Friday, December 26, 2008

Company

We had company over, neighbours. Cooked a big turkey with all the fixings.

Kids, running around, screaming, going up and down stairs, somehow not seriously mutilating themselves or otherwise providing the local emergency ward with cases that'll wake interns up, in a cold sweat, wondering why they didn't go into cabinetry like their brother-in-law.

And the adults, sitting around the table, drinking, having at times awkward, at times HI-larious conversations that invariably revolve around kids or movies or any host of safe topics. If there's one thing you want to avoid, is having icy relations with your neighbours. So as much as you want to discuss fundamentalist Christianity and how it's slowing eroding the scientific rigour in teaching our youth, you realize it's better to keep your mouth shut so you can ask Hank for a powerdrill when you need to hang yet enough shelfing system with an unpronounceable name sold by a European multinational.

I had to go upstairs, to check the internets about whether Bull, from "Night Court", is dead (he's not, his latest project DaZe: Vol. Too (sic) - NonSeNse has a tagline I envy with every fibre of my being: "A post modern avant guard dramedy musical non-musical told nonlinearly"; I kid you not). Going up the very short flight of stairs, I can hear the random outbreaks of laughter from the adults, a group which I shockingly belong. Not without denial. But that sound is filled with nostalgia. Going over to some 'family friends', while being forced to interact with kids that are just too weird and then you become best friends 1 hour in and then can't believe you have to leave in another 3 hours; the adults laughing over some opaque reference about things that are quite obviously not funny. That sense of contentment and plenty that would amaze anyone in the developing world, or anyone from the 18th Century, I suppose.

So, I get upstairs, and the neighbours kids are kind of in a half crouch, giving me that wary look that only adults get, and only from kids who feel that the adult might have some jurisdiction. It's a Sylvester looking at Tweety Bird's dear old owner as he has Tweety grasped in a death grip. The kids are jumping off the futon onto some pillows. Hey, whatever doesn't severe crucial vertebrae only makes you stronger, is my motto. But it's that look. That undeniable expectant stare that reminds me with the force of a tsunami in a Bruckheimer film, that , dear god, I'm an adult.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snowy Terror

It's snowed about a foot here in the Pacific Northwest. Which would be no big deal if this were the East Coast, or Nunavut, or any place where they have more than 57 dollars budgeted for snow removal. Here, though, it shuts everything down. The city comes to a stand-still not seen outside of post-apocalyptic zombie flicks and grassroot Bush rallies. Everything is improvised. That's because, rightly, there's little point in investing in equipment/gear/tools that you're going to use 1 week out of the year. But that also means... CHAOS!!

But not for the kids, thankfully. Snow is nature's Lego™ and Slip N' Slide ™ and hell's gateway to a glimpse into the Lord of the Flies mentality that lurks underneath a patois of Dora the Explorer and High School Musical 3 paraphernalia. With snow, you can go fast via the steerless miracles of sleds, you can build stuff and realize your genius in architecture until the inevitable next week's rain washes it away, or you can be taught the Natural Hierarchy of Life that all children who grow up in close proximity, must learn.

Adults, above and below a certain age, are to be feared. That is, old enough that they have all the strength in their pitching arm they're ever likely to get, and young enough that they find cruelty to youngsters hilarious. 18 or 19 is the ultimate age. You do not, under any circumstances, upset man-boys of that age. They will mess, you, up. The term 'facewash' should fill you with a terror so sharp and so ruthless that bowel control becomes a distant third to the thoughts of 'get the hell out of here' and 'oh dear god in heaven why is the universe so cruel?'. Snowballs from this age bracket come at sonic speeds, breaking sound barriers, melting the leading edge of the ball until it makes contact with your sheep-like, trusting mug.

As the adults get too old, say, 40ish, 50ish, well, they'll just give you a light chuckle with their weather worn face and keep walking. Below that, say, thirties, late twenties, you should be, at the very least, cautious. There should be a little reverence.

A little fear.

So it was with suprise that I dodged a few snowballs my way from a two 8-year olds.

Oh, ha ha, I thought. Young scamps. Just having a bit of fun. But they persisted. They had no fear. They had no concept of the Hierarchy.

Now, I have about as much talent in ballistic snow projectiles as a Timorese headhunter, but I do have a smidge of pride. So when I went near the two boys to help Owlet up (faceplanting into the snow being her ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE activity), I was near my limit. One of the boys finally tags me in the leg. Here I'm thinking. I'm trying to help a two year old, give it a break. And another voice speaks up, reminds me of the sacred bond of the Hierarchy.

HE MUST BE TAUGHT!

But, you know, the mom is standing about 5 feet away, so not taught too well, as it were. I grab a very small fluff of powder and toss it in his face. Toss. Underhanded.

The poor kid gets up with a mug of utter hopelessness, as if I'd just taken a baseball bat to his puppy's kneecaps, and kinda sniffles at his mom, doing the hangdog thing. The mom looks at him, and, I suspect someone has told her of the Hierarchy, because she says, "You kinda deserved that."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Overthinking Ariel

I went by Staples to pick up one of those fancy digital frame doohickies, because I shoot quite a bit with ye old Nikon 70ds. While there, I was instructed to pick up some colouring books for Owlet, since it's easier than trying to clean crayon marks off our carpet.

I wasn't hopeful to find anything at Staples; I think of cut-rate printing paper and poorly designed office furniture, not Dora or Thomas. Staples is the place where you buy overpriced pens to write out carefully considered grocery lists you can leave on the counter. A temple to paper and the pushing thereof.

But low and behold, off in the corner, they do have colouring books! Little cheap booklets of paper emblazoned with market-tested intellectual property protected edutainment franchises! That they are; but they're also a source of entertainment that I, young liberal hip dad, doesn't feel too guilty about plunking Owlet in front of (minus the cutting down of our natural oxygen producers and accelerating global warming, minus the eradication of a cultural craftsmen social strata that would usually produce quality toys for my brood, minus the overarching power grip that multi-million dollar conglomerates have on my toddler).

I mean, it's creative right? Kinda active?

Of course, I immediately think of the influence it might have on Owlet. She's impressionable. I don't want her to be a vacuous teenager, one of those living embodiments of the most heinous doll-selling contrivances developed, 'Bratz'. I don't want her middle aged, knocking back a forty of Wild Turkey, waiting for her shift to start and wondering where her prince charming is. I don't want her in the retirement home, wearing a mid-riff and trying to seduce the cabana boy while smelling of industrial strength Oil of Olay and Bengay.

I, like any parent, don't want her worldview warped for the worse.

So there I sit, staring at my choice of colouring books: 'Disney's Princesses' or 'Beautiful Fairies'. Both a comment on the beauty and youth obsessed culture that pushes many to despair or to plastic surgery or both. A paradigm that prizes beauty and ordained, given greatness. A stultifying way to view reality where only the beauty pageant winners are any good, and anything you work for or that you build up from yourself isn't even put on the score card. The tyranny of the Media! The trampling of unique souls, budding for a better way to live in this world! The squashing of the delicate flower that is Owlet's personality, reaching, growing towards a better light!

I pace, considering which is the lesser of two evils.

So I phone Mrs. Owl, who, overall, has a more conventional view of the world. She listened to me carefully, like I was the strange aunt who likes to drop hints about the Illuminati and smells like burnt pot pourri. After I'm done with my tirade about the possible mind control that Big Media is pressing upon our child, she says, "It's just a colouring book."

I got "Disney's Princessess", in case you're wondering.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Another winter has caught us all unawares. That means a few harrowing near misses on the highway, the even more harrowing trip to the mall, and a Christmas letter from the Smiths; hopefully not harrowing.

The biggest news is that we are expecting another baby this January. Apparently the mist of time has romanticized changing thirty diapers a day on no sleep. But, we're pretty excited. There is a marked decrease in our nervousness, under the rather false assumption that because we've gone through this before 2 years ago, we totally know what we're doing this time around. I suspect there will be many moments of us cleaning up the floor, table, and bedsheets muttering, “Oh yeaaah, I forgot about that.”.

We're pretty certain it's a boy, which is good for balance. Visions of losing every video vote to another romantic comedy no longer haunt me. On the other hand, having to decipher the whole sports thing, should our son be into that, fills me with a new kind of cold, cold fear.

Owlet is now two. She runs faster and everywhere. She can get into trouble quicker than you can say “HOLY CRAP I CAN'T BELIEVE SHE DIDN'T BREAK ANYTHING”. Luckily she gives us a small warning by looking at us seriously and announcing, “Me run”, then booting it.

Her babbling has become bubblier and often swerves into coherency. Sometimes it's even coherent to us. This has made things great for communication, bad for frustration. It's as if she realizes that if only we understood what “BUDARDAM TRACKER” (“Peanut Butter and Jam Crackers”) means, all would be well .

Songs play a big part in her life too. She's at the stage where she can never hear quite enough renditions of “Baby Beluga”. Honestly. Never, enough. It's our ardent hope that exposure to music helps her brain develop better because Raffi ad nauseum can't be good for an adult's brain. I'm sure we're not the first nor the last parents to harbour fantasies of breaking into his studio, trashing all his sheet music then doing a howling pagan dance around a burning guitar pyre.

