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 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.