Things I don’t miss from the 1970s

In 1970 I was six years old. Candy bars cost ten cents and I had a monster green tricycle that could easily have been featured in a kids horror movie. Maybe any horror movie. It was a terror to behold and to ride.

But for all the nostalgia I have for those formative years from age six to sixteen, there are a few things I’m happy to have left behind:

  • the 8-track tape. I’ve written about this before so suffice to say that as a music format it was terrible.
  • long hair. What was I thinking? I was not thinking.
  • rotary dial telephones
  • TVs with knobs, TVs without color
  • Pop Rocks candy
  • that KISS TV movie
  • puberty

Early holiday thoughts

Some idle thoughts on the budding holiday season:

  • It doesn’t seem like the Christmas/holiday ads have started any earlier this year. A small mercy.
  • Curiously, I have seen numerous ads for licensed products for the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, but none for the actual movie itself. You can buy Stars Wars cosmetics. I don’t know why. But you can.
  • The controversy over the Starbucks holiday cups is dumb. The initial impulse is perhaps to despair over how many people seem upset over this non-issue but there’s always been people like this, we just have the Internet to insure every one of their voices now gets heard. Hooray for technology.
  • Our late fall weather has been cold and dry with random violent storms sweeping through every few weeks or so. This is probably due to El Niño, which is also responsible for the warmest October on record (it was pretty mild, which is nice for here, less so where it means ice caps melting/climate change doom).
  • I had my yearly egg nog.
  • Apple spice candles smell nice.
  • I do not want a white Christmas.
  • The Black Friday nonsense seems to be on the wane, though that may be partly related to the U.S. Thanksgiving coming so late this year. I’ll take what I can get.
  • We’re putting up a tree this year. AND DECORATING IT WITH STARBUCKS HOLIDAY CUPS.

That’s about all for now.

The old list

Am I as old as dirt? I’m old as some dirt, not as old as other dirt.

These are things I remember as a kid:

Rotary dial telephones. People still talk about dialing a number on their smartphones, though there is a gradual shift toward using “calling” over “dialing.” With rotary phones you hated people who had lots of 8s or 9s in their phone number. If your finger slipped on the last number you had to start dialing over from the beginning.

Party lines. Picking up the phone and hearing others talking would be a plot for a horror movie now. Back in the early 70s it meant you were on a party line shared by others or your sister was gabbing to her boyfriend on the upstairs extension. “Get off the phone, I can hear you!”

The 8-track cassette. I’ve written about this before. It was the worst format for music ever, even if switching tracks was kind of neat. Like all terrible things, there is a small subset of people who love the 8-track cassette.

Black and white TV. We got a color set in 1975 and I discovered that Gilligan’s Island had color episodes.

The vinyl album. I guess that meant I grew up with a generation of audiophiles or something.

Typewriters. There was a room in the library at the Langara campus of Vancouver Community College that was filled with typewriters. It had a door that automatically closed for reasons that were obvious to anyone who entered the room when class assignments were due. I had my own portable Smith Corona and the only thing better than using it to write my own trashy stories (I did a lot more of that than actual assignments) was mashing as many keys at once. Why this was so entertaining I can’t precisely say.

Disco. The rise and fall and slight rise again.

The energy crisis. The first one.

The following stores: Eaton’s, Woodward’s, Woolworths, Woolco.

Video game arcades. Yes, these still exist in some form but I’m talking about the classic arcades of yore, with rows of games you paid 25 cents (50 cents if new) a shot to play. Duncan had a surprising number of arcades given its size. I spent most of my quarters in one adorably called The Saucy Dragon. I got my first full time job at an arcade at the age of 19, just as laser disc games became a very brief fad. I loved that job. I wrote my first novel working at that place. Handing out quarters was not exactly a demanding task.

Roller skates. You know, the kind that had four wheels, two in the front and two in the back.

Pong. Yes, I remember when Pong was new and futuristic. We’d drive the horseless carriage to the local pizzeria and play the cocktail table version, mesmerized by the bouncing phosphor dot.

The constant lurking fear of nuclear war. I was pretty sure my hometown wouldn’t get nuked but it was scary to think about all the same.

Five things you won’t see on “How It’s Made”

“How It’s Made” is like comfort food for my brain. There’s something about watching the assembly of mundane, everyday items I find soothing. Sure, I don’t need to know how fig newtons are made or what goes into putting together a model train car but dang it, I like it.

