Saturday, December 30, 2006

A bit anticlimactic.

So, they strung up Saddam Hussein.

A few hours later, 68 (more) people in Baghdad died from a car-bomb attack, in what has already become the deadliest calendar month for U.S. soldiers: 109, for a grand total which is two shy of the 3,000 mark since March, 2003.

Yup... peace and democracy sure are flowering in Iraq these days.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's such a ripoff.

In my groggy state this morning, listening to the only half-listenable radio station left in the Megacity (that would be Q107), I grew even more enraged than normal while listening to an advertisement. Here's what I recall from said commercial spot:

Hey, I'm Joe Schmuck from Q107. I'm going to be at Barnacle Bill's Big-Screen Booze Barn in Buttfuckville on New Year's Eve, spinning all your favourite classic rock tunes. We'll have a midnight lunch, and blah blah blah. Cover is only fifty dollars per person, so come on out!"

So, let me get this straight. This is...
  1. a sports bar

  2. which I bet never charges cover for any of the other 364/365 days of the year (depending on the year)

  3. giving out some crappy hors-d'oeuvres

  4. and possibly a 2-ounce mini-bottle of fizzy crappy wine at about 11:45 pm

  5. playing all the songs you hear on the radio for free a million times a day
...and they're charging you FIFTY DAMN DOLLARS because you have to flip over a calendar the next morning?

And it doesn't just end there. Friends of mine are proudly telling me they'll be forking out $60 or $70 to go places which wouldn't normally charge anything, plus booze on top of that. For what? Because someone arbitrarily said, "Okay, people, this is the night you're going to drink!"?

Suddenly, my lack of NYE plans doesn't seem so lame. It now has a purpose: I'll be protesting the ridiculousness of the whole evening by not partaking in any of those bar-owners' shenanigans, their barefaced cash-grabs which, when you subtract the 40 cents' worth of party hats and noisemakers per person that are dished out upon entry (for the low, low price of several dozen dollars), makes the whole thing seem pretty farcical.

Stand tall, my brothers and sisters! Get yourself a bottle of Jim Beam, hang out with Dick Clark (or what's left of him), and tell Uncle Sam you're not going to take it anymore!

...wait, "Uncle Sam?" Am I mixing metaphors again?

Free time, ahoy.

I'm not even sure why I got up at 9:30 today, as I had nothing particularly pressing to accomplish, other than spending time alone without my family. It's not that I don't like my family — quite to the contrary, actually. I really do enjoy spending time with them, and the thing to which I look forward the most at Christmas is getting together with all my assorted aunts and uncles, one of whom has a near-pathological (yet hilarious) addiction to lemon merangue pie.

Since moving to Kingston in the summer of '04, and hence beginning my "no more housemates, ever, until I eventually start shacking up with a ladyfriend" streak, I've really come to value long stretches of time when I don't have to interact with anyone in any way. It may mean an hour diddling around on Wikipedia trying to figure out when all the Bill Brasky sketches appeared on SNL and eventually ending up, as I usually do, reading about pre-Norman-Conquest England. Or it might mean a good long while spent on my couch, underneath a blanket, reading the latest Rolling Stone cover to cover. Or it could involve tuning my newly-acquired acoustic guitar down to something really bizarre and attempting to figure out the guitar tab to Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song". (Seriously, that is one messed-up tuning.)

What makes the next few days all that much sweeter is that I don't have anything looming over my head, e.g. my now-completed thesis, getting up at an ungodly hour to go to work the next morning, or any other real commitments to speak of (aside from perhaps the Khaki Snack show at Lee's Palace on December 30th — seriously, dude, that's gonna kick a ton of ass).

The moral of the story is that, over the past couple of years, I've really come to appreciate the value of free time. If I'm going to make a New Year's resolution, which I probably won't, it will be along the lines of, "Work smarter so you can have more time to yourself." Instead of leaving all my marking to Sunday night at 10:30, I should try to polish it off over some kickass bagels and coffee on Saturday morning instead. That way, I can actually enjoy my weekend, rather than having to think about all those goddamn labs and assignments and assorted shit for two straight days.

So, in conclusion: Khaki Snack, Lee's Palace, December 30th. I expect to see all you assholes there.

