February 2008 Archives

Books are more democratic than television

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
I just watched an episode of jPod. As the credits rolled, I thought to myself "I really need to get out and buy that book." Immediately after thinking that, though, I realized that reading the book would ruin the show, because I'd know how it ends. But then, my reasoning went, Douglas Coupland is such a fantastic writer. There's probably way more in the text of jPod than there is in the show. After all, I love Douglas Coupland books for their tiny details. And tiny details don't show up very well in TV and movies. If they make it at all, they take a backseat to larger points of plot or mise en scene.

That's what makes books so much more democratic. When reading a book, everything is equal. Everything is just another set of words on a page. Tiny details get the same love that large events get. They have to, because everything comes in sequential order. Things that could happen simultaneously on a screen are forced to go one by one in books. And that's fantastic. It means that the tiny details work. It means that I really get to think about what the room looks like, if that's something that matters. Instead of simply seeing, the sequential nature of books forces me to process, to acknowledge, and to understand.

Thought Bubbles

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
I want to make some very small, very low power, sculptural computers. They only need to be able to access wifi networks and browse websites (I'm thinking Wikimedia Commons and Google image search). They very nearly qualify as wearable computers. They're shaped like thought bubbles and are worn sticking up from some kind of hat or other person to computer interface. The idea is that the wearer would be able to grab an image from the internet and display it on their thought bubble screen. It would give the adorable illusion of being in a comic book, and it would give others a little insight into the thoughts of the wearer. Neat.

The whiteboard is a metaphor

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I think that I may be too exacting for my own good. Even so, I feel that it is necessary to mention that the "whiteboard" tag on this very blog is not entirely literal. It is in fact partially metaphorical. Things that are tagged with the word "whiteboard" may never have actually made it to my whiteboard-o'-clever-ideas. They may come straight from my sketchbook, or a scrap of paper, or some such thing. But they are things that belong on the whiteboard. That's why they get the tag.

Jam Jars

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I have issues with jam jars. The standard practise is to get jam out of jars through the use of butter knives, or in some cases, a spoon. The jam jar is made of glass. The knife or spoon is made of metal. Jam jars come in all shapes and sizes, so do knives and spoons. All of this means that it proves very difficult to get the last of the jam out of the jar. It just doesn't work. I wind up getting frustrated and wasting valuable jam when I rinse the jar. A spatula would probably work quite well, since flexibility and malleability are of importance in this situation. The problem is, though, that I do not own a spatula small enough to fit into the jam jar. I know that they exist, but I don't own one. I can't see the use, other than for getting the last jam out of the jar. It seems a little wasteful to own a tool whose only use is to get the last jam out of the jar. Although who knows, that may be less wasteful than having to constantly waste jam.

The Language isn't built for it

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Science fiction writers (I'm thinking Douglas Adams and Spider Robinson in particular) always say that our languages (particularly English) aren't built to deal with time travel. Fine. But at this point in time, we don't have that problem. We still travel at a rate of one second per second into the future. But there are other things that English has trouble with that we have gotten around to.

I'm thinking, in particular, of transgendered people. If I'm thinking about someone I haven't seen since high school, who was a girl then, but isn't now, what pronouns do I use. I know that if I saw him on the street, in the present, I'd call him by his new name and have no trouble thinking of him as male. But am I meant to change my memories? Can I treat his memory as something separate from his present? Can he have two different sets of pronouns that apply, one for the past and one for the present?

I think I may have lied in the first paragraph. This is a question of time travel. The time travel in question is my travel to my own past experience through memory. In this case, though, the past tense works just fine. It's the pronouns that are broken.

Not enough patience for tetris

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I think I've reached a new low. I've discovered that I don't even have enough patience to play a tetris clone. When the blocks are falling, even with the down arrow held, I just want them to move faster. When they do move faster, I don't have the patience to carefully watch where they're going to land, which causes complicated pileups that I'd rather lose the game from than fix. That can't be right.

