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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Damn You, Written Language

Before I jump into the main thrust of this post, let me get some otherwise unrelated administrative business out of the way. I'd received word that the podcast I put up last post has some end of file errors, or something, that render it unplayable in Quicktime Player and potentially in other players. Rather than run the related rigamarole of recompiling the thing and converting it to umpteen potential formats, I just went "man whatever" and threw it up on YouTube. So if you couldn't play it last time, here it is:

There! That's much easier. On to the main topic of the day, which is: the written English language, and its inherent dangers!

This afternoon I was killing time at the North Campus Building, which the Library and Information Science program shares with the Journalism program (under the combined Faculty of Information and Media Studies); this coexistence means, if nothing else, that there are almost always free copies of the London Free Press and the Globe and Mail kicking around. The London Free Press -- owned by Quebecor Sun Media -- is worth about as much as you'd expect given that knowledge, but surely Toronto's National Newspaper remains a solid and sturdy bastion of quality, right?


This is page B2 of today's paper, which gave me a bit of a chuckle after I'd finished reading it. Not because of the content, mind you; the actual article itself was pretty rubbish, but that's what happens when you try and stretch a pejorative eight-hundred-word column out of a twenty-two-word throwaway comment. But I read through it regardless, because that's what one does when killing time; at its conclusion I looked back to the top and laughed a little, because what is a Political Philospohy column even doing in the business section?

It took me another couple seconds before I did a comical doubletake at that.


That's weak, you guys. Come on.

It's a little thing, of course -- and we all make mistakes, although not all of us have the benefit of editors who will later look over the mistakes and then leave them in there anyway -- but it does subconsciously shake the credibility a little, doesn't it? Like when somebody has that one lone misspelled word on a PowerPoint presentation and then you just can't stop lookin' at it? It may be a little cruel, but for better or for worse the presentation of an idea can be compromised severely by a single mistake in the written language.

Which is why the linguist bit of my brain had itself a little conniption fit when I went to the bus stop near the Biological & Geological Sciences Building that evening and passed this critical missive on a construction fence:


Do you suppose they handed the important task of creating the necessary signage over to the first guy they saw, because he was closest to the markers? Or did they specifically pick this guy to write the sign because everyone decided by consensus that he was their best writer? Maybe he's the promotions department! You never know! All I know for certain is that, when the President of the University or some other major higher-up of this accredited post-secondary institution walks past that construction site, he or she can nod approvingly and walk confidently forward knowing that they have the work in capable hands with the absolute best people for the job.

In conclusion, the written word is pretty much dead. But if not properly monitored, it can spell complete and unmitigated disaster for one's reputation -- so check back here tomorrow, when my next Uptown column hits the press! Bizarrely enough, it ties into this discussion pretty well!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yo!! James Howard Raps!! (or, Why James Howard is Never Allowed to Rap Again)

Uptown Magazine! For fast, effective pain relief!

This column is a couple of weeks old by now, and as such I've my next column coming out this coming Thursday, but allow me to include it in my catchup posts nonetheless because its issues remain as timely and as topical as ever.

I neglected to include it in the column, but David Harper -- the aforementioned Chief who took the initiative and bought the sanitizer himself rather than wait for Health Canada to get its act together -- also busted out the line of the campaign about the story. "They know that there's hand sanitizer wipes that are available, which are alcohol based," he noted; "what are you saying? We're going to start chewing on them?" Ah, sarcasm from public figures! Nothing better. I like the cut of this man's jib.

Also left out of the column, more for space purposes than anything else, is the internal reasoning I followed in order to decide on making the hypothetical ban city-wide. The spraypaint ban in the city has failed miserably and hilariously, as I will be the first to remind anyone within earshot at any given moment, but honestly that plan had more holes in it than John Dillinger after a night at the movies. Limiting the mouthwash ban to downtown would not only draw some political gerrimandering and squabbling about the boundaries of 'downtown' but would also be completely useless, because either the abusers would move to where the mouthwash is being sold or unscrupulous car owners would buy up stocks elsewhere and sell them downtown. And a ban on selling it to anybody who 'looks Native', as was suggested earlier this year for yeast (seriously), is just asking to be shot down in flames by the judiciary within days. (And it was the reserve councils pushing for that profiling ban, no less. Manitoba is a complicated place sometimes.)