Uncertainty.

It's funny, you know.

I have more letters behind my name than ever before. I have a job, I have a car, I have an ultra-swank apartment to myself complete with a faux-leopard-fur-covered, heart-shaped, king-sized vibrating bed. I also have a dartboard.*

I've spent a good chunk of my life carefully observing (and in some cases participating in) the world. I thought I had some of it figured out — some of it that pertains to me, anyway.

But, ever since coming back to Toronto from Kingston, things just seem to be... I don't know... just out of my grasp. Plans fall through, signs are interpreted incorrectly, connections are missed. All I have are square pegs, and every hole in sight is round. Analogies become increasingly difficult to construct.

Things aren't supposed to be this way. I have a good head screwed on my shoulders, I have everything going for me, and yet... this. It's probably just a temporary malaise — they usually are — but that doesn't make it any less confusing and unsettling.

* I have a dartboard, but I've yet to put it up. I picked up a cabinet for the thing at Canadian Tire and will mount it within the next few days, if my board fits the thing. If not, meh, it was only ten bucks anyway.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mr. Brown, we hardly knew ye.

The Godfather of Soul.
The Hardest-Working Man in Showbusiness.
Soul Brother Number One.

Singer, arranger, composer, dancer. Possibly the inventor of rap and hip-hop. Inspiration to a legion of artists. Scheduled to do a show at Casino Rama on January 3rd (which I really, really wanted to see). Leader of a fantastically tight band.

I dare you to listen to any of his stuff and not get a little wigglin' goin' on. It's impossible to put on "Sex Machine" and stay stationary, or get your groove on to the possibly-overplayed "I Got You (I Feel Good)". Even on the "Celebrity Hot Tub Party" skit on Saturday Night Live back in the early '80s, with the band drawing obvious inspiration from hits such as those mentioned above... the theme music was catchy as hell. ("Gonna get in the wah-tah... yeah!")

Sure, he had some rough times. But really, who hasn't? When you're who this man is, you're going to show up in the spotlight, and as he knew all too well, the spotlight both giveth and taketh away.

In the end, it will take decades to sort out exactly how enormous an impact James Joseph Brown, Jr. of Augusta, Georgia had on music, and in turn society. This much I know, though: he was often imitated, but absolutely never, ever duplicated.




In other news, I still have no friggin' clue what I'm doing for New Year's Eve. Every year everyone says the same thing: "I hate New Year's, and I hate going out and doing stuff, because it's stupid." Yet, they do it anyway... and those (like me) who actually buy into the above sentiment are left with Dick Clark, a twenty-sixer of gin, and a crappy night alone. So, if anyone wants to do something, even if it's a game of Trivial Pursuit or five, let me know. (Besides, I don't even have any gin.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That about wraps it up for now.

Today brought a huge sigh of relief: the arrival of the Christmas holidays.

(And don't go calling it some pansy-ass "winter break" or a "late December nondenominational festive period," either, because the only reason anybody is getting any time off is because God knocked up this chick and some three dudes gave the baby some crappy presents. Really, does a newborn child need myrrh?)

It's been a long-ass stretch with only one day off (Thanksgiving). I'm really looking forward to putting my brain in neutral for two weeks, occasionally bathing it in alcohol, and picking the whole "working" thing back up in the new year. That's looking mighty appealing at the moment, I'm not gonna lie.

I made good on my promise, and we had s'mores prepared over a Bunsen Burner today. It actually worked really well, but the difference in flame temperature became quite apparent as the marshmallows very easily caught fire. (But, oddly enough, it wasn't the same kind of all-engulfing flame that you'd get with campfire-roasting; it was more of isolated, small flame, easily extinguishable.) Delicious, though.

All my Christmas presents are purchased, except for one which I'll pick up tomorrow. I don't have a lot of time to wrap them, though; I'm headed down to my brother's place at an early-ass time in the morning to help put down some flooring. (Why did I agree to be in Woodstock at 10 a.m., which is a 90-minute drive from me?! I'm a moron.) After that it'll be a few days of relaxing, free laundry (which I do myself, thank you very much) and a ton of sleeping.

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, folks.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A fantastic idea.

