Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day, 2007

Courtesy City of Kingston

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Prices (and what Chapters can't do about it)

Now that the Canadian dollar's more than par with the American dollar, complaints have grown about the discrepancy in prices for books, which are very noticeable since they're usually printed on the back cover.

It's been getting a lot of media attention lately, what with Wal-Mart announcing that they'll sell books and greeting cards at US prices, which they probably can because it's likely a loss leader to draw people in to buy other things rather than having it as a major part of their revenue source.

Then there's this article about how prices are established months in advance and how titles NOW are reflective of the exchange rate of previous months.

Finally, there's this column venting on Chapters-Indigo and calling on the company to cut prices because it's so big that it gets HUGE discounts from publishers, moreso than small retailers, and that it should do it because,

"sure, they'll lose on some stock but it would make them heroes and they'd sell lots more books than usual."

Will Chapters-Indigo really be hailed as heroes, even in the figurative sense? I doubt that. Here's why.

If they were to completely sell all merchandise at US prices, yes, the consumer wins out and conceivably people may buy more at Chapters-Indigo locations. However, as that columnist stated, small booksellers don't get the discounts Chapters does and they've bought their merchandise at the prices set months prior. So now, not only are they competing against Chapter's purchasing discounts, but they would also have to face the new price competition that Chapters, the bookselling giant that they are in Canada. Will they be able to sell at US prices and take the loss that she thinks Chapters can so easily absorb? I doubt it. How long before we hear small booksellers complaining that Chapters is undercutting them and thereby killing the downtown, Main Street 'mom-and-pop' bookstores?

Chapters-Indigo would get villified just the same. They're in a (insert Joseph Heller reference here). So don't expect Chapters-Indigo to do much except say that they're waiting on the publishers to adjust the prices (which is what my friends the employees have been trained to say). They don't gain anything from action, so inaction will be the status-quo.

Therefore, please don't complain to Chapters-Indigo employees about the price discrepancy...they know it sucks. They're the book buying public too. And don't bother telling them that you'll only buy at US prices or you'll walk out. They don't care. They don't have to because the opportunity cost for the book was clearly higher than what you were willing to pay for anyhow (especially since you can get almost-US prices online anyhow, so what the hell were you doing in the store in the first place). Otherwise, you would own the book now.

It's basic economics. The sale was never there.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

6 most terrifying foods in the world

via Joey de Villa

I disagree with the title of this article. It's not terrifying as it is the most disgusting foods in the world. I definitely felt some of my dinner coming up reading the description and looking at the images.

I wonder if Tom Parker Bowles ate any of these foods for his book, "The Year of Eating Dangerously"?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

First Day at Work

Nothing eventful ever really happens on a person's first day at work, which I think is a good sign. I have a better idea of what I'll be doing, if not exactly how I go about doing all the projects that I'll eventually be assigned to. Still, I'm more interested in what I'll be doing, even if it's not exactly where I want to go (because assigning civic addresses is such exhilarating planning work, I assure you). While I don't expect to be able to blog about my job on a regular basis (if only because I doubt there'll be that many interesting stories), I'll also be trying to avoid blogging at work, since it's a definite sign that I'm slacking off.

Apparently, Friday is Pajama Day, so that may or may not be interesting...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nuit Blanche/Word on the Street 2007

Wesley gives a very good recap of our night of carousing at Nuit Blanche 2007, all it's highs, lows and everything in-between. I was the unnamed friend that added up to the 'we' in his post, so of course I'm not hurt that he didn't just mention me by name. I think I would've liked to see Incursion in its entirety (if it wasn't for the giant crowd) and the parkour ninjas. The best part of the night was our surprise discovery of the laser graffiti. That was cool, which when followed by the giant locust, made for a great 1-2 punch for art.

And I don't know what happened to the Queen Streetcar, but pretty much walking from Trinity-Bellwoods to the Eaton Centre is TEH suck. Unlike Wes, however, I did make it to Word on the Street the next day, and got some good deals on several copies of past Massey Lectures as well as a signed copy of Ecoholic. Definitely coming back to THAT next year.

While I'm sure Nuit Blanche lost some mystique with some people because of the crowds, I had a very fun night and am eager to make it out for Nuit Blanche 2008. Wes, next year, we will have a better plan, possibly involving bikes...

Pictures from Wes

Torontoist response

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Anything BUT "hot air"

Ever since the issue of climate change burst onto the scene in recent years, there have been a deluge of books tackling the subject, from various perspectives, often with overheated rhetoric about the plight of what our actions towards the planet (and its subsequent effects on our daily lives) (See Heat by George Monbiot, or Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers") or the almost-complete denial of the issue being a big deal (*cough* Bjorn Lomborg, *cough).

Since climate change is a global phenomenon, these books take a global perspective. There wasn't really a book that analyzed it from a Canadian perspective.

Until now. I've just finished reading Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Daccard and Nic Rivers' "Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge" and I rarely say this, but this book should be required reading for everyone who acknowledges that climate change is a major issue in Canada. Here's why.

If you're a climate change denier, this book's won't convince you otherwise. It assumes climate change is happening and briefly summarizes the issue and science in one or two brief chapters so it wouldn't be too convincing. Its focus isn't the science, but the complete failure by our successive governments to be serious and committed to dealing with this problem, starting with the Mulroney government and ending right up to the Harper government.

