Saturday, August 30, 2008

Summer, we hardly knew ye.

Did you know that "ye" was actually pronounced "thee," but the letter Y was just a short-form that printers used? I didn't, until I started reading my second Bill Bryson book on language, Made in America: An informal history of the English language in the United States. But I'm a nerd about things like that.

So, here we are. Three more days of slovenly slacking, and then it's back to the ol' 9-to-3:15-and-not-a-second-longer drag of teaching. Boy, I love how my work day always ends crisply at 3:15 in the afternoon. Makes me feel like a slacker sometimes! Hoo-boy, I should get me an evening job, so I don't feel all guilty and stuff.

I'm making sure my last few days of freedom are well-spent, though. For instance, for the better part of an hour, I've been going through the archives at Big Fat Whale, which is a treasure-trove of funny delights. He even makes fun of Canada! Oh, that nutty Brian McFadden.

I also took in Morgan Spurlock's second feature-length documentary, Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?. I enjoyed it, and learned some stuff about the World's Most Wanted Man in the process. But, I think the most interesting facet of this film was that he talked to average, everyday folks in a bunch of countries which only seem to get their craziest/most fanatical/prayingest people on the evening news. For instance, have you ever heard three random Saudi Arabian women talking about how they don't view their country's policies as oppressive? Agree with them or not, it's definitely not something you'd see routinely on ABNBCBSCNN. Another highlight was an exchange (through a translator) between Spurlock and some random old guy in a random city in Afghanistan:

SPURLOCK: "Do you know where Osama bin Laden is?"
OLD GUY: "Who's that?"
SPURLOCK: "He's the guy who flew the planes into the buildings in America."
OLD GUY: "Oh yeah. Fuck him, and fuck America."

Finally, I feel like I have to comment on Month 16 of the 2008 US Election Extravaganza Clusterfuckfest. Two things come to mind:
  1. Do you realize that, ensconsced entirely within just the twilight of the American election process, Canada could both (a.) start and (b.) finish their own federal election? It looks like Harper's gonna bring down Parliament next week and call for an October 14 election.* We'll vote, count, and still have about four weeks to spare before some random "battleground state" fucks up their hanging chads or their ritualistic disenfranchisement of poor black people or whatever they dream up this time.
  2. By announcing Sarah Palin, the hot, inexperienced yet scandal-ridden hockey-mom governor of Alaska, as his runningmate, John McCain very successfully stole the News Cycle away from Barack Obama's excellent speech which closed out the Democratic convention. Friday's news should have been all, "Hey, so, that Obama guy looks like he'd a make a pretty good president, eh?" — but instead it was all, "Holy hell, a broad for a runningmate? A Republican broad? Let's get the pundits on that!"
In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts. The end.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Piracy justified.

Tonight I bought a song on iTunes for the first time, and I hope it will be my last.

I came across this pretty cool song — Rentacrowd by a British trio called the Len Price 3 — and decided I'd buy it on iTunes. (Believe me, I looked for it in some not-so-legal places, but it's suitably obscure to not turn up on either the file-sharing network of your choice, the torrents, or my new favourite music source, Deezer.) Besides, what's 99 cents? Nothin', that's what.

Well.

Turns out the song that I paid for was delivered to me in a mysterious new (to me) format: a .m4p file. It also turns out that this is the dreaded "protected" music format, with the much-hated DRM anti-piracy encryption, which can only be played in iTunes, which I rarely, if ever, use. If I want digitized audio, I want an MP3, and that's final.

But alas, Apple, the company from which I bought this music, which I paid for with my own hard-earned money, decided to treat me like a criminal before I heard one single note of the song — again, which I paid for. With money. In a business transaction. Faciliated by my credit card.

* * * * * * * * *

Let's say I went to Moore's and bought myself a nifty shirt. I could do a lot with this shirt, now that I own it. I could lend this shirt to a shirtless friend, if they were (a.) in need of a shirt, and (b.) my size. Hell, I could even carefully slice open the seams, figure out the pattern, go buy my own fabric, and sew myself up some identical shirts. The point is, I paid for the shirt, and now it's mine.