She's big into Dr. Seuss. That is, we're big into Dr. Seuss. We had no idea that so many many children's books are 'hit me over the hammer and sideswipe me with a camper' boring. I mean, please, make it rhyme, at least. Luckily, she can't get enough of “One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”, and neither can we; so far.

Owing entirely to Mary's social graces, Owlet has become quite the people person. She strikes up conversation with anyone who gives her the briefest of glances, and is quick to say “Bye 'body!”when leaving, say, a doctors office full of waiting patients. I suppose whispering in her ear and telling her to say 'Hi' to old women smitten by her has something to do with her gregariousness. What can we say, she gives high entertainment value. She's learned, and says with alarming regularity, 'Tankew' for nearly everything given to her. It's fantastic. Makes us realize what impolite boors we are, but still, fantastic.

Work, like so many things in life after school, remains a static routine that neither quickens the pulse nor leaves us in the throes of existential angst. And with the way the entire world economy is taking a dive, we're just happy to be still working. Personally I can't wait for the comeback of speakeasies and vaudeville.I guess I'm a silver lining sort of guy.

We hope this letter finds you well and wish you all the best for the season, and the three other seasons, while we're at it.

All the Best,
Owl Family

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fictional Stories For Facebook 'Friends' Who Are Obviously Gloating

So you know the 'facebook friend', the distant acquaintance that was not quite a friend but not an outright stranger that you might have shared a class with 17 years ago? Or the brother of a friend of friend whose wedding you were only invited to because you were in town and they needed you to pick up the bridesmaids' flowers?

Whatever.

Not really friends but not distant enough that you can easily remove them from your ever growing and ever estranged collection of ... people that you've crossed in your life; and not in the way a gunslinger might anger the head of the baddest group of bandits this side of the Sierra Madre.

And, it looks like this stranger has had a bit of luck: a stunning spouse, a vocation doing photoshoots for nympomaniacal fashion models. And they find that one picture they 'share' with all their 'friends', capturing all their good luck in one nice shot.

Yeah, I hate them too.

These are the venom filled back stories I make up for them. Because dang them to heck for having such great lives. And telling us about it.
  • he's a post op intergendered amputee and she, unfortunately, succumbed to Nightingale Syndrome while helping him relearn how to operate a can opener; she works a devastatingly unfilling job as a Campbell's company shill, masquerading as a Occupational Therapist.

  • she's barren and he leaves leaflets of adoption agencies; the application forms for which she's 'forgotten' to fill out for the past 7 years.

  • that's a wig, as all their intimate time is spent with her wearing a lumberman's outfit and a mannishly cropped haircut, and him, 'swooning'.

  • that picture is taken just moments after she discovers he's ruined her credit rating and they are both going to federal prison for a few scams that he promised 'no one will care about'.

  • she never understands his pithy film references and he has Russian Brides 4 U bookmarked on his laptop.

  • he has to shave her backhair every night. They've paid a small fortune to plumbers to deal with clogged drains. He's never allowed to watch his favourite thing, orangutan documentaries.

  • he steers every conversation towards the unsung genius of Pinochet. She does gory dioramas picturing the most famous cases of flesh eating disease in the South Eastern United States.

  • she falls asleep with alarming frequency when they have 'personal time' together. He's a necrophiliac, so he kinda prefers it like that.

  • he's a certified sociopath with a disturbing, yet sealed childhood record. She can't really tell.

  • the only thing she's ever cared for, a ferret she had when she was 7, is stuffed and sits in their bathroom. He's used it on numerous occasions to 'floss'.

  • she's never understood what was so racist about "Breakfast at Tiffany's". He doesn't 'get' irony.

  • the only activity they can do together that doesn't result in tears and an embarrassed silence is watching "Wheel of Fortune.

  • she never leaves him alone in the petting zoo. Not any more.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bocce News Update #5 : Pacino Reporting

Another excerpt from a post I made to our work wiki, detailing our latest match in the company bocce tournament. We won again, miraculously.


Al Pacino reporting

There they were, on the field. The pitch. The battlefield on which future players will look to and say, "There strode heroes. TITANS!" It was cold, yeah, it was cold and you can stamp your feet and pull that scarf tighter but no weather bites quite so hard as the fangs of competition. The cold icepick that sinks in your chest when facing destiny, how everyone will remember you from this day to next, for all history as long as the annals of VP Students Portfolio Bocce tournaments are written.

Team A faced Team B that cold day. Both teams undefeated. Both staring posterity with the unblinking eyes of champions.

With the heart that has defined Team A's career, they surged ahead to a 6-1 lead.

Team B, looked into their souls, they saw what needed to get done, they knew Team A would not go down without a fight, would not go quietly into the night. But neither would they. Clawing every inch, breaking against an insurmountable tide, they pulled themselves up. Team A would not be had, oh no, in their breasts beat the hearts of lions, and they too exchanged feats of athleticism with Team B. The score after the dust settled and the brows wiped, stood at 12-6.

It was all but over. But to Team B, bruised and bloodied was nothing, victory everything. You could see it in the way they tossed the bocce, the way they bit down and grunted when they missed.

Then Team A took their eye off the ball.

Bocce, like life, is a game of focus. You get confident, you get cocky, you start to think that competition doesn't have the bite you once feared. Doesn't threaten you with mortal danger that it does everystep of the way. And Team A broke focus. Team B, warriors of field, bastions of excellence, knew when to drive, and drive they did. They fought, they attacked, they did not surrender. Bruised and bloodied, maybe, but not beaten, they led an onslaught of offense to close the margin to 12-11.

And then, awoken, startled to their imminent demise to a team they had, until now, lead with no falter, Team A rallied. They set their shoulders low and they threw themselves behind their game. They clawed and bit and punched to the top.

Team A closed out the game at 15-11. Both teams left, wearied, both teams, feeling the bite of a well fought battle. But only one victor.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Chomsky Comments on Left 4 Dead

I think what's clear here, in this shot, is that it's the humans that have the guns, the mandate to power in this situation. The undead, these new immigrants to a world that's still very strange to them, they are, quite categorically, unarmed.

There is a struggle for hegemony you can see here. Dominion over land, a fight for sovereignity. What would you do if armed strangers came through your land? You'd attack, naturally. You'd defend yourself, is what you'd do. And if we are even attempting to consider the justice in this situation, the undead are merely fending off the humans with their hands, their feet. How much damage could they do? But, time and time again, we see a disproportionate response to this from the humans. A call to arms, a god given right to take the lives of countless undead and for what? The opportunity to trespass, because, quite clearly, that's what's happening here, trespassing on the land of the undead.

What is interesting to note, in this third shot, the old man taking a gas can and shooting it. What's going on here? what's the narrative in this action? He quite obviously pillaged that gas tank from the land of the undead, and then he shoots it. He uses their fuel to kill them.I think, I think there is a unmistakeable message being sent here. Not only are humans your betters, but they will use your resources to do away with you. It's, I mean, there is no other way to respond but to try and repel such invaders, I think. That's the rational response.

And we see that the humans cross all types of age racial and gender barriers, so all humans, everywhere, are complicit in these war crimes. For anyone paying attention, any one willing to do but the most cursory of research, it's pretty easy to unearth instances of these invaders shooting undead who were not doing anything. Just standing. Maybe looking menacing to the humans, maybe not, who knows? The humans are quite unwilling to open up channels of diplomacy with them, and this is something that's been reported and documented by me and others, that I don't need to go into here. But it's been documented by very serious journals, very important papers.

And here is the Tank. A name, that I have no doubt, was given to him by the humans. I'm sure he doesn't see himself in such militaristic terms. He's quite obviously only protecting his own here. I mean, he's forced, or created by the undead to match the sabre-rattling from the humans, they use what is obviously their meagre means to try and match the militaristic juggernaut that is the human invaders. And if we are serious about finding who's the criminal here, if we have even the faintest inclination towards social justice, the onus quite clearly rests on the humans; as is obvious in all the cases from the footage that's been made available.

Friday, December 05, 2008

CLAMPS!

I had to go to Home Depot to get a few things. Mainly to bumble about with and make a total mess under the guise of 'home improvement'. The only thing it improves, frankly, is my already impressive ability to swear while holding what I think is a philips head screwdriver. Could be a hammer, actually.

I'm no handyman, is my point. I'm pretty good at putting on a grin and 'bearing through something until it's sort of done but nothing you'd ever show to polite company', though. Which is how I get into these situations, wandering through cavernous home improvement SUPER STORES looking for a flange or a shivel or god knows what other word they've devise for, say, a rubber washer.

So I was there at Home Depot, with Owlet and The Dog. I went with them because having them around greatly reduces the chance that anyone will mistake me for a handyman and ask me for an opinion vis-a-vis the best method to route out a double iron casting tackle block; also because apparently two year-olds can't take care of themselves if left to their own devices ('very fast, very strong, and very stupid' was an apt description I heard of them once, not a lie).

So, with kids in tow I go asking various people in orange aprons where I can find a clamp. This is a terrible word for a nerd to have to say in public, because only one thing comes to mind, and that one thing repeats AD NAUSEUM.

