Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Old Man Reflects on Life

I've been blogging for over ten years.

There probably aren't many people in the world who can say that. I'm actually getting closer to 15 years of web logging now, given that I invented blogging. Which raises the question (but doesn't beg the question; please stop using it that way ok?): have I not found anything better to do in the past decade?

I'm also barreling towards turning 30 years old. And fast, too, because doesn't time seem to pass faster and faster with each year? This decade had flown by so quickly that I can still clearly remember ringing in the year 2000, flinching in anticipation of the end of the world.

But here I am, still ticking and tocking. Still without a career. Still single. It's gotten to the point where friends want to set me up with friends, and my family encourages me to get the waitress's phone number when we go out for dinner. All appreciated, sure, but I think this is related to turning 30. It's that threshold where people are expected to have their life together. I fear the monotony of a decided-upon life as much as I do the uncertainty of being lost, but the pressure is there.

And soon it will go from setting me up with friends, to setting me up with a "really nice" (i.e., ugly) co-worker, to begging me to take out the older divorcee from spin class, to just being the creepy uncle who's given up. Next stop: dying alone.

I'm not going to let any of this happen (especially the dying part), but maybe kicking life's ass would be easier if I wasn't 30. Maybe I should update all my online profiles on a yearly basis, shifting my birth year up so I stay 29. I'll have to manage my internet footprint to be consistent with this aging prorogue. Eventually my blog archives from the year 2000 will read "goo goo, gah gah, just a baby here. Yes, I can type. NO MORE FUCKING QUESTIONS."

It'll be harder to manage my real life (a.k.a. meatspace) footprint. Wrinkle cream is improving all the time though.

I have no idea where I was going with this.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Most Listened to Albums of 2009: Honourable Mentions (#ldnfavs09)

Like I said last year, I can't really say what the best music of the year is. I haven't listened to every album that has come out, and I'm no music critic. What I can do is say which albums captured my ears enough to listen to over and over. Luckily, keeps track of all the music I listen to, so it's easy to see which albums those are. In a few days I will post my most listened-to albums of the year. But today, here are some albums that probably would have made that list, if they came out or I'd gotten them earlier in the year. This only includes albums that were released in 2009.

Aqua - Greatest Hits: It's so disappointing that Aqua's big comeback was just 3 new songs on a greatest hits album. Oh, but what songs they are. Back to the Eighties sounds just fresh enough to exist today, while keeping Aqua's awkward, slightly out-of-touch-with-reality lyrics. Every night I pray that Aqua will release another full length album.

The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die: Another 90s band still kicking ass in the 00s, The Prodigy continues to make insanely high-energy dance music that's useful for when you need that extra motivation at the gym, or you're cutting an action movie trailer.  

See also: The Crystal Method - Divided By Night; MSTRKRFT - Fist of God; You Say Party! We Say Die! - XXXX

Chris Cornell - Scream: Then there's how not to make a comeback. Chris Cornell's — yes, the same one who fronted Soundgarden and Audioslave — Timbaland-produced, guitar-free pop collection is a platypus of an album; so disjointed and ugly that it really shouldn't even exist. But in my humble opinion, it goes so far into terrible territory that it ends up in awesome land.

Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster: More WTF courtesy of Lady GaGa. The Fame Monster is a little 8-song blast of sugary pop with an edge to it. It's like a tiny dessert that's finished before you're sick of its sweet-bitter richness.  
See also: Lights - The Listening, Infected Mushroom - Legend of the Black Shawarma.

Weezer - The 8-bit Album: A collection of Weezer songs done in the style of, or with the technology of, 8-bit video games. Weezer's genius in crafting strong pop songs is highlighted by the fact that they're still fun to listen to when stripped down to bleeps and bloobs.  
See also: Weezer - Raditude, Jaydiohead - Jay-Z x Radiohead.

Gavin Castleton - Home: A concept album telling a story of love during a zombie apocalypse? YES PLEASE.  
See also: other quirky independent pop: e.g.: The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away, Islands - Vapours, Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career, Andrew Bird - Noble Beast.

Ramona Falls - Intuit: Raymi tossed a video from this album onto one of her posts, and I instantly fell in love with it. Such beautiful, dark, fresh, epic music. Even though I have no idea what they're singing about most of the time.
See also: Placebo - Battle For the Sun.

I'll be back in a few days with the albums I listened to most in 2008.

Oh, and if you live in London Ontario and have a post about your favourite stuff of 2009 (or the decade), be sure to tag it with "#ldnfavs09" so we can keep it all together. See Brian Frank's post about it and the Friendfeed Stream for more info.