Here are five items you probably won’t see featured on “How It’s Made”:

  1. Electric chairs
  2. Vibrators
  3. Bedpans*
  4. Money shots
  5. Anthrax

 

* there’s an outside chance they could actually do this one

Writing projects. All of them.

I decided to put together a spreadsheet that would finally collect together all of my various writing projects from over the years.

I left out anything that was little more than a sketch or idea. It had to have at least enough substance to count as unfinished to make the list. I also left out all of the treasure of my youth that were scrawled in crayon, written with a leaky fountain pen (they all leaked) or made via the incredible clatter of my portable Smith Corona typewriter, which looked very much like this one (yes, it was blue and it was awesome…at making a racket):

Smith Corona portable
“I can’t hear you, I’m creating art!”

In the end I was somewhat surprised to have sixty stories listed, ranging from finished copies suitable for publication/framing/lining bird cages to others that were little more than a few rough scenes desperately clinging to life. Fittingly, one of these is a short story called “Writer’s Block”.

I’ll edit this post to go into a bit more detail about the genres and so on soon.

Ten things I would do if I won the lottery

Because you can never have too many lists, here are ten random things I’d do if I won a multi-million dollar lottery jackpot, in no particular order:

  1. Buy some nice shoes. I have been buying better shoes of late, especially for running, but I generally go cheap on clothes because I am dumb and like replacing my clothes a lot. With millions of dollars in my bank account I might get over this.
  2. Buy a Cintiq graphics tablet. Since they start around $1000 and I have $10 worth of drawing talent this is the only way I could justify getting one.
  3. Buy a new car. A red car. With a radio. I’d never drive it but it would be nice to have.
  4. Buy a house. I would definitely use this. Nothing too big or fancy because that means more cleaning.
  5. Take several trips to faraway places like Europe, the tropics or low Earth orbit.
  6. Buy a fancy new computer, possibly with racing stripes.
  7. Donate a not insignificant amount to charity, family and friends.
  8. Help fund a worthwhile project. Since I don’t normally do this I’d also have to research a worthwhile project.
  9. Buy a new bed. There is never a bad time to do this.
  10. Devote copious amounts of time to writing, possibly coming up with better ideas for blog entries as a result.

Six things I like

It’s time for another list!

I am trying to accentuate the positive of late, so here’s a list of six things I like:

  • apple fritters
  • being able to post to the Internet from the comfort of my bed
  • the comfort of my bed
  • new tech toys
  • writing an especially good turn of phrase in a story
  • compliments on accomplishments I’m pleased with
  • the Jonathan Coulton song “Shop Vac”

(I included seven things since I mentioned my bed twice.)

In which I rank Pink Floyd albums 1971 to 1994 from best to not best

Nute on Broken Forum recently posted the following (in reference to the Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason):

Best Pink Floyd album.

COME AT ME, HATERS.

As I love any excuse to make a list this has inspired me to list from best to worst the Pink Floyd albums from 1971 to 1994. I don’t include the pre-1971 material because I am not familiar enough with it to offer up an opinion.

First, here’s the chronological order of the albums:

  • Meddle, 1971
  • The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973
  • Wish You Were Here, 1975
  • Animals, 1977
  • The Wall, 1979
  • The Final Cut, 1983 (minus Rick Wright)
  • A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987 (minus Roger Waters)
  • The Division Bell, 1994 (minus Roger Waters)

And here is my ranking, with notes attached:

  1. The Wall. This is a sprawling and at times meandering and indulgent album but when it works it works fantastically well and the shining moments are transcendent ones, from the theatrical opening crescendo and fade to David Gilmour’s soaring guitar that concludes “Comfortably Numb”. The Waters/Gilmour work on this album is consistently strong and the album is the better for it.
  2. Wish You Were Here. More a mood piece than any of the albums on this list, Wish You Were Here is bookended by the long instrumental “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and if you don’t like that song you’re left with all of three others to enjoy. Fortunately even these are terrific. “Welcome to the Machine” is creepily effective, the title track fittingly melancholy, with only “Have a Cigar” being a bit ordinary.
  3. Animals. Bookended by the spare and short acoustic track “Pigs on the Wing” this concept album contains one of the band’s longest songs, “Dogs”, which clocks in at 17+ minutes and it’s on the strength of “Dogs” that I place Animals where I do. The song begins slowly then plays through several movements, using sound effects, reverb and more to capture the feeling of alienation, of drowning in an unhappy world where fairness is a rare commodity and loneliness is in abundance. Not exactly make-out music but a mesmerizing journey.
  4. The Dark Side of the Moon. The biggest problem with this album is that certain parts of it, notably the instrumental “Any Colour You Like” are rather dated, sounding very much of the era they were recorded in. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but you can’t help but imagine people grooving out on the shag carpet while listening to this. The classic tracks here are tight and strong and hold up perfectly 40 (!) years later. Sure, “Money” has been overplayed as much as any other 70s FM hit but even putting it aside you still have “Time”, “Us and Them” and “The Great Gig in the Sky”. More than any of the other albums here, this contains Rick Wright’s strongest contributions.
  5. The Division Bell. This was the last album the band recorded and came seven years after the previous. Much like Dark Side it has moments that firmly tie it to its era, with the ringing guitar of “Take it Back” bringing to mind U2 of all things. At its worst it presents some of the same calculated moves as Momentary Lapse but overall holds together with greater consistency. There are no standout tracks here but Gilmour’s reliable vocals and guitar work, alongside solid contributions from Wright make this a good effort.
  6. Meddle. An odd album that is the final embrace of psychedelic weirdness before the band would establish its more familiar sound. This is a fairly mellow record, apart from the propulsive opening instrumental “One of These Days”, with most songs feeling like the aural equivalent of a gentle stroll. The oddities come in the form of the country-flavored “Seamus” complete with barking dog accompaniment, the breezy confection of “San Tropez” (penned by Waters, of all people) and the mostly instrumental track “Echoes” that comprises the entire second half of the album. Over 23 minutes “Echoes” drifts from Gilmour’s wistful vocals to strange, even unnerving sound effects and back again. There is no easy way to listen to this album. The shorter tracks and “Echoes” could be from entirely different records. If you’re in the mood for a little bit of everything, though, you’re set.
  7. The Final Cut. This is more a Roger Waters solo album than a Pink Floyd effort. Gilmour’s guitar is absent from many songs, he provides only one vocal and the rest of the tracks are given over to Waters’ overtly political and pessimistic observations of humanity. While there is a consistency in both the music and tone this is not an easy album to get into but if you give it time you’ll be rewarded by several standout tracks, from “The Gunner’s Dream” to the now-included “When the Tigers Broke Free” which was previously only found in the film version of The Wall.
  8. A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Why is this ranked last? It began as a David Gilmour solo effort and indeed a lot of it sounds like Giilmour’s solo effort About Face from three years earlier. I have two major problems with the album. The first is the effort to make it sound like Pink Floyd feels overly calculated, as if the female backing vocals, guitar solos, and themes of alienation were items on a checklist. The other problem is the lyrics. While Waters had his excesses and obsessions he could craft some nice wordplay. Gilmour, even when helped by others, writes mostly in cliches and catchphrases, tackling ‘big’ ideas with trite phrasing. At best the lyrics stay out of the way, at worst they actively work against the song. “One Slip” is a wonderful sounding track but the lyrics are awful.

I will, I will she sighed to my request
And then she tossed her mane while my resolve was put to the test
Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire
I lead the way to the funeral pyre
And without a thought of the consequence
I gave in to my decadence

“Drowned in desire”? “Our souls on fire”? And I’m not even touching the whole “drowned” followed by “on fire” part. This is just bad and emblematic of the album as a whole. There are some fine songs here. I particularly like the opening instrumental “Signs of Life”, the sprawling closer “Sorrow” and “On the Turning Away”, which has a quiet majesty, even if the lyrics are junior high-level simple. Overall this is easily the slightest of Pink Floyd’s albums and far from essential.

Bad weather running: the list (updated)

If you have a look at this post from July 13th of last year you will see me list off my 14 least-favorite running conditions. I figure it’s time to update the list, so here we go. Changes are noted accordingly.

As before, the list is presented from least worst to just plain bad. The four options outside the top 10 aren’t really bad at all.