"Hi, do you know where the clamps are?"
CLAMPS! CLAMPS! MY NAME is CLAMPS! You want me to CLAMP him boss!? Why I oughta clamp YOU!
"Clamps?'
CAN I CLAMP HIM boss?! CAN I? Clamps! CLAMPS!
"just down aisle 18, about a third of the way down on your left."
"Uh, thanks."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Parking Lots + Cemeteries = Odd

Found via Metafilter.

What's not awesome about cemeteries in parking lots? The very symbol of capitalistic fervour, the parking lot, set against the Great Equalizer. Because behind every sprawling tarmac is a Type-A personality with an implanted Bluetooth headset, a half-decaf no-fat machiatto, and a heart about to go coronary any moment. His suit shimmering with fine fibre of no-doubt Italian origin, his hair coiffed in what can be best described as 'slick', shades that cost more than my car, surveying the scene as he quibbles with contractors and city hall on how he's going to get the zoning permits in time for the next great paen to shopping box stores.

But there it is. A damn cemetery right between the Odyssey and Passat. Filled with worm-food that once upon a time strove for the best and brightest, the mostest and richest that life had to offer.

A parking lot is also a symbol for sprawling suburbanization: the big box stores and the shopping malls with two food-courts, all over the last nesting place for a migratory bird species that no one in any position of power cared about. A parking lot says concentration! Pulling everything together in one spot so that people in cars can find you off the Inster-state to waste twice as much gas to find a parking spot 3 feet closer.

Economies of scale, is the thing. Which is really, we're making this much, but we could be making (makes a hand gesture that just looks like you're waiting for someone to measure your wingspan) this much! More more more more!

And then the humble plot of untarmaced land. A reminder that all that bustle and hustle isn't buying you anything that matters.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grafters

I find salesmen fascinating. I've had a couple of posts about them. There's something about the 'seat of your pants' living that I just find so frontiersman-like; minus the dodgey hygeine and proficiency with pistols, of course. 

But the grafters, the people who sell things via a quick show on the side of the road are something else. I quite enjoy watching those red-faced (invariably) British ex-pats sweatily trying to sell me 'the last cleaning solution I'll ever need', their hands in a blur, their headset slipping off an almost bald, and completely sweaty, head.

I like the idea of someone making due with just a gift of the gab and well-crafted one liners. "Death of a Salesman" in reverse comes to mind. I imagine them to be real 'people persons', the sort who actually do like people, in general. A dastardly and foolhardy approach to life, but better a happy fool than a cripplingly depressed wise man, I suppose. All bluster, all flash, and very little else. 

Exciting, in it's own way.

It's also raw showmanship. Trying to convince a crowd that, every year, becomes more calcitrant against sales pitches; that, every year, layers irony on top of skepticism and finishes with a thick glaze of apathy. Enthusiasm, well-practiced, against a tide of urban ennui. 

Sure, it's for profit, they aren't doing it to raise our spirits or enoble society. There is no 'art' form they are trying to further. But that's what makes it even more fascinating. Raw commerce with no smoke and mirrors. "This is me, I'm going to try and sell you this questionable kitchen sponge, try, just try to fend off my pitch". 

Maybe I like grafters too much.  Mrs. Owl and I went to a night market a few years back. Almost every single person leaving had this ridiculous looking rubber broom thing. We both turned to each other and said "We are NOT getting that." I assume you all can guess what's in our broom closet, gathering dust, quite unexepectedly not being the last broom we'd ever buy.


EDIT: Oh hey, here's a video of the grafter featured in the article, doing his schtick:



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Owlet's Odd Geek Tendencies

Owlet is now two and a bit. She, for some unknown reason, has cultivated some odd geek tendencies.

As all toddlers love Raffi for an unfathomable reason, she is of course addicted, addicted to "Baby Beluga". Needs to hear it all the time, like a crackhead needs to hear the sound of a butane lighter on a broken lightbulb. I guess there are far too many syllables in Beluga, so she ends up saying "Baby Yoda", which is, frankly, awesome. What makes it more awesome is that we can say "You want baby yoda? more baby yoda?" and she knows exactly what we're talking about. (Last night, "Attack of the Clones" was on, and she was, disconcertedly, scared of Yoda. How can anyone be scared of a small green alien who talks in broken english?)

Pie has a very strong attachment to geek culture, and I don't know why that is. Maybe because pie is universally awesome. I call this the 'Bacon Effect', anything naturally awesome will become a 'geek thing' (see also, Tron).

So one day we go to get some pie. I assume she doesnt' really know or care why we are strapping her into the carseat, just that she can constantly say our names in a querolous tone, as if a lead-in to a pithy and enlightening question (Dadda?). Of course, she has a vocabulary of about 15 words (not counting sounds that animals and various modes of transportation make, I'd say it's about 4), this never happens. Funnily, she's completed mastered the tone of a question, so when she says "Dada", about 30% of the time I'm completely fooled into thinking she'll follow up after I say, "Yes?". Anyways, pie. We go get pie at this one supermarket that has the mostest bestest pie in town. We come back home. Owlet is put down for the night. She wakes up in the middle of the night and has a little chat with Mrs. Owl, it goes something like this:

"Me eat."
"You're hungry ?"
"Me eat."
"What do you want to eat?"
Thoughtful repose, a real deep introspection into the reasons for existence and whatnot.
"Me eat pie."

The fact that she connected all the dots and knew, with absolute certainty, that we had pie, blew us away. Or maybe she made a lucky guess. Or, I dunno, maybe we really don't expect a whole lot from our toddler. Or maybe pie is so awesome it accelerates brain growth. That seems most feasible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

RULES : How Many 'Feel Good Ads' A Company Has Is Directly Proportional to Their Evilness

I'm a sucker. A complete and utter sucker who, in the road of life, has only luck and a rather voracious web reading habit to thank for not falling for various Nigerian Email scams and being the proud owner of 3 college diplomas in only three weeks!

When political strategists get together and decide what their messages is going to be, you can bet I'm the low end of cynicism. I just naturally tend to believe whatever someone is telling me. Especially if accompanied by say, stellar copy and a crisp, clean cinematography. If you have a nice cropped shot of a sunflower and then zoom with some really heart rending words about caring for the only planet we have, you can bet that my vote for you to win the next Nobel Peace prize is in the mail. Never mind if you are say, Dow Chemical who made that ever so delightful anti-personnel weapon, napalm; or the 'We've Got More Money Than God But Can't Bear To Pay Our Fine For the Valdez Spill' Exxon.

I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps my addiction to whiz bang movies has made me an easy target. You have compelling image, of say, a bright eyed child telling me how your company is saving 1 million lives a day, I'll totally believe you. I mean, it might be an ad for the GOP party, and I'd still believe you.

But I've found, in my short life that, that the companies with the bestest, most tear jerking and optimistic ads are invariably these atrocious entities that one cannot believe have not been swallowed up by the bowels of hell. On second thought, their collective evil is so great I'm sure the Seventh Circle wouldn't like the competition. I mean Shell, which has been indicated in assassinations of environmentalists in Nigeria, who, quite by happenstance, I assure you, were opposed to Shell's increased rap-- I mean ethical drilling of their environment. And then there are the ads for coal. COAL! I still find it surprising we use COAL to power anything. It's pretty much the default energy source for 18th Century Industrial England, what with it's scampy street urchins and millions dying from respiratory disease.

So, that's my tip for you readers out there who haven't figured this out (which I'm sure you have, smart bunch that y'are), feel-good commercial == Corporation Made From Evil Incarnate.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Photography, Much Better Than Small Talk

It's a function of adulthood, going to parties with strangers. It's not that I was a big partier before. Unless you count playing 'Killer Instinct' and getting a Big Mac combo a "night out on the town". But when you reach a certain age, the circle of friends no longer expands, there's no new people falling into you life, like your new slightly off-kilter lab partner who can do a winning impression of Dan Quayle. Social life is, for a lack of a better term, static. Or, if you're a nerd like I, even more static. A veritable Tesla coil of non-social group expanding am I.

If you're a guy, social life is invariably going to the odd potluck with your wife's friends. (In the future, I look forward to many 'parties' with complete strangers who's offspring happen to be friends of my offspring.) Ah, adulthood.

Luckily, I've taken up photography. And really only because Mrs. Owl enjoys photos so much. Me, I'd be happy with the odd snapshot in a long forgotten manilla folder stuffed under old Transformers and not taken out until I'm moved into a slightly disused and alarmingly underfunded retirement home. But The Boss, she likes pictures, lots and lots of family shots and kids shots and shots with kids and family and, well. It goes on.

It's not like photography is not in the family. My dad was a big proponent of the 'candid' shot. Those shots taken just as life is running along. Unscripted shots of moments capture forever in quickly fading albums that no one will care about except for wives who'll dig them up eventually and just marvel, marvel at them. What he'd do is seem to have his damn point and shoot with him at all times. Usually we'd find him standing off in a corner, his right hand down by his side, kinda obscuring it with his leg like he was packing irons and this was a western, and we (me and my brothers) were the cheatin' card players soon to meet our grisly end. And then, BAM, he'd take a shot. The vast majority of these shots were utterly blurred and crap, but the very very odd time, there was magic.

