Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Redirection Notice (or, Went West from Western)

James Howard has concluded his work on this blog following the completion of his Master's of Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario.

With his return to Winnipeg he has resumed his original blog, Slurpees and Murder, and can be found at that site unless, or until, otherwise noted.

This blog will remain in place as an archive for the foreseeable future; he is currently looking into creating a standalone website that will house and duplicate the content found here, but acknowledges that such a site is probably a long way off.

Thank you for your patronage, and please enjoy all contents responsibly.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Everything Changes

Good evening, everyone, and Happy almost-September!

Remember where I was with my lot in life a few weeks ago -- living in London, attending the University of Western Ontario, and surviving mainly on cheap ramen? Well, pretty much everything has changed since then; I'm now living in Winnipeg, working at Red River College, and surviving mainly on premium ramen. Movin' on up!

Yes indeed, it's been quite the busy stretch for me the last little while. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth I wrapped up my two gigantic final projects, which were due the second-last and last days of my final term; thirty to thirty-five per cent of two different classes went right down to the bitter end, and I went bitterly along with them. So instead of pausing thoughtfully, hand to chin, and ruminating wistfully upon the experiences and transformations that I had so earnestly and poignantly undertaken in my travails as a graduate student at the Master's level and as a burgeoning professional in a critically important but oh-so-misunderstood discipline -- instead of any of that I was barrelling through piles of textbooks, and rifling through journal articles, and occasionally stopping to swear and throw things because the word processor is not behaving itself. Ergo, by the time I realized that I was actually finishing my degree I had already finished my degree, and it was only then that I realized there were a total of three days left after that before I would be hopping a Greyhound bus.

Yes, the noble Greyhound! It may sound like kind of a strange choice -- especially given the typical mental association that people now make between "Greyhound" and "Winnipeg" -- but I had some solid and sound reasons for selecting the bus over other available modes of transport. Price, for one thing; booking the trip well ahead of time made it considerably cheaper than a plane, bus or rental car, and cheaper still when considering the baggage that I was travelling with.

Travelling light, as always.

Add in the two garbage bags of stuff I took to Goodwill before the trip and that's my whole apartment, right there.

At this point you may stop, bewildered, and ask yourself aloud: how on earth did he carry around six bags with him at once? I'm gigantic and I'm awesome, that's how. Backpack on back, around both shoulders; laptop bag on right hip, over left shoulder; guitar on left shoulder, over left shoulder; black equipment bag on right shoulder, over right shoulder; red canvas bag carried in left hand; green suitcase, equipped with wheels, rolled with right hand. It wasn't a particularly easy arrangement, but it was strangely satisfying; with all six bags equipped I couldn't help but assume this was what it must feel like to be a tank.

But, I digress.

You're only allowed such-and-such number of bags for free -- two stowed and two carry-on, each of which must be under a certain weight and dimensions limit -- but ultimately this array of luggage pictured above (including the giant green suitcase, which was so staggeringly overweight that the drivers made me load it onto the bus myself at a couple of transfer points) only cost me a total of an extra sixty-four bucks after taxes. Now consider that a single extra bag on the Westjet flight from London to Winnipeg is seventy-five bucks before taxes by itself, not including overweight fees, and you start to get a better picture of my thought processes on this one.

Besides, I had never been up through the fabled (Canadian Shield?) of Northern Ontario, and what better time then the present? I happen to enjoy rocks and trees and water, and it made a lot more sense to see the sights from a bus than from a rental car. Car rentals can get pretty expensive, especially considering the trouble I have squeezing into smaller cars -- and then I would have had to pay (and pay, and pay, and pay and pay) for increasingly expensive gasoline -- and then I wouldn't have been able to give the scenery as much attention as I'd wanted, because driving means you're supposed to pay attention to the actual road -- and then the trip would have taken a lot longer because I would have to stop somewhere to sleep -- and then, because all rental places charge hideously exorbitant fees for renting a car in one province and dropping it off in another, I would have had to drive the damn thing all the way back. So, you know what, no. Let's take a bus.


Oh. Uh. Guess I'll pack a book.

So I set out from London Tuesday morning, and I arrived in Winnipeg Wednesday evening; I took a good couple hundred pictures along the way, but those can be a post for another time, so suffice to say that the trip went about as well as you would expect from thirty-four hours and fourty-seven minutes on a bus. (But, who's counting.)

But was I now here to rest and relax after such a grueling Greyhound grind? Hell no, son! That bus trip was my rest and relaxation! I had a meeting with two prospective employers set for the very day after my arrival and the day after that, so the day and a half of bus travel was spent chilling and vegetating as best I could before it was time to put on big-boy clothes and hit the ol' employment line.