14. Overcast and light breeze. This is actually ideal conditions. It is usually never too cold or warm when the weather is like this.
13. Moderate wind. Moderate wind is fine. I have a cap that stays in place now.
12. Warm sun. Warm is no big thing. I’m talking about 20ºC or thereabouts.
11. Light rain. The only issue with light rain is that sometimes my iPod gets wet straight through my shorts’ pocket. If rain looks likely I put it in a plastic baggie.
10. Snow. I’ve only run once in light snow and it was fun. I’m thinking a foot of snow would probably be less so.
9. Cold rain. Cold rain means cold hands and if you wear gloves they need to be waterproof. Cold rain is never fun.
8. Hard rain. Getting soaked to the skin is kind of refreshing. Unfortunately if it’s raining hard, it’s almost always cold, too. Not so refreshing.
7. Extreme cold. I’ve run in sub-freezing conditions and been fine. I’m thinking Arctic tundra-type cold here.
6. Heavy wind. The resistance means you work a lot harder to achieve the same result and my cap has to be on tight enough to cut off circulation so it doesn’t fly away.
5. Hot sun. My body feels like a furnace and I’m left parched as all get-out. Dry mouth and lips are yucky. I’ve improved my stamina to where it has to be close to 30ºC to really affect me, though.
4. Hard rain and heavy wind. Likeliest weather to make me wonder to myself, ‘What was I thinking?’ when on the run.
3. Hot sun and heavy wind. Heat dries you out, the wind makes it harder to run and dries you out even more. Bleah. This combination is, however, very rare.
2. Hail. Getting pelted by little ice rocks is unpleasant! I’ve been caught in hail twice now and did not like it either time. Hail has moved from #7 to #2 on the list as a result.

And the worst weather to run in is:

1. Dogs. See here. I’ve had a dog knock me down while running. The weather has never done this.

Top grossing films of 2011

Yeah, I’m a bit late with this.

Here are the top-grossing movies domestically for 2011 (domestically refers to Canada and the U.S. As you’ll see, worldwide grosses paint a somewhat different picture):

1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $381,011,219
2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon              $352,390,543
3 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1     $281,287,133
4 The Hangover Part II                        $254,464,305
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $241,071,802
6 Fast Five                                   $209,837,675
7 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol        $209,278,301
8 Cars 2                                      $191,452,396
9 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows          $186,842,737
10 Thor                                       $181,030,624

This list can be summed up thusly: YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT TOO MANY SEQUELS. EVER. Exactly one of the top 10 movies is not a sequel and it — Thor — is based on a licensed property and is in a genre (superhero films) that has had titles cranked out regularly over the past decade.

Let’s have a look at each film and figure out why they made buckets of money (apart from exorbitant ticket prices).

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. If you include ‘in 3D’ this becomes one of the longest movie titles ever but no one can keep an accurate count of how many Harry Potter movies there are (7? 8?) so it never got called Harry Potter 7 (or 8), typically being referred to as simply ‘the new Harry Potter’. The success of this is no surprise because it wraps up the saga and all of the HP movies have done well. Most of them have been looked kindly upon by critics, too, which never hurts.

2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Regarded as better than #2 (the very definition of damning with faint praise) the third installment proves the least popular of the trilogy (when taking into account ticket sales and not inflated ticket prices) — not a good sign for Michael “BLOW IT UP” Bay but $352 million even in 2011 dollars isn’t chump change, so this series seems safe for awhile or until it’s run into the ground (with Bay directing, this will probably literally happen).

3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. Another popular series, the sparkly vampires continue to draw in its loyal audience with the penultimate film (at least until Twilight: The New Generation or something comes along). Like Harry Potter, they are squeezing out a few more bucks by splitting the last book into a two-part movie. While I can see this for HP, given that the first book was about 300 pages long and the last was about 10,000, it seems more of a money grab for Twilight. But hey, I have not read the books nor seen the movies, so who am I to judge? As a bonus, even the critics seem to be warming up to this saga of pasty white teenage/werewolf/undead love.

4. The Hangover Part II. Hey, another sequel. Weird! This one seems to have coasted a bit on the success of the first movie. A third is all but inevitable and probably won’t do as well. This will not stop a fourth or fifth from being made. This is the only live action comedy to make the top 10, proving again that for whatever reason people do not like to go to movies to laugh. Maybe the ticket prices put filmgoers more in the mind frame for tragedies.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In North America the wind seems to no longer be in the sails much for this, although overseas it’s still incredibly popular (over $802 million), so Johnny Depp can probably continue to wear eye makeup (and get paid for it) into the foreseeable future.