When word processors are the old fashioned way

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I tried to load my blogger dashboard, in order to write the previous two posts. No response, just the generic message from my modem, saying that it wasn't going to happen. Check the modem: no lights out. Check another site, internet working properly. “So,” I though to myself, “blogger must be down. I guess I'll have to write these the old fashioned way and upload later.” The strange thing, though, is that by “the old fashioned way,” I meant in a word processor. Which is to say, a word processor that is actually installed on my physical-right-here-in-front-of-me computer. When did that become the old fashioned way? I'm a little concerned that I might soon be an anachronism. More and more, our productivity apps are moving to the internet (just look at google docs). More and more, the app that people use most is their browser. Will I be hopelessly old fashioned with my word processor and my graphics clients and my email client? The smart money, I think, is on the answer to that question being “yes.”

Mixed feelings about falafel

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Ever since I first set foot in Montreal, even before I moved here, I've had a love-hate relationship with falafel places. I don't really like falafel pita that much, and whenever I get a plate instead of a pita, there are always a load of things that I just don't want to eat. (Actually, I think that might be a corollary of Murphy's Law: No matter what you order on the falafel plate, there's always something unappetizing.) Even though I don't actually like falafel that much, and even though I never feel good after eating it, I have a strange sense of security knowing that I can always get one if I want to. I think that's a little odd. I have some kind of strange dependency on falafel places, even if I hardly ever patronize them. Maybe it's like having a fire station nearby. Even if I don't plan on setting fire to my house, I feel more comfortable knowing that there are pumper trucks and fire fighters a few blocks away. Falafel as emergency service?

Am I allowed to resent couples?

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I remember reading, in one of the books about romance novels that I've been going through for my Legally Blonde/romance novel analysis paper, a passage from an old-ish romance novel. Some supposedly wiser, and certainly older, woman was advising the young heroine. She was talking about how women in love are happier to see other couples. I believe the term she used was “more generous.” She was essentially saying that women are more complete, more selfless, and more understanding of others as long as they're in (reciprocal) love. And in this case, it's worth pointing out that love denotes coupledom. I caught myself wondering about that idea today.

I was on my way home from the store, the weather was fantastic (for February in Montreal, at least) and I felt great. I turned onto a side street and was immediately confronted by the sight of a couple kissing as they walked. My instinct was to resent, if not them, then at least their public display of affection. My second reaction was to wonder why I was resenting them and their display. Am I allowed to be displeased by people who kiss in public? Am I merely resenting them because they are displaying their status as a unit? Does the wisdom from the romance novel apply? Would I stop resenting their display if I were part of a unit?

In short, is it valid to resent public displays of affection?

A novel use for spoons

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I've come up with a clever use for the extra spoons I had kicking around in my materials cupboard. I was thinking the other day that I needed a place to hang clothing that wasn't to be worn immediately, but that would be impractical to put in the closet. I went into my materials cupboard to look for some kind of hanger. I noticed a small baggie of spoons. Spoons are quite nice, because they have a round bit to hang things on, as well as a longer bit that turns out to be ideal for slotting in between the louvres of closet doors.

The technique, then, for turning spoons into fantastic clothing hangers: Take spoon. Bend twice, fairly sharply (about ninety degrees), in opposite directions. It doesn't really matter where. It's all a matter of taste. Then, in my case, shove the non-spooney end between the louvres of the closet door. This should leave an L shape hanging down against the closet door, with the bowl of the spoon jutting out for clothing hanging purposes. In this incarnation, the spoon hangers can't carry much load, because the louvres are a little delicate, but I'm sure it could also be installed into a wall. In fact, wall mounted spoons would only need one ninety degree bend to work properly. In the version I've done, though, the spoon hangers are an excellent place to hang shirts. Yay! A handy weekend project for those with excess cutlery.

A theory about cul-de-sacs

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I know this new theory isn't even remotely true, but I'd like to posit that cul-de-sacs exist for the benefit of people in aeroplanes.