Now, one prospective place of employment won't even be contacting people again for another four to six weeks, but the other needed somebody as soon as possible to fill a three-month full-time term -- so hands were shaken, introductions were made, and here I am. So, until the end of November, I am serving as the interim Librarian of the John and Bonnie Buhler Library in the Princess Street Campus of Red River College. I nominally head a department of five people and I wear a tie. It's very exciting!

So as you can tell from all of the above, the past few weeks have been a time of extreme upheaval. Don't think I was shirking my writing duties, however! (My blogging duties, yes, clearly. But my writing duties, no.)

Grand Analog!  Fuck yeah!

Go Uptown Magazine, and leave the driving to us!

A few weeks back I penned this fine column, which has a very good chance of standing as my grand masterwork of sarcasm. When I die they will clip this column and throw it in with my corpse, just to see if it poisons the grass I'm buried under. That is how good this column is, and I hope you enjoy it very much. (And I've got a column in the Uptown issue coming out this coming Thursday, so watch for that.)

But that wasn't the important project, no, no! The really awesome, fearsome, time-consuming, all-devouring beast that I really want to mention is available for your perusal through this hilariously unflattering picture of Mackenzie King, at:


Shake hands with PRIMED: The Twenty-Two Prime Ministers of Canada!

This was one of the two final MLIS projects that I'd mentioned above, and you can see how it left precious little time for much else. The assignment was to create a website between eighteen and thirty pages long (I went over, but there are no penalties for that) which displayed an understanding of the core skills and accessibility standards taught in this Web Design and Architecture class, and after I finally got the whole thing reasonably completed I decided I liked it well enough that I intend to run with it.

So what you're looking at up there is the first release, a sort-of-beta incarnation. It doesn't yet have hand-drawn art for all the Prime Ministers (only for four so far, in fact), I wasn't entirely happy with the way that some of the layout ideas turned out, some of the pages could do with more jokes, and so on and whatnot. And I have absolutely no idea how long things remain on the University of Western Ontario IMC webspace, so once I've revisited and retooled some of the site content I imagine I'll ultimately be establishing it on my own website.

"A website?" you might blurt out at this point, raising both eyebrows to express your surprise. Yes! Now that I have a grown-up job and wear grown-up clothes and earn a grown-up salary, I'm starting to come around to the idea that it's finally time to bite the bullet and shell out the dough for an actual website. With content management and storage space and its own domain name and everything! It could include the PRIMED site, it could include my Uptown columns, it could include songs and videos and what I've written here and what I've written at Slurpees and Murder; heck, if I were really feeling gung-ho about the idea, I could archive all the hilariously awful old stuff I had on GeoCities way back when. (And since GeoCities is going to close for good in October, the stuff may as well go somewhere.)

Of course, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I don't know thing one about what a fair price is for hosting, much less who I would host it with. And I really should be keeping my expenditures as low as possible for the next little while, considering I still have a pile of student loans that will grow and gain experience and shamble around if I don't address them quickly.

So, no, my big dream of finally carving out a chunk of internet to call my own may have to wait for a while. What will I do in the meantime? Well, I don't know. Continuing to write stuff on this blog, the intentionally temporary University of Western Ontario one, doesn't seem to make much sense now that I've graduated -- but I only have guaranteed employment for the next three months, so relaunching my Winnipeg blog doesn't seem to make much sense either if I don't know that I'll find enough work to actually stay here into 2010. Continuing to write for Uptown in the meantime is a given, of course, because they'll have to pry that gig from my cold dead hands -- but beyond that, I have no idea what my next move is.

Whatever it will be, though, I'll keep you posted. Uh, eventually. If I figure it out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exit Strategy (or, James Howard Has Chance to Survive Make His Time)

Almost done! Almost done.

I've got two major projects left, sitting right on the last two days of the term -- one worth thirty per cent due this Thursday and one worth thirty-five per cent due this Friday. What a terrible time to be unmotivated! But unmotivated I remain, less than enthused to be working during the only spate of nice weather this town has seen all summer.

The end is nigh, however! Not only am I less than a week away from completing my MLIS degree, but I'm just a week away from packing up and leaving town entirely. I'll be hopping a Greyhound the morning of the 18th and rollin' on out of London, finally arriving in Winnipeg the night of the 19th because that's how Greyhound works. (Good thing this was significantly cheaper than a plane ticket, or I would have made some very elaborate grumpy noises!) I might or might not be back to Ontario soon enough, depending on how the ol' employment search turns up, but if nothing else this'll be a nice emphatic end to my tenure as a Master's student. Unless I come back for another one-year degree, but pfft, let's see me afford that right now.