I don't like my wrists covered up by shirt cuffs; it's one of my pet peeves. As such, I will usually roll up the ends of my sleeves, as I prefer my sleeves that way. Since I own the shirt, I can do whatever I wa—

WE SOLD YOU A LONG-SLEEVED SHIRT.
ROLLING UP THE SLEEVES VIOLATES
THE TERMS OF SERVICE OF THE SHIRT.

Dude... I paid for it. It's mine. I can have it any way—

IF YOU WANT SHORT SLEEVES,
BUY A SHORT-SLEEVED SHIRT.

Um, fuck off? I like this shirt, I paid for it, and I own it.

YOU WILL NEVER OWN IT.
WE ARE JUST NICE ENOUGH TO LET YOU
GIVE US MONEY FOR IT.
BUT YOU WILL WEAR IT THE WAY WE TELL YOU TO.

* * * * * * * * *

I think I've made my point with this little vignette. And, don't you worry, I managed to find a way around this stupid .m4p/DRM/copy-protected bullshit (there are always loopholes; if you can hear a sound on a computer, you can always re-record it the way you want). The moral of the story is, iTunes can eat a bag of dicks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to the grind (almost).

I've gone into the school for the past couple of days, getting stuff together for next Tuesday.

(Alright — I confess, the thing I've spent the most time on, in the past two days, is the wiring-up of my classroom for these bitchin' speakers we had sitting around in a back room, just collecting dust. These bastards are heavy, and when I tested them out today... hooo-boy, when I show those kids National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as I do every year on the last day before the Christmas holidays, Clark W. Griswold's mad rant is gonna come through crystal-clear. "Hall-lay-lou-yah... holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?!")

When I walked down the hall towards my department's office yesterday morning, it felt like I'd been gone for about a long-weekend, even though I haven't set foot in that place in almost nine weeks. I get that feeling just about every year, actually... it always seems like I've never left.

A couple of people have asked me if I'm excited for the new school year starting up, and I honestly don't know how to answer them. I'm really not the type to get "excited" about too much stuff — as some will attest, I'm even-keeled, almost to a fault — but the thing I do look forward to, every year, is the chance to do my job well.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of teaching if I do it right, and with the classes I have lined up this year (one Grade 12 Physics and two Grade 10 Academic Science in the first semester; something similar for the second), I think there's a good chance that'll happen. I have some ideas about stuff I can do differently with the kiddies; I'm always a little nervous to try out a new activity, but if it works well, it's another little trick you can add to your bag of 'em.

And so it begins again: the annual rhythm of pennant races, the CNE, and loss-leader-priced lined paper at Canadian Tire. It's time to go back to school, so sharpen up those pencils.

(Unless you have the clicky kind.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A transcript.

Here's the conversation between the dog who belongs to my across-the-hall neighbour and the imaginary boogeyman he thinks he sees:

BOOGEYMAN: "Hi, dog."
DOG: "bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark!"
BOOGEYMAN: "Wow."
DOG: "bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark! bark!"
BOOGEYMAN: "Fuck this. I'm outta here. I feel sorry for the guy who lives across the hall from you."

I've been home from Chiago for about 70 minutes, and he's barked for no less than 55 of them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cubbies.

I took today to meander in and around Wrigleyville, the part of Chicago around Wrigley Field (where the Cubs play).

I wasn't wearing anything with the word "Cubs" on it, or a red "C" on a blue background, or something to that effect.

To say I looked out-of-place was an understatement.

I've never seen anything this rabid, this fervent in sports, ever. Everyone on the north side of Chicago appears to love the Cubbies with all their heart. Toronto might come close with the Leafs, but I think TO's overall cultural mix makes for a lot of people in the city that have never seen, played or know anything about hockey, other than the local team is called the Maple Leafs, and that it's played on ice.

This all just makes me that much more stoked to see the Cubs play on Thursday and Friday. (I even bought a hat so I would blend in a little better.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's gonna be a ridiculous amount of baseball.

In conversation earlier this evening:

Mom: "So, your dad and I were wondering, since you're going right through Detroit tomorrow, why you weren't going to the Tigers-Jays game in the afternoon."