Cul-de-sacs look fantastic from the air. They add lovely twists and turns to a city. They are, however, significantly less good for people on the ground. They take up loads of space, they're quite confusing, and they cause getting places to be more time consuming.

This leads me to believe that cul-de-sacs exist to be looked at from the God's eye view, which is to say, the aerial view. Pre machine assisted flight, the only people/things/animals/fictional characters who got to look at things from above were birds and God(s). These days, sixty dollars gets you from point A to point B in an hour, with the added advantage of a killer aerial view for the duration. The result is that everyone can have the view from on high.

We're all gods now.

Dumb waiter update

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I think I know how to make my super-slick dumb waiter work. The new idea is this: Picture an elevator. A normal one has one shaft in which one capsule goes up and down. That's fine as far as it goes. Mine is a little different. My elevator has two shafts, running side by side. They connect at the top and bottom. Also, instead of having one set of cables, mine still only has one set, but it goes in a loop. So, the two elevator shafts (or dumb waiter shafts, if you prefer) share one cable. There's a pulley system at the top and a pulley system at the bottom. Multiple little capsules are attached to the cable. Here's where it gets cool: the capsules are only attached at one point (think of a ski lift) so that they have their orientation controlled by gravity. That way (like a ski lift) I can have multiple capsules going around the double-shaft-elevator-loop-cable-thing (and yes, that is the technical term for it). The result: a dumb waiter that can have multiple courses loaded into at once in the kitchen, each of which can be retrieved individually upstairs. Success! Now I just need to sort out the little details. For example: how will I actually build it? And where?

The garden as a metaphor for the city

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Flying into Toronto the other day, I got a chance to look down at the buildings surrounding the airport. It struck me how many houses there were, and how few taller buildings. I then started thinking that cities could be viewed like gardens. Houses and other low-lying structures are ground cover. Basic tract houses remind me of grass. They look very homogeneous from the air. Taller buildings are plants. They stand out above the ground cover, but with the way architecture has been unremarkable in the past century, very few of these plants can be called flowers. We seem, also, to be missing shrubs. I don't think we have the buildings yet that could be likened to shrubs.

So, how can we make our cities into better gardens? More flowers. That means more variety, more colour, and taking more chances with architecture. Some different varieties of ground cover might be nice, too. And shrubs: I'd like to figure out what architectural shrubs could be.

A new aspiration

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
For months, I've been kicking around the idea of doing a restoration job on some kind of decrepit warehouse building, if I ever manage to find one. A clever new idea has just solidified in my mind. I've realized that I'll have to put my dining room over my kitchen, whether I do that loft-wise or some other way. Why does the dining room need to be above the kitchen? I want a dumb waiter. I think that having a dumb waiter is absolutely necessary, and quite appropriate in something like an old industrial building. Now that I have that part, though, I'm trying to sort out how to reinvent the wheel, with the wheel in this case being the dumb waiter. I need to sort out how to do a dumb waiter that doesn't require anyone to be in the kitchen loading it. At this point, I'm thinking that maybe some kind of a water wheel type look with multiple boxes might be a good way to keep a few different things in at once. Although that idea presents a different set of problems. We'll see.

Racing stripes

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I've been thinking lately about what could be potentially the most awesome thing ever. I want to paint racing stripes on buildings. I think that it would be delightfully incongruous to see go faster stripes on something that can't possibly move. It would have to be easily removable paint, of course. No point in doing damage.


| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Back in the day, when people used horses to get around and to drive ploughs, they had these blinders that they'd put on the horses. The blinders were essentially just a black thing on either side of the horse's head, blocking the peripheral vision. They were meant to keep the horse looking ahead, to stop it from being distracted by things happening off to the side.