This appeals to me. It's a very hackerish way of taking shots. That is, I'm not terribly good, but I' enthusiastic, and if take enough, one of those is going to be good. I think.

So, how does this fit in with awkward potlucks? Well, at one toddler's party and another potluck, I just made myself the designated photographer, looking all artsy and taking shot after shot. It's super effective at those awkward moments where you ask each other what you do, and how do you like it, and how did you get into it. It's a conversational shield, SHIELD I say.

And, sometimes, you get damned lucky and take some really great shots about which I can find nothing sarcastic to say:






Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hope

It's fashionable among the nifty trendsetting ultra-hipster pseudo-elite, to mock the US. Whether you are from the US hardly matters. And it's not only because America is such a unfathomably large target: bombastic and patriotic, star and stripes and assault rifles and Monday Night football; it's not only because America has become a caricature of everything that comes to mind when one says 'boor'.

No, it goes deeper than that.

For those outside the US, America represents that hypocrtical parent you catch toking a doobie while speed dialing his mistress. A paragon, if you will, of virtue, of (probably due to Hollywood) everything that's Good In The World. Independence, freedom, a general distaste for hierarchy. The States were always the Rebel Alliance for much of its short history; scrappy and just one of the good ol' boys; the passengers in steerage in the great Titanic of world politics.

All that changed, of course.

One needn't outline all the atrocious things that have passed under the Bush Administration. The list is unspeakably long, laughably absurd. Domestic wiretapping; pre-emptive wars; torture; prisons which sucked foreign nationals in and never let them out; black ops CIA torture shops that were stationed outside the US; botching of Katrina relief; hampering stem cell research; gutting environmental protection laws.

It all goes directly against what the US meant not only to itself, but to the world.

The list sounds over the top. Something out of a dystopian sci-fi epic where the protagonist is well-trained in a stylish killing technique and the art director finds colours outside the grey-scale to be abhorrent.

The affront is all the worse because it comes from the brash, bastion of freedom. The plucky upstart that showed those entrenched dowdy Europeans the what-for. A country that took the throwaways from different countries and built something great. A country, quite literally, of underdogs.

It's a poetic country.

A country that inspires patriotism, that feeling of belonging and pride that usually is only given to sports teams or marginal British comedy troupes. Sure, we laugh and scoff at the mulleted, stars-and-stripes parachute pants wearing red-neck at the NASCAR rallies; but that sentiment, to literally wear ones country, wells from somewhere. A sense that we are all equal, that every one has an equal chance to succeed in whatever way they see fit. That freedom, to do and say what we want and how we want, is a basic right, moreso than Star Wars prequels that don't suck or a Thanksgiving Dinner that isn't too awkward.

The world loves America, but even more than that, loves what America stands for. An idyllic rough and tumble world of meritocracy and hope. Hope for a better life, for the best in ourselves realized. Hope that those who work the hardest and the smartest will get their earned reward. That it's not where you're born or what you're born into, but rather what you are driven to achieve that counts.

It's that love that is so white hot that can turn to hate so cold.

And now the US stands on the precipice of another election, now with a Democratic nominee who inspires, who thinks about issues. Who really is about coming right from the very bottom, and clawing the way to the top. A thoughtful, enlightened president. One who can, let's face it, give one hell of a speech.

The world is once again in the thrall of US, once again in this honeymoon of America as an idea, no, no, the ideal idea. A country that almost every free country strives in some ways to be like.

Cynic that I am, it's only natural for me to brace for the worst. But Obama has me in thrall as well. This skeptic die-hard sarcasm-as-a-second-language nerd can't help but hope, throw his full unrepentant sentiment behind the idea that the US will choose a better direction, for a better country, a better world.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Imaginary Cabinet Positions I Would Excel In

Thanks to cheesoning for the blog topic.

A day doesn't go by when I don't imagine myself in the halls of power, making decisions, attending steering committee meetings, heading discovery working groups. And let's not forget drafting legislation and speaking firey tirades to a legislature populated by 17 sleeping members of parliament.

That's the life for me.

And even before that, you got the dry and pablum campaign trail where you say nothing of substance and try and repeat the most catchy if inaccurate soundbite twenty times a day. On TV! Repeating phrases that my handlers and political analysts have deemed best 'resonate' with this or that demographic!

But I think I'd really excel if they created certain Cabinet Positions for me. The sort that might not exist in a single democratic regime, or even in the crazy ones where the warlords drive Bentleys and the children learn the fine art of AK-47 assault rifle maintenance at the age of 7.

Such as:



Director of "That's What She Said"

This might be the trickiest of all of them. I'll have to sit in on any public hearing and scream, with little voice modulation, "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID" to anything that may be construed as vaguely sexual. I'll get bonus points if I yell it at quotes that make no sense at all.

The thin line here will be to mock the actual use of it, as in, the sort of person who might say this habitually, without becoming that person.

Sort of a Frodo/Smeagol thing.



Deputy Minister of Antics

This job will entail pulling off absurd stunts when the media is giving undue attention to something the government would rather forget.

Kick backs being traced dangerously close to an appointed official? I got this Edgar Allan Poe Short story I'd like to perform for you all in backwards Klingon, my assistent will be juggling three empty flames... in esperanto.

Another senator getting caught in a sting against deviant and highly sexy bathroom behaviour? Hey everyone! I'm going to now question the purpose of pauses in modern theatre, starting with Pinter and ending with Dr. Seuss. This will be performed in a large vat of mint and jalepeno Jello.

No flash photography, please.



Head of the Department of "Boooooring"
It'll be my job to sit in on speeches to a general audience in which complex and far-sighted solutions are proposed. The answers will be thoughtful, backed by scholarly research, and overall better for the country, if difficult to understand. Unfortunately, they are being championed by my party's opposition, so I'll yell out "BOOOOORRING" as soon as they get too 'in-depth' and or start to present 'scientific evidence'.

We'll seemed down to earth, and to be bringing some common-sense to those big wigs up on Parliament Hill.

Hopefully I'll be able to parlay this catchphrase into a short-run and universally panned talk show.



Minister of Peppermint
What? I just really like it. It's like a fresh April shower in your mouth!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Baby Names And The People I Imagine They Create

So Mrs. Owl and I are expecting another baby. Don't worry, I don't expect gushings or cigar passing. We are quite happy about it, no need to expect semi-strangers to feel the same way, you heartless succubi.

Anyhoo, we're doing the usual knock-down drag-out bare knuckle fighting that ensues when an otherwise normal couple tries to think of a what to name the baby.

Owlet was relatively easy. It was just a pretty (albeit a somewhat popular) name. No, not Owlet, the name we actually use. In real life. Where there are no links and blog rolls and tags and google adsense.

But this new one, he's going to be a he. Which I'm pretty ambiguous about, I guess. As long as they are healthy, etcetera. On the plus side, I don't have to worry about those hell-spawn boys slavering after another daughter. On the other hand, I have to worry about a child that will most likely think nothing about jumping off the roof of the car onto gravel "because it looked fun". So, pros, cons, whatever.

What follows are the names we've thought of, and some we wish never crossed our minds, and the sort of guy I'd imagine my son would grow up to be if he got the name (my profuse apologies if you have named your son this, or this is in fact your name):

Hank : Hank'll change your tire for ya. He's got some pretty serious opinions about the Boston Red Sox and fly fishing, otherwise, he's just a stand up sort of feller. He doesn't eat cereal unless it's hot, and parlsey is just another word for salad. Meat is either red or chicken.

Enzo : I immediately think of 'speed' when I hear this name. Perhaps because Ferrari's first name was Enzo. Perhaps because Enzo just strikes me as the sort of person who does parkour on the weekends and street luge every month.

Nikko : Nikko joined an Eastern European mafia outfit at the age of 13. He has voluminous chest hair and loves his gold rings. When he breaks knee caps, he doesn't use more force than is necessary and just has a admirable technique.

Stanley : A modern medical miracle, Stanley was born, fully formed, as a 67 year-old, complete with a trusty toolbox and a rocking chair. He doesn't think much about any single issue, relying, instead on tried and true cliches ("You can tell when a politician is lying because his lips are moving", "A only good lawyer is a dead one", "Drill baby, drill.").

Wyatt : I love this name. Mrs. Owl doesn't. This is the name of a guy who likes westerns, does bullriding on the weekend, and has retired from the career of smoke jumper to the more idyllic, slower lifestyle of a firefighter for a large uban metropolis. He drinks only one type of beer, you've never heard of it but it has 23% alcohol and three times the legal hops limit.

Matthias : Does watercolours soley about the large colon. Has a vintage tie-dye collection and only listens to Rush. Finds four-leaf clovers terrifying.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some People Saw The Meltdown Coming, in February.

Sorry for the lame YouTube post, and one not even featuring Terry Tate(!), but this video is really excellent.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rough Draft For Coronation Acceptance Speech, Emperor. 3rd Iceberg to the left, Antarctica

Thanks to betaray for the topic suggestion.



Many of you are worried about the regime change. The changes I shall instigate are things that you've all been wanting anyways. Whispering about on the floes, gossiping about during our Egg Sit.

