Friday, November 30, 2007

Writer's Block II

Video in support of the striking writers.

Writer's Block

During the last 30 days I've blogged everyday and managed to write a novel while participating in NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo. The novel has already gotten a very emotional response from its first reader.

To be honest I'm actually surprised how easy it all was.

I'll be sure to come back to the previous sentence whenever I think I'm suffering from writer's block.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't Make a Big Production Out of It!

I went to see a staged reading tonight. What is that exactly? You ask. It's the performance of a play without any stage design, props, extras, music etc. This particular reading had just three people on stage; two actors reading from a script and the seated director who read out the stage directions.

The play was Espresso by Lucia Frangione at Theatre Best/Before. It was a little confusing at first and one had to pay close attention because each of the two actors had to speak the parts of several characters and sometimes even switched between characters. Once I got the hang of it I was no longer confused and the actors began to win me over.

The story is about a thirty year old Italian/English Canadian girl who rushes back home after her father is seriously hurt in a car accident. The characterizations of Italian Canadian culture were spot on and very funny at times. Domenic Calla who played most of the Male voices through the avatar character of Amante was most charming when he spoke in the exaggerated voices of the various Italian family members. Laura Duralija started slowly but came into her own as the tension increased and more emotion was required of her.

Other than the occasional David Mamet play I haven't been to see much theatre mainly because I really don't like all of the excessive production of most of the popular plays. The focus on the text of a play without the distraction of over production is an interesting approach to theatre and I will probably go to other staged readings in the future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Filler' Up - Coal or Nuclear?

If I decide to ever buy another car I thought it might be an electric one like the Zenn (Zero Emission Zero Noise) vehicle. They don't spew any exhaust, take up less space and are completely silent. Switching to vehicles like these would have profound effects on life in a city like Toronto. But wide scale adoption of these could lead to some unintended results. Remember the massive blackout during the summer of 2003? It was possible because every summer our air conditioners overextend the capacity of our electricity suppliers. Population growth coupled with a booming economy means that electricity supply problems will get worse not better.

So what would happen if a significant number of drivers switched to electric cars? Our current power delivery systems would become swamped. Whenever we need to buy more electric power on the open market our suppliers tend to purchase it from US sources which are almost all derived from burning coal. These cars would in effect be be powered by coal. One way around this would be to do as the French do and invest in new nuclear plants but then these cars would ultimately run on nuclear energy and a lot of people can't come around to supporting Nuclear energy.

No matter how you slice it there will need to be massive reductions in everyday power consumption if innovations like the Zenn car are going to be effectively adopted. So maybe hybrid is still a better choice. It's too bad because I had my eye on this electric car below which is made by Tesla Motors.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Checkmate Knockout

I started a Facebook group over 6 months ago called Intellectuals Who Enjoy Boxing. We peaked at 3 members and have been sitting at 2 members since one of my so-called good friends left the group inexplicably a few months ago.

Chessboxing is a sport that is tailor made for intellectuals who enjoy boxing. Competitors in this sport alternate between playing chess and pounding on each other in a regulation boxing ring.

The best chess players in the world have recently been surpassed by computer chess machines and it's just a matter of time until robot boxers start beating the crap out of us flesh-based pugilists so I'm starting to promote the ultimate chessboxing match of the future.

Live at the MGM Grand II in Las Vegas, June 7, 2019.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

We learned long ago that an atom was comprised mostly of nothing. Inside the electron shell there is a vast area of nothing until you get to the nucleus where you'll find the Neutrons and Protons. The amount of stuff in there is almost negligible in size but significant in it's force since it's this stuff that makes it what it is.

In order for much of modern cosmological theories to work theorists have postulated the existence of Dark Matter. It is another type of matter than the stuff that we can see and from which we're all made. It doesn't react with our regular baryonic type of matter so we can't observe it directly but is thought to comprise the vast majority of the mass off the matter of the Universe anyway, about fifty times more Dark Matter than regular matter.

But wait, that's not all. As much Dark Matter as there is, it's only about a third of the theorized amount of Dark Energy. Even though it is just energy and not matter, there is so much of this Dark Energy that it nevertheless makes up about three quarters of the mass of the Universe.

According to these theories the stuff of planets, stars and galaxies only comprise about less than one half of one percent of the stuff of existence. We're more special than you might think.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Body By Jake

I don't believe in all of those fad weight loss diets. It shouldn't be about the weight. If you adopt a healthy lifestyle then the weight loss will be a bonus side-effect. My friend has developed a diet that's very simple and effective. It's called the Shut Your Cake Hole and Start Moving Your Ass Diet.

I'm one of those people who others say can eat anything and not get fat. It's true that I often eat ice cream and cookies before going to bed and regularly spoon Nutella directly from the jar but I don't think that I've won the genetic lottery. I've got a couple of secrets to add to the diet above.

1. Chew your food - I mean really chew it well. It tastes better this way, you're more satisfied, you'll have fewer tummy troubles and you'll eat less.

2. Small portions - The first five bites always tastes better than the last five bites, so just eliminate the last five bites and have another first five bites later.

3. No Sugar - Just don't add sugar to anything. After your body kicks the habit you won't even miss it, your cravings for sweets will diminish and you'll start to notice that a lot of cake is just too sweet to eat.

That's it. If you take this advice to heart then you'll have success. I guarantee it or your money back.* But you must heed all of the above because I haven't been moving my ass that much lately and I'm starting to feel a little soft. Boxing lessons start again next week.

*offer not valid in GPEG (Greater Planet Earth Region)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ride'em Cowboy

“We call this a 'Brokeback Mountain' game, because there's so much penetration and kickouts,” Jackson said. “It was one of those games.”

Sports personalities aren't known for their original observations or verbal acuity. Phil Jackson is one of the more enlightened people in sports. The multiple championship winning NBA coach of the LA Lakers threw off one of the funnier quips I've heard from a sports guy in some time. During a game this week the San Antonio opposition was repeatedly able to penetrate into the scoring zone then kick the ball out to a shooter who easily made the long 3-point shot. When asked about it he delivered the quote above.

I thought it was hilarious. It showed a knowledge of sports, cinema and comedy as well as a hip ease with referencing gay culture. Most of the reporters also thought it was funny as it generated a round of laughter within the scrum. The NBA however reprimanded Jackson this week for his comments. I'm not exactly sure why but I'm not surprised it would happen within a nation that embarrassed themselves to the world by freaking out over the momentary exposure of a single breast during a half-time show.

Phil came out to make the obligatory apology but he did so again with an hilarious flourish.

“If I've offended any horses, Texans, cowboys or gays, I apologize,” Jackson said.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Persistence of Memory

The amounts of data being created on the Internet is staggering and we've got to find a way to store all of it somehow. Rich media Internet applications like YouTube, Myspace and Facebook are accelerating the rate at which the amount of data is being added to the pool. Below is a pretty funny graph produced just ten years ago in 1997. It estimates the amount of data on the Internet at that time to be just under 2 Terabytes (2 million megabytes).

Here's what you can do with 2 TB worth of data. You can store it on this Lacie 2TB hard drive which anyone can put on their desk for about $600.
When the Large Hadron Collider becomes operational next year some of the most important physics experiments ever devised will be carried out. Some really interesting data will be produced there at the annual rate of about 15 Petabytes (15 million million megabytes). This is just from one source. Now imagine all of the ways we will continue to create data. If we extrapolate into the future the growth we've seen thus far it quickly becomes mind boggling to consider where to store it all and how to maintain it so that it doesn't disintegrate and disappear into the ether.

La desintegración de la persistencia de la memoria
Salvador Dali (1954)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Making Green Lemonade

Some people have a knack for making the best of a bad situation. I'm not talking about Mary Tyler Moore whose character "can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worth while." For some people calamities, catastrophes and disasters aren't always so bad.

Disaster Capitalism - The new book by Naomi Klein is a follow up to her huge hit No Logo. In the new work she claims that political powers exploit disasters of many kinds to push through legislation that would otherwise be met with much resistance in safe and peaceful settings. The implication is that there is actually a disincentive for some to seek peace and incentives for them to sustain disaster scenarios so that they can enact legislation like The Patriot Act after 911 or bring forth the privatization of the school system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Military Industrial Complex - More than just the simple opportunism of disaster capitalism, the Military Industrial Complex is a much wider construct that is said to be more or less designed to encourage war in order to profit from it's ability to destroy capital which then needs to be recapitalized or replaced.

Measuring Wealth with GDP - Gross Domestic Product measures the value of all products that are produced within an economy. This positively counts product growth without taking into consideration the possibly more costly side effects of the events that created the demand. This is why such a terrible thing as an oil spill will increase the GDP of an economy because many costly products will be produced to nominally clean up the environmental mess and to replace the oil liner.

Blood for Oil - This seems to creatively mix all of the above. It's a fact that war in the Middle East has greatly benefited the petroleum sector as well as companies that sell their services to the US Government. It might be more than coincidental that many of these companies have close ties to the offices of the US Executive and many of the people in their cabinet.

Disaster Fundraising - Lobbyists are known to exaggerate their causes in order to get the money flowing. It seems that those in non-profit, charitable or humanitarian organizations are not beyond this approach. The UN has just had to restate their AIDS numbers for Africa. It seems that the incidence of the disease has been over reported for quite some time now. Stephen Lewis is disappointed but puts it into perspective by explaining that even these new lower numbers are so staggeringly large that it shouldn't discourage us from further investment in his efforts to eradicate the disease.

The Upside of Down - This is the title of a book by Thomas Homer Dixon who writes that not only can catastrophes lead to positive change, they sometimes are necessary for such change. When it comes to Global Warming it seems that this has not registered with most people as a catastrophe yet and therefore not much is being done. Because such shifts happen so gradually it is hard for the human imagination to put it in the same category as a catastrophe that occurs over a holiday weekend. Some are trying to make this link by pointing out that many of these more immediate disasters may intensify and become more common as a result of Global Warming.

Making Green from Green - Despite what Ayn Rand has so poorly written, I don't think greed should be the only primary motive for economic activity. But someone trying to convince people who are swayed by greed could use this motivation to their benefit. I have been trying to convince people of the benefits of green initiatives using the language and practices of a business case. It is not hard to make a compelling case that accepting the challenges of adhering to initiatives like the Kyoto Accord will create massive opportunities for those jurisdictions who lead the way. The innovations required to succeed can and will be sold to those who lag behind. That's why the levers of incentives and disincentives which are held by our governments should be pulled now before we get left behind.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We'll Fix it in the Edit

This month I've made the dual commitments to blog everyday and to write a full novel from start to finish in thirty days. So far so good as I'm on track to succeed with ten days to go. I had started on another novel last year which began with a quick flourish and then had stalled. After about eleven months of thinking and writing I was stuck at about fifty pages of a novel that was in danger of never being completed.

I was happy with the quality of the writing within that first novel but that's the problem. I only allowed myself to write what I considered to be quality writing. During this month's NaNoWriMo the approach was to write whatever comes to mind, never look back and never second guess. The result is that I have now written over a hundred pages of a novel that may turn out in the end to be even better than the first one. I've found that you need to jump in, let yourself go and allow yourself to make mistakes.

Before this month it was like I was trying to make an epic movie by planning every shot and directing every scene in advance. The approach to writing a novel this month has been more like the process of documentary film making in that you point your camera at something interesting, let the events unfold and then worry about tying it all together in the editing. A good documentary film will in the end take on the drama of a good epic film anyway, without the need for all of that obsessive planning in advance.

As it happens I've also started work on a feature length documentary film tentatively called Dunk: The Art and Science of the Jam. I'm collaborating on this with a friend who is a Juno award winning documentary film maker. I've also started planning a documentary film festival with another friend who teaches at OCAD. When it rains, it pours. But that's OK because I've discovered that I can swim.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What if We're not Responsible for Global Warming?

Soon it will be even more difficult for those who deny the human responsibility for Global Warming to keep a straight face while making their arguments. A report is about to be published by an exceedingly impressive list of respected scientists outlining the state of the globe and prospects for the future with regard to climate change (as the deniers prefer to call it). The report comes just in advance of the meeting of industrial nations to follow up on the Kyoto accord. USA, the most important signatory of that treaty has of course abandoned it and justified doing so with some very poorly done, lobbyist sponsored science.

Canada has actually dramatically increased it's greenhouse emissions since signing the accord and the Conservative government tried initially to minimize or debate the truth of global warming, but even they have had to come around and might even surprise some people in the next wave of treaties. They are probably doing this more as a reaction to recent polls that suggest Canadians are becoming more green every day and are even willing to vote for the Green Party. Research also shows that we are willing to pay more for green products and services and would even pay higher taxes if it went toward cleaner environmental policies. Elizabeth May is well positioned here with her party, the Liberal party is making changes to their policies, while the NDP need to find a way to balance their commitments to labour and heavy manufacturing to become greener or they will be left in the dust.

I have always been amused by those who deny that we humans are having a dangerous effect on the climactic shifts of our planet. I understand science is always open to debate and I would always encourage it. The evidence in this case is so dramatically shifted towards one set of theories over another that anyone who argues the weaker case would need to be seen as a maverick in the best case, a quack in a middling case or a fraud in the worst case. I don't mind that some middling science is poorly done and can create false conclusions. I accept that this happens but these instances are easily shown to be faulty and soon discarded. The worst cases are those that take money from lobbyists and then fraudulently produce custom results. These people are the scourge not only of science but of all things dear to humanity and they should be vigorously exposed.

As for the best case scenario in which a scientist authentically engages in science and insists on findings that go contrary to commonly accepted understanding. These people often point to the examples of Galileo or Copernicus as their models. For every Galileo or Copernicus there have been thousands upon thousands of people who also went against commonly accepted notions of science and were never in the end proven to be right simply because they were wrong. Just because you're a maverick and everyone thinks you're too extreme doesn't automatically make you right. There's the distinct and more likely possibility that you might just be an idiot.

Let's take the extremely unlikely possibility that one of these deniers of Global Warming is not a middling and incompetent scientist but is rather a maverick, does science authentically without skewing his results to suit lobbyist or political masters and arrives at the conclusion that Global Warming is not caused by Humans. If this remotely unlikely possibility which I am in principle willing to entertain is true then what? Even if this were the case how could anyone deny the benefits of removing millions and millions of tonnes of pollutants from the atmosphere, making the air fresher to breathe, reducing toxin originating cancers, birth defects and other ailments? How could anyone deny the benefits of conducting business more efficiently and the creation of new innovative technologies that would result from these reductions? Even if we're wrong about the real cause of Global Warming which is really not in debate, then we still need to go full steam ahead in reducing emissions for all of the other benefits that would result.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Florida Shines a Light on Toronto

I recently bid on a nearly condemned property that would have needed over $100k in renovations to make it a viable rental property or a nice house for someone. It was priced a little low so I bid $37k above asking price. The winning bid was $87k above the asking price. This scenario is playing out in every category of real estate and in almost every neighbourhood in Toronto. People are being paid $2,000 to stand in line so their benefactors could be the first to buy $10M condos.

Despite all of this many experts will tell you that Toronto is still a bargain on a world scale. We used to have a bit of an inferiority complex and dreamt of being compared to other world class cities. People around the globe are finally starting to see Toronto in precisely those terms. The ultra rich of the world, especially those from less politically stable environments are finding that they will not find a more open, safe and tolerant city anywhere else in the world and they're buying property here to hedge their bets in case they need to relocate.

Several ultra luxury condos are being built in town and they're selling for record prices. But when you put it in the category of so-called world class cities then there is still a lot of room to go up in value. So despite all the market turmoil in the US, New York City is not suffering price declines. While Florida properties are selling at deep discounts in the US another kind of Florida is moving to Toronto.

Richard Florida is the world authority on how the Creative Class help make a successful and livable city. His books have sold in the millions while he taught at Carnegie Mellon. But now Richard Florida has relocated here to teach at the University of Toronto. Florida will be heading The Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management as well as working with the MaRS Discovery District which is another group that will have a hand in bringing global attention to the innovations going on in this city.

I know a lot of people who used to dream about moving to New York that no longer do so. They are starting to see that we've got something cooking right here at home. It's no accident that Toronto has the highest Facebook penetration of any city in the world. The people here are the most socially integrated people on Earth and this collaborative approach will be priceless in the future. Real estate trends are just the tip of the iceberg. People will pay more to live where everybody else wants to live. What this means for affordable housing is another matter altogether.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bringing Up Baby

During my undergraduate specialization in Philosophy I also completed a minor in Cinema Studies. I remember one professor of some renown who taught the introductory Film101 course telling our class that the finest example of a Hollywood movie ever made was Bringing Up Baby (1938). He screened it for us and most of us scratched our heads.

The first thing going against it was that it was a black& white film; my generation had made the switch to colour TV and had come to consider B&W movies to be just filler for stations that couldn't afford the newer stuff. The film also seemed to be just like any other old movie and not that different from most screwball comedies. In fact, Streisand's What's up Doc? (1972) and Madonna's Who's That Girl? (1987) are both based on this film.

I got a chance to see the original recently during one of my insomniac hazes and now have a new found respect for the film. The content may not be that original but the execution is nearly flawless. Howard Hawks' pacing and tone of the film is masterfully integrated with the perfect timing of the repartee dialogue of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Their chemistry is sparkling as she gets the hapless paleontologist in one ill conceived situation after another and eventually charms him, keeps him from getting married and eventually wins him over.

It's also interesting to note how "gay" Cary Grant is during the film. He was suspected of being bisexual and his character in the film appears in drag, appears to be the bottom to Hepburn's top and even uses the word "gay" for the first time in a Hollywood film which up until then had only been used by insiders of the gay community. Hawksian women in this director's films were also gender-bending by virtue of their aggressive verbal and sexual behaviours

You will find hundreds of examples of more recent movies in which lovable female leads like Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock play similarly constructed roles only to come across like irritating and precocious children. Hepburn somehow makes the zany airhead charming and sexy without trying too hard to be cute. The film was a terrible flop and nearly ended Hawks' career. Only much later did the film gain the respect and admiration of filmmakers and critics. Add me to that list.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Scam By Any Other Name

"Poetry is like fish: If it's fresh, it's good; if it's stale, it's bad; and if you're not certain, try it on the cat."

-Osbert Sitwell

Here is a poetry site for people without cats.
Here is what some people are saying about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What's in a Name?

I came across this very useful site that analyzes the significance of your name for your life. Here are some of the insightful analyses you will find.


While you could do well in certain positions of authority, you have a certain lack of initiative and a tendency to procrastinate.
[No kidding. We've only been waiting 2000 years for you to return.]

If you are in sales work, you could do well because of your friendly personality, interest in people, and desire to please.
[If vinyl siding sales doesn't work out, you could try being Vice-President]

You are deep, philosophical, and refined, but your extremely sensitive nature causes you to become depressed over any real or imagined slight.
[Huh? ]

If you don't believe the veracity of this powerful tool check out what it says about you if your name is God.

Your First Name of: God

Click here for a report on the impact your first and last names combined have on your life.
You will be amazed at our accuracy!
  • Although the name God creates the urge to be reliable and responsible, it can cause an unscrupulous, materialistic approach that frustrates higher humanitarian qualities.
  • This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the reproductive system, worry, and mental tension.
  • Your name God gives you a strong sense of responsibility in business and material affairs, and the practicality and determination to make a success of anything you undertake.
  • Your ability to organize and direct the efforts of others enables you to excel in any managerial position because you have the ability to grasp the concept of a goal complete with an understanding of the steps to be taken.
  • This name has allowed you to develop depth and breadth of mind.
  • You are able to retain facts, to grasp new information to your existing store of knowledge.

Your full name creates the overall conditions in your life as well as your destiny. It is a very important factor. Click here for a report on the impact your first and last names combined have on your life. You will be amazed at the accuracy of this report!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Welcome to Canada

This is wrong on so many levels but is yet another example where Little Brother is at work keeping an eye on the system. The video footage above was confiscated by the RCMP from the person who shot it and attempts were made to keep it from him and the public until a legal challenge was successfully made.

This poor guy Dziekanski on his first ever flight, after 10 hours of waiting in a terminal with no food or water and clearly distressed meets his end at the hands of some pretty unprofessional police work. All of this could have so easily been avoided:

If someone had noticed that a man had been walking around the luggage area for over 6 hours.

If the airport had a PA system in the luggage area his mother would have been able to contact him.

If one of the staff just walked fifty feet into the area they could have found him waiting for his mother.

If the police just slowed down to assess the situation before acting and unnecessarily tasering him.

This last point is really disappointing. Does it have to be that the type of person who works in law enforcement needs necessarily to be of a thuggish nature? It's as if some of these guys are just looking for any excuse to engage in some ass-kicking. This is an exceptional situation in which the incident was caught on camera. There are countless such incidents that never see the light of day. Clearly these men are either very poorly trained or not following their training.

On a lighter note:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fuck Death

Here is an organization that we could all get behind. The Fuck Death Foundation's mission statement outlines that they are "dedicated to the elimination of death through the generation and distribution of funds to strategically selected causes and initiatives worldwide." They plan on seeking official charitable organization status.

I've been saying for some time that we need to start debating the issues around the likelihood that technologies will arrive within our lifetimes to extend life much beyond the averages we decry today. Stem cell research and nanotechnology alone could offer therapies for many diseases as well as ways to slow down if not stop or reverse aging. The upheavals that could result from such a possibility would make the industrial revolution look like a tiny blip in sociopolitical development. Like most new desirable technologies the wealthy will have primary access to them. Can you think of a more motivating reason to revolt than the chance to attain immortality?

Ray Kurzweil believes we will have technologies that will allow human immortality to be possible in about 20 years. So I think the Fuck Death Foundation's birth might be well timed to serve a goal that will soon come to be taken more seriously.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This Week in Fat

It's a Fat World After All
Disneyland denies that they're shutting down their "It's a Small World " ride in order to make changes to accommodate heavier passengers. Miceage reported that the boats kept getting stuck forcing the staff to more frequently ask some patrons to get off the ride so that the boats could continue floating. It's been reported that in order to make these patrons feel better they're being offered food vouchers.

Flying the Fat Skies
A doctor in Australia is advocating that airlines should charge a premium to obese passengers to be levied for every kilogram above a certain weight, just like they do for excess baggage. I think this idea's going to have some legs and will eventually become policy. The price of fuel continues to rise as we run out of oil while no one seems to be working on any serious alternatives for jet fuel. I could imagine one day soon being weighed with all of my luggage and paying for my ticket based on the total weight.

Fat Old Opry
Nashville Tennessee is the fattest city in America with 68% of it's residents overweight or obese. Forbes Magazine has also written that the most sparsely populated areas of the country are also the fattest while the densely filled areas like NYC and L.A. are less so. Dense urban living is more efficient in more ways than one.

Fat is no Joking Matter

Unless you go here, where it is.

Monday, November 12, 2007

This Monarch's Not Smiling

Hugo Chavez is a shit disturber, there's no denying it. He pisses off a lot of people especially oil people like the Bush clan. Recently he got into a spat with King Juan Carlos of Spain calling him a fascist. When he tried to interrupt during a conference the Monarch yelled at him to "shut up" on live TV.

Just an excuse for me to dig up something cool from the 80's.

Abecedarians - Smiling Monarchs (1985)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Eat The Rich

A restaurant in NYC is offering a $25,000 dessert. I don't mean to add to the free publicity that is restaurant is receiving. We should probably just ignore these asinine attempts to get our attention but I excuse myself in that this will mostly be a meta comment on the matter. I don't really care what the ingredients are: they're probably a mix of some rare and therefore expensive ingredients and usually include some jewelry that the buyer can take home after they've licked their plate clean.

This kind of thing makes the rich seem like clueless showoffs as represented in popular culture by the Thurston Howell III's or the Montgomery Burns of the TV world. It's just too easy to despise the wealthy when such things are publicized. "That's rare and expensive, let's consume it" is a very unsophisticated approach to riches. I'm quite sure the people who drink gold flakes, much like the people who rent stretch limousines to go to rock concerts, and also like those who strut in white Bentley roadsters in music videos aren't really the rich but only those who want to appear to be so. The appearance of wealth is as valuable to some as actual wealth. This is probably why people rent exotic cars to attend their school reunions.

Eating gold flakes in a sundae or drinking them in a Goldschlager martini can't be good for you. But if you must so conspicuously consume I've got a suggestion for you. You know what's even more rare and valuable than gold? Plutonium costs $120,000/ounce. Why don't you sprinkle a little bit of that in your martini.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Country For Old Men

I first saw the Coen Brothers film Blood Simple (1984) at the Broadway in Hamilton and I was a little puzzled at first. It was very different than most of the movies I had seen up to then and it started my appreciation for art films. Here was a movie that was glacially paced with sparse dialogue and yet it held your attention for nearly two hours. I liked it the first time I saw it but I liked it more the second time I saw it.

This has now become a pattern for me with their films. I remember thinking Fargo was pretty good but subsequent viewings made me believe it was great. One just doesn't absorb all of the detail the first time around. They have an unusual sense of humour that's brought out in the pacing and the eccentric folksy dialogue of their movies. I remember being disappointed by The Big Lebowski the first time I saw it, thinking that it was too slick and silly but it has gotten funnier each time I've watched it. I now consider it one of the funniest movies ever made.

I just watched No Country for Old Men and I'm assuming that the same thing will happen again. I liked the movie but I look forward to loving it the second time around.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hot Girl Robot on Girl Robot Action

Bjork Video - All is Full of Love
There's something sad and tragic about sentient robots.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Message in a Bottle

I'm not sure most people realize how big the Universe really is, despite Carl Sagan's valiant efforts to educate us about it. Light travels at about 1 billion kilometres per hour and yet it still takes about 4 years for that light to travel to the nearest star system to ours. It would take you 15 billion years to cross the Universe at the speed of light.

The farthest human made object from Earth is Voyager 1. After 30 years it is about 16 million km away from Earth but at the wicked fast rate of 60,000 kph it will take about another 50,000 years before it gets anywhere near another star system and millions of years before it gets to any denser parts of the galaxy where it is more likely to be found by an alien species.

When Voyager is found the aliens will discover a gold recording disc that we've included on board. The instructions on how to play the disc is on the record sleeve which is reproduced in the photo above. The record includes sounds and images of Earth.

This is one of the saddest and most quixotic undertakings that I can imagine. It is probably one of the surest bets in the Universe that Voyager will never be found but if it ever was found it would likely be a billion years after we've all died on Earth.

You can track Voyager 1's travels at this site.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mainlining Sugar

I listened to a podcast that aimed to give some writing advice for NaNoWriMo participants. Some of the advice included the obvious like coffee but went beyond by suggesting cream donuts, Pringles chips and blue ice cream.

The really bad white flour donuts have immense amounts of sugar and fried fat so they're packed with energy. They suggested crushing the Pringles chips in the container so you could just "drink" it without wasting the time required to pick up and place the chips in your mouth. These are also loaded with sugar to complement the pressed starch that is the main ingredient and when you're done you could use the can as a hacking aid. The blue ice cream apparently has the most sugar of any flavour probably since it's aimed at children's taste.

It's long been a cliche that writers abuse themselves especially with coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs but I've been good at avoiding these. I drink decaf and I don't smoke. I did have a cuba libre last night but only after I finished writing and I haven't tried the bug powder yet.

If anyone were to follow the advice given by this broadcast I'm sure they'd go into some kind of hyperglycemic fits. But I am feeling a little sluggish tonight and it's too late to get myself to the gym so I've gone out and got myself a six pack of chocolate cream donuts. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Texas Bound?

The Canadian dollar closed today above $1.08 against the US dollar. A few years ago it was just under $0.62. If I chose to buy a $200,000 property in the US back then it would have cost me about C$323,000. But today that similarly priced property would only cost me C$184,000. That's a 44% savings just from the currency exchange appreciation.

Add to this the sub-prime meltdown in the US which is causing a rash of foreclosures and price reductions down there and you could easily pick up an American home for less than half price. The dollar might stabilize and recover a little and most people think that real estate prices will continue to drop before they rise again in the US but there probably has never been a better time for a snowbird to pick up a bargain.

So let's go shopping. There are stories from California and Florida of builders selling remaining houses for less than half the initial price. But these tend to be new housing developments in suburban type settings that I'm not sure I'd consider buying at any price. The cooler neighbourhoods are cheaper but still not cheap. NYC seems a natural choice but I haven't seen too many bargains there yet.

So where to buy? I would choose a city with active arts and music scenes, a highly educated workforce, a major university in town and if you listen to Richard Florida a vibrant gay community would also help. I've done some research and Austin Texas seems to come up at or near the top on many indexes that one could use to gauge the coolness of an American city. Perhaps a Texas winter home is not out of the question for this suddenly snowbird. Maybe I'll check out SXSW in March.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Curb Your Buzz

When Jerry Seinfeld got his own TV show I avoided it like the plague. I used to see him on the Tonight Show asking his "what's the deal with ketchup?" questions and I really didn't need to be irritated for half an hour each week. It wasn't until I was in residence at university and couldn't successfully avoid TV any longer that I happened to watch a few episodes of Seinfeld and found it to be very amusing. Despite the fact that all of the characters were extreme sociopaths it was an innovative show that highlighted the absurdities of everyday minutia. Perhaps I was wrong about this guy. Maybe he wasn't such a superficial simpleton.

Years later while on vacation in Mexico I saw this show called Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO. I nearly pissed myself laughing and remember thinking that it was another step above the bar set by the Seinfeld sitcom. I watched two episodes during that vacation and it started to dawn on me that this Larry David guy was the same guy who created and wrote on the Seinfeld show. It was also implied that the George Costanza character was loosely based on himself. Curb Your Enthusiasm has of course become a successful and well known show and Jerry Seinfeld hasn't done much of anything since the end of the run for Seinfeld. He would occasionally do a stand-up routine and audiences seemed enthusiastic but it was always the kind of material that wouldn't get a comic very many laughs if he weren't already as famous and powerful as Jerry.

Now we finally have a major project that was initiated, written and produced by Jerry himself and everyone is buzzing about how mediocre Bee Movie is. I'm not at all surprised. If you haven't caught on yet it has become abundantly clear that Larry David was the creative brains and the funny bone behind Seinfeld. Jerry was well known and comfortable in front of the camera so he became the face of the show which I'm convinced would have been just another canceled Pauly Shore type star vehicle if it wasn't for Larry David.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Culture Clash

I saw this commercial on TV tonight. The music is a cover of Pressure Drop by the Clash.

When I was a kid there was this quaint concept around music we used to talk about called "selling out". It was a cute notion that art trumped everything else and making music for money or popularity was an act of betrayal and if you tried too hard to profit from your art then you'd be compromising it and just "selling out". That's why you couldn't imagine hearing a Led Zeppelin song on a TV commercial. If you did hear their music used in that way you could have been assured that they would have lost all credibility with their fans.

Later on the punks were much more hardcore about this concept and the Clash was a band that epitomized this ethos having once insisted on releasing a triple album for the price of a single album and then allowed to do so because they made a deal with their label to tour for free to make up for the loss. I remember hearing Generation X speak for punks and deride the earlier generation by singing "we'll never sell out, like they did" and then watched as Billy Idol sold every shred of dignity he had as a punk in the following years by cashing in with cheesy songs, videos and staged concert hyperbole.

Things have changed. When Moby licensed every song on his album Play for TV ads no one begrudged him. Instead he was praised and admired for his business acumen. Hip-hop artists often prefer to be called entrepreneurs first and musicians somewhere down the list. The latest generation perhaps has a more accurate understanding of the music business by understanding that it is a business after all. That doesn't mean that they don't appreciate true art. They just don't think there's anything wrong with getting paid. It's considered perfectly OK to fleece those suckers at the ad agencies for the privilege to play their music. Just don't ask these kids to pay for the privilege of listening to that same music. They'll then tell you that music should be free and not about making money.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Conservative Rant

It's easy to be lulled into complacency with this Conservative government. They mostly stay out of trouble by being bland, boring and uncontroversial. Every now and then you're brought down to earth when you realize who these people really are. This past week we've had a series of developments that should give us pause.

1. They have brought forth a series of massive tax cuts and reduced the GST by 1 percent. Some economists think that some of that tax reward could have been better used as debt retirement or increased program funding after years and years of cuts. But it seems that nearly every economist including those strongly aligned with the Conservative party have said unequivocally that cutting the GST makes absolutely no sense at all.

2. The Chief of Defense Rick Hillier spoke openly about Afghanistan saying that it would take at least a decade to sort out that mess. This doesn't jibe with the official party line so he's been admonished and told to keep quiet. A few years ago some Military men gave George Bush more reasonable estimates of requirements and time lines for war in Iraq and they were sent packing or silenced and the results have been horrific.

3. Mark Warner was recently disqualified by the Conservative Party from running in Toronto Centre against Bob Rae even though he was democratically elected by his riding association. It seems they didn't take too kindly to him having opinions of his own about income and equality.

4. The Harper government refused to intervene in the case of a Canadian on death row in Montana citing that they didn't want to have such a monster like him back in Canada to serve a life sentence. The fact of the matter is that this person could serve life in Montana if he were given clemency and there would be no need to have him back in Canada. This is all beside the point. If you are a Canadian citizen you have the expectation to be defended by your country in accordance with your countries sense of justice and it is clear that Canadians consider capital punishment to be an abhorrent and uncivilized practice. What's surprising is that so many of the prominent Conservative Party members actually publicly support capital punishment.

5. The Mulroney saga got more interesting this week. It seems that he had accepted $300,000 in cash payments in secret meetings in hotel rooms and then delayed paying taxes on them until it became quite clear that people were going to find out about it. This kind of 3rd world opportunism is embarrassing to Canada and should be exposed and punished. And I know it's not just the Conservatives who have shady dealings in their recent past.

6. The Harper government continues to obfuscate and stall when it comes to environmental action. The old Progressive Conservative Party was much more palatable even with Mulroney at the helm when it came to environmental issues. With such a name one has to wonder what it is that the Conservatives are actually trying to conserve.

Friday, November 02, 2007

American Gangster

There is a tradition of glorifying the gangster in American culture. The Godfather Trilogy and the Sopranos are some of the obvious examples of the Italian-American variety but more recently the African-American Gangster culture has had it's fair share of glorification. Hip-hop and Rap videos are dripping with the ostentatious glamour that showcases gangster/drug dealer/pimp lifestyles.

American Gangster starring Denzel Washington is somewhat of a hybrid. It's the story of a poor African American who makes it big in the world dominated by the Italian American Mafia of 1970's New York. It's so natural to elevate the criminal element because criminal activity is so structurally similar to business activity. America admires the entrepreneur for his audacious confidence and his ability to struggle against risk in order to arrive at success. Frank Lucas (played by Denzel) is a perfect example of a man that possesses a combination of fearlessness, strength and innovativeness that allows him to reap the reward of fantastic riches.

Most Americans do not really feel like they have access to the opportunities to succeed in their lives. Criminal activity allows the fantasy of bypassing that difficult process of education and hard work and going straight to the riches. Of course it's just a fantasy since most of those who choose the life will soon end up dead or in prison. But Hollywood is in the business of selling fantasy and they do a pretty good job of it. Despite the occasional display of psychopathy, Denzel's portrayal of Lucas is mostly sympathetic. Lucas did end up in jail and penniless but it seems a small price to pay for someone who sees no hope for the future.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Peak Stupidity Theory

Judging by the price of crude these days it seems that people are beginning to accept the peak oil theory of fossil fuel supply. Supply is on the way down, demand is on the way up and prices are soaring and are likely never to go substantially back down again. Canada has a domestic answer since we have billions of barrels of oil trapped in the Tar Sands of Alberta. The American response to peak oil also seeks out a domestic solution with their recent focus on bio-fuels. America can produce a lot of corn very efficiently and some have decided that corn would make a nice replacement for fossil fuels.

Something is very misguided here. We're looking for alternative sources of things to burn rather than looking for alternative methods of power generation, or better yet, ways to radically reduce usage. Oil is running out and it happens to be a very dirty and toxic way to create energy. Rather than finding truly creative sustainable solutions we're going to make the net effects worse while dangerously delaying what we'll eventually have to do anyway.

The amount of energy required to extract oil from sands in Alberta is staggering. You have to dig out 2 tons of sand and apply copious amounts of energy to process it to arrive at just 1 barrel of oil. Similarly you have to harvest tons of corn then apply energy to process it to produce some combustible to put in your tank but at the cost of removing acreage from the inventory of land that could be used for food production. Meanwhile food prices rise because of the shrinking availability of arable land. How are these good solutions to peak oil?