See also:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another PlayTV Canada Update

The ongoing fight against shitty television continues. See the latest developments here.

If only I could apply myself like this to something that's actually important, eh?

Ah well, baby steps. Or little legless kitten steps.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Twitter is Stupid and How to Make it Smarter

Twitter, I love you, but sometimes you are a total fucking douchetard.

I feel like I'm pointing out an elephant in a room, or that an emperor who thinks he has invisible clothes is actually naked (hey someone should write a story about that), but Twitter, here are some things about you that are stupid, and always have been:

1. Twitter implicitly implies that people with longer usernames deserve shorter replies than people with shorter usernames, because the name you address a reply to counts as part of the 140 character limit. How does this make any god damn sense? It's like if you go to the post office, and they tell you that your letter came under the maximum weight allowance, but couldn't be sent because the recipient's name was too long. What?

Solution: Make anything coming after "@" not count towards the 140 character limit. Yes, people will abuse it by @whoopsIwentover140charslol, but I'm gonna go ahead and make a bold prediction: the internet will not explode if a message longer than 140 characters gets posted to Twitter.

2. Similarly, web addresses take up characters. URL shortening services exist (and continue to be created) just to get around this. I wouldn't call this out as stupid, if the rest of the entire internet hadn't already figured out an even more elegant solution than making the URL shorter:

Solution: See, when Al Gore invented the internet, he thought of these things called "links", that would "link" between web pages. Even neater, instead of typing the full address of a page every time, you can actually take any word and "link" it, which will underline it and make it clickable. Twitter, maybe you should look into this "link" phenomenon that is taking the internet by storm.

3. This is the stupidest thing about Twitter, that I can't believe people just take for granted: why do we read Twitter in bottom-to-top chronological order?

In almost every (every?) language, when you are reading a story out of a book, things that happen first go at the top, and things that happen after that go below it. Your eyes start at the top of the page, then smoothly read left to right, down one line, left to right, down, etc.

But no Twitter, you gotta be different. If Twitter was a novel, it would work like this:

  • Go to (or fire up a client), load up the novel you're reading. The last paragraph of the book appears at the top of the screen. SPOILER ALERT.
  • You scroll down to the bottom, click the "more" button, scroll more, skim each paragraph, click more, until 5 minutes later, you find a paragraph that looks vaguely familiar, so you figure you probably left off somewhere around there.
  • You read the last unread paragraph. Your eyes scan left to right, top to bottom. Then, to get to what happens next, your eyes skip up, over the paragraph you just read, to read the paragraph above it.
  • Everything seems oddly familiar since you had to skim the entire story just to figure out where you were in the book.
  • You finally get to the end, at the top of the first page, and see that more of the story has been written. You refresh for new content, then start the whole skimming-for-where-you-left-off process over again.

And of course, Twitter is kind of like a big ongoing story of things happening with your friends. Yet we put up with this bizarre non-chronological order of reading it.

Solution: Make Twitter read chronologically from top to bottom like everything else on the fucking planet. And implement a bookmark function in which the top of the screen is always where you last left off.

People would complain about these solutions. Boo hoo. So keep the old options buried in some menu, and have the rest of Twitter finally fulfill its purpose as a hassle-free way to keep up with the story of people's lives, in 140 characters of content at a time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: For the Win, by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow's upcoming young adult novel, For the Win (or FTW), may not sound all that interesting on the surface.

At its core, this is a book about economics and the formation of unions. Boooring. Yet Doctorow weaves an intense story around these potentially dry topics, resulting in one of the most riveting books I've read this year.

For the Win takes place in the near future, when multiplayer online games—descendants of Everquest and World of Warcraft—have continued to rise in popularity. Gold farmers work long hours under harsh conditions to harvest digital items and currency from the games so they can be sold for real cash. When they realize they are being mistreated, they begin to come together and fight for their rights, in both the real world and in gamespace.

This isn't exactly science fiction. All of the technology described in the novel already exists, in only slightly less advanced form (e.g., the most exotic technology I can recall is a retinal scanner that starts a car). This grounding in our reality means that the struggles Doctorow deals with will become reality, where they haven't already.

Indeed, the economies of online games will begin to rival the economies of small countries; they're already worth billions of dollars per year. When that much money is involved, the line between online worlds and the real world is bound to get fuzzy. For the Win emphasizes that, at their hearts, life is a big game, and games are serious business. Economics, power, gambling, risk, violence: they're all just games that will be played in any place people gather, real or virtual.