I was in Pharmaprix today, at the checkout. You must understand, before I go on, that I don't care what celebrities do. I don't want to know about a new miracle diet, or twenty hot tips for steamy sex. I just don't care. It's problematic, then, to be constantly assaulted by the racks of magazines at the checkout. So, I'm thinking that I need to get myself some blinders. That way, I'll be able to direct my attention to the task at hand and get out of the store without being distracted by things that will only irritate me.

Rooftop patios

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Downtown Montreal is full of buildings with flat roofs. Not only are the roofs flat, but they're built strong enough to stand up under snow. Despite the wealth of strong, flat roofs, there's a serious shortage of rooftop patios. I find that there's something wrong with that situation. To me, it seems simple that strong, flat roofs should mean lots of wonderful rooftop patios. No one would even need to do very much. They'd just have to put up some barriers to minimize their liability. I think that the denizens of the office buildings would seriously benefit from a little fresh air and a fantastic view.

Results of the trip to Parc Ex

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I humbly present one of the adorable photo illustrations that resulted from my trip to Parc Extension last weekend. I'm viewing it as what we might see if mother nature were more literal minded.

Settling and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
We watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg last night in my film studies class. It may be a musical (entirely sung, no dialogue), and it may have killer sets and costumes that verge on the hilarious, but it's still incredibly sad. At least, I thought it was sad. What makes it sad (spoiler alert!) is that there are two characters, who epitomize young love, who end up, through circumstance, being separated and settling for other people.

The two main characters have the wild, irrational, crazy love that we prize so highly. During a period of separation, for social and economic reasons, they both end up settling for security instead of passion. Fine. They both end up fairly happy, in lives that they find comfortable, with reasonable partners who care about them. However, they have regrets. There are a million things I could take issue with in this premise. I could argue that crazy, irrational love is a relatively recent construct, and that mercenary marriages have long been seen as normal. But that's not what's bothering me, this time around.

What bothers me is the reaction of the other people watching the film. The main complaint was that all of the grand, swooping music and over the top set design didn't match the fairly pedestrian plot. Over and over, people complained that there wasn't enough excitement and conflict in the plot. The other viewers found it problematic that the characters had small issues, but managed to move on with their lives. I'm a little shocked by that viewpoint. I'm worried that we've been so conditioned by Hollywood to expect big things that we can accept reality.

In real life, people live with what they have. People make choices based on their immediate situation and their future happiness. People like comfort and certainty. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg presents a story in which characters react in realistic ways. In movies, people hardly ever settle. In real life, it happens all the time. Based on the reactions of the others in my film studies class, I get the impression that people want grand romance in their movies. They want the hope that unrealistic things can happen. That worries me, just a little bit.

On being ordinary and the economy

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
Digging deeper into the existing research on romance novels and gender, I've discovered an interesting tendency. I find it interesting, although it shouldn't surprise me. I'm finding more and more evidence that most people just want to have an ordinary life. There seems to be an overwhelming desire to have a comfortable life and just pass the time. I shouldn't be surprised because that's essentially what gets classified as the American Dream: the house, the husband, the car, the kids.

I'm surprised, of course, because I lack the fundamental ability to get out of my own head. My (heavily flawed) reasoning is that if I aspire to be extraordinary and to make an impact on the world, then most people should aspire to be extraordinary and to make an impact on the world. Wrong. If I actually take a moment to think about it, it's easy to see that I've made a seriously bad assumption.

Where does the economy come into it, you may rightly ask. The glib answer would be: where doesn't the economy come into it? But that's not very productive. It is in the interest of industry to have customers who want to buy things. A shiny new car every few years? That's fantastic news for the economy. Taking the metro or walking? Not so much. Cosmetics? Exfoliants? Cleansing pads? New clothes every season? Super! All of these things are sold to us as ways to fit in, to be normal, to live the life. That's not by chance, either.

Being extraordinary? If extraordinary means, etymologically, to be "out of order" (see for yourself), that's not so conducive to meeting societal norms. Want to save the environment? Not good economic sense. Want to re-examine gender roles? Downright dangerous. Not meeting norms? Not good for the economy.

