Friday, May 29, 2009

Vote For Books: Screens Versus Real Paper

Dan Brown at the London Free Press recently wondered about reading and books in his column. On his blog he solicited feedback about people's reading habits. The first comment on it, by John L., was: "I read the internet. Books are so boring."

Which got me thinking; do people really think this now? Are there people - mostly young, but old too - who never read anything on paper? We get a lot of our information off a computer screen, sure, but now there's also the Amazon Kindle for portable reading of digitized books. As the Kindle gains in popularity, and seems to be more comfortable and convenient than carrying around a book, why the hell do we need paper any more?


I'll tell you why. Because a .pdf doesn't include the feeling of running your fingertips over the smooth  embossed cover of a brand new hardcover book, nor the satisfying crunch of bending the spine for the very first time. The 1000th download of a digital book, wafting through the air into a device's wi-fi antenna, doesn't carry with it that musty old paper smell, nor contain the stains and hand-written scribbles of the book's mysterious previous owners. Clicking through the list of bestsellers in an online store just doesn't match the experience of navigating the narrow book-lined crevices of City Lights.

And sure, books take up a lot of room, but isn't it room well-taken? A bookshelf is like a monument to a your history, each book a deservedly heavy reminder of something you devoted many hours to. A relationship can begin and end in the time it takes to finish a good-sized book, and can't spending that much time with it affect your life just as much? And speaking of relationships, I recall a friend of mine saying she only really became interested in her long-term boyfriend after perusing his bookshelf and liking what it revealed about him. Could clicking down the list on his Kindle have had the same impact?

Oh but maybe I'm just getting old, resisting change for the overall better by holding onto the few minor benefits that would be lost. I said some of the same things about CDs, but I rarely buy them any more. Yeah but no, it'll take more time and technological breakthroughs to convince me about books. Maybe a musty smell emitter.

I leave you with these references:


 
[^ creepy as hell]
 





[This last one is definitely my favourite. The God-given imperative to READ has allowed these kids to fly into the clouds, but they're still just as bored and unimpressed as ever. Maybe this poster is why the print industry is dying.]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'm Only Happy When it Rains

Let me engage in a rare moment of self-reflection. This blog, lately it's been venturing into "dark humour" territory.  It's always had a bit of that, but I think it's gotten blacker.

What I hope you realize, dear regular reader, is that I'm generally a positive person, and this is all done with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

Wait, WTF does that mean? Does anyone actually put their tongue in their cheek when they are being subtley sarcastic? Well no, because it's impossible to talk with your tongue in your cheek. Seriously, I'm trying it right now, and it schaawnds rike zzis.

Uh. But anyway. I'm not depressed or anything. I think it's actually the opposite; the happier I am, the darker my humour and my creative ventures become. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of it this way: when I'm happy, everything around me seems happy, so I'm bored with the positive. When I get a chance to escape - like when writing or trying to be funny - I want it to be something different. Thus, when happy, I wanna venture into something amusing but unhappy. It's like, when you live in Hawaii all year, a vacation in Alaska probably doesn't sound so bad.

Plus, there's something comforting about darkness. We all crave a sad or scary movie once in a while. Personally I delight in warm, gloomy days like today, when the sky opens up and the thunder shakes the windows. The need for forays into darkness is, I think, a sign of a healthy relationship with light.

So if you see me blogging about kitties and rainbows and streets made of candy, better call and talk the shotgun out of my mouth.1


1. See?? Even that was pretty dark.

Monday, May 25, 2009

At the Gym, Volume 2

This is the second in a series profiling the types of people you find at the gym.

Today's subject is the nerdy approaching-middle-aged man who dresses funny. The most striking thing about him is his appearance. He is balding on top, but has a sparse moustache sitting on his upper lip like a dying caterpillar. On his head he wears large, thick glasses that seem to have time-traveled from the 70s, and a towel-texture headband. On his body, his shirt is just a bit too big for his wiry frame, and it's tucked into his shorts, which themselves are just a bit too short. This shirt, it's usually soaked in sweat, and on it, it says something like "1994 Glencoe Tractor Pull Champion".