Firstly, no more waddling. It's undignified and makes each of us look like a clumsy waiter with a glandular problem. It's quick steps and sliding on your belly or nothing. Yelling 'whee' while your sliding is not acceptable.

Next, I'm not sure what sort of twisted god made us most adept at water but still made us walk over land to get to our nesting site. I'm having none of it, we're moving to Chile.

Thirdly, well, this is about walking too. Let's just move on.

We are never going to get any respect as long as we mournfully look after our eggs that have rolled away. Any men who lose their eggs, buck up, keep a stiff upper lip. No mugging for the camera. Related to this, we're going to start hunting really big things. None of this flying through the water with the greatest of ease to snag fish of all things.

We're going after big game people. Walruses, crippled sea lions, particularly near-sighted orcas. We'll move up from there. I'm projecting that by Q4 we'll be launching full combined assaults on a grey whales. At least.

We as a people gone through some rough time with credibility. First the heart-warming documentary, then not one, but two animated movies. You don't think the Grizzlies are still feeling it from the Pooh debacle of '67? We all have to pull together, step it up.

Nobody wants to end up like the Pandas.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Halloween


Thanks to Xian Pitt for the photo.
Thanks to gregodactyl for the topic. Not edgy and reeking of whatever the hipster-literary elite take for 'funny', but a solid topic.


It's hard not to get nostalgic about Halloween. Wait, not nostalgic, what's that other thing? Diabetic shock.

Well, ok, and nostalgic.

Halloween is a bloody great holiday. A truly kids holiday. Staying out late in the dark, wearing costumes meant to maximize pedestrian danger, and all to get candy. Remember when it was all the rage to dress as a ninja? Black mask, black top and pants, running around with swords? How did any child make it through that not shot or with a large American auto-maker's logo embossed on their forehead?

And the loot! Those candy corns and related sweets that one ate only at Halloween. The McDonald's coupons for a free cone that you swear that this year, you are sooo going to use. The mini-candy bars that tasted somehow entirely different from just a small bite from a bigger bar. The Holy Grail, the full-sized candy bars given out, invariably, by the rich, childless couple at the end of the street with the impossibly long drive-way, who were always in Europe, and just set out the candy bars on an 'honour system'. You can tell they both neither had children and don't remember the 'Lord of the Flies' power struggles that arise around free candy.

It's also about danger. Superstitions and evil and so forth. Death and skeletons and zombies oh my! The Occult! Some of the more bloodthirsty druids! Witches, but not like the friendly Wiccan down the road with the sleep apnea, chronic fatigue, and adult onset diabetes. Witches as they were meant to be. Hungry for children! Cauldrons!

I get sucked right back into my childhood when Halloween rolls around. The somehow eternally morose Charlie Brown specials with the Great Pumpkin really gets me in the mood. (What was it about smooth jazz in the 80's? It seemed to be everywhere. Mr. Rogers, Peanuts, Safeway. Which for the adults, I guess, made it really modern and cool, but to me as a kid, made me consider 'depressing' a musical genre).

Our neighbourhood had everything that is necessary for a true Americana Halloween. The Neighbour Who Hated Children (possibly beat them or shot at them with some sort of home-made riot gear), the Older Cool Kids Who Owned A Datsun, the Ultra Mean Dog That You Swear You Heard From Your Best Friend's Uncle Ate A Kid a While Back.

Legends.

All things in childhood becomes iconic, totemic, the base from which all other experiences become allegorical to. Cool is only experienced as a mere flutter of how cool it was when The Older Cool Kid With The Datsun took off one side of his walkman for the half-second it took him to look at you with mild recognition and say, 'Hey'. Fear as only a shadow of that insidious, slithering thing that crawled in your belly when you looked up the driveway to the Neighbour Who Hated Children. Greed as a mere whisper of the sensation you got holding an entire pillow case chock-full of enough candy to shut down the pancreases of twelve grown men.

And no holiday will ever be as cool, indulgent and opulent as Halloween. Looking cool in a sick Darth Vader costume, while in constant danger from whatever terrors the neighbourhood provides, to say nothing of the serial killer they say once lived a week and a half in Mr. Henderson's shed; the promise of more and more candy; the almost freedom of running around in the dark with friends.

God, being an adult really sucks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Indie Bands Too Edgey For You

Thanks to katya and cheesoning for the blag topic! What can I say, I lack creativity and iniative.

NOTE: I'm censoring swear words because I don't swear often (if at all) on this blog, and thought it'd be weird just to start dropping the F-bomb like I was in a movie about the Boston mob featuring Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci. 


SkullF**kers
A gregorian chant/ska collective featured primarily in underfunded Hungarian pornos. Their 2003 album, "Hectoring In Bliss" was a major influence for Banksys's "Ironic Stencils That Speak Truth To Power" period.


Diligent B**tards
A British pop band sensation that made it to number 63 in the UK Charts in 1979 with the flowery and chronically cheerful hit 'All's Alright Then, Yeah?'.  Went on to drive the metal-core-jungle-double-beat-death-speed scene in Glasgow. Penned the original theme song for M.A.S.K.


Stabbing Rapiers
Purportedly Johnny Depp's favourite band. From France, features three double bassists, a throat singing Tibetan monk, and a 8-year old girl on spoons. Best described as transient-uber-hip-melodic-under-faal. Starred in two seasons of their own reality series, "Oh No You Din't!", an original series by PBS.


Hammernuts
Norweigian lute band. Plays experimental acoustic ambient retro-disco. Has made an entire career out of protesting various unseasonal algae blooms in south eastern India. Little known fact: they made the sound effects for the Oliphants in Lord of the Rings : The Return Of The King.


Kraag
A solo xylophonist from Argentina. Son of a fishing magnate and is currently on a self-funded -3 year Pan-Asia tour bringing awareness to the perils  of unpasteurized wasabe. Does work as the voice for Eeyore for "Radio Cuba!".


Gipsum Stash
Retired pharmicists whose smooth, acapella stylings have won various Pennsylvania state fairs. They are the voices sampled in Beck's unreleased B-sides compilation "Titillating Xenu Fists The World". Featured in numerous chewing tobacco commercials. All are currently doing time after a massive rohypnol/cotton candy ring was busted in 2006.


Kill Joys
Urban banjo duo which used to be a trio. The third banjoist? An up and coming comedian named  Steve Martin. His attempt in 1986 change the group into an "electric banjo armageddon of sound" was met with not a little chargin from the other two members, a mother and daughter from Reno. They cover the ups and downs of doing circuit board design for medium to large scale corn post-processing plants. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hephaestus Buys a Lava Lamp

Thanks to betaray for the topic.



When you're as ugly as I am, you find it useful to use black lights exclusively in your home. Yes, I know, I hear you thinking, "But surely, Hephaestus, the skill you have to craft wonders of warfare must make utter and shocking hideousness a small price to pay." All I have to say to that is, when the goddess of Love can't hum a tune and shut her eyes long enough to have embarrassing and awkward congress, no gift is enough.

Now, back to black-lights. They aren't black, of course, but calling them deep-violet-and-quite-lovely-lights doesn't sound as badass. I'm the blacksmith to the gods, I need to maintain my level of cool. I am, in your parlance, the kid who did really well in shop.

I've been hearing about it from everyone who's come over (shout out to my homies at the Theseum, wut wut!), that I really need a lava lamp.

It's not like I was expecting something that would upset the 'too-pretty-for-you' Olympus types.
I mean, all I wanted was something that, for once, was as advertised. When I crafted the winged shoes for Hermes, I didn't make brogues and say, "Oh, sorry about that, 'winged' is just what we call wingtips down here in Lemnos."

Sure, I had hopes for something that tamed powers deep within the earth's crust, a golden contraption that bent very magma to its will. But to be honest, I would have been happy with a nice stone bowl and some well lit lava swirling around in it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Hobby To Be Mildy Ashamed Of

I'm a gamer. No, not a rapacious player of Monopoly and Scattergories; not a chess player or someone who plays contract bridge with 67 year-old retired storm-door repairmen with fond memories of Nixon.

I'm the other sort.

There can't be another hobby that garners as much disdain and derision as video-gaming. If I spent my afternoons staring at small pictures printed on non-resusable stickers sold by major governments at OUTRAGEOUS prices, I'd be considered 'bookish'. Not weird. If I whiled away the weekends in the garage with an engineer's cap faithfully re-creating a 100 year old oak from plasticized brocolli and making sure the 6:45 Stony Creek runs on time; people would smile at my sense of child-like wonderment. But if I spend my evenings yelling at 16 year-olds over the internet to "Just cap the goddamn point", or "Do you even know what cover fire means" suddenly I'm puerile and 'need to grow up'.

Er.

There are many ways to think of video-gaming in layman's terms. Or, if you will, lay-grownup's terms.

Some of the more strategic games are like chess. You have a mental picture of chess in your mind? Now imagine that nobody takes turns. Now imagine instead of a rook, pawn, bishop, knight, queen and king, you have about 3 more hierarchies of classes. Try not to imagine the sort of person who would find this entertaining.

For the more bloodthirsty sorts of games, imagine playing darts in teams, and everyone goes at once.