Owing to the dualistic nature of this blog, of course, my Winnipeg content is once again offset by my accompanying London content -- so get a load of this action! A follow-up assignment to the audio song I'd posted here, my next work in that class was to create an audio file with embedded images suitable for distribution as an iTunes podcast. It runs fine as a standalone audio file, but opening it in iTunes (or in VLC, or a similar player) gives you the full experience and also probably goes a long way towards demystifying the lyrics.

With that disclamatory preamble out of the way, feast your eyes and ears upon:

James Howard - LCCR 100.1 (Main Author feat. Dewey DC - Let's Go to the Library!)

This is how I'm making my way through library school! Assuming I don't fail out for this!

"But James," you're no doubt asking aloud as you read this, "what in the hell is this, and why on earth did you do it?" Good questions! Let me give you a bit of background on the various factors that combined to cause this.

Last September or October, in the program's mandatory management course, the professor brought in as guest speakers the team of IT workers that redesigned the Western Libraries website. They talked briefly about the importance of buy-in and bringing higher management on board, then regaled us with this promotional video they had created to lobby for (and ultimately secure!) the necessary funding. The repeated refrain of "Let's go to the library!" struck a chord with all who attended that day, and I know this for certain because many of us still turn to each other at random intervals and blurt out "Guys! Let's go to the library!"

It's pretty funny. I guess maybe you have to be there.

With that said! Another, and an otherwise unrelated, source of inspiration came when I first touched down in Calgary for my Reading Week vacation. Renting a car from the airport and following the driving directions I had scrawled on the boarding pass, I was rotating through the available radio stations (and it turns out Alberta isn't too bad for radio variety) when I encountered this song for the first time and nearly had to pull over from laughing so hard.

Is this a real thing? Yes it is a real thing, and it is supposed to be taken seriously. Jay-Z releasing Death of Auto-Tune within three months of its release says probably everything that you need to know about it, but just the idea that A) somebody genuinely recorded this and B) it made it to #1 on the hip-hop charts is both awful and awesome. Awful because, Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you people -- but awesome in a bizarrely uplifting way, because I came to realize that nothing that I might ever record in my life could possibly be worse than this.

Then! Then came another assignment for my class in Internet Broadcasting for the Public Sector, and as I was contemplating my next move I happened to stumble upon a YouTube video of some random British guy demonstrating how to create an autotune filter in Garageband. Then it all kind of snowballed from there, like a perfect storm of really bad ideas, to the audio-with-images file you see and hear before you.

"Yes, that's all well and good," you again ask out loud, "but what in the name of Doug Flutie made you decide to rap the verses? Not only are you notoriously untalented, but you're whiter than a marshmallow in a snowstorm!"

That's... a little hurtful, but a reasonable question. You see, the first thing I did playing around with the autotune was come up with the chorus, which I then wrote the accompanying music for (and the beats! That's right, no canned tracks in this composition -- all programmed by hand, baby!). From there I fleshed out the background music to accomodate the minimum length requirement of the assignment, spacing in verses and a bridge and pretty much charting out the layout of the song from there -- but that's when I hit the obvious and ensuing problem of what to actually put in those verses. Regular singing? Considering how out of tune I was for the last assignment, that probably wouldn't work too well -- and it would probably sound even worse against the choruses, which of course are in tune as a complete side effect of the autotune process. (The whole point is to get the goofy robot effect; using it specifically to save your tuning is not only discouraged but actively shameful. In other news, I'm a complete music nerd.) And doing the entire song from within the autotune filter would get old real fast, as I'm sure we've all encountered in one form or another by now. So from a production standpoint, stylistically, the only answer was to have rap verses -- but I don't know any rappers in London, assuming there are any, and by this point the assignment was due the next day so I just caved in and did it myself. I'll grant that it could have been a lot worse! Which doesn't actually mean that it's any good, but for a white dude I guess it went okay. For the first rap verse I channeled some weird combination of Chuck D. and the yelling guy from the Teddybears, and then for the second I shrugged and went with a Snoop Dogg caricature because A) sonically it sounded convincingly different enough from the first verse that a casual listener could believe it was two different people, and B) Snoop is pretty much a caricature these days anyway. (Oh, come on, he is. Let's not kid ourselves here.)

