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!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Let Me Guide You to the Pope-Pole Reign

My secret projects -- let me show you them! One of them, anyway.

What was I up to in the extended break between my last post and the post prior to it? A variety of things! I took many naps, for example. But in my waking hours I found time to throw together about four and a half thousand words, not for academic pursuits, but for more leisurely interests. Remember writing for pleasure? Neither do I!

Some old pals of mine run 4thletter, the finest of fine comic blogs you'll find, and I had the opportunity to accept a generous invitation to submit a guest article. And submit I did! So if you'll head over yonder you'll be able to read my guest review of Marvel Comics Presents The Life of Pope John Paul II, split into a part one and a part two.

A couple images appear to have been misplaced with the second part, so the later half may seem a bit jumpy, but otherwise I think that this is a pretty solid outing. It helps that the comic book in question (and yes, this is a real thing, I'm not making any of this up) is so interesting, both on its own and contextually; there isn't a whole lot I can think of to add to what I've already expressed in the article, so have a look at that and let me know what you thought of it.

With that -- back to work! The break was nice, but academia calls!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Fine Vintage

Happy June, everyone! Let me tell you about a store I visited recently.

Doesn't that look inviting!

What we are looking at in this picture is actually the back entrance; the front entrance to the store is inside the Cherryhill Village Mall, a small one-floor shopping centre surrounded entirely by retirement communities. This probably goes a ways towards explaining why most of the rest of the mall closes at 8:00 on weekdays, at 6:00 on Saturdays and at 5:00 on Sundays. In fact that's why I even went into this convenience store, Bob's Westown Varieties, in the first place; I wanted to buy some cough drops, and the Shoppers Drug Mart (as well as most everything else) had already long since closed.

It's not the prettiest architecture, as you can tell from the above -- and as you could probably figure out by noting that there are zero pictures of the mall on its own website -- but inside these walls you will find hidden treasures. Mystical, ancient, mysterious artifacts of eras since gone by. The store may not have had cough drops, but along its hallowed walls I did find something interesting enough to warrant further comment.

Behold as I beheld what curiosity and two dollars can find you in a London, Ontario convenience store:

Happy Birthday! (Well, I'm sure somewhere it's somebody's birthday, anyway.)

Along one of the walls in the back of the narrow store, mingling with various hand tools and sets of cheap pencils, was a peg of Sesame Street and Muppet Babies candles. Pretty retro-looking, right? They may not be the prettiest things, but I admired the initiative that (I assumed) the Disney Corporation must be taking to revive its franchise holdings by targeting the nostalgia market.

A reasonable assumption, right? Right! It just wasn't the right one, because when I flipped them over to see when they had been made I found out that they aren't retro -- they're just amazingly, amazingly old.

This is no Disney product; in fact, this even predates the original attempt to sell the Jim Henson Company to Disney, and that was in freaking 1990. This predates the Jim Henson Company name! These candles were manufactured in 1988, back when Muppet Babies was actually still on the air -- and somehow they have managed to sit, unpurchased and undetected, on the wall pegs of a London, Ontario mall convenience store for the past twenty-one years.

Until I bought two. Hell, why not? They were a dollar each, and I'm sure I'm bound to run into somebody having a birthday eventually. Besides, a little misshapen though they may be, they're actually pretty fun to look at:

Relics of a bygone era, aren't they? I was giving Disney (or anybody, really) way too much credit when I initially assumed that they were modern products, because just to look at them you can feel the eighties practially radiating off of them. The half-French packaging is how you can tell they were intended for the Canadian market, if the Toronto address didn't also give it away; even the sticker on each candle cheerfully proclaims "Bon Fete", even though you're expected to just cover it up with one of the cardboard numbers on the back of the package.

This may sound like an implausible story, but candle aficionados need not take my word for it; there are actually two more of these still hanging in that store, one of each character. So if you're in London, Ontario and want to surprise the crap out of somebody on their birthday -- or want to hock them on eBay, I guess, if you think you can turn a profit on them -- get on down to Bob's Westown Varieties! For all your hilarious twenty-one-year-old birthday candle needs!