaving me with only 8 more weeks this year. Somehow, I have amassed a large amount of vacation :-)

Friday noonish - Gas person shows up within the last 20 minutes of his four-hour service window. My heater is dead, something I already knew. A replacement tank will arrive in two hours.

Friday afternoon - Hot water tank shows up 3.5 hours later. It's installed in 45 minutes. I spend precious time cleaning up the mess. While it's being installed, I watch my neighbour back out of his driveway and knock over a tank the repair dudes left sitting by the side of the road. The driver looks around quickly and decides to flee.

Friday afternoon - I illegally connect to a very very slow open internet connection and discover that the power to my office at work has been shut down. What would I have been able to do at work had I been there, I wonder?

Monday morning - I roll into work and have no office, so I make inquiries. No one seems to have considered where I should set up a temporary office. I seek out a student computer lab, where I now sit. I am thinking of grabbing a laptop from our tech guys (once they show up) and heading to a green space outside, since it's about 95 degrees in this building anyway because of some sort of building-wide AC issue.

Maybe I should go home and go back to bed?

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Proof that the World is Ending

My sister now has a Facebook account. While you may not think that this is strange, let me put it into context. It would sort of be like finding out that your mother has been a CIA agent for the last 25 years, or that your 85 year-old grandmother is a swinger.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Star Trek

My one short review is: well, it didn't suck, but I thought it would have been better.

I have seen all of the films and many of the episodes from the various TV series. I liked the idea of rebooting the franchise with a new cast and a new look. In that respect, I would say that this film was far more successful than Enterprise, the lame Star Trek prequel series, made interesting mostly because of Jolene Blalock ;-) Well, and the doctor character was really good. Other than that, it stank pretty much, but I watched it anyway, hoping that it would get better.

As much I as like Leonard Nimoy, and as much as I truly believe that the character of Spock is perhaps the best character created in the Star Trek Universe -- except for T'Pol, of course -- it must be evident by now that Leonard Nimoy is not such a great actor. I didn't really like that part of the story line, maybe because his part in the development of the plot was rushed over way too fast. On the other hand, Sylar as Spock kind of works.

The movie is certainly enjoyable: there is lots of action, lots of things explode, people die. The movie does not drag at all. I didn't really see the need for the Kirk car chase flashback scene at all. I would have left that strip of film on the cutting room floor.

So, I give it a 7/10. Last night, my rating was a 6, but it improved with sleep. So that, ladies and gentlemen, is my lass ass review.

By the way, after the show, we caught Tales of the Uncanny, a 90-year-old silent German film at Dundas Square. A live soundtrack was contributed by Robert Lippok, Owen Pallett, and Do Make Say Think, one of my favourite bands. Sadly, the rain interfered. Damn you Mother Nature!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I've got the Toronto Cycling Blues

It takes only a visit to the bike-friendly parts of Europe to realize that Toronto's cycling infrastructure sucks eggs. Rolling into Amsterdam on the train, I looked out my window and could not believe what I saw. There were literally thousands of bicycles parked at the train station. So numerous were the bikes, that platforms for bike parking had been constructed to accommodate them all.

Throughout the city, bikes are everywhere, taking up all of the available parking spots. In fact, with so many bikes, there are not enough places to lock the bikes, so people have resorted to locking the wheel to the frame and then propping the bike on its kickstand or leaning it against a wall. Many bike parking shelters lack any secure object that one could use to lock the bike.

The most amazing thing is the network of bike lanes, complete with traffic signals just for bikes! There are pedestrian signals, car signals and bike signals. And, what's more impressive is that these bikes lanes are generally separated from traffic. Amsterdam is a bike paradise.

Other things I noticed:

- no one wears helmets
- most of the bikes are old-school, with few or no gears and ancient brakes
- no bike cops to be seen anywhere
- people talk on cell phones and text message while riding or driving scooters
- they pile as many people on bikes or scooters as possible

Really, we saw lots of people doubling (which I think is illegal here). I saw entire families on one scooter. We saw a woman carrying a baby in a sling on a scooter with two other kids on the back. There are bikes with huge wooden "wheelbarrows" at the front where you can drop several kids or a family of four. People are adept at riding bikes, and the only thing I saw that might have one-upped anything we saw in Amsterdam was a man in Geneva who was cycling while picking his nose. Now that probably requires a great deal of concentration.