Teenagers are pretty goddamn dumb sometimes. That's alright, it's not their fault; they're still learning how to be semicompetent members of society. (It's a steep curve.) But one of my students had an idea which may just prove revolutionary in terms of laboratory cuisine.

It started a couple of weeks ago when this intrepid young fellow — we'll call him Steve — asked about the last day before the Christmas break, and if we could have a party in class. Seeing as how our normal activities on that day include watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and passing out candy canes to the third-or-so of our students who decide to show up, I figured I might as well just spring it on him that we won't be splitting too many atoms on the afternoon of Friday, December 22 and that, sure, we could do something fun.

Little did I know he was concocting an idea so brilliant I'm surprised nobody has won a Nobel Prize in Culinary Arts:

Bunsen-Burner S'mores.

We have a couple of Bunsen Burners. I can acquire some giant marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. We'll figure out how to make some skewers for the roasting of said marshmallows. And we shall dine on the greatest s'mores ever made.

(The trick is, though, figuring out how long it takes to sufficiently toast a marshmallow over a Bunsen Burner flame, which burns much hotter than a campfire: 1950°C to 1200°C. But hey, it's a science class, a little experimentation is always appreciated.)

(Holy crap, I'm such a geek.)

(But so is the dude who came up with the idea.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

One hell of a good goddamn move.

You see this guy?


This is Jeremy Bonderman. He's 23 years old, already has four seasons in the major leagues, and will be one of the premier righthanded starters for the next, oh, I don't know, DECADE.

What did my beloved Detroit Tigers do?

They locked him up for four years, $38 million. That's a shade under ten mil a year for a guy who wisest-of-wise veteran pitcher Curt Schilling once described as "the guy who I'd build a rotation around."

Lemme tell ya, when Bondo dominates, he friggin' SHUTS IT DOWN. Hitters look like they're swinging against Bugs Bunny-pitches. To wit, he threw 8 1/3 outstanding innings in the ALDS against the mighty Yankees to polish off the Bronx Bombers.

Wise move, Tigers. Very wise move.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spectacle.

White Cowbell Oklahoma had its annual Xmas show down at Lee's Palace last night.

I shook some confetti from my hair this morning.

Craziness.

The place was packed, but we somehow managed to wiggle our way into the crowd about six rows back from the stage, which contained all manner of debauchery. The plot — all WCO shows have one — was that WCO was involved in a court case against the Devil, and the judge was none other than Se├ín Cullen (minus his trademark porkpie hat).

The strippers were deployed relatively early — at the beginning of the third song, by my count — and there were three of them this time (although only one managed to actually get topless, and even then I think she was wearing pasties). One of them insisted on grinding against a speaker for a good portion of the show, so that was entertaining; also, whenever Santa appeared on stage (it is the Christmas season, you know), he seemed to attract a scantily-clad woman or two. I believe Santa also "urinated" on the crowd through a giant prosthetic penis. (I hope it was prosthetic; it was three feet long.)

At two instances in the guitar-soaked show, confetti (both paper and little shiny round bits) poured down from the ceiling. The chainsawman cut up three industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper, mounted on an H-shaped rig of sorts, which made for an interesting visual (although I daresay the previous show where he cut up a giant novelty stuffed animal, the kind you'd get at Canada's Wonderland, made for a better effect as he threw the "entrails" out into the crowd).

The music, of course, was classic Cowbell. The grinder was deployed at two instances in the show, and the four-guitar attack made me weep tears of joy when they all came to the front of the stage and strummed harmoniously during the instrumental break in "Southern Grace". Also, a few times they played a 3-D movie on the screen behind the band (although the band members themselves sorta blocked my view); the consensus was that they were old porno flicks of some sort.

Anyway, all in all, it was awesome. Supremely awesome, and pure Rock And Roll.

"Put the South in your mouth, pretty baby!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Intellectual Whores and Ladder Theory.

I stumbled upon a link to a website which contains a theory about how men and women size each other up, whimsically titled Ladder Theory. I read the entire thing and, while some of the language gets a little salty at times, I could not find one single thing with which I fundamentally disagreed.