Not that I ever got a solid posting schedule on this blog -- certainly never as frequent as my last blog -- but I'll stick to this one for the foreseeable future, until I figure out where I'm actually even going to be living or working or what have you. I'm figuring that once I have a job -- a real life grown-up job, unlike most of the places I've worked previously -- I'll have both the knowledge and the capital to finally set up a real life grown-up website, with its own domain name and hosting space and everything. Won't that be exciting! What an idea.

Speaking of websites -- I happen to be creating one, as one of the two final projects mentioned above, so I'll be sure to link you to it once it's completed. I think it'll be pretty swank, so watch for that. And if you happen to be in the London area and want to score some quality free stuff, I've put up a little Facebook thing so folks can make off with the stuff I'm not taking. Act now! Supplies are limited!

Almost done. Almost done!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ninety-Two Much Email (or, If You Often Drop Waffles at the Beach You'll Have Common Sandy Eggos)

So I had an assignment due this past week of classes, wherein I was to create a video in Camtasia Studio 3; the software is up to version 6 by now, mind you, but the computers in the labs were last updated with version 3 so version 3 it was. The objective was to create content of our choice using only the tools available in the studio suite, and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses from there based on our previous experiences with other editing software, so I came to largely the same conclusions that you will from watching the following -- the software is great for recording video off the screen, but ass terrible for recording and mixing audio from there.

With that said: do it, Rockapella!

Like I said, not a good program for audio management; there are some pretty egregious clipping errors in this video that make me kind of mad about the whole thing, so I don't think this is as good as my previous output, but it's still a solid enough outing that I figured I would drop it here for any interested passersby. Can't tell me I haven't been doing important work towards my degree!

Speaking of which -- the arrival of August means that I'm into my last calendar month of graduate school, so within a couple of weeks I'll have completed my Master's Degree. Capitalized for emphasis because, wow, what the hell. That sounds a lot loftier than anything I'd normally be expected to be involved in.

On the one hand it seems like I just got here -- and since I got here last September, I guess it wasn't actually that long ago -- but on the other hand there has been a lot of everything at once going on around here while I've been in the program. And if you don't believe me, check out the state of my university email account a day or two ago:

On the left is the client sidebar, and on the right is the list of folders and filesize totals. You can note from these images that A) I've received two hundred and thirty-one megabytes' worth of email since activating the account eleven months ago, and B) fifty-eight megabytes' and five hundred seventy four messages' worth of those were completely and entirely meaningless to me. And I'm not even talking about spam as we tend to understand it, with its Nigerian bank accounts and enhanced penises (penii?) and random bursts of Russian; any and all of that kind of thing was well filtered out, so that folder appropriately marked 'Meaningless' up there was reserved solely for stuff that was supposed to be relevant to my FIMS interests but just straight-up wasn't.

So why didn't I jettison that crap sooner? In fact, I didn't delete anything until this point precisely to see if I would hit the mailbox limit (which at 250MB is no small pile of textfiles) before I graduated -- and since the sysadmins sent me a notice at this point that I had to delete stuff or lose my incoming mail privileges, I guess we know what the answer was. How much program-related mail does a graduate student need to worry about in a school year? About a quarter of a gigabyte, give or take! Glad I'm studying to be an information professional or that would sound a little ridiculous.

In conclusion: Camtasia Studio 3 has some serious issues, I finish my degree in the middle of the month, there are way too many emails flying around at this school, and we still have no idea where in the hell Carmen Sandiego went. Important points all!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Damn You Some More, Written Language

Uptown Magazine! Ribbed, for her pleasure!

Tying into the frustrations of modern English language communication that I touched upon yesterday, my column for this week is a rumination on the newest big fascination of the social media set. I can already tell that, unless I get a job somewhere that mandates I maintain its feed, I'm never going to be able to convince myself to join up with Twitter and Tweeting the Twits that I'd Twite or whatever the hell is going on here. Yes, it's become an extremely popular worldwide phenomenon in a very short span of time, but so did boy bands and first-person shooters and I never really got into those crazes either.

I can understand its appeal, and I can respect its potential, but even still I look at the medium in action and I just go "nope". Shaking my head to myself, brow furrowed in consternation. Is this it? They wrote an application exclusively for Facebook statuses? Huh! What a world.

But, anyway. I've got a metric crapton of assignments coming down the pike shortly, but at least one of them has the potential to generate some pretty quality blog content -- so I'll keep you posted.