Back in TO, I felt really nervous getting back on my bike, despite having been a year-round cyclist for years. It seems wrong to put bikes on the road with huge cars and trucks. On the second day of riding after my return, some idiot is a yellow car turned right without shoulder-checking and almost took me out. He should have to re-sit his road-test to remind him that mirrors are not enough, especially while driving on a road with a bike lane clearly marked in white paint.

Toronto languishes in the dark ages of cycling, while Europe is living the dream. This sucks and it really pisses me off.

Monday, June 08, 2009

1 in 70,000,000

I recently read that the odds of being in a plane crash and dying are one in seventy million. Another article I read put the odds at one in five hundred thousand. The second source added that, statistically, you could survive as many as four out of five crashes. Either way, these are pretty good odds.

The first piece of news we heard after landing last week was that Air France flight 447 had gone missing. I haven't done the calculations, but it is possible that we were in the air when that plane crashed. The news kind of freaked me out.

I have never really been afraid of flying, but the thought that the aircraft might fall from the sky while I am on it always crosses my mind whenever I board an airplane. It strikes me as a particularly heinous was to die. If I could rank the ways in which I would like to pass on, a plane crash would be at the very bottom, right after immolation.

So, I was very happy to be on firm ground in my part of the world, where I could do such peaceful things as navigate the streets of Toronto on a bike, something that seems far more dangerous having been to bike-friendly Europe. But, more on that later.

Here is another tiny elevator:

With backpacks on, we often had to enter the elevator backwards or exit backwards. It was difficult to turn around. This elevator was so narrow, I could not stand sideways in it, as it was not wide enough for my shoulders.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Relaxing in le jardin du Luxembourg



That's the Luxembourg Palace in the distance, just beyond my feet and the palm tree. It was all quite relaxing and wonderful until the skies opened up. Sure, we had umbrellas, but what we really needed was an Ark.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

There are Some Small Elevators in Paris



I am in another all-day meeting...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Numbers

Countries visited - 4
Cities visited - 11
Days away - 21
Flights - 2
Flight delays - 1
Train trips - 18
Train delays - 0
Times getting on the wrong train - 1
Times booted from 1st class for accidentally sitting there - 2
Times harassed for being in 1st class, despite having valid tickets - 1
Bus trips - 2
Boat trips - 2
Boat trips to unexpected destinations - 1
Photos taken - 1172
Videos shot - 2
Propositions received from prostitutes - 1
Hours spent in bed recovering from the flu - 58
Items accidentally smashed in a supermarket - 1
Accidents witnessed (bike vs car) - 1
Red light districts seen - 3
Comedic tram conductors encountered in Amsterdam - 3
Workmen accidentally locked into office and then freed - 1
Baptisms attended - 1
Glasses of champagne consumed after baptism - several...
Percentage improvement in my French after champagne - 100%
Number of Polish waitresses who couldn't understand French in Geneva - 1
Dutch words I learned - 3
Euros left over - 20
Swiss Francs left over - 15
Roast chickens eaten - too many to count

Monday, June 01, 2009

Back in Town

After three weeks away, I have returned.  The last six days in Switzerland were lacking any sort of internet connection. Anyway, I am tired and need sleep as I stupidly did not take tomorrow off from work :-(  Good night.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sick :-(

I started feeling funny while walking around Bruges, and by the time we got back to the hotel in Brussels, I collapsed into the bed and stayed there for 38 hours, only getting up so we could take the train back to Paris, where, upon arrival, I crawled into another bed for 20 hours.  All that is left is a nasty stomach bug, but it started with a fever, chills, headaches, body aches, nightmares, lack of energy, loss of appetite. I haven't really eaten in almost three days.  Whatever I try to eat is expelled by my body with great speed.  I feel marginally better, but still have no appetite, although I managed to eat a banana a few minutes ago.  Being sick while travelling sucks.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brussels
 