JTL: "But I'm already going to a game in Toledo in the evening."

Mom: "Why can't you do both?"

This is why my parents are awesome.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Faster, higher, stupider.

The breaststroke has got to be about the dumbest invention that humans have ever dreamed-up.

Triple jump is a close second.

I love the Olympics, I really do.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Assorted goings-on, and what-not.

I did something yesterday that I haven't done in about a decade.

I hit a home run.

Mind you, this was co-ed recreational slo-pitch, but the fact still remains that I hit a ball that went over the outfield fence. This is extremely weird for me, because I'm normally a singles- or doubles-hitting guy; sort of like a Ty "Hit 'Em Where They Ain't" Cobb approach, except without the uncontrollable rage and the hatred for dark-skinned people that fueled Cobb to the highest batting average in major league history.

(Seriously, that guy was one mean motherfucker. Apparently one year when he lost the batting-average title on the last day of the season, his teammates sent a congratulatory telegram to the guy on the other team who won it. He also once jumped into the stands to kick the shit out of a heckler, who had apparently called him a "half-nigger," and who also had lost one hand and three fingers off the other. Incidentally, when Ty was 19, his dad suspected his wife was cheating on him, so he snuck around outside to look in the bedroom window; Ty's mom thought she saw an intruder, and shot her husband dead.)

Anyway, the hit surprised the hell out of me, not only because I actually managed to hit a 4-bagger, but because I told a teammate on the on-deck circle that I was going for the fence on the first swing, which I was. It was like I called my shot; I even hit it over the right-field fence, just like I'd predicted. Call me Babe Ruth.

(I'd ask you to call me Ishmael, but I never finished Moby Dick. I tried once, but made it about halfway through. That is one boring-ass book.)

* * * * * * *

Even though Air Canada delayed my flight coming back from Saskatoon by a half-hour on Saturday evening, thereby making me miss the last bus going anywhere near my house and forcing me to cab it from Yonge Street, I'm not mad at them. This is because their in-flight entertainment selection is excellent these days; the little screen in the back of the seat in front of you gives you a choice of about three dozen movies, a bunch of TV shows, and a selection of music samples from XM radio in a variety of genres. I saw Caddyshack for the first time since I was about 10, and holy hell, that is one funny movie.

* * * * * * *

I get to spend three days in Toronto before heading out on the road again. I'm doing a little baseball-tour; a minor league game in Toledo, then seeing the Indians in Cleveland (after a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and then on to Chicago to finally visit Wrigley Field and sit in the bleachers and cheer on the Cubbies and sing in the 7th Inning Stretch and get totally fucking wasted in the middle of the day (and hopefully do that two days in a row). Oh, and I'll swing by Frequent Site-Contributor ECB's place. Maybe I'll even crash there for a night or seven.

* * * * * * *

Anyone in Toronto want a couch? I have one which is only moderately ugly, well broken-in (but not broken in any way), and very comfortable for sitting or sleeping. The cushions can also be used to make a kickass fort. You gotta pick it up, though. Inquire within.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Four things.

1. Bands Gone AWOL, Until Now.
Econoline Crush is a band I haven't thought about — largely with good reason — in about a decade. However, today while walking back to the hotel, I saw a poster for a show which constitutes of them opening for 3 Doors Down. It's this Friday night, and I'd totally still be in Saskatoon for that show... but I guess I just don't like EC that much (and I've always hated 3DD). So, I think I'll just spend the evening planning out my trip to the Ukrainian Museum of Saskatoon, which is apparently right next door to my hotel.

2. Polite Drivers.
Here in Saskatoon, there are a whole bunch of pedestrian crosswalks across streets. They're not like the ones we have in Ontario, which have huge yellow signs and lights a-blazin; they simply have some zebra-stripes painted across the road, and a little white "walking dude" sign for drivers. I swear to god/God/G-d/Allah/Teddy Savalas, if you're standing on the sidewalk and you look like you might be considering crossing the street anytime this week, drivers screech to a halt for you. I just know I'll get spoiled with four days of this, and seven hours after I return to Toronto, I'll get blindsided by a Toyota as I cross the street.

