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!