It's interesting to see Doctorow's vision of social media, as well. He demonstrates that, in a world where text, pictures, radio broadcasts, videos, etc., can be instantly created and transmitted to a network of people anywhere in the world (the main characters are in the U.S., India, and China, yet all work together), the organizations that used to control the transmission of information no longer have power. It's like an effortless novelization of Clay Shirky's ideas about technology and social networking.

For the Win breaks some rules of the typical YA novel by being longer than it needs to be, and having so many characters that they can get mixed up. "Show don't tell" doesn't apply, with character-free tangents explaining complex economic topics that I found fascinating but could be dry to most. But you know what? Cory Doctorow can break the rules, because he's a fucking genius. He has great ideas coming out of his ass. He could bang out unedited thoughts into an unordered list and it would still be a great read.

It could, however, be considered too one-sided. While it all makes sense in the context of the story, there is nary an anti-union word in the book. With London's month-long bus strike just coming to an end yesterday, I'm of the opinion that there are situations in which unions can become the greedy organizations they were designed to combat. It's often not possible for all workers to come together, like when the workers who need buses to get to work can't do so because the workers who drive the buses want more money.

In any case, the story of unions, economics, and video games that Doctorow has created is exciting and eye-opening. It will probably appeal most to nerdier, technology-oriented types with an interest in the money game that makes the world go 'round, but almost anyone could find something to love here. for the win ftw.


Note: This book doesn't come out until May of next year. As far as I can Google, this is the first review on the entire internet. I pledged Cory Doctorow my eternal love if he'd send me a copy, and he was kind enough to email me an early draft. It's full of errors both small and substantial, but I'm sure they will be corrected. My copy of For the Win, for the record, is the "second manuscript printing," dated October 8th 2009. If anyone expresses a problem with the existence of this review, I will certainly take it into consideration.


P.S. Somebody needs to actually create Zombie Mecha (one of the games in the book), right now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sixty Nine Reasons to Avoid Tall, Dark and Handsome

Girls often say they want a guy who is tall, dark, and handsome.

Handsome I get, obviously. Dark? Yeah, I definitely understand dark. But tall? Why tall?

It's not like height automatically fulfills that "I'm a tiny girl and I need a big strong man to protect me from tigers and serial killers and serial killer tigers" instinct / stereotype. An extra half-foot of leg and torso doesn't automatically confer kung fu skills, or even strength.

There is one situation I can think of where height matters, but it is almost always a detriment. I'm talking about one of my favourite configurations of people, the sixty-nine. If a girl is dating a "tall" guy (i.e. taller than her), this position is awkward, and may lead to stiff necks, stretched appendages, and/or a permanent hunch-back.

I know sometimes you're a bit dim, so let me illustrate this for you. Let's say Lady GaGa (5'1") has made special friends with Conan O'Brien (6'4"):

Bad Romance

It doesn't work! Neither of them are enjoying themselves.

But let's say Conan goes for someone more his height, like Jane Lynch (6'0")


Much better!

So yeah, go for dark, go for handsome, but please, don't go for tall, because look what you are missing out on. LOOK. Unless you are Jane Lynch and then it's okay. Or Anne Coulter (6'0"), but I'd really prefer if you didn't have babies.

Thanks Anne.

Females and gay dudes: can you explain to me why tall men are alluring?

~ Phronk (5'8")


P.S. I find it a bit disturbing that there is a whole community devoted to figuring out how tall celebrities are.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Werewolves Versus Plastinates

Look at this lovely package I got from Amazon the other day:

I was not expecting the beautiful embossed tin packaging. And I wasn't entirely sure which movies would be included. When you see the words "Howling Trilogy", you'd usually make a few assumptions.

You'd assume that there are only three movies in the series. But no, The Howling has approximately eight billion sequels. But I'll let that slide, because it doesn't say "The Howling Trilogy". Nope, this is just a trilogy of Howling movies.

You'd assume it would at least be a sequential collection of sequels. But no, this is The Howling III, V, and VI.

Maybe they are tied together as a trilogy because they follow a common plot thread. But no, the only thing they have in common is that they all have werewolves. This is just a random collection of three Howling movies.

But I really don't care, because damn, look at that packaging. Plus, I've long thought of The Howling V as one of my favourite movies ever, but I only saw it once when I was a kid, so a second viewing might snuff out the rosy glow that nostalgia provides.

[clumsy segue] Speaking of things that transform [/clumsy segue]

Here are some pictures from the Body Worlds show that is at the Toronto Science Centre, where real dead people are transformed into artsy / educationy installations.

His junk is totally about to smash into the hurdle. :(

Some people were grumpy about me taking pictures. Because, you know, nobody else on the entire internet will take pictures, and free advertising is bad.