6. Fast Five. I am surprised at the resiliency of this series. The April release would suggest it was viewed as not cut out to be a summer movie yet it did boffo box office. People really like Vin Diesel and fast cars, it seems. Don’t blame me if Diesel uses this to leverage a new Chronicles of Riddick movie, I never saw it!

7. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. Another sequel, another surprise. After a tepid reaction to #3 people returned in greater numbers to watch Tom Cruise running again. He can probably crank out a few more before shifting into the inevitable character (‘I’m too old to be a leading man anymore’) parts.

8. Cars 2. The second worst-performing Pixar movie ever and after adjusting for inflation the worst. While you can’t really call a movie that makes close to $200 million a flop, it clearly underperformed. This is what happens when merchandising is a primary consideration and the audience can sense it. This won’t stop them from making Cars 3 before The Incredibles 2, though. There is no justice. This was the only animated film to crack the top 10, a bit unusual in itself.

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Exemplifying both ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and ‘more of the same’ the sequel to Sherlock Holmes managed to do almost as well as the first, which means it’s probably considered a failure of sorts. Expect more explosions or zombies or exploding zombies in the third one.

10. Thor. Wait, this isn’t a sequel. How did this get here? Thor is, of course, based on the Marvel comic character and under the direction of Kenneth Branagh (!) it proved a solid hit. But before they can stamp out Thor 2, Thor 3 and Thor 4: I Adore there’s The Avengers movie this summer. I find it hard to imagine a sequel to this but on the other hand, do we really want them to remake The Incredible Hulk again?

The top-grossing movies worldwide for 2011 -or- Sequel: The Sequel

As we near the end of the year I am indulging my penchant for lists. Here is Box Office Mojo’s 2011 Worldwide Grosses. It’s interesting to see how little North America played in the success of some of these films (eg. Kung Fu Panda 2 made over 75% of its take overseas). More interesting (or less interesting, perhaps) is how sequels have taken over:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 No surprise on this one as all the HP movies have done well and this one wrapped things up. Spoiler: Everyone dies.
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon The third Transformers movie provides some evidence that there may be a deity as it did not finish #1.
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Who knew Johnny Depp with eyeshadow could result in multiple billion dollar grosses?
  4. Kung Fu Panda 2 It was only a so-so hit in the U.S. but people everyone outside of North America love them some fat cartoon pandas.
  5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Vampires, sparkling, teen melodrama and yes, a sequel.
  6. Fast Five The fifth Fast and Furious movie. This thing has legs. Or wheels. Or something. Will Vin Diesel use this as leverage to get another Riddick movie made? You know he wants to!
  7. The Hangover Part II A movie that didn’t need a sequel gets one, sequel is huge hit. This is why we can’t have nice things (or original movies).
  8. The Smurfs Wait a minute, this isn’t a sequel! But it is licensed, so it’s almost the same thing. It made over $500 million. Why? WHY?!
  9. Cars 2 Uninspired sequel to another movie that didn’t need one. This time Pixar got a pat on the bum for being naughty, as it was their lowest-grossing movie to date. A sequel to anything but Cars would have been nice.
  10. Rio This isn’t a sequel. How did it get here? It’s anthropomorphic cartoon animals so it’s almost like a sequel to one of the thousand or so movies that can be described thusly.

Extrapolating, I am predicting that by 2015 all movies will be sequels and no new stories will be told. I look forward to Cars 7: Out of Gas in 2022.

I am musically unhip

The current issue of The Georgia Straight has a story on the Top Albums of 2011. Almost without exception I am not only unfamiliar with the albums, I’ve never even heard of the performers. Looking through each critic’s selection (nine critics, ten albums each), here are the artists I actually recognize:

  • Tom Waits
  • Jay-Z and Kanye West
  • Paul Simon
  • Foo Fighters
  • George Thorogood & the Destroyers
  • The Jeff Healey Band
  • Wilco
  • Tori Amos
  • Björk
  • PJ Harvey

I have never owned an album from any of these people. Actually, looking over the list I’m surprised that there were that many names I recognized. Still, with 90 picks, I only recognize 10 artists, cementing my place as musically out of touch. Hey, I bought an Animal Collective album last year, that has to count for something, right?