I'm rambling, aren't I? Beg your pardon. To conclude, I think the assignment file you see above is somehow entirely entertaining despite itself; I'll own up to having got my own chorus stuck in my head several times on this one, and the song actually hits its stride in its own strange way about halfway through the 'Snoop' verse, so all in all I think it was a pretty decent showing. Don't expect an underground rap career out of me any time soon, however; I think it's pretty obvious I'm more suited for the production side. The accompanying images were selected by going straight down the lyrics and Google Image Searching for a direct literal correlation, but they really do make the piece that much better; the part at the end with the close-up on the Nietzsche pic gets me every time, even though I wrote it and should really know when it's coming.

Let's go to the library!

I've Been Everywhere, Man

What it is, cats and kittens! I'm dead tired and I'm broker than broke, but I'm down to my last month's worth of library school and if they haven't thrown me out by now I'm forced to assume that they're not going to.

My apologies for not posting anything in a few weeks, but I must confess that I've been a rather busy brother over the past little while. What was I up to? Let's do as quick a rundown as I'm capable of managing! A lot of these items would best be expressed as invididual posts all their own, so feel free to ask for further information on any of these, but in brief here's what I was up to.

My last post was shortly before my Reading Week kicked in, which meant my first major enveavor was flying to Calgary to spend a good nine days in Alberta.

This included a trip to the Johnston Canyon Falls in Banff National Park, where I saw clear blue water for what might have been the first and only time in my life at the Johnston Canyon Falls --

-- and killed a tree in one punch when it looked at me funny, because I am manly beyond anybody's wildest expectations.

Bam! Suck it, nature!

After a brief pause in leaving the park, because some elk decided it would be funny to hog the road --

-- it was off to Banff proper and to Canmore, which come across respectively like any other tourist trap town and any other small community except for when you happen to look up past the buildings and go "oh, yeah, right".

Canmore is named for a ninth-century Scottish ruler, and translates roughly from the original Gaelic to "Big Head". I'm guessing that's supposed to be the explanation for this thing --

-- but I'm not going to lie, my first thought was that it was going to go Gradius on me and start shooting energy pellets. This is a valid concern!

So after that little jaunt into the mountains I spent the weekdays of the trip in Calgary, which just happened to coincide with A) Canada Day and B) the beginning of the Calgary Stampede. Canada Day being first, I took in a show at Olympic Plaza and slapped some skin with Emily Murphy --

-- and then it was Stampede time! Having never been, I knew that I would be in for an enchanting evening of every unfortunate stereotype at once rising to the forefront -- so naturally, to avoid suspicion, I went incognito.


The opening day of the festival kicked off with a parade, of course, and you know how I love parades. (Knowing me, this would be normally be a post all its own -- but we've got lots to cover here.)

hee hee hee hee hee tiny horses

I like to think of myself as a man of worldly sophistication, but I'm not going to lie to you; you show me a couple of midget ponies pulling something much larger than they are and you're going to get a laugh out of me.

And this being the blog of a library student, special mention must be made of the Calgary Public Library entry into the parade:

Go figure!

Then it was time for the Stampede itself, which -- if you've never been -- is best imagined as a giant-sized exhibition carnival (like if you ran into a carnival in World 4 of Super Mario Bros. 3, if that helps) with some western-themed events and the most stupid hats you have ever seen in one place. Also drinking!

Well, maybe not. This was the line to get into the on-site bar and country karaoke stage (yes seriously), and it only got longer every time I passed by it that night. So screw that! Let's go get some mini-donuts instead, I swear I could live off them things.

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you; the mini-donut kiosk is actually larger than at least two different places that I've lived in. Everything's bigger in Texas Calgary! You could buy a bucket of some ungodly number of mini-donuts from here -- thirty or thirty-five, I can't even remember -- but I had to pass because I had to acknowledge that the experience could potentially kill me. Well, that and I couldn't figure out how I'd get the souvenir bucket home on the plane.