In short, he embodies hipster style, without any of the irony.

There is nothing particularly objectionable about funny-dressing nerd man's behaviour, and in fact he's probably a very nice guy. He arrives to work out a few times a week, politely asking if you're done with the machine, and wiping down his machine when he is. But in a way he's the opposite of the guy with watermelon biceps who never works out, because although he works up a sweat (oh what a sweat) every time he's there, he maintains the figure of a stick insect.

One day, you stop seeing him. You'd like to think he reached his weight loss goal or found a nice lady to occupy his time, but the darker synapses of your brain wonder if maybe he just gave up. On everything.

`

Note: I will be this guy in approximately 5 years.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Wanna Do Bad Things With You

Yesterday I got a notice in my mail saying I had a package to pick up. I went to Canada Post, and was handed a large box from Amazon, marked as a gift. What could it be? A surprise present from a secret admirer trying to win my affections? I eagerly tore it open.



It's....well, it appears to be a box of seven young-adult urban fantasy novels. Who would send me such a thing?


DAMN YOU PAST SELF!!!



Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Dark Crystal

I have loved The Dark Crystal for as long as I can remember. It's probably one of the first movies I saw that really had an impact on me.

Rewatching it, I can still see why. The plot isn't the most original, but it's a dark tale that's taken so damn seriously that you can't help but be drawn in. More importantly, the movie is a window into this world that's completely different than our own, yet portrayed with an attention to detail that is rare in movies these days.

Recall the scene in which Jen first meets Kira. The camera spends like 5 minutes just panning across the garden, showing all the plant and animal life living there, none of it real but all of it convincing. The next scene, we're treated to 5 minutes of watching the Skeksis eat. Scenes like these would probably get cut out of a modern movie, to keep up a nice music-video pace. But to me, it's absolute movie magic to be shown the details of the dining habits of a completely alien race

More incredibly, these hundreds of fictional plants and animals were created without the aid of computer graphics. And although some of the special effects look a little dated, there is still an indescribable sense of reality to the creatures that CG still hasn't been able to duplicate.

This makes me terrified for the planned sequel, but at least the creators seem committed to using muppet technology instead of computer technology whenever possible.

Oh and one thing I didn't notice when I watched this as a kid: Aughra's perky nipples.



Also, I want Fizzgig as a pet.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Fruit of All Evil

I have many strong opinions, but few are stronger than my position on fruit: it sucks. Here are just a few of the many reasons that fruit is the worst thing on Earth.

1) The first sin ever was Eve eating an apple. In other words, fruit is responsible for everything that's ever gone wrong in the world. If you eat fruit, you're pretty much a Satanist.

2) Just look at it. All multicoloured and flashy. What has it got to prove? In nature, the most colourful creatures are often the most dangerous. Bees are colourful to warn other animals not to fuck with them. Don't fuck with fruit.

3) I bought some berries the other day - the first time I've willingly bought fruit since I started making my own decisions about what to eat - just to give them a chance. I put them in my Magic Bullet (the blender, not the vibrator, perv) to make a creamy sauce to put on French toast. Not only did they break the gasket in the blender and leak all over the place, but a few minutes later the fruit goo had turned into a solid mass. I tried to wash this culinary abortion down the sink, but it clung on, refusing to die. It's still there and I am scared to go near it because it's probably become sentient by now. Fruit flies have instantly appeared, too, and if fruit flies aren't an indication that fruit and humans shouldn't coexist, I don't know what is.

4) Fruit is the part of the plant that plants don't want. If you leave a fruit-bearing plant long enough, it'll be all like "get this shit off of me" and toss its fruits to the ground. Fruit, man, its own mother doesn't even like it.


oh god i hear it moving in the sink


------


Alternative titles for this post:
  • Orange You Disgusted By Fruit?
  • Berry Bad Things
  • Statutory Grape


------

Oh and I should probably post this again:



Friday, May 15, 2009

Ronery, So Ronery, So Ronery and Sadry Arone

Several recent events happening around me have gotten me thinking about the concept of loneliness. While we use the same word to describe all of them, I think that loneliness can take on many different forms, each distinct from every other.