After perusing a bit of the rest of the site, I came upon the author's definition of "intellectual whore" and quickly realized that, lo and behold, I fit this description all too often. I've been told randomly by a girl — and not just on one isolated occasion — "Tell me something interesting." Those exact same words, too. Hence the chilling effect it had on me.

I scoured a good deal of the rest of the site and, again, I couldn't find anything with which I disagreed. This is surprising, given the author's sometimes-slapdash approach to spelling and grammar: normally, if someone has typos I eventually come across a bunch of BS (or stuff I see as BS because I already don't like them because of their grammar/spelling). Alas... this fellow speaks the truth. The bitter goddamn truth.

Read up. Especially you ladies.

In other news, my observation that it's impossible to have a short and informed conversation with a fundamentalist Christian about pretty much anything was reconfirmed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Take that, bitches.

I successfully defended my Master's of Education thesis today.

I am now J, Master of Education.

Master, muthafuckas!

It actually ended up being not that big a deal. There were four people in the room, other than me: the Chair of the Defence (from the Spanish department), my Supervisor, the Dean's Delegate (also an Education professor) and the External Examiner (a retired Biochemistry professor). First they sent me out of the room for a few minutes so they could compare notes, so I twiddled my thumbs on a comfy chair down the hall until they hauled me in for my 10-minute presentation and the "meat" of the defence, the questions.

The Chair can ask questions, but because the thesis being defended is out of their area of expertise, they usually don't ask too many; the dude stuck by that general rule. Next came questions from the External, and they were good, but a bit on the kooky side; he's a pure scientist and it showed (he wondered why there weren't error-bars on my little graphs which had a sample size of 100,000 as I clearly stated). Then came the Dean's Delegate; I'd seen her at a Colloquium before and she was a real bulldog, but she played nice and actually asked some really interesting (if a bit off-topic) questions. Finally my Supervisor asked a couple, just to clean up a couple of things. All told, this took about an hour... but it was actually surprisingly cordial and friendly.

Then came another (briefer) round of questions, in case something I or someone else said reminded someone else of something they wanted to ask about something-or-other. As the questions came around again, I got more comfortable and started to realize that pretty much everything they were asking was in what I'd written... I don't know if they knew that and were just testing to see if I knew what I wrote or if they hadn't actually read it that closely, but I damn well wrote that thing, so I should damn well know what's in it. Again, though, things were quite friendly. (We're a friendly bunch in Education; it's a common occurrence for people to bring muffins they've baked themselves to their Colloquium.)

So, they sent me out in the hall yet again so they could deliberate on whether I receive a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, figure out what little things I need to fix, and bring me back in. "Congratulations, J," the Chair said to me, and I shook hands with everyone else. Sure, I have to add a paragraph here and fix a sentence there, but overall the final edits are very minor. (The most difficult thing will be printing off four more copies of this bitch: one for the library, one for some government archive thing, one for me, and I believe one for the little boy who lives down the lane.)

There. It's over (essentially). A huge load off my mind, for sure.

In other news, my super replaced our building's already-tiny washing machine with one which is somehow smaller than the one before. Sure, washing each sock individually brings them a lot of cash at $1.50 a load, but it's a giant pain in the ass.

It all comes down to today.

I'm sitting in the library at the ol' Faculty of Edumacation, wasting time... er... going over my thesis yet again, preparing for my defence this afternoon.

Last night I headed on down to a little spot down by the lake and pontificated in the darkness while watching the radio towers on Wolfe Island blink away with their magic airplane-repelling strobe lights. I soon came to the conclusion that, while more letters behind my name look nice, academia — at least the kind that goes on in this building, and perhaps in others like it — isn't for me.

Every day, week, semester and year I teach those goofball teenagers, I do way more to better society than I could ever accomplish in this building. Really, what do people do here in this weird, insular, head-in-the-clouds place? People are more concerned with shutting out the outside world and working on some theory about some little piece of some kid's education... and while some of that is all well and good, I never cease to be amazed at how few people in a Faculty of Education look at the mechanics of what goes on inside a classroom.

There's a reason why teachers don't subscribe to educational research journals: they're written by education professors for education professors. The average teacher never reads any of that gobbledeygook, and if they do, it's either by accident, in the midst of doing graduate work in education, or whilst sitting on the shitter at some education professor's house.