Some aerial shots, taken from the ferris wheel. The rides were a good time, but I had just as much fun with the unfortunate naming scheme of the ticket administration centres:


This was the last picture I took before I left, and that's just as well because there's clearly no way to top that. Look at that sucker! Unedited from its original form except for resizing and compression purposes; no fanciful Photoshop effects here! I don't even have anything meaningful to say about it, it's just cool to look at. What a neat shot.

As fun as the Stampede was, though, there were far more awesome Albertan attractions to attend -- and so before I left I made a point of renting a car and driving out to Dinosaur National Park, out east in the Badlands near Drumheller.

Yeah, wow. Pretty impressive! Of course, not so impressive that I can't conquer them!

Onward, fellow adventurers! We shall claim these lands for our own! Glory and fortune await our names, and we shall be hailed as--

Oh. They looked a lot smaller from up there. Man, forget this.

So I had a pretty great time in Alberta, all things considered, but of course I came back with still half a term left to deal with. I've completed about half a dozen assignments since then, including four due in three days (!), and it has generally been back to the grind.

However! The monotony was lightened by a field trip, when our Children's Materials (Birth to Seven Years) Evaluation and Use class loaded into an old school bus and rolled fourty deep to Toronto to visit the Canadian Children's Book Centre and the Osborne Collection at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library. FIELD TRIP~!

Of course, the trip had been scheduled back in May, so by the time the trip date actually arrived Toronto was three weeks into a city-wide garbage strike. And the Lillian Smith branch is basically in Chinatown, so you can imagine how pleasant the walk around the area was.

Excited passerby included for emphasis.

Props to whoever threw out the computer monitor from like 1987, though! It takes a man or woman of true character and vision to save a yellowing, ten-inch monitor for decades just in case the opportunity will arise to throw it out at the corner trash can of a major intersection at the height of a garbage strike.

Magnificent, whoever you are. Bravo.

Thankfully, all is not dreariness and gloom back here in London; each weekend there've been a variety of cheap or free things to do, which has been nice for me when I've been able to get out of the house. Just last night I popped by Victoria Park to take in Jill Barber, at the (free!) Home County Folk Festival, and that was good times because Jill Barber is nothing if not heartfelt and adorable and lovely. She writes swing and soul tunes, her voice always reminds me of Lily von Shtupp, and one hundred per cent of her setlist last night was songs about love. An evening well spent, I would say.

So, yes! If you were wondering where I was, and I am willing to acknowledge that this is a pretty big 'if', now you have a better idea of where I've been since my last communications. But what have I been doing? Well, let's just go ahead and split that into its own post, because I'm about to drop some killer content on you. Never a dull moment, baby!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Just Bothers Me

So about ten or eleven months ago I moved from Winnipeg to attend the University of Western Ontario, in London.

This is where they put the University of Western Ontario.

I live a ten minute walk west of the campus of said university, and the vast majority of my courses to date have taken place in the recently-built North Campus Building.

This is where they put the North Campus Building.

You will note that there are about twenty different education buildings north of it, and approximately zero education buildings east of it.

What the hell, Ontario. You were a have province for a hundred and fourty years and you never dropped the cash to put compasses in your schools? Step up your game, come on.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

James Howard Brings the Content

Yes! I may have been absent from blogging for the past couple of weeks, but they were a productive past couple of weeks! And frightfully busy, of course, but what else is new. So what sort of shenanigans and goings-on have been shenaniging and going on? Well, let's start with my strong point and talk about what I wrote:

Uptown Magazine! The heart, hustle and soul of the game!

My article for the previous week's edition may be accessed here, and superficial facetiousness aside I think it does need to be understood that A) each province is ultimately the architect of its problem-gambling population and B) no, they are not going to do anything about it.

