How to be popular with the public: Die

The American Music Awards has announced its nominees for 2009, with the winners to be determined by online vote, the show airing November 22nd. One of the Artist of the Year nominees is Michael Jackson, whose most notable achievement this year was to die.

Apparently death is now a kind of artistic achievement. In a way it makes sense, as Jackson’s death was an entertainment spectacle for a few weeks this past summer.

He will be competing against Lady Gaga, who is not currently deceased.

iCan’t change the volume on my iPod

Or Taking The Good With the Bad: The Apple Interface Story.

I’m using the 5th generation iPod nano for my running, using it in conjunction with the Nike+ sensor to track my time/distance. The setup is pretty slick and seems accurate enough. When I jog I set the iPod to shuffle so it does its random song thing and given that it’s choosing from over 2,000 songs, not all of which are suitable for running, I sometimes want to click the Next button to move on to something a little peppier than Roger Waters’ meditations on death or alienation.

When I was using the Sansa Clip it was simple. The Sansa was clipped onto my shorts, so I could just reach down and click the Next button. The “wheel” on the Sansa is not a true wheel and it isn’t flush with the face of the unit, so it’s simple enough to know where your finger is on it by touch alone.

The nano is undeniably sexy.If you hold it sideways the unit is completely flush — there is not a single bump to be seen on its sleek body. And that’s a problem. Since it has no clip, I run with it in the pocket of my shorts or jacket and it’s easy enough to reach in to access it. I can even tell bottom from top because of the wireless sensor that attaches to the unit. However, the wheel used to control volume and song selection lacks any kind of tactile feedback when you’re simply trying to figure out where your finger or thumb is on it. Menu is at the top, play/pause is at the bottom. Okay, but how do you know when your finger is in either position and not anywhere in-between? On top of this, the wheel is prone to accepting input for volume in a somewhat random manner. You have to slide your thumb along the wheel with enough force to get it to register but given how tiny the wheel is and adding in the movement when jogging, I find any adjustment to the volume is just as liable to go from too quiet to WAY TOO LOUD with one errant flick.

Long story short: I wish the Sansa Clip worked with the Nike+ sensor.

For the jog itself today, it was cool and cloudy and my right calf, having been tweaked a bit on the last run, felt a little tweaked again today, slowing my pace a tad. I managed to pass a guy who was jogging a good half-lap ahead of me (250 m or so) and the only way I can see that as being possible is that he must have stopped or switched to walking when I wasn’t watching because brother, I ain’t that fast. I picked up the pace as per usual for the last five minutes and at the three minute mark I knew i was off my best pace but I was determined to make the fountain. I did so just as the nice Nike lady announced the end of the run.

I tied my second best distance: 6.6 km.
I had my second best km: 4.51/km (only 0.01 seconds off my best)
I tied my second best average: 5.19/km

In short, I was the Avis of running today.

According to the Nike site, my best 5k is 26 min. 15 seconds. I’ll see if I can get that below 26 minutes.

Hall & Oates: Your choice for regularity

Today I learned that Daryl Hall is 63 years old, only 11 years younger than my mother. This just seems weird. To me he still has feathered blond hair and pastel jackets. Actually, I suppose he still might.

But it’s still weird.

My journal from 1987

I moved to Vancouver in August of 1986 and my first job was working at Expo 86. Five months later I began keeping a journal (I never called it a diary — the book has no lock so any ol’ person could leaf through it freely and I’m pretty sure a few certain people have). I diligently wrote in it every day, even on days when I had nothing to say. It seemed important at the time.

From time to time I’m going to post entries from way back when, to look back on what kind of bright-eyed idealistic dummy I was at the age of 22.

A snippet to start, from January 22, 1987:

Will someone put arsenic in Mariette Hartley’s Celestial Seasonings Herbal Tea…PLEASE!! After viewing her in that commercial only twice (during 20/20) I am ready to throw any number of blunt objects at the TV in the vague hope that through some weird freak of science, said objects will suddenly materialize before Ms Hartley and knock her front teeth out, thus cutting her grating, perky cute quotient down from two hundred trillion to something intolerably unbearable (which would be an improvement).