3. Pickup Trucks.
I saw them in Edmonton, and I'm seeing them here in Saskatoon. The main difference is that the ones here actually look like they've seen a dirt road in their lifetime, and aren't just of the "hey, I'm a city-kid who worked in the oil patch for six months and made an obscene amount of money and I had to blow it on this because I'm an Albertan which means technically I'm a cowboy" variety.

4. Bikes On Sidewalks.
I've seen quite a few bicycles here in Toon-Town, and exactly 100% of them have been on the sidewalk. I could've sworn that was illegal. Tomorrow I'm carrying a hockey stick to jab in their spokes as they whizz past me on the 25th Street Bridge.

My head is still on!

I managed to make it, via Greyhound, from Edmonton to Saskatoon, and still have my head attached to my torso (unlike that other guy recently).

Some observations about Edmonton:
  • People there never, ever jaywalk. They also wait extremely patiently for the little "walk-dude" to light up before they even make a motion towards crossing the street.
  • The city has two downtowns; one north of the river (Edmonton) and one south of it (Old Strathcona). The southern one is more exciting; Whyte Avenue feels a little bit like Queen West in Toronto, yet still has a wild-west, windswept, cowboy kind of feel.
  • The northern one has a lot of office buildings and parking lots.
  • There are a lot of motorcycles.
  • "Heritage Days" prove that the city actually has ethnic diversity aside from Ukrainian (although we did take in a Ukrainian dancing show).
  • The mosquitos by the North Saskatchewan River have an unquenchable thirst for pale Ontarians.
Here in Saskatoon, our little nerdy-teacher-workshop-thing gets underway tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing exactly what a synchrotron looks like and/or does. At least the hard part (arriving in Toon Town in one piece) is behind me.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Digital compression.

In the summer of 1999, I was living and working in Calgary. While I was there, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with their first post-Navarro album, Californication (which I have since gotten rid of).

I bought the album at a local Future Shop, took it home and put it on my then-new bookshelf stereo system... and was puzzled. The thing had to be defective — not only was the EQ showing the levels blasting at the top of the gauges, but the thing sounded all distorted and crackly and shitty. So I took it back to the store, explaining to the salesperson that I thought there had to be something wrong with the thing, because it sounded so crappy. She said that was weird, but since I had my receipt, I exchanged it for a new one, which sounded exactly the same.

I didn't realize it at the time, but this album was, and is still, one of the most prominent examples of a ridiculous amount of audio compression (and apparently an online petition has begun to get the band to re-release it, without so much compression). The whole thing is just extremely loud; what should be the quiet parts of songs are at ear-splitting volumes, instead of being, you know, quiet. This is something called the loudness war, and it's getting ridiculous.

Fast-forward to today, and the relatively new album from The Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder. I'd only ever listened to this on an iPod in settings with lots of background noise, but this afternoon I sat down in my somewhat-quiet apartment and attempted to listen to it.

I made it through about three songs.

The whole thing just blasts at you with both barrels, even for the songs which you would expect to be on the subtle side. The first song on the album pleads with the listener to "turn up your stereo", but why would anyone want to? Studies have apparently shown that music which has been squashed into a uniform loudness is not as emotionally satisfying as something which has a bit of dynamic range, and this album has it in spades. As much as I'd like to like this album... it just hits me like a wall, and not in a good way.

Lemme tell ya, right now I'm listening to the simiarly-genre'd Beta Band from the late '90s, and it's infinitely more relaxing and satisfying. The quiet bits are quiet, but when they want to crank it up, they do. Then they turn it back down. Novel concept, eh?

I'm starting to wonder if one of the reasons Nirvana and the Pixies are/were so good is because they knew how the loud/soft dynamic worked, and consciously exploited it in their music. They also did their thing before recordings were all compressed to hell (apparently so they "get your attention" on the radio), so that might have something to do with it too.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that new music sucks, and this is but one reason. I should really listen to Beck's latest, Modern Guilt, with the same ear and see if it suffers from the same shitty sound quality that befell the Apples in Stereo.