Does it make sense to bring in increasingly captivating gambling machines and then act surprised when increasing numbers of gamblers are addicted to them? Common logic would seem to indicate otherwise, but I've yet to see a government anywhere that runs on common logic. No, governments run on money, and that means grabbing it no matter how stupid or disastrous the outcome might be. I suppose the ensuing argument in defence of provincially run gambling (or liquor or tobacco or whatever) is that people seem hellbent on blowing their money on these things regardless, and that at least this way the money goes back into the government coffers where it can help people instead of going to the evils of private industry (brrrrrr) -- but then who actually gets helped when helping people would derail the gravy train? Would there be more support or less support available if the government weren't profiting directly off these things? And if governmental control is the best answer because of its ability to turn otherwise dirty money towards nobler goals, then why haven't we -- to crib from Jeffrey Rowland -- legalized pot and taxed the crap out of it? These are all very important concerns, and I put aside all of them to crack a joke at Sophie's expense because seriously fuck that show.

Writing! Yeah! And with that out of the way, let's all watch the quality of this post careen downhill and talk about what I drew.

During a group presentation in the Evaluation of Children's Materials, Birth to Seven Years class -- god I love this faculty -- in that class the presentation was on wordless picture books and it was brought up that, while there may not be actual narrative text written in these books, there may be environmental exceptions such as 'STOP' written on a stop sign or sound effects like a snowman going 'brrr'. These were offhand examples, but then I couldn't stop thinking about that last one; if a snowman is going 'brrr', wouldn't that mean he's cold? Wouldn't that actually be unspeakably awful if a snowman was capable of perceiving freezing temperatures as unpleasant? What can he even do about it? He can't go inside to escape it, because that would kill him, but then he has to weigh that against the continued torment of being made entirely of a freezing substance, and--and this went on for a while until eventually I doodled it in the margins of my notes, which drew some laughs and some astonished glances from classmates later.

Poor snowman! I'm sorry, little dude, but I don't make the rules.

Drawing! Yeah! And now, because this post isn't terrible enough already, let's break out the headphones and talk about what I... recorded?

Yes, another class I'm taking this term is Digital Publishing for the Public Sector -- god I love this faculty -- and one of the assignments due earlier this week was to use audio creation and editing software to produce a short audio recording suitable for podcasting or other digital distribution. Other submissions made by peers for this assignment included poetry readings with background effects, picture-books-on-tape, discussions of the interplay between books and music, and all kinds of interesting ideas. I went in somewhat of a different direction, because I am an incurable goofball.

James Howard - LCCR 100.1 (Station ID -- DJ Segment -- Wolf Hope, Ranganathan)

ha ha ha ha ha ha what on earth is this

My original idea was to write and record a song about Ranganathan, who pops up in library schools like Marx pops up in history faculties, but some issues soon arose with this. Firstly, the song as written was not long enough to fill the requested time by itself; secondly, the guitar I have in this town has no electronic pickups in it (I bought a while back at a downtown pawn shop that was going out of business -- I was lucky it had pegs on it), so the recording process was severely compromised; and, thirdly, I have barely played the guitar at all in the past year or so and I am stank awful at this now.

So I effectively built an imaginary radio station around the song, and I think all things considered I did a pretty effective job of replicating the charming but irredeemably awkward nature of campus radio. I thought this was a particularly good idea because then I could write off the song as a 'demo', which is a music term for a 'recording that is going to suck'. I threw together the background tracks for the radio segments in GarageBand, because this class takes place in the one room of the building with all the Power Mac G5s and keyboards and stuff in it, and recorded some obnoxious and/or incompetent chatter over it -- which was pitch-shifted for effect, so no my voice doesn't sound like that shut up. Of course, then the GarageBand background music was sonically far superior to the actual meat of the assignment, but hey -- demo.

You will note, as I cringingly did and do, that there are a few extremely wonky notes in the singing of the actual song. I had intended to go back and correct these, or re-record them, or anything that would make me sound like less of a tool, but I couldn't replicate the recording conditions of the original sufficiently convincingly to substitute audio and then ultimately I had to cave in and submit it by the, you know, due date.

So this is quite dramatically awful, which at least is partially on purpose, but it's also still pretty funny and I liked it well enough that I figured it should at least be heard. There were also other parties who had expressed interest in hearing it, as well, so here it is and remember that you brought this on yourselves.

You know, I probably should have saved the Uptown article to end the post with, but too late now! I need to get on with the rest of the week; I have intramural softball, a Linux evaluation assignment, a reading-week paper about the publishing industry and a reading-week trip to Calgary (!) to prepare for. Never a dull moment!