These are helpful analogies, I think. Many of the older generation still think of Pac-Man when they hear video games, or if they are really hip with the times, Doom. The younger generation will probably not have to talk in low tones about their gaming hobbies (apparently 97% of them game), or shrug and look bewildered as other adults discuss sports or reality TV.

And, if I may put forward an odd and wildly unpopular viewpoint, there isn't that much to be ashamed of.

Gaming is still gaming. Whether it's Monopoly or Team Fortress 2, it's still people getting together, forming teams, and trying to beat the other side following some arbitrary rule-set. It's still, I know this is crazy, social. And, if you're not playing online, at least it's still a mentally active hobby. You are engaged, you're thinking, you're trying to frag that goddamn 13-year-old who you swear never ever logs off, don't kids get any exercise these days?

It also fulfills a deep cultural and evolutionary need. Just as TV, movies, and books fill the need for story, gaming fills the need for the tribal activity. Whether that's hunting mastodons across the steppes, digging through rotting logs for grubs, or carrying a pigskin ovoid across painted lines in the astro-turf, humans are pack animals. We evolved working together, towards a common goal . We crave problems to solve and objectives.

And gaming all too well fulfills that need for the nerdier of us. Or if you are part of the youth, fulfills that need for almost all of you.

But, if cornered in a cocktail party, I'm still going to say I go antiquing.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Slogans

I'm alarmingly adept at slogans. 

Lemme rephrase. 

I'm alarming adept at slogans that no company would use. 

Slogans are like the poetry of humour. Short, fast, and whoever takes it seriously insists there's much more craft in it than say, writing a 1200 page historical fiction novel about physics, the financial derivatives market, and the rise and fall of Cromwell. 

Er, but I guess that analogy falls apart, because at one end, they're paid quite well, and at the other end, the poor sods end up paying other people to publish it. Or read it, for that matter. On the other OTHER hand, there are no Nobel prizes for slogans.  

Here are some slogans I made on the spot for a fictious tech company:

Meganaut Corporation : almost completely unfraudulent
Meganaut Corporation : lawsuits pending and unfounded.
Meganaut Corporation : what, it's 'high tech'.
Meganaut Corporation : it's impressive because we make our own acronyms.
Meganaut Corporation : tell your friends!
Meganaut Corporation : most of our shit is almost ready for production.
Meganaut Corporation : settling out of court since 1973.
Meganaut Corporation : doesn't support child labour (for certain values of 'child')
Meganaut Corporation : sure, let's just call it a dongle.
Meganaut Corporation : supplying small militias and puppet state dictators for over 30 years.
Meganaut Corporation : so eerily above board we have no need for our interrogation room.
Meganaut Corporation : we put the ethics back in 'definitely not insider trading'.
Meganaut Corporation : almost better than getting cockpunched by an ex-boxer holding a roll of quarters and taste for the sauce.



And a few for company's that are less fictious:

Republicans : Yes, we're evil, but hey, lower taxes!

Democrats : Sometimes we hem, sometimes we haw.

Libertarians : We are mostly right about some things, horridly wrong about others, but have more smugness than an Apple Convention.

Microsoft : Evil, ubiquitious, and not crashing nearly as much as we used to.

Apple : We wrap old ideas in clean lines and minimal design and charge your first-born for it.

Nike : We need their tiny hands for the fiddly bits.

Ford : Quality Schmality, It's AMERICAN!

Wal Mart : Gutting Small Town America Has Never Saved You More!

Starbucks : Coffee for the price of a reasonable lunch.

Rolex : Ostentatious.

DeBeers : Conflict diamond  means more drama.

Volkswagen : Shocking Decline In Quality

Carlyle Group : We do some evil stuff, but it's too complicated to worry about.

Enron : Trust us.

Phillip Morris : A family of nicotine delivery systems.

Monsanto : We control what you eat, and why you eat it.

Blackwater : Mercenaries For Hire, kinda like the A-Team.

Union Carbide : It's not our fault natural selection works so slow.

Pfizer : You want a cure to cancer or vigorous coitus into your 80's? Yeah, we thought so.



Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RULES : Shit is Ad Hoc

I have a series of unwritten and wildly disorganized rules that I've made up and/or observed from my paltry life on this earth. Every so once and awhile, something will happen, some big event or somesuch, and I'll be reminded of one of these rules, and be like "Oh, I am so very sage and insightful and whatnot.". I'll also probably say, "I really should get around to writing this stuff down, I could really entertain my seven readers. Possibly dangerously."

Yes folks, these rules are so entertaining, they contain a shred of danger in them, like a bullfight or discussing The Baconator with a vegan.

Ok, now that I've set myself up for nothing but failure, let's begin this series of The Rules! or RULES! or, yeah, something appopriate.

Shit is Ad Hoc.

These rules aren't numbered or follow some hierarchy, they are kinda, well, they are kinda like this rule, ad hoc. So, this is the first of the unnumbered unhierarchiacal list.

Here's the thing. When you look at an organization, or a process, or what have you, one tends to think the whole kit and kaboodle is really highly organized with backup plans and training regimens, possibly a slogan. That's just not true. Shit is ad hoc.

I spent one summer working for this 2 week fair that takes place every year. I think my title was Safety Monitor or something odd like that. It was basically, Security But Only For Inanimate Things That Might Cause Harm To Others Not That It Would Or That Said Company Would Take Responsibility But There You Are. We got red jackets and walkie talkies and a clip on tie.

We looked OFFICIAL.

Looking official, means, if anyone is curious, being asked where the bathroom is as many times as is humanly possibly in an 8 hour shift.

An odd aside. There were Welcoming People, or Hospitality Engineers. I dunno, people who the guests were supposed to ask for things like the bathroom and where they can get cotton candy. But they wore green and purple golf shirts and they just looked like really cheerful kids who made awkward eye contact with strangers. Red jackets and walkie-talkies trumps that any day of the week.

Anyhoo. I'm sure people thought we knew where everything was. That, if given an opportunity, we could regale them with tales of the fair, returning presenters, and interesting factoids about where past winners of the annual Talent Show were (Vocalist of the Year, 1982, sang backup vocals for Tiffany, god's honest truth). There's probably not a small percentage of fair goers who thought that we could do CPR or could CALL one on our radios, and that, if the need arose, would be able to fill in for any ONE of carnies.

The truth is shocking.

We were given a radio, this is true, and a jacket, this is also true. That's it.

I only knew where the bathrooms were because I asked the Hospitality Brigade. I wouldn't know what the hell that booth was and what it was selling, even if I was standing in front of it in a very official manner for 8 hours. If you had a heart attack, I could yell in a highly panicked state into the radio, something to the effect of "I DON'T GET PAID ENOUGH MINIMUM WAGE TO DO THIS!". I could, maybe offer my jacket in condolence when the fair-goer died and the spouse was sobbing uncontrollably. I really didn't know what the fair was for or what the main attractions were. I'm sure the carnies reviled us for our lack of training and respect for the institution that is the Fair.

So, that's something to keep in mind. No matter how together things seems, no matter how institutional the setting is, no matter how fluffy the cotton candy, just remember : Shit is Ad Hoc.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not Really Movie Stars

At risk of sounding like the sort of man who wears straight leg corduroys and has the box set for Streisand, there are certain big stars who lack the panache of old timey stars. Old timey stars like Steve McQueen, Carey Grant, Optimus Prime, and Gene Kelly.

I have a strong affinity for iconic stars. They embody many things that (in my case) men should act like. Maybe not should. Suggested. Highly advisable. They have panache, grace and the proper poise for every situation. There is a solidity to them. Like when you were a kid and first stepped into your dad's shoes, and thought, "Holy hell, men are large, imposing edifices". These men know what the hell a Windsor Knot is and can name every item in "Men's Health:50 Things Every Man Should Know". They probably smoke some sort of unfiltered cigarette and change their own damn oil. They have a regular barber who knows the names of their kids and they don't mind a hot shave with a real "Oh my god if he slips he could end me here and now" razor.

They have a steady hand. One that would hold the tiller during a squall or a small boy's hand as he walks over to Mrs. Gravinson's house to explain who's baseball it was that just broke her French doors.

But now we got these great acting talents who will forever seem like smarmy douches or
that incredibly annoying high school drama club president who had to emote everything. I mean, just look at stars like Giovanni Ribisi, or Ben Affleck or, the King Of All Smarmy Ass Looking Actors, Leonardo DiCaprio.

I'm not saying these guys don't have talent (well, except maybe Affleck), just go watch "What's Wrong With Gilbert Grape" if you doubt Leo's acting chops. But there is a certain... something.

With old time actors, they have that face and poise that you'd follow into battle. They'd tell you to charge that machine gun nest with nothing but a rusty bayonet and a trick knee and you'd do it, by god. Later, while your best friend who joined only because you did is dying on the field with a pound and a half of shrapnel in him, and, say, Steve McQueen told you to put your hand right here, nono, right here, right beside the pulsing aorta, you'd do it with a grin and a can-do attitude.

The newer wave of actors. I dunno. I'd feel kinda iffy giving them my latte order.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Needy, needy blogger

It's like hungry hungry hippo, except far less entertaining, with 100% less hippos, and leaves you pitying me.

It's something I've been thinking alot about; that is, how many of my hits are actual real live readers, and how many are charming Russian bots harvesting the web for their own nefarious means. 

I wonder this often because I get about 1 comment for every 5 to 20 posts I make. This is a terrible, terrible ratio. But I grudge you not! After all, you're busy, you have things to do, people to meet, and for some of you quite a bit of Vi@gr@ to peddle over mass emailings.

So, here's your chance to satisfy my curiousty and possibly get me to post more!  See the little link to the right that says,  FOLLOW THIS BLOG'? 


Of course you do, you're bright and by all accounts an upstanding citizen. 

Please click it. 

You might have to make some bogus kinda profile. That's ok. I don't want to know any personal information about you. I just want to know if you are a real live reader.

It's not that I have anything particularly against intelligent web-crawling software looking to index the web for some underhanded and greasy haired web marketer. It's just they don't quite get me like you guys do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Re : Open Air Elevators

Thank you for your note concerning your buildings' open air elevators. I'm glad you contacted us, because, frankly, several of my repairmen have raised some serious issues. It's not just the open air elevators -- which I'd like to note, even with your considerate email -- is in breech of several state and federal safety laws; there are other, even more grievious infractions.

First off, you might want to hire a better security company. The one you employ seems to consist of shady looking gentlemen carrying poorly concealed weapons. They have no radio for communication, and wander aimlessly around the halls. Their favourite manuever is popping out of a door unannounced, as if hoping catch my men in the act of... I don't know what. They are both dangerous and ineffectual, which brings me to my second point.

Every building I have sent a technician to, there is a -- by all accounts very dapper -- young man. He sports a leather jacket and a pompadour but despite his charms (of which my technicians inform me are many), he brandishes a weapon. The presence of this thrill-seeking young man is evidence that your security needs re-evaluation. He has been seen riding on top of elevators. This is incredibly dangerous. As you know Winksen and Sons Elevator Repair are not responsible for injury sustained during inproper use of our elevators.

Speaking of liability, many of your hanging lamps (which are, again, against code) have fallen. Some of my workers have suggested the lamps have been shot down. I can't begin to express my anxiety thinking of my men walking around your buildings which is apparently used as a shooting gallery.

And a minor point -- although it might be related to my first two -- having arbitrary doors painted red can be confusing for many of my men. Some assume they are the fuse and electrical rooms.

They could not have been more wrong.

Every single one of these rooms, even in different buildings, seem to house documents of high importance. We only note that since both your highly suspect security guards and the dapper young individual have been found, often, in these rooms. Sometimes dead.

I'm glad you opened up lines of communication, I think we'll need to revisit our terms when our contract expires this October. I'm certain my insurance cannot cover the buildings you have in your holdings: quirky at best, grossly negligent at worst.

Kindest Regards,

Stanley Winksen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bocce News Update #4: New Win

VANCOUVER (Reuters) -- The scientific world was at a stand-still today as results from the latest bocce match --TEAM 1(Mary Jones and Joe Smith) vs NO MISTAKS! (Tom Smith and Harry Jones playing)-- were announced.

Dr. J. Crawford from TRIUMF, and part of the Collinear Fast Beam Spectroscopy group was called in to co-chair a sub-committee who would enact a steering group that would pro-actively retro-scope the project so that it would create the 'down to the metal', business vertical solutions needed to measure the bocce ends.

The bocce balls were so close that new fields of physics -- heretofore thought to open the gates of hell, or at the very least result in an embarassing explosion -- had to be prodded and in some cases even CAJOLED to reveal a new method of distance measurement.

There are the subatomic particles, and then the more exotic particles (mesons, bosons), then about 3 more layers of particles that most physicists won't even talk to you about. Below THAT, was another layer that was used. It is as yet unnamed until major university physics chairs can get together and think of more impossibly silly names that will completely crush any respect the average public may have had for theoretical physics (the job not quite done by the names 'quarks' and 'gluons').

EMTs were also on hand to give an odd jolt here and there as the audience succumbed to various heart ailments, the excitement of a game that never pulled past a 3 point difference being too much. Said one spectator "Haven't been this excited since the Bombay International in '63". A tournament that was noted for its raucous crowds and a rather infamous tryst involving a lower member of the Royal Family, a Bengal tiger, and the cheering squad for Mauritius.

Near the end NO MISTAKS! finally pulled away, added Dr. Crawford, "This is an entirely inappropriate use of my expertise.".

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ungardening

The previous owner of our townhouse was some kind of gardening addict. I wouldn't be surprised if she had sold her soul to posses a dark, alien power over the plant kingdom. An eternity simmering in the searing lakes of fires a fair bargain for godlike dominion over anything that grows, flowers, or responds quite well to Miracle Gro.

There were layers of plants on top of plants in our tiny, thumb stamp sized garden. Grasses fought with bushes tussled with vines to create a horror of chlorophyllic power. Rain could be seen to bend it's earthward path to drench our tiny little patch, infusing our unholy writhing mass of vegetable matter with some kind of maddening, unnatural sea of plant riotousness.

A year ago Mrs. Owl took some serious looking shearing clipppers to the lot of it. Cutting and slashing like it was a Brazillian rainforest in the way of a grazing herd fattening up to be an integral part of our drive-through menus. When she was done it didn't look much different than if she had just taken napalm and a pinch of agent orange to the plot. Bare is a word. 'Hacked to within an inch of its life then curbstomped for all of Youtube to enjoy' perhaps even more accurate.

Come spring, the entire thing -- whole alien mess of vegetative might -- sprang back, heathier than ever. If you listened carefully, the mating call of a rare but very small primate could be heard from the underbrush. Ruggedly handsome men in tilly hats  and tan vests  festooned with thousands of dollars of photography equipment were knocking politely on our door and asking if they could take a few shots for National Geographic. That plot pulsed with life. Does the word 'Jumanji' bring to mind a certain degree of sentient, perhaps malevolent lushness? It's not entirely un-apt.

So, this weekend, we took to hacking it down again. We used more serious tools. Handled implements that might find a more natural home at a ditch digging contracter or a small mining concern.

How dare you grasses and undergrowth grow in a temperate rainforest with optimal lighting and precipitation conditions! Aieee! Back! Have at ye! And so forth. 

There were root systems and bulb networks that would shatter your understanding of reality. There was digging and rooting and leaning on shovels. I felt like I should desire a cold beer or something after. At the very least a rowdy and fight-filled night at the neighbourhood pub. I felt manly, this is what it must feel like to drive a pickup and have a gun rack or something. This is what it must feel like to pop open the hood and not just fiddle with the lid for the windshield wiper fluid. Sure, I've put together furniture... well... 'furniture', but this was man's work. True, I worked alongside  my wife. True, it took less than an hour. It's the principle of the thing.

And, looking at that newly cleaned plot of land, a thought hit me. This 'dirt' is really an ecosystem of itself, writhing with detritivores and annelids, bacteria and beetles. It's a living, breathing organism, rife with the struggling genetic codes of MILLIONS of years of invertebrates maximising energy transfer and genomic survival. I marvelled for a moment, saw the dirt beneath my fingernails and thought, 'Shit, I better wash this off before I get back to TF2'.

Hardcover

FYI, you look like an enormous nerd reading a hardcover book in transit. 

Its mass reminiscent of a tome that might be pulled from an archaelogical dig of an ancient culture that committed entire generations of slaves to the production of a single tome. It obscuring everything from view, your one hand trying its best to be nonchalant about supporting this gravity-well producing bulwark of dead tree fibre; your face a rictus of pleasure and throbbing, knuckle crushing pain as gravity and the miracle of torque wrests all nerve function and fine motor control from you forever.

On the plus side, you can use it as a crude bludgeon on that asshole who has to play Nine Inch Nails on his iPod at volume 11.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stuff that freaks me out, as a Canadian, in the US

  • ridiculously cheap alcohol. Getting absolutely plastered should cost something. It shouldn't be comparable to getting a very large McDonald's meal.
  • anyone who talks about owning firearms in a non-chalant manner.
  • 12-egg omlettes.
  • commercials for hospitals
  • USA! USA! USA!
  • a political system with less than four parties.
  • patriotism
  • the phrase "The greatest country in the world" when not applied to Sweden.
  • the above phrase spoken with dyed in the skin certainty.
  • food portions that could feed a large village in Uganda. For a month.
  • the term 'my country', especially when coupled with 'get out of'.
  • flag colours displayed anywhere other than a goddamn flag. These include, but are not limited to, bandanas, shoes, entire body suits. Superheroes excluded.
  • the pledge of allegiance. Sounds like something that members of a rather well-armed militia might have. I think it's the 'allegiance' bit. Makes one think of sides and armed conflict.
  • Homeland Security. The entire border thing. I'm worried I'll say something completely wrong, give not quite the right answer, and be sucked into GitMo or somesuch. Of all the fears, this is the most real to me.
  • how much coverage y'all give to lost blonde women from the mid-west.
  • Wal-Mart
  • the near gladiatoral fervour with which Monday Night Football is televised.
  • 24-hour news which refuses to put quotes around 'news'.