The feeling that results from a recent breakup can be labeled loneliness. It's an acute pain, a sort of panicked confusion from suddenly losing something you've gotten very used to having around. This is very different from the feeling that results from having been single for a long time, even though this could also be called loneliness. That is more of a dull pain, a longing for something different than what you are used to.

And of course, nobody is completely free from the many-tentacled clutches of loneliness. Even those in relationships are bound to feel a few of its pokes and prods - whether it's the acute lonely-whenever-they're-not-around agony of a new relationship, or the dull they're-probably-as-bored-with-me-as-I-am-with-them ennui of many longstanding relationships.

This is not a bad thing. I think it helps to deal with these feelings, knowing that everyone else is feeling them in one form or another. It also eliminates dangerous "OMG I just have to [insert affiliative activity] or I'll be lonely and depressed forever" thinking. It may take new form, but whatever happens, it'll still be there, swimming around in that chemical fishbowl of your brain that always returns to its baseline level of happiness eventually.

In related news, I have still been unsuccessful in finding anyone remotely interesting on internet dating sites. Although maybe there could be some "spark" (LOL!!!!) with this person:


Real winner there.

-----

Update May 17: I'm reminded of this quote:

"I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity."
-- Albert Einstein


In other words, even if I never find someone right for me, eventually I won't give a shit.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thinking About Polar Bears

Hey, remember a while ago I told you that I submitted one of my little stories, then later it got purchased? Well, now it's actually been released. My story, Thinking About Polar Bears, appears in the latest episode of Pseudopod, a horror podcast, and is narrated by Matt Arnold.

There are a few ways to listen. If you have an iPod, it's easiest to go through iTunes: search for the Pseudopod podcast, and it's the latest episode, titled "Flash on the Borderlands I". You can also listen directly on your computer at Pseudopod.org. This episode is a collection of 3 stories. Mine is the 2nd one, nestled in the middle like a creamy filling. I'm honoured to be included with two fantastically disturbing stories, but if you're squeamish or short on time, you can skip to mine at 10:10. It's not completely safe for work either, though.

It is incredibly strange to hear my words coming out of someone else's mouth, especially read so dramatically (and with an unexpected musical twist). It's been a long time since I've let anyone read my writing (blogging doesn't count), and now having it not only read out loud by one person, but heard by many other people...man, it's a both terrifying and a real rush. I'm so grateful to the fine people at Pseudopod for this, and I hope my little story manages to tickle the darker corners of a few minds out there.



Friday, May 08, 2009

London Boobs

Bad news, London. The abandoned club at the train tracks on Oxford, near Talbot, is reopening, but not as a strip club. This will come as a surprise to anyone who is used to that location housing such legendary strip joints as The Fabulous Forum, and, uh, Legends.

I walk by there frequently, because while I like to keep my friends close, I keep my enemies closer. Before it went into hiding, Legends and I were not on speaking terms. We were involved in an unfortunate falling out that I'd rather not discuss. But anyway, I walked by there, and saw signs advertising jobs, and in bold letters, NOT A STRIP CLUB.

The face of London has changed.

They were also repainting the place.


"Park cars" will not only get painted - they will get painted brown.

And speaking of changes in The Forest City, long-time downtown resident Galleria has changed its name. It's now Citi Plaza, and fully embracing its destiny as a multi-use community center type of thing rather than a pure mall.


It's even got hot chicks working out with very large men! But ... oh ... wait, anyone who's been to the Goodlife Fitness there knows that the place in the photo is clearly not the one in Galleria Citi Plaza. But hey, why show off the actual multi-million dollar improvements when it's so much easier to just use stock photos?

To add to the FAIL, check out Brian Frank's thoughts on how it might have been a bit of a mistake to associate downtown London with the Citi brand.

And speaking of London bloggers, there's been a flurry of activity lately about the local blogging "scene", and whether it's really a "scene" or not. I'd rather just do my own thing than try to fit into any sort of movement, but it is true that us London bloggers will probably overtake the world in wave of creativity not seen since the 70s punk scene or the Cubists. Check out thoughts from Dan Brown, Kevin Van Lierop, and Brian Frank again.

P.S. The title of this post is very clever, because it refers to 3 meanings of the word "boob," all of them appropriate here.



Thursday, May 07, 2009

Book Review: Ten Questions Science Can't Answer (Yet) - A Guide to the Scientific Wilderness, by Michael Hanlon

If there's one thing I've learned in my years of reading about and contributing to science, it's the old cliche that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. The method of science has revealed a whole lot about the universe we live in, but even the most well-established facts can be utterly mysterious if examined in depth. Most of this mystery is still too mysterious to even be labeled as a mystery, unable to even be coherently imagined. But there are some things we know enough about to ask good questions, but not yet enough to provide good answers. Michael Hanlon explores ten of these questions in this book.

The title is a bit misleading; this is not a comprehensive "guide", but a rather random selection of ten mysteries. Some are what you'd expect - e.g., what is dark matter? What are consciousness and identity? But there are also some quirky topics you wouldn't expect here - e.g., what really causes obesity? What should we do with stupid people? I found these rarely-tackled topics to be the most interesting.

It's a quick read, written in an informal style and never delving too deep into any one topic. It's just enough to stimulate your appetite for more information, but unfortunately Hanlon rarely provides sources for the science mentioned. That's somewhat forgivable - this is, after all, a book of questions, not answers. Less forgivable is the preponderance of typos and shoddy writing (e.g., why does everyone have so much trouble distinguishing "which" and "that"??). I thought I was just being picky, but I got the book from the library and whoever read it before me went to the trouble of circling and correcting each of the many mistakes. Hilarious.

This book should be a light, entertaining read for both scientists and non-scientists. I think it would also be a great wake-up call for people who identify with the so-called "skeptical movement." Skepticism is obviously a requirement for good science, but I think it is often taken too far, to the point where skeptics can claim that we already know everything there is to know about the universe (and therefore anything that contradicts current knowledge must be wrong). This book is just one reminder that no, actually, we know very little about the universe. Mystery is what makes science so exciting.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bottles and Cans Just Clap Your Hands

I've been in Montreal for the last few days. I was there to see Geoff become a max-level priest. He got some sweet skills when he dinged, like the ability to create holy water. This will obviously be useful in the upcoming vampire apocalypse, which I understand is the main reason he always wanted to be a priest.

But for serious, congratulations Geoff.

Geoff


Montreal is full of good drinks and food. I'm particularly impressed by all the places that brew their own beer. Here in London, the best home-brew you can hope for is Labatt 50 with a bar's own label slapped on it. In Montreal, pubs brew beer that's so unusual it probably wouldn't have enough mass appeal to sell in more than one place, but that's heaven for an adventerous drinker like me. My favourite was Dieu Du Ciel!, which had such wonders as a licorice-flavoured beer and old-fashioned mead. I liked the Charbonniere, a beer that was smokey without tasting too much like bacon.

Surprisingly, I didn't have any poutine in the province most famous for it, but did have some today back in London at The Spoke. I don't know who thought of piling cheese, gravy, and french fries together, but I am so glad they did. Or at least I did was while I was eating it. I'm not feeling so glad now.

Speaking of gross food, though, Nancy sent me, via a co-worker (who apparently reads this blog? HI NANCY'S CO-WORKER!), this link to a whole chicken in a can.



Now I have my own blog about gross food, but this was a little much for me to stomach. Why is it covered in slime? Why is there even a need to can a whole chicken? If we do lose the vampire apocalypse, will they stuff entire people into cans? The chicken in a can fills me with a deep existential dread.

Now I must go lie down until I become numb again.