It was as fascinating this time as last time I went, with lots of new plastinates on display. Seeing the bodies up close is satisfying on a few levels. There's the education, knowing how the awe-inspiring machine that is the human body works. There's the "wow, one of those jiggly thing sitting out there is sitting right here inside me too" level. And there's the morbid curiosity we all have; just the visceral thrill of seeing a dead body.

Definitely worth checking out if you're in the area.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Did it ever occur to you that Christianity is mostly based on a woman trying to hide how slutty she was?

"Mary! What the fuck!"

"No seriously, I'm a virgin. It''s a miracle?"

Then, two thousand and ten years later, we have a pope who doesn't believe in birth control.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Play TV Update

A while ago I posted about the disgusting scam that is PlayTV Canada. Well, "someone" has posted a follow-up to that. See Play TV Canada Has No Legs for further discussion of the fraud, and an in-depth analysis of one of their "puzzles."

Friday, December 04, 2009

Lights at the London Music Hall, December 3 2009

Last night I braved a sea of 12 year olds to go see Lights at the London Music Hall. It was a great show. Considering she only has one full album out, I was amazed at the enthusiasm there; everyone could already sing along to every song. I have a feeling that Lights is gonna be huge.1

If you haven't seen this video yet, you should:

The opening act, Jets Overhead, was also a nice surprise. I know some people were there just to see them, and I can see why.

Good times, good times.


1 loljk, she's a midget.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fun With Maps

Google Maps released their Street View service in London yesterday. This allows you to zoom in to ground level and view an area as if you were driving down the street. Anyone who happened to be in the area when the Street View van took these pictures is now immortalized on camera.

Of course I looked at my own place first. I'm not visible, but you can see a gargoyle in my window as a little white blob. (No, I'm not telling you where I live.)

Then I went to the sketchy part of town to look for weird people. I found this half-naked confused rollerblader:

Then, Katrina Clarke, on Twitter, posted this capture from right across the street:

Aww, just two people holding hands. But let's go back down the street (and back in time) to further explore their relationship:

Hmm, they weren't holding hands a second ago.

Wait, is that a little white baggy in his hand?

And a few seconds after the hand holding, is he stuffing something into his pocket?

Ok so it's not unambiguous evidence of a drug deal caught on camera, but given the sequence of events and the generally drugginess of the area, it's more than possible.

Which is ironic, when you shift the view of that last picture just a bit to the left:

Of course, Microsoft couldn't be left out of all this fun. So in their latest attempt to play catchup with Google, they upgraded their Bing Maps service. They have obviously put a lot of work into making it nearly identical to Google Maps, which confused me, since you know, Google Maps already exists.

Then I saw THIS.

I heard of photosynth a long time ago — it makes three dimensional renderings of an area out of still pictures tagged with a location (making leaving the house even more pointless) — but I never imagined it could be used for such important applications as viewing the landmark of ... a jackalope in some dude's basement?


See also:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

National Photo Book Month 2009

Update! There are more options for downloading the book, if it didn't work for you yesterday. See below. Only this link works now.

After completing NaNoWriMo, I was left with very little to do. I thought to myself, self, you have two and a half hours before the end of the month; what other November-related activities could you take part in? Then I thought of NaPhoBoMo, or National Photo Book Month; a London-originating project to make a photo book in November. And hey, if I can write a novel in a month, then surely I can take 50 pictures and figure out how to turn them into a book in three hours.

As 9:45 approached, I began to see the excellent completed works from other participants in this wonderful project, and I wanted to fit in. So I went out and began taking pictures. And by "out" I mean out of my computer chair and into the wilds of my one-bedroom apartment. I pressed the macro button on my camera, but it didn't prevent most of my closeups from being blurry.

Now you may witness the creativity that procrastination can unleash. The .pdf file of my photo book, Blurry Closeups of Random Objects in My Apartment, can be downloaded (TOTALLY FOR FREE) by clicking here.

Be sure to go through this work of art in order. Let your mind make the connections between photos, leading you on a journey through my life; a journey of horror and delight that, you will gradually realize, is a journey through the plight of all mankind. You will gasp at the unfolding story of materialism, spirituality, sex, the apocalypse, the death of all things physical in favour of all things digital, and ultimately, getting back to our ancient Asian heritage.

It's a message of hope, really.

Or it's just random shit from my apartment because I wanted to fit in but didn't want to go outside.

It's snowing out there you guys.


Update! Some people are having trouble downloading it. If the full sized version above doesn't work, try these: