Thursday, August 30, 2007

Glad I'm not a man

Continuing my series of ultra-low-effort posts (hey, I'm on vacation), here's a cool site for those unimpaired by vanity. Via Pop Candy, it's the St. Andrews Face Transformer, from the computer science department at the University of St. Andrews. You can make yourself look old, like a creepy baby (or maybe that's just me), or drawn in various artistic styles.

This one's nice - it's Mucha style:

Slightly less attractive, it's masculine me:





And let's leave it on the not so repulsive Botticelli:

Upload your own photo and go nuts.

Now 30% more unpredictable

The Office people answer the question: what did you do on your summer holidays?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The bloody rat carcass on the porch is my sincere gift to you

Thanks to commenter Corien, I learned a new acronym recently: lolstc. I'm possibly the only person on the Internet who had to Google that to find out it means "laughed out loud, scared the cat." I put it into real-life practice when my brother sent me a link to the Art is Not a Scam blog:
New "realisticats" internet phenomenon takes world by storm - top bloggers claim proper grammar next hot trend.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bring it on

Next season on House, no joke this time.

He's alone:

He's hiring:

He's hilarious:

- Where did you come from?
- Apes, if you believe the Democrats.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Haiku for You

I got a sweet but guilt-inspiring e-mail today from the Haiku for You people, thanking me for blogging about their site. Guilt-inspiring because while I Googled the text of the haiku kitty photo my brother had sent me so I could link to the original source, I didn't actually mention the site. In fact, I didn't quite get the concept in the short time I took to gather the link. I'd thought it was a site for user submitted content. A YouTube for haiku graphics. An I Can Has Cheezburger for poetry.

It's more interesting than that.

The site is "a collaborative Internet art project" that encourages you to send in your story, then creates the haiku and graphic for you. Most are personal, like the Formerly Skittish one I previously posted: a couple had adopted a cat that was scared of everything, until with care and affection, he became happy and lazy. One guy wanted an apology for causing a water leak in his downstairs neighbour's apartment:

Some are just random musings, like the person who wondered why Van Gogh would cut off his ear:

One contributor simply asked for a haiku about metempsychosis. Metemwhat? Oh:

Have a story you want boiled down into an illustrated haiku? Submit it here.

Haiku for You is the second Internet art project for Danny and Nina, the couple behind the blog. Their other site is "an art/voting project in which you decide where we should spend the next year of our life and we report on the adventure." The voting is over and they're blogging about life in the winning city, Denver. I guess that's one way to make a decision.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We are not all the same

Social marketing is a big buzzword (buzzphrase?) in health care these days. The Spare Change blog I read to help keep up with the field defines it this way: “Applying marketing principles to promoting health and social issues and bringing about positive behavior change.” Setting aside the fact that eating right and exercising more makes us feel better and live healthier, we can debate how to fund the health care system until Michael Moore's blue in the face, but if we collectively don’t do something about lifestyle-related illnesses, no decent system’s going to be sustainable.

Anyway, Nedra Weinreich of Spare Change linked to a post from a blogger named Jeff Harrell, who revealed his struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder. Weinreich points out that the post and the comments are, in effect, helping create social change.
Blogging is an incredibly powerful way to connect with other people -- whether you are the blogger or the reader. When a blogger has built a following of people who read his or her words regularly, a bond can form that goes beyond the content of the blog posts, providing an instant support group. Others who have never heard of the problem get to learn about it vicariously and perhaps realize that someone they know might be affected, and those who suffer from it themselves can see that they are not alone. One blog post could change someone's life.
I got another takeaway out of this, though, after reading Jeff’s original post and some of the comments that followed. There were supportive comments and a few negative “you're an attention whore” comments, but what got to me were the “it’s no big deal” kind of comments. Comments dismissing the experience of living with a mental illness, because none of us are “normal” anyway. Comments like "Of course you have a disconnect from reality, you’re a writer! Situation normal."

These are comments intended to be helpful and supportive, from people who mean well. But they're breathtakingly ignorant. Someone who’s writing about his experiences living through hell, about relationships and career and finances that have been decimated by a defect in his brain, does not need to be told “no biggie; we’re all abnormal.” It’s like telling someone who has cancer “no big deal; we all have abnormal cells.”

But while “normal” is definitely a questionable term -- who really feels that word describes them? -- deciding how someone else should feel about their mental illness, or abusive parent, or health concerns, or other deeply personal challenge serves to further isolate people who are often already socially isolated because of it. Why do we need to whitewash other people’s problems, often at the same time we’re stewing over our own? Do we all so desperately need to be the same?

Harrell is not a lesser human being for having Borderline Personality Disorder, but neither is he facing the same difficulties as me, or you, or any neurotic writer, or every other human being.

I think the world would be a more compassionate and insightful place if we could resist the temptation to normalize what isn’t the norm, resist the urge to demonize the darker side of humanity, and work on a little empathy that covers a range of human experience.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

House Season Three DVD

Out now. Get it.

Will I write about it? Only if a review copy comes through. Yeah, I'm a hard ass.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Things the Internet brought me

Cute with Chris

Chris has an Internet show filled with kitties and puppies and cuteness and snark. Yes, all coexisting peacefully. He's on a mission to make viewer Craig and his lookalike kitty an Internet sensation. This is Craig:

This is Chris:

Rilo Kiley

You can listen to Rilo Kiley's new album free on MySpace right now and read a Q&A with singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis by the LA Times.

Kitty Haiku

My brother found this kitty haiku which is eerily similar to my kitty's evolution. He was always affectionate, but fairly wild when he first adopted me 15 years ago. He'd come screaming around the corner with all 24 claws and however many teeth exposed to attack. Once that was over and your arms were shredded, he'd be ready for cuddles. Now, he's just a giant ball of mush.


This is cool. Discover new music depending on your mood and preferences.

Siskel and Ebert

The Balcony Archive is now online. Watch them bicker like an old married couple. Ah, the good old days of the two thumbs.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Feeling charitable?

All is calm.

All is fright.

Just to be clear: rafting does not cause people to lose their faces - I smudged them for privacy. I'm old fashioned like that.

Now that kayaking and rafting are ticked off my list of things to do, I've just been recruited for a one-time dragonboat event, Paddle for Kids. This is not me or anyone I know:

It's a fundraiser for the BC Children's Hospital and a great way for me to try something I've wanted to try for a long time in a fun, non-competitive environment. It's also a good way to support the BC Children's Hospital, of course. If you feel like supporting the cause - though I have no expectations, don't worry, no guilt trip or pressure here - I'm trying to raise $100 for them by Sept. 9 and you can contribute here.

If you're feeling philanthropic but that doesn't do it for you, how about considering a donation to help the earthquake victims in Peru? Over 500 people died, but there are tens of thousands of affected survivors. The Red Cross is there and accepting donations - in Canada, click here, in the US, click here. Elsewhere ... Google is your friend.

I wasn't in the area most affected by the earthquake, but my trip to Peru back in 2000 was one of the highlights of my life. But these people had so little before, and now many in the earthquake zone don't even have the means to support life.

From my travel diary at the time:
(Cusco:) We passed houses made of earth with bits of grass on them, and plaster houses, all very old and in disrepair. Dirty children darted in and out of the bus to sell pop, or popcorn, or ice cream bars to the captive passengers. The ubiquitous vendors and beggars leave the distinct impression of a people trying to eke out just one more sol (the unit of money) to make ends meet. ...

(Lake Titicaca:) We just visited the floating islands of the Uros, manmade from reeds. It's hard to believe people actually live there and that it's not just a tourist destination. The houses are tiny and also made of totora reed. They live very self-sufficiently away from everyone, but have to come to the mainland for some supplies, and are losing their teenagers to the mainland. Like so many other lives here, it seems like such a precarious existence.

So those are my current causes, but share your own in the comments if you like.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The soundtrack to my life ... or at least, my favourite show

We knew it was coming, and now there's even an official announcement and track listing.

1. Massive Attack - Teardrop *
2. Gomez - See The World
3. Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentleman - Got To Be More Careful
4. Ben Harper - Waiting On An Angel
5. Michael Penn - Walter Reed
6. Elvis Costello - Beautiful **
7. Joe Cocker - Feelin' Alright
8. Sarah McLachlan - Dear God
9. Josh Rouse - God, Please Let Me Go Back
10. Lucinda Williams - Are You Alright?
11. Josh Ritter - Good Man
12. Band From TV - You Can't Always Get What You Want **

*North American release only
**Previously unreleased

The FOX site lets you listen to samples now, and download a free track: Josh Rouse's "God, Please Let Me Go Back." September 18 is the release date.

I probably would have bought it anyway, even though I have most of these songs, since, c'mon, it's House, but the inclusion of the Elvis Costello track, the elusive cover of the Christina Aguilera song from "Autopsy," makes it a sure thing. So does the curiosity factor of listening to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" from Band From TV -- that's Hugh Laurie, Greg Grunberg of Heroes, James Denton of Desperate Housewives, and other actor/musicians. The soundtrack would be seriously lacking if it omitted that song, which humorously and then poignantly bookended season one.

The announcement linked above says the Sarah McLachlan version of "Dear God" was only previously released in Canada, and while I love her version -- I love her -- I don't actually remember it from House. Anyone?

I much prefer "Get Miles" from Gomez, used in "Distractions," to the included track, heard in "Half-Wit," but that's a quibble. There are so many sad omissions here that it would be ungrateful to whine about them. There've been, what, 70 episodes, with at least one memorable song in most? That's not going to boil down into one CD, even if you imagine the show could get the rights to put them all on their soundtrack.

Within those limits, they've done a good job of picking some emotion-laden tracks that evoke memorable scenes or character moments. There's the theme song, of course, with its heartbeat-like rhythms, though only the North American version gets it, presumably for the same rights issues that mean, I believe, only the North American airings of the show use it as the theme.

"Got to Be More Careful" by Jon Cleary (not, as the FOX site calls him, Jon Clearly), is what I think of as the anthem of the Vogler arc (great song, not such a great arc, but an important one). Ben Harper's "Waiting on an Angel" was used in "Lines in the Sand," when House made a connection with the autistic boy. Who could forget "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker playing in the priceless final moments of "Detox," when House was on a long-awaited high after admitting he's an addict but insisting that isn't a problem. Lucinda Williams' gorgeous "Are You Alright?" ends "Fetal Position," when House sits at home alone in his own version of the fetal position. And Josh Ritter's "Good Man" rounds out the season in "Human Error", with House alone in a very different way, having pushed out or fired all his staff.

The omissions that make me sad would take up another lengthy post, and since I have at least most of the missing tracks already, I'm not sure why it makes me sad to have them missing from the official release. But Grant Lee Buffalo's "Happiness" reminds me of House himself every time I hear it, as does Ryan Adam's "Desire" to a lesser extent. And including Dave Matthew's "Some Devil" would have seemed fitting since the man himself eventually appeared on the show.

But I said I wouldn't dwell on the inevitable little heartbreaks, so instead I'll end on something that possibly makes me too nerdy for words for being ecstatic about -- Vancouver's own Nettwerk Records is releasing the soundtrack. That's the music company that sells DRM-free MP3s from their store; the company that's so against the record industry suing their customers that they offered to pay the legal fees of a Texas man being sued by the RIAA; the company that is attempting to revolutionize the way the music industry does business by putting more control in the hands of the artists, and by focusing on selling music in all its forms instead of just pushing CDs.

So great show meets great music meets great label. I'm so there, September 18.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Great Divide … or not

Friend of the blog Denis McGrath over at Dead Things on Sticks recently posted a couple of links to articles that both use 9/11 as a dividing line in the entertainment world, two articles that, like matter and anti-matter, cannot coexist in the same space without causing complete annihilation — at least, of the grey matter in my brain.

If you believe journalist Kate Taylor, who writes about discovering Seinfeld recently, post-9/11 we’ve been awakened and aren’t as able to process anything that focuses on trivial minutia ("You can also observe that these are people who can afford to worry about pizza cooks who don't wash their hands because they aren't worrying about terrorist attacks"). So I guess that’s why now, important movies such as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and The Simpsons Movie are blockbusters, and the top TV programs are American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

If you believe filmmaker Tom DiCillo, who talks about how his movies are too important for the unwashed masses, yadda yadda yadda, post-9/11 we’ve been numbed and aren’t able to process anything meaningful or emotional ("Look at the movies people are watching. They’re about nothing. You invest nothing. People can’t invest real emotion because it’s too terrifying”). So I guess that’s why post-9/11, we watch silly movies like The Passion of the Christ and A Beautiful Mind, while pre-9/11, important movies such as Titanic and Home Alone were king. Not to mention that World War II must have been a walk in the park, which is why Americans could emotionally engage with the war-related themes of The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, enough to propel it onto the top 100 all-time American movie box office earners.

I have two words for both: Hog and wash.

This kind of thinking is part of a trend: grasping for trends where there are none, or, more accurately, where there are multiple, mutually exclusive possibilities that each could make a plausible trend. Trend stories are popular because they seem to make sense. They’re interesting. They make us feel smarter for reading them. But they’re all too often pseudo-analysis, making connections between events seem likely because they present an unsubstantiated opinion and exclude all contrary arguments.

9/11 has changed the audience’s appetite? Show me the information that would suggest that’s true, data that would not hold up if you made the same argument for any random year being the year everything changed.

Immediately post-9/11, things did change, as Americans and Hollywood tried to regain their footing. Movie images of the twin towers were digitally removed from skylines. There were suggestions the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Collateral Damage would never be released because the public couldn’t stomach the terrorism theme. When it was, mere months later, it seemed more likely we couldn’t stomach another lousy movie.

Today, that same public laps up 24’s terrorist themes every week. We watch dumb movies and TV. We watch clever movies and TV. Just as we did on Sept. 10, 2001, except now, very occasionally, those stories try to make sense of the aftermath of the day after that.

What does it mean, to say a movie or a show isn’t about anything, anyway? Even The Simpsons Movie has at its core a message not just about Spiderpigs, but about family and community. Does a movie have to have pretensions to greatness or obscurity to be meaningful?

Seinfeld famously called itself a show about nothing, but it was really a show about everything that makes us the neurotic human beings we are. In our daily lives, even post-9/11, most of us don’t walk around talking about the impact of world events on our psyches and politicoeconomic systems. We don’t face situations like being stranded on a tropical island. We talk about bad customer service and make snotty comments about other people. We search endlessly for a good parking space.

I never imagined I’d compare Jane Austen to Seinfeld, but it reminds me of the usual criticism of Austen: that her works are Harlequin romances in the literature section. Those critics miss her ironic commentary on society because she’s writing about the small scale of a particular social class’s domestic life rather than large scale of political or social unrest. She wrote about the only places where the women in that society existed. That’s hardly trivial. Seinfeld wrote about the small scale of people’s inner lives, in all their messy, selfish, trivial glory. That’s no small achievement, either.

Can you really say that Seinfeld wouldn’t work post-9/11 because it focuses on pizza makers not washing their hands, when we have more important things to worry about now? How about when you introduce the fact that the fart- and sex-joke filled Two and a Half Men is the top sitcom today?

Can you really say that movies used to be more meaningful pre-9/11, when we’re talking about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Jurassic Park versus Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest?

If you really think you can, excuse me while the remainder of my brain explodes on you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ga Ga over Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

One of the reasons I've been such a slacker lately is that I'm moving tomorrow. Translation: AAARRRRGGGGHHHH! So here's another low-effort post to share some happy with you before I go finish frantically packing.

Spoon's new album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (hmm, that's the sound I make after yet another day of packing), is available for listening online now - free. Here's one track, The Underdog.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Next season on House

It's here! JibJab has launched their Starring You feature. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Flying cars would be cool, too

My Gmail account contained this gem of wisdom today, in that spot where random links like spam recipes and news items appear:

"I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity."

- Tom Stoppard

Coincidence? Or did they know it was my birthday? Spooky. Though when people tell me I don't look my age, I reply "it's the immaturity," so I don't think I'm even getting the benefits of aging.

But it turns out I'm not only becoming a crotchety grandmother, I seem to be channelling my own grandmother, who was not at all crotchety.

I remember her marvelling that she was born at the most exciting time in history. She'd ask me to think of all the advances in her lifetime. Cars and planes and phones and television became commonplace. Women were declared persons. World War II and the Cold War came and went. A nurse, she saw medical advances including the introduction of the polio vaccine and the birth control pill, and the eradication of smallpox. She also lived to see personal computers and e-mail and the Internet ... not that she used them much.

In my own lifetime, it's the evolution of those web technologies that have changed the scope of my world dramatically. Dissection of the large-scale changes is best left to those with big brains and more time to dash off a blog post. But the small-scale change is itself remarkable, as I've had cause to remember lately.

I'm moving this weekend, and the apartment search was a far less painful experience than usual. When I stopped to think about why, it was obvious: the emergence of Craigslist.

I move a lot. I love the change; I hate the moving, from the search to the unpacking. Now, the Internet has made the search part a breeze, even if it can't yet help with lifting heavy things (though I also found my movers with an Internet search and comparison of reputation and BBB record).

I last moved two years ago, when Craigslist was already a popular place to post classified ads, and yet I found my current apartment through a newspaper ad after striking out there. Now, Craigslist has exploded, and is undoubtedly The Place. There's no reason to go anywhere else.

Advertisers don't pay, so they don't skimp on the words or use obscure acronyms. No more phone call after phone call to find an apartment that'll allow a cat, to people too cheap to put n/p in their ad. No more judging a place based on a 20 word description. Only the idiot advertisers don't take advantage of being able to give a full description and photos. And the vacancies are virtually all there, all in one place.

It's easy to think the Internet has expanded my world by giving me access to information from places and people that would have been out of my reach before. But another way to look at it is that it's made my world smaller ... in a good way.

I've recently booked flights online to meet up with people who have become great friends in real life, after initially meeting them through discussion groups and blogs and developing friendships through email.

Almost 15 years ago -- oh god, I am old -- I lived in a French area of New Brunswick for a year. This was before I or anyone I knew had email. I kept in touch with friends back home by phone and mail, and then after I returned, with friends I met there the same way. Contact was sporadic, and old friends became penpals more than a daily part of my life -- and that only if they were good about writing, like I was, or picking up a phone, like I wasn't and am not.

About five years ago, I lived in Mexico for a couple of years. Everyone I know had email, and that was my lifeline. I kept in touch regularly with a wider circle of people -- no need to decide if a correspondent was stamp- or toll-worthy, or if they'd think I was. And some of those casual friends became close friends with the ease of correspondence allowing us to further discover our compatibility.

Now, blogs and other social media sites help me keep connected with friends from across the continent, friends I've met because of the Internet, or managed to keep in touch with because of the Internet.

I can't be one to complain about the loss of the intimacy of phone calls and letters, because they haven't been lost. I haven't written a real snail mail letter for years, I'll admit, but I have written many a lengthy email I put just as much effort into. I've never been good at the phone, but I still spend a lot of time on it. Skype even makes that cheap and easy, if not always 100 percent reliable. All of these new tools have added, not subtracted, to my options and my feeling of connectedness to friends and family.

Maybe I can't come up with a list of advances like my grandmother's, but just the one -- the advances in Internet technologies -- is enough to make me marvel at living in one of the most exciting times in history.

This is creepy. I love it.

I've never seen Dexter, since I don't get the channel it's on and am waiting for DVD or possibly Showcase, but I've heard from many people - including many House fans - that I'll likely love it. I mean, how could I not love a show about a serial killer? I guess.

But whether I end up loving the show or not, I already love this website to promote it. I only wish you could embed the video results.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Don't make me get all cranky-ass

With an upcoming birthday, I'm reminded of so many ways in which I'm turning into a crotchety grandmother. One is my crankiness over poor customer service. Get me started and I'll rant about how the world's going to hell in a handbasket, and no one takes pride in their work anymore, and this younger generation just doesn't know the meaning of work, and blah blah blah.

But speaking of what's the world coming to ... I swear it crossed my mind for only a nanosecond, but the fleeting thought to post a picture of my butt did actually register up there. Not for anyone's titillation mind you - seriously, no one wants to see that - but out of astonishment that this weekend's power rafting, while not as crazy scary as the kayaking I did last year, has left more of a mark. Several large purple marks, in fact. Why yes, the raft was inflatable rubber, which generally speaking shouldn't leave a bruise, but those wooden joints sure seem to be everywhere when you're bouncing up and down and hanging on for your life in the middle of the rapids.

Sleeping on the ground isn't my favourite activity. Sleeping on the ground next to active train tracks is now on my list of least favourite activities. But the employees at the rafting resort (they use the term resort loosely) were amazing. We were a group of 13 people, the United Nations gang of friends from Mexico, Peru, Croatia, France, and boring old Canada (though we all live in Vancouver). Not only did the Spanish-speaking waitress make sure she helped out with our table at dinner and breakfast, and direct the tips to our actual waitress, who we never saw, but the other employees were equally friendly in English too. Plus, you know, we all survived the scary trip, so they're my favourite people now. The place we went kayaking last year was fine, but this place stood out for the nicer facilities and especially for the great service.

On the other hand, in my summer of mini vacations, I flew Air Canada the weekend before, and I have a new slogan for them. You know how Delta's is "We love to fly and it shows?" Air Canada's has got to be "We hate our jobs and it shows." I bet their employee recognition program celebrates the surliest flight attendants and ticketing people.

I'm booking flights for my upcoming Toronto-Wisconsin trip, and I'm trying to avoid Air Canada at all costs. Well, not at all costs. I've had many bad experiences with Air Canada over the years, and I always try to avoid them, but ... I got a great deal on my last trip. I have my principles, but I'll give them up to the lowest bidder.

I managed to avoid Air Canada for the Wisconsin part - and I did have a choice there - but if WestJet can't seduce me for the Toronto part, I'll reluctantly go with price over customer service. But I reserve the right to whine about Air Canada later ... and to want to show them a picture of my ass, for real.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Catching up

Well hello there. It's been a while, hasn't it? Since I have nothing to say today, either, here's some followup to a couple of previous posts.

First, that Macleans article where I diss the executive producer of Canadian Idol is online now: Nothing More Than an Idol Threat? When I told my brother that I may have called the guy absurd, ridiculous, and desperate, but at least not idiotic, he sent me this, saying I'd obviously not read the article carefully:

Also, remember cute or creepy Oscar the cat, who predicts hospice home deaths? I hope so - that was my last post. Anyway, naturally the LOLcat folks have come out in full force:

Photos from Fark forum folks.