A disconnect in the minds of the Conservative party

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
There's a double standard operating in the actions of the Canadian government. I don't quite get it. Here's the issue:

Canada is a signatory on the Kyoto protocol. The current Conservative government does not believe that meeting our Kyoto requirements is important. Canada has also agreed to sign WIPO. Unlike the Conservative attitude towards Kyoto, the federal government (or at least the Minister of Industry) feels that it is important to meet the requirements set forth in the WIPO treaty.

It seems very strange to me that our government should prioritize one promise over another. Puzzling.

Exploding washing machines

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
There's a warning on my washing machine. It says that putting any clothing that has had oil on it -ever- is dangerous and could cause fire/explosion. And that includes cooking oil. This leaves me wondering a little bit. Am I courting disaster every time I wash clothing that's had a cooking accident? How do people who work as cooks wash their clothes? Are aprons meant to be hand washed? Or is the whole thing just meant to minimize the liability of the washing machine manufacturer?

Nothing is perfect, but many things are good enough.

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
I keep a whiteboard in my front hallway. I often get tiny stubs of ideas, little soundbites, that need to be documented before I forget them. Those stubs often end up on scraps of paper, random pages of my sketch book, and generally in difficult to find places. The purpose of the whiteboard is to aggregate the stubs so that I can actually find them when I'm ready to turn those little ideas into bigger projects. Yesterday, on the whiteboard, I wrote the words "Nothing is perfect, but many things are good enough." I like that statement. It sounds pithy. It shows good use of rhetoric. I'm troubled by it, though. It bothers me, as an inveterate perfectionist, to be embracing the "good enough." Should we reconcile ourselves to a world of "good enough?" After all, the quest for perfection leads to so much heartache. At the same time, we need to be able to dream. I'm wondering if the realism of my "good enough" statement is productive or not. Is it actually good to be able to settle? Is it worse to aim for perfection and fail often than to aim for good but never get the lift provided by actually attaining perfection? Is "good enough" good enough?

Portraits of my Heroes: redux.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I'm trying to decide who to draw next for my "Portraits of my Heroes" series. It's difficult. Really, who can I honestly call one of my heroes? Douglas Adams was the easy one to decide about. After all, I just finished reading The Salmon of Doubt for the nth time. While I was reading it, I felt at times awe, at times completely uplifted. When I read the bits that other people had written, I felt an intense amount of sadness. Nearly seven years since he died, and it still feels acute. It makes no rational sense. I never even knew Douglas Adams, just read what he wrote. I'm thinking, then, that I have a workable criterion for choosing my heroes. I need to sort out whose work lifts me up, inspires me, makes me cry, makes me vow to improve the world. I need to sort out who I can't imagine a world without. I'm afraid it might not be a very big series. But everyone in it will be vitally important.

Carpet Beaters

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I went trekking through Parc Extension today. The very best thing I saw: a woman outside of her apartment, in the dead of winter, beating an area rug. I didn't really realize that there still exist people who take their rugs outside and beat them. I mean, it's something I never really think about. To the extent that I ever do think about it, it feels like a kind of anachronism. It seems quaint. It shouldn't, of course. After all, beating the dust out of a carpet takes no electricity. That makes it less energy intensive than using a vacuum cleaner. Very eco, right? Also, it's way more frugal. If you only have sweepable floors and area rugs, there's no need to own a vacuum. Sounds sensible. Having said all of that, even though it clearly makes sense to take carpets outside and beat them, I was surprised to see someone actually doing so. It was a profoundly nice surprise.

Portraits of my heroes: Douglas Adams

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
You see before you the first piece in a new series I'm working on. I'm doing portraits of my heroes, in crayon. The first one has to be Douglas Adams. There's no question about it. I'm thinking that once I exhaust my supply of heroes, I might branch out from crayon and do some stencil versions. But for now, the glory that is Douglas Adams in crayon.