The only way education research can actually have an effect on classrooms, as far as I can tell, is if some theory gets kicked around for a decade or so and a small morsel of it might be gradually squeezed into school board's practices, or perhaps even a piece of legislation. (During the Harris years, though, if there was any sort of education-based legislation it would've gone in the opposite direction to what these people recommended, but that's beside the point.)

Anyway, the conclusion to which I came, which I suggested earlier, was that I can do far more to better the world inside my classroom than I could ever do in the world of academia. That's a little disappointing (I really did like the schedule-flexibility in grad school) and a lot disillusioning (especially when someone you've held up as a professional mentor for years ends up being a less-than-stellar thesis supervisor), but it's the truth. I don't know if I'll spend my entire professional career as a classroom teacher — something tells me I won't — but I'm pretty damn sure I won't eventually end up here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It nearly got derailed today.

This afternoon I received an email from one of the exceedingly-knowledgeable and helpful secretaries in the Grad Studies office at school.

(Seriously, why is that the case? At Waterloo, the smartest person in the Physics building wasn't a professor; it was Pat, the department secretary. You want to know who's doing what, where the people are who you need to talk to, what's going on, what's going down? You talk to Pat. In an issue of darkmatter, we once compared Physics department people with characters from WKRP in Cincinnati, and we compared Pat to Jennifer Marlowe, the friendly (and sexy) secretary for the radio station. While Pat wasn't particularly alluring, she sure as hell was friendly and helpful.)

Anyway, the email stated that my vice-supervisor person (my "committee member") had just been released from the hospital — he had pneumonia; get better soon, man! — and wondered if it would be okay to proceed with the defence or wait until he's well enough to come to the defence.

Now, don't get me wrong: my committee member is a brilliant guy, an interesting and funny fellow who's so well-read it'd make that dude that read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica look like, well, George W. Bush. But in all seriousness, he hasn't really helped me along too much, other than attend a couple of meetings back in late winter, read over an early draft of my thesis (and make remarks on a couple of chapters), and... um... well, that might be it. So, obviously, I emailed a reply suggesting that, yes, we will be going ahead with the defence.

But it almost got derailed. I swear, this thing is jinxed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I don't think this is going to turn out well.

I was having a lovely phone conversation with a friend of mine who, once upon a time, did an undergraduate thesis in psychology. It went a little like this.

Me: "Yeah, so, my thesis defence is on Monday, and I think it's going to go alright."
Friend: "I see. Well, what are they going to ask you about?"
M: "Hmm. That's a good question."
F: "You... you mean, you didn't have a mock defence with your supervisor already?"
M: "What's a 'mock defence'?"
F: "That's when you and your supervisor sit down and run through what a thesis defence is like. In mine, I totally got raked over the coals, and I had to really rethink how I approached the actual defence, which was pretty awful itself."
M: "Eeep."
F: "I take it you haven't had one?"
M: "I haven't talked to my supervisor, face to face, in over seven months."
F: "Well, you'd better email him now."

So I did. (Gee, you'd have thought that my supervisor would've had a "So, You're Defending Your Thesis: Here's What You Should Expect" blurb all ready to go, copy-and-paste, send it off to the poor student. Nope!)

Me: "So, could you tell me what sorts of things the questions are going to be on? Are you more interested in my lit review, methodology, results, conclusions?"
Supervisor: "Yeah, it's all up for grabs. Basically, this weekend, go through your thesis and ask yourself, 'What might people ask me questions on?'"
Me (to myself): "Thanks a lot, Professor Obvious."

If you'll kindly recall, I was about a week away from going to a defence in August, having not really had much substantive feedback from my supervisor on, well, anything I'd written: the form, the conclusions, the writing style, nothing. (At the last minute the Grad Supervisor stepped in and said, "Well, hold on, let's push this thing back and let him fix it up. Here are some ideas for revisions.")

So, now that the written piece is all done, I'm about to saunter into an oral defence of my work, not really knowing any of the key questions they're going to ask me? That's like giving my students a Physics test, and when they ask what sorts of things might be on it, I'd respond nebulously, "Oh, just read the textbook, it's all good."