Such anger — although I think I nailed her perkiness fairly accurately. I was also gauche enough back then to use two exclamation points. Never again!

A dry run

Now that it is getting cooler out, the ol’ furnace is being fired up after a long summer slumber. As always, the air in my place dries out considerably when this happens and there’s a period of adjustment that lasts about a week where my throat gets a bit sore and my sinuses act up. It was under those conditions that I ran today, a day behind schedule.

As it turned out, they proved to be a non-factor. Under an overcast sky I ran my:

  • farthest distance: 6.65 km (previous: 6.6 km)
  • fastest overall pace: 5:17/km (previous: 5:19/km)

This marked the first time I made it well past the fountain (still not working) — I actually came close to the starting line, so that will be a future goal.

No remarkable incidents otherwise occurred during the run.

Reviews: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot & Third Man Out

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Last night I went to a staged reading of The Trial of Judas Iscariot, a  joint production with Pound of Flesh Theatre and presented at Pacific Theatre. I’d never been to the venue before at 12th and Hemlock. It’s a converted space in the basement of a church that used to house a swimming pool. Instead of the traditional stage/audience divide, the audience is split into two halves, with the small stage sandwiched in-between. The actors can enter and exit on three sides, two leading them under the audience. The theatre was intimate, which was pleasant enough and also rather warm and stuffy, which was less pleasant.

The Trial is an odd bit of theater and was presented in an equally unusual manner — Ron Reed, the artistic director, came onstage before the show to explain that the actors, who had been working with the script for a scant two and a half days, would be bringing said script onstage with them. Costumes would be minimal or suggested, as would props and scenery. Surprisingly, the performances were for the most part wonderfully tight, with only one notable (and actually funny) pause as one actor suddenly realized she was forgetting a single word and had to pause to find it on the page before continuing.

The play is an abstraction that puts Judas on trial for his betrayal of Jesus and instead of having a historical setting, it is instead presented in the modern day, with figures from the past ranging from Pontius Pilate to Mother Teresa and Freud mingling in a courtroom where the prosecution seems destined for Hell and the defense doesn’t seem squeaky clean, either. The first act rolls along quickly, with some very funny turns by Marcus Youssef as the sycophantic prosecutor, trying to stave off a trip to Hell while proving how Judas deserves to stay there and Michael Kopsa as Satan (“Call me Lou”), who metaphorically shifts forms throughout, from aw shucks nice guy to the one condemning you to an eternity of damnation without a glimmer of delight to be seen.

The auditorium doors had signs warning of extreme vulgar language and that warning is earned. This was stuff that could peel the paint off of Tarantino’s living room, yet it rarely felt gratuitous.

However, I ultimately left disappointed because despite some terrific performances and a strong, even rollicking first act, the second act’s pace slows noticeably as the characters indulge in longer and more serious monologues, all to service The Serious Message being presented about the nature of forgiveness. Eventually it felt like I’d stumbled into the Biblical equivalent of a Very Special Episode of Blossom. I am pretty tired of this kind of inconsistent and indulgent tone in stories, whatever the format, because it feels nakedly manipulative — stringing the audience along with “cheap” laughs in order to hit them with that oh-so-powerful sucker punch later — the Serious Message. There is certainly nothing wrong in exploring serious themes and I love a good drama as much as anyone, but this was less getting-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter and more eating a coconut cream pie only to find a slab of liver at the bottom.

Third Man Out

Third Man Out is a 2005 movie featuring the gay PI Donald Strachey, played by Chad “Yeah, that was me in the hot tub” Allen, who wears the role well. A user review on IMDB sums the film up appropriately as a gay twist on the old Nick and Nora movies. Mixing light banter with a murder mystery and all of it set against the hidden and not-so-hidden gay milieu around Albany, NY, the first installment rolls along smoothly, with plenty o’ beefcake to keep those less interested in whodunnit engaged while dropping in enough red herrings to keep everyone else watching. You could tell it was shot in Vancouver not just because of glimpses of places like Esso stations but also the fact that it was raining in nearly every damn scene. It may be difficult to track down the remaining movies in the series (four total so far) but I shall try!

Time to bash The Province again, whee!

While the Canwest media empire struggles to keep itself afloat amidst a huge load of debt, The Province continues to demonstrate why it was the newspaper I chose to mock back when I was studying journalism in college.

Today’s front page headline:

The story is about how Google Street Views has come to Vancouver (as I noted yesterday) and the front page tries to paint some scary picture of privacy being invaded. The Google images automatically blur license plates and faces, so the privacy concerns seem minimal at best. But that’s not something you put on the front page to evoke paranoia, is it? Anytime you get cash from an ATM, fill up your vehicle with gas, stroll though a mall, train station or airport, you are already being recorded, so the notion that you have any real privacy whilst out in public is unrealistic at best. It’s not news and hasn’t been for some time. Sure, there could be a thoughtful column pondering the increasing intrusion of cameras into public life but where’s the hysteria angle in that?

While grabbing a quick snack before attending a play last night, I picked up a copy of The Province that was handy and thumbed through it, finally landing on the op-ed pages. There was a signed editorial piece about how everyone loves Stephen Harper after his musical debut at a gala a few nights back. A pro-Harper editorial. Quite the shocker, it must be said. On the opposite page was the Letters to the Editor except it’s now called Backtalk (with the B cleverly reversed; alas, I cannot reproduce the effect here). Each letter, though given the brevity, it might be more accurate to call them letterettes, is presented under a sentence referencing the original story (ie. “Council plans to install nuclear warheads on city hall roof”) and is signed by, well, whatever the person wants. One letterling was signed by Joe the Plumber. There is no indication of location, so I’m not sure if Joe hails from Vancouver, Surrey or Madagascar.

In essence, The Province letters section, apparently culled from submissions to their website, amounts to anonymous soundbites of unknown origin. I remember some years ago I had several letters to The Vancouver Sun published, back when I was a regular reader. One of them was in response to a screed by their resident homophobe, Trevor Lautens. Lautens had written a typically despicable column and being full of youth and outrage, I penned an objection that they saw fit to put in the paper. They verified my name and address first. Yes, back then, The Sun not only put your name to what you wrote, but your actual street address (the last time I checked, they had modified that to simply your city). Today in The Province the reader comments are little more than worthless filler and even the page’s name — Backtalk — seems to acknowledge an expected tone of anger or dismissal because thoughtful responses that demonstrate an open mind and critical thinking are silly!

I am not hoping for a Canwest bailout that includes saving The Province.

I can see my house from here!

Google Street View has come to Vancouver. It’s kind of weird being able to take a 3D stroll of your neighborhood.

View Larger Map

The link above will show you exactly where I live. What’s even better is you can see Tim though the window sitting out back. Swing around and one of the neighbors is standing on the boulevard, no doubt with a “WTF?” look on her face as the camera car went rolling by.

It’s not perfect, though. At the 1200 block it suddenly jumps from the street to the alley behind our street, then at the 1100 block switches back to the street view again.

Running to stand still

The run at 4 p.m. was under a cloudy sky, with the temperature a bit on the cool side, around 12ºC. I decided to wear my light jacket but probably could have managed with just the t-shirt. I didn’t feel overheated, at least.

Not because of the jacket, anyway.

I lapsed on several fronts — my average pace was a lowly 5.28/km and total distance was 6.42 km — but I also had my fastest km and mile at 4:50/km and 7:59/mile (breaking the 8-minute mark for the first time). In automotive vernacular I think I blew a piston. By the 7 or 8 minute mark I could feel pain up the middle of my chest and my breathing because very loud and labored — even over the music of the iPod. I wasn’t sure I’d make it to 15 minutes, much less 35 but I slowed my pace and kept on and ended up bringing my time down for the final half-km so the graph of the run looks like a bowl.

By putting so much into a fast start I dragged down my total run. Coming off two days of rest probably slowed me down a tic or two, as well. On the one hand, the faster km and mile are nice. On the other, coming up short on the distance is irritating — and you know you’re falling short before it happens because I know pretty much exactly where I should be on the trail at most of the time intervals. When the nice iPod lady called out five minutes I knew I was off the pace and would have to pick it up a good bit to close the gap and my body was all “Oh ho, I don’t think so, mister!”

And the fountain still wasn’t working.

I think I’m going to move to 5 runs a week next week and see how that goes.

M(icky) Mouse

These are apparently concept sketches for an upcoming game featuring Mickey Mouse for the Nintendo Wii. The game, called Epic Mickey, is being headed up by Warren Spector, who has worked previously on the decidedly un-childlike games Thief and Deus Ex. As you can see, the world being portrayed appears to be a bit dark. Much like the movie 9, this stuff would probably give little kids (a presumed target audience for the game) nightmares. I approve!

More art can be found here.

Why I generally avoid the bus

Today I was riding the bus back home and being a Sunday, the trip frequency is reduced so that means every bus is crowded. Sure enough, the #19 was packed, though I lucked out and got a seat when I got on downtown. Eventually the standing-only room fills up and this rather large gentleman ends up parked beside me. When I say “rather large” I mean he is about as overweight as I weigh in total (that being 150 pounds). His belly is bulbous in a way that suggests he has recently consumed whole and intact a small planetoid. He is wearing a powder blue polo shirt and gray sweatpants. The vast expanse of the shirt does a brave job of mostly covering his upper body but the pinkish white flesh of his gut can be spied jutting out over the protesting waistband of the sweatpants.

Let me back up a bit. I don’t dislike fat people. We each all must come to terms with our individual lifestyles. Some of us cannot lose weight due to medical conditions, others because they think fat and chocolate are recognized food groups. Hey, whatever floats your (gravy) boat, I say. I do not judge, even after discovering that a sensible diet will indeed lead you to the prescribed weight for your given body type.

If you’re fat, I only ask one thing: keep that tremendously huge gut of yours out of my face when I’m on the bus. It makes me nervous.

The fat guy pulls out a cell phone and begins talking in a very loud manner. This is hardly unusual, as most people use A VERY LOUD TONE WHEN TALKING ON A CELL PHONE IN PUBLIC. I’m hoping technology will eventually solve whatever is causing this to happen. I glance up briefly. He is holding the phone with short fat fingers and the nails on each are trimmed. I know, you’re probably wondering why I am taking in so much of a person I apparently find kind of yucky. It was just a glance, really, then I noticed that the pinky finger of his right hand did not have a trimmed nail. In fact, the nail was quite long — as long as the nail on the finger itself. The words popped into my mind instantly: the scoop. That nail was deliberately left to grow long so it could serve as a scoop that would operate in the nostril mine, digging into the lodes and pulling out deposits, to be delivered to the awaiting truck — or as we call commonly call it, the mouth.

Blargh.

He moved after a few minutes to the rear exit, a popular place for people on the bus to gather when they are not planning on getting off any time soon. Blocking the exit sticks it to the man, I guess. He puts away the cell phone and puts on some MP3 player and begins listening to music AT A VOLUME THAT EVEN PETE TOWNSEND COULD STILL HEAR. When I get off the bus, I manage to slip my skinny frame by without making body contact and in this H1N1 world, I consider it a victory.

And I think again about why I generally avoid the bus.

Review: Inglorious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds is good. If you’re a Tarantino fan you should see it. If you’re not, you should see it, anyway, because it’s a fun ride that doesn’t feel anything like it’s 2 hour and 48 minute running time.

While a lot of the Tarantino trademarks are in place — talky characters, explicit violence — the WWII setting and lengthy subtitled exchanges give the film a texture that sets it apart from the likes of Pulp Fiction or Deathproof. A number of scenes expertly play off the tension of what the characters aren’t saying, pleasant conversation masking the fear of spies being exposed or plots getting unraveled. And how can you not like a movie that introduces Hitler wearing a flowing white cape like some kind of comic super villain?

Brad Pitt is terrific as the smart and calmly sadistic leader of the Basterds, approaching his tasks with a laidback, down home charm — right up until the scalping starts. His scene in the lobby of the theater where he attempts Italian is hilarious, one of the few where the tension and comedy come together.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I had no idea how the final scene was going to play out. There comes a point where the story must turn one way or the other based on historical events and the way Tarantino chooses to go is interesting, to say the least.

A bloody thumbs up.