Friday, September 05, 2008

China Mieville

In an effort to keep some sort of blasted focus on this site, I thought I'd give you a rundown on China Mieville. Which, in some circles, is like saying "Have you heard of this Stephen King guy? Apparently he writes novels".

China (as I'll call him since I'm too lazy to spell his last name and it's not like he cares) is one of the major figures responsible for bringing steampunk to the fore as a literary genre. It's also a wicked design aesthetic when crafting stuff, and an unfortunate fashion sense. Short short version: steampunk is what all those rad gadgets were in the veritable cinematic masterpiece, "Wild, Wild West". Lots of rivets, brass, and stuff with high falutin' names (that's not a blimp, it's a goddamn DIRIGIBLE!).

China did his masters degree in Cultural Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and it shows. The worlds he build are beautiful, intricate, dirty, and cruel. They're real. He has a beautiful prose style, making one think they are reading an early 20th century novel aimed at the Literary crowd.

So far, I've only read "The Scar" and "Perdido Street Station". They are fantastical, literary, and jaw dropping. His prose is rich and detailed, it's written by an extremely intelligent writer who refuses to dumb down anything for his audience.

He's one of those writers who made me think, "My god, you're not allowed to write like this!", and I adore writers who make me think that. Well, adore in the non-effeminate way, of course (other writers who've made me do this : Tom Robbins, Douglas Coupland, Salman Rushdie and Terry Pratchett).

So if you are into very real worlds, literature with a capital L, and writing that'll blow the brass rivets off your ansible, then pick up some China Mieville post-haste.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Possible Dialogue in Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead (a zombie co-operative shooter game) apparently has eight THOUSAND bloody lines of dialogue, and no cut-scenes. It's like an abomination unto the jRPG scene, overpaid CG artists, and washed out actors who once made out with their sisters.

So, with that in mind, I present to you:

POSSIBLE DIALOGUE IN LEFT 4 DEAD

  • I say, is that wound infected or is your skin moisturizer pus-based?
  • Jesus, another zombie?
  • THIS IS THE GAME THAT NEVER ENDS! IT GOES FOR ON AND ON MY FRIEND!
  • My current ammo count is 11, I'll keep updating you as that changes!
  • No safe safe zone and no shotgun shells makes Homer something something.
  • I'm going to try and negotiate with them!
  • I now have 10 bullets.
  • Godsdamnit, the NRA was right.
  • We've been wandering for close to 30 gameplay hours, and we are still only four surivors. What are the odds?
  • You would like me to continue reading random lines from my Dickens Digest? Oh, alright, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
  • Ok, you're in a dark dungeon, the smell of kobold is in the air. Sam, you need to wait a turn to use magic missile. Jenny, please roll a saving throw, you've stepped on a troll trap-- AAAHH MORE ZOMBIES!!
  • It's 8 now.
  • We got a see-saw like device, a ledge that's just too far to pull ourselves over, and some cinder blocks. How odd.
  • As I was saying, it's our constant oppression of the differently living that has caused this power imbalance that presses upon the average undead. It's in this wasteland of public discourse and accountability that the inevitable grassroots insurgents sprouts, making us the invading conquerers. The oppressors.
  • So I might like him, go ahead and ask him if he might like me, but dont' tell him I might like him, dont' tell him we even had this conversation. Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, I'm so nervous. WHAT THE HELL ZOMBIES!!!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

PAX 08 : Power Overwhelming.

There really is a dizzying array of crap, vying for attention like a gaggle of refugee children reaching out imploringly to a UN peacekeepker because, they, you know, need their insulin or something. All sorts of hyper niche games and gaming.

There's table top gaming, which is kinda like board games on steroids layered on top of a complexity of rules that have width, depth, and actual Newtonian mass. A vast complexity of rules. I think orc and tanks play key roles. In the more popular table-top games, an orc-tank hybrid is almost the entirety of the game mechanic. From what I can understand, it's fun.

And then there are the console games, many of which really hardcore gamers turn their noses up at, games like Madden 09 or That One Shooter In the Sci Fi Or World War Two setting that's really eXtremE! You can lump in here the movie tie-ins, the Ideas Ripped Off Of Smaller Developers by a Megalithic Behemoth. Also known as Frat Boy Fair. It's the “2 Fast, 2 Furious” to a hardcore gamer's “Glengarry Glen Ross”.

There are casual games that are so quirky that a pink octopus who sells cupcakes to send their children, represented by some sort of semi-sentient mushroom, on a field trip to the center of the OceanVerse to explore their colour dimensions is seen as derivative and a 'safe bet'.

And, last but not least, there are the HARD CORE GAMES. Shooters, RPGs, RTSes. Games with tech trees and advanced HUD overlays and intra-dimensinal load-out screens. Games that push the meta-narrative and make frantic stabs at Foucault. Games that have screens that make you think “Dear god, that looks like WORK, except... harder.”

There are some games that I do have an interest in, but the vast, vast majority of it are just pretty colours and neato graphics that I will never see outside of the convention. A man only has so much time during the day, only so much of the family budget that they can divert towards next-gen cutting edge consoles.

But the highlight of PAX wasn't the expo, it wasn't the multi-million dollar corporations selling the Next Big Thing in Electromagorical Edutainment. It was the fellow nerds. Nerds and geeks and social cast aways who totally 'got it' when you would say in the most sardonic voice, "Moo moo, moo moo mooo moo moo moo... MOOO!". Fellow gamers who wore ironic shirts that were weighed down by the amount of inside jokes they contained. 

It was nice to be part of the nerd herd. If only once a year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PAX



Thanks to thekiko for the photo.

The Penny Arcade Expo is kinda like the Mecca for gamers. Obviously without the deep religious connotations and how it fulfills a devouts Muslims life with love and joy and the uplifting of the spirit etc. More like, a place where everyone that is quite like you can gather and feel sorta normal. A cattle drive of nerd herds, if you will.

All sorts, flavours and shades of gamers will find PAX irresistable. I know what you're thinking, "There is more than one type?". Alas, like your vegetarian co-worker who you see sometimes having a Filet-O-Fish, there are so many, many degrees of us.

There are the table top gamers, the role players, the RTS dudes, the FPS maniacs, the handheld acolytes... Oh, it goes on. Sure, there is overlap. But there are only so many hours in the day, only so many ways to particpate in a hobby that brings universal denigration and sneered lips of disdain.

Now, what's Penny Arcade? Imagine if you will the most powerful gaming webcomic in the world. Granted, that's like saying 'imagine the worlds most radical needlepoint'. It's a niche of a niche market. Something that mostly appeals to geeks (webcomic) about something that only appeals to geeks (gaming). Nevertheless, it's webcomic that can shape and change multi-million dollar game's futures, can leave PR hacks quivering in their cocaine-dusted hooker-lipsticked armani suits, and can quite literally make or break a game development house.

And it's two guys.

Two guys who started small, and through wit, great drawing, and not a few references to wangs, created (what I assume is) a multi-million dollar empire.

It's the sort of maverick story that any red-blooded American hopes they'll star in. These fellows speak truth to power (albeit, you know, power spoken about how richly detailed and/or nonlinear a given game narrative is). In a world where everyone, even the gatekeepers, are in the pocket of the Rich, Powerful, and Morally Suspect, it's refreshing to think of two guys who can make their way because they speak The Truth.

At least how they see it.

Which is better than the pablum and middle of the road handjobs that most journalists in the gaming industry seem to write. They who are beholden to the great corporations for access, and therefore who's very job becomes just another way to give free advertising.

Penny Arcade are, in short, like the Daily Show, except about something far, far, FAR less important.

Well, not unimportant. Just not earth-shattering. You aren't going to turn heads at your next company picnic talking about the great untapped potential of Psychonauts or the rise of free-to-play MMOs in South East Asia. No one is going to stop talking to the National Geographic amazon rain-forest photographer doing a stint in war-torn Sudan to hear you expound on the procedurally generated content.

Gaming as a hobby is what I'd put as a solid second tier hobby. I mean, objectively. From the average man on the street, it probably fits somewhere between professional pan-handler and collecting all McDonald's Disney commemorative cups. But you know, myself, I can't put gaming any lower than watching TV. Hell, in many respects, gaming is much different from playing board games. Not, you know, Settlers of Catan, but Pictionary or Boggle.

It's a fair bit below what I would call first tier hobbbies, also known as Facebook-profile hobbies, admitted-to-at-cocktail party hobbies, resume hobbies, and meeting the in-laws hobbies. First tier include the outdoors and perspiring. There might be powerbars involved, sometimes tournaments and ladder draws.

But second tier is nothing to laugh at. Often, or loudly, anyways.

In short, I'll be going to PAX this year. My first time. I'm more than a little nervous. I mean, real people. Real nerd people who probably abhor social contact as much as I, which takes the whole ordeal past Terry Gilliam absurd and careening blithely towards Hasselfhoff/K.I.T.T. slashfic bizaare.

Assumedly there will elan, maybe some bon homie, and perhaps even more French phrases that mean 'friendship, but the really good kind that makes every X-Genner wish they were part of a small but close knit World War Two commando unit'.

Or maybe I'll see some cool games and get sloshed. You know, whatever.