(For the record, I always go over key problems/scenarios with them to make sure they're up on their stuff... e.g., when doing the E&M fields unit with my Grade 12's, I make sure they know parallel-plate capacitors up, down and sideways, along with what happens when a charged particle gets shot into a magnetic field.*)

I thought about this a bit more, and I was left with this conclusion: however this turns out — and I get nothing but "You'll do well, plenty of people have done this before!" messages from my supervisor; but, remember, he was the one that was going to let me go to defence in August — I will have done 99.9% of this totally on my fucking own. Sure, it was nice of my supervisors to chip in with some ideas about how to re-phrase things, and maybe a half-dozen actual, solid questions (e.g. Q: "Why didn't you interview parents in your study?" A: "Because, if you read the title of my thesis, I'm looking at what schools and teachers were doing.").

But, when I hear about how other people worked closely with their supervisors, had weekly meetings, were given advice on which authors to look up, had to hand in a chapter here and there and then they went over it together to see if it was alright... nope, none of that. And hey, I appreciate being able to go out on my own and figure out what I need to know on my own a bit... but, you know what? I don't pay tuition for the good of my health, and I certainly don't pay it to use any of the facilities on campus, which have been 300 km away from me for the past seven-plus months. I pay it so I can get help and advice from my supervisor, and you now know how much I've received. I've never had to put together original research before, write 106 pages of academic text before, go to an oral defence before, face ethics reviews before; none of this is anything I've ever done before. Not even remotely close. (I did a Physics degree, which is a 4-year degree in vector calculus, and did my B.Ed., which is all practical... and taught crazed, horned-up teenagers for four years. When did I ever have to fit in anything like this?)

So... yeah. Little help?



* If the charged particle's velocity is perpendicular to the magnetic field, it's a pretty simple case: the force it feels is the cross product of the velocity and magnetic field vectors, and is proportional to the charge of the particle, the velocity and the strength of the magnetic field. In short, FM = qv×B; the result is that the particle goes into uniform circular motion.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Birthdays, booze and Breakfast Burgers.

I turned 29 on Thursday. I tried to keep it as low-key as possible, but the people in my department at school like to have birthday cake (or, more generally, anything chocolate) as often as possible, so a cake was obtained and consumed in honour of my odometer rolling over, as it does every 365 spins of the Earth, give or take one. Anyway, later on that evening I was treated to a wasabi-infused dinner at a local Japanese place (which had some prices so high they had to be in yen, I swear) and kickass Polish pastries; a dynamite combination, if I do say so myself.

(Incidentally, as I've pointed out before, the weather was lousy on my birthday. Sure, it started off in the teens, but it was weird and rainy and slid down to a couple of degrees above freezing by the end of it.)

The weekend brought a men-only excursion to my friend Ryan's cottage, north of Kingston. It's nice to have a bunch of guys together, talking about guy things, eating assorted grilled meats and playing Risk and having your watch continually set to "beer o'clock."

One thing we don't do at such gatherings, I've found, is talk about women. They cause us a lot of grief as it is; why do we need to be constantly re-living it when they're not around? Sure, I talk to a lot of my female friends about relationships and all that gooey stuff — which is good, in moderation — but sometimes you just have to get back to your primal, gender-based roots and, for example, congratulate your fellow man on a post-dinner burp with generous volume and a deep, vibrant tone.

The crowning achievement to one of these cottage excursions is the infamous Breakfast Burger. For those who have never had the pleasure, it's a well-seasoned and generous hunk of ground beef, a dollop of barbecue sauce, melted cheese, bacon, and to top it off, a fried egg... and it's delicious. We calculated today that we were getting back at the animal kingdom in five different ways: the beef, the cheese, the bacon, the chicken's egg and the butter in which the egg was fried. Ultimately we inconvenienced three different members of kingdom Animalia, which gives me an odd sense of accomplishment.

Anyway, there are seven days to go before my thesis defence. I'd like to be down in K-town on Sunday night, but since it seems like everyone I know from Queen's has either graduated or will be crazybusy with exams and hence can't house a guest, I'm going to just get a hotel room. Free shower curtain!