Have arrived.  No sign of JCVD. But, there was no sign of Gerard Depardieu, despite assurances that he is renovating a house close to our accommodations. 
En route to Brussels

On the train, with free wifi :-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rotterdam

Had lunch in Rotterdam.  It's an OK town, but I prefer Amsterdam.  Tomorrow, we are off to Belgium.
Today

Off to the eastern docklands this morning, and then to Rotterdam.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Email Update
 
We went to the Van Gogh Museum in the morning, and then hopped a train to Den Haag, where we had lunch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Today in Amsterdam (so far)

Anne Frank House and Vondelpark.
Red Lights and Marijuana
 
I love Blogger's email update function.  We strolled through the red light district last night.  Earlier, we noted that the B&B had given us some comlimentary marijuana.  I never expected that.  Today, we are off to Anne Frank House, among other things.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In Amsterdam!

It's raining here too.  I have never seen so many bicycles.  It's amazing!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's Raining in Paris

Been to la tour Eiffel, walked down L'avenue des Champs-Élysées, and visited L'Arc de triomphe de l'Étoile. Too bad about the rain, however.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Gay Paris

Arrived safely after one of those all-night flights.  Slept little, so am very tired.  Can see the Eiffel Tower from the window.  So far, my French training has paid off.

Monday, May 11, 2009

One More Thing

I am trying this email posting option again.  Last time I tried it, it did not work.  So, here goes...
Heading for Europe

The flight is today. I might try to update the blog from time-to-time, but I am making no promises. I'll be back in three weeks.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Still Alive

Yeah, I am still around, but busy with work and the like. You may hear even less from me for the next month, as I am leaving for Europe for three weeks one week from today. Tomorrow, I am off to a conference (one day), and I have a few other things to take care of before then, like getting Euros. Also, I am desperately in need of a haircut, but my hairdresser has gone to Korea for a month. What to do? What to do?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

...been distracted

by lots of things, like work, swine flu, new music...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tasty!

I just ate half of one of those damned stickers on fruit. I guess I forgot to remove it and suddenly, only half was left. I am thinking about starting a petition to eliminate these annoying things. After all, most cashiers already know the codes for common fruits and vegetables. Why do we need stickers on fruit and vegetables!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Damn those Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses

I feel like I am being pursued by troops of religions zealots everywhere I go recently. They come to my door; they accost me on the streets; they interfere with my life. At least I get to direct some hostility towards them when they attempt to capture me in their tentacles.

Like the other day, when it was clear that I was busy doing stuff at the front of my house and was engaged with the coming and going of people. Two brain-washed instruments of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints interjected themselves into my personal space, asking if they could talk to me about shit. No way, dudes. I should say that I appreciate what the Mormons have done for Genealogy, though I disapprove of the reason behind these initiatives.

On the weekend, while walking away from a birthday party with les enfants, three well-dressed Mormons set upon me. Being someone that does not carry a gun, I had to try to talk my way through it, trying my best not to get them angry, lest they attack. I considered playing dead, but I couldn't remember if that worked for Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses. I also considered making loud grunting noises, hoping that such an action might scare them off. One has to be careful, for I have heard that they can spit venom into your eyes.

And then, this morning, on my way to work, an ancient pair of Jehovah's Witnesses approached me. It looked like the pathetic duo was simply lost and needed directions. I am happy to give directions, or make up something that sounds plausible, but then, the geriatric man unfurled his copy The Watchtower, like he was trying to interest me in illicit pornographic materials. Sadly, it was a copy of something that is not good enough to grace the bottom of a lizard cage.

So, now, I am considering compiling a list of the most offensive things I could say to these and other religious groups. If you know of any, please tell me. In the meantime, the next time I am offered a copy of The Watchtower or Awake!, I am going to reply with one of the following:

"Why, thank you very much! I am out of toilet paper!"
"Sorry, I gave all of my money to the Mormons."
I will utter the name Jehovah 237 times.

Of course, if it's the Mormons, I will have to say something like:

"When will incestuous lovers Donny and Marie be promoted to Sainthood in your church?"
"Orgazmo was the best movie ever made!"