It's saved its most scathing critique for the Chretien/Martin era, when they committed Canada (through Kyoto) to a difficult target, and then only set up voluntary measures, subsidies and as he said it on this morning's CBC show, "exhortations" as means to get Canadian involved. We all know how well THAT turned out. Instead of getting us 6% below 1990 levels, we were ABOVE by 25-26%.

And while they're less mean on Harper, they show how he and his government were completely blindsided the first time around (when Rona Ambrose, then Environment minister, became the sacrificial lamb) because throughout the 90s, they never believed in climate change anyhow. Smelling the political air changing, they quickly cobbled together a plan that was only slightly better than Dion's plan, with one major difference: The implementation of a mandatory emissions cap.

Their book is therefore bi-partisan in its critique, at the Liberals for failing to do ANYTHING, and at the conservatives for failing to believe in the issue. They also take swipes at the environmental movement, who've dogmatically regarded the Kyoto Protocol as the planet's sole saviour, and the Canadian business community, for being so antagonistic about dealing with this issue.

And this is where environmentalists might disagree with them but I agree wholeheartedly. KYOTO'S DEAD. WE'RE NOT GOING TO MAKE THE TARGETS IF OUR LIVES DEPENDED ON IT. MOVE ON.

While this doesn't mean that Harper should join that ludicrous "Asia-Pacific Partnership" (which by the way, has no compulsory components whatsoever, so voluntary targets will work SO WELL in Canada, as we've seen...), it does mean that our government (on both sides of the House) need to be adults and acknowledge that they've failed the public and the world community on this issue and that amends need to be made.

Their solutions are straightforward: Carbon tax, emissions cap, tradeable certificates, and carbon sequestration. Most of these would be compulsory, market-driven mechanisms aimed mainly at heavy emitters and energy producers. This does not mean they'll target Alberta (as Albertans are SO scared about that), as they show how different components can alleviate concerns but also reflect the fact that the Oil and Gas's newfound wealth has a cost that should be fairly paid. The carbon tax and the tradeable certificates would be the two that would really affect the individual.

None of these mechanisms will be very palatable, if only because the Canadian public hasn't completely accepted that our current lifestyle has a emissions cost that has yet to be paid. Their solutions are the first steps towards everyone accepting this cost.

While many people may not like using policy to change behaviour, we've seen that we won't do it voluntarily. We're all a part of this problem. It's time we be forced to do something about it.

P.S. Amazon customers are SO OFF BASE in that those who've bought "Hot Air" are buying books that pretty much deny the existence of climate change. Boy are they going to be disapointed. If anyone ACTUALLY wants to read a good book on the science of climate change, read Elizabeth Kolbert's "Field Notes From a Catastrophe".

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Paul Pott's made Hell freeze over...

...because he's shown that Reality TV can actually show something decent. Let me explain.

People who know me know I loathe Reality TV. I avoid it as much as I can. This morning, at Chapters, of all things, my manager wanted to show the staff a youtube video that was related to an upcoming promotion.

Last year, Simon Cowell started ANOTHER Reality TV show called "America's Got Talent", which is to find ordinary people doing extraordinary things, people vote on them, etc. etc. Simultaneously, he aired "Britain's Top Talent" in Britain, on the same premise.

In Cardiff, the judges met one contestant by the name of Paul Potts. He sold cell phones by day, but he had something else coursing through his veins: opera.

To say everyone was impressed by his performance would be an understatement. The judges' reactions were particularly brilliant. I'd admit that it definitely sent chills through my body when he was singing. The unexpectedness made the performance even more remarkable and no one was going to send him home.

To spoil the ending of that season, he wound up winning the whole thing, and has since released a CD of him singing (which was why we were being informed, because the CEO, Heather Reisman, planned to promote his CD in our stores soon). Now, there are other clips on youtube of his performances throughout each stage of the show. However, I find them less impressive because he was more polished, they had these unnecessary pyrotechnics, and a few times, the crowd drowned out his singing. That first time where it's just him, the mike and his music, is where I find you get the full effect of his voice.

Even giving full credit to his talent, I realize that most of us with the untrained ear will find his singing stunning. I wonder though, with his lack of professional training, how he would stack up against the 'average' (if you can even have such a thing) opera singer (?!?! I'm guessing here). Any guesses here? Meileen, I'm looking at you for some assistance here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Djokovic the joker

The first time I'd seen or heard of Novak Djokovic was at the 2007 Rogers Tournament this summer. Being an up and coming 20-year old tennis player was one thing (he's also Number 3 in the world, so he's really just up and coming in my mind), but being one with personality was another. Watching his post-game interview, he was having a lot of fun with the interviewer and making a lot of jokes. I found this unique because most often, athletes tend to respond in the ubiquitous, "I gave it a 110% on the court and I love my opponent like I love my dog, but game time, he/she's the enemy" etc. etc. etc.

With Djokovic though, he can carry on a conversation, and a fun one at that. Apparently, he also doesn't mind letting cameras following him around everywhere. I present to you three videos as evidence:

A series of impersonations of other top-ranked players during practice at Wimbledon.

Djokovic singing "I Will Survive". I don't know why either.

Djokovic introducing a journalist to some Serbian fare

Everyone loves the impersonations. And judging by the related videos on youtube, he does it quite frequently too during practices. I hope it doesn't become his schtick though, snice that would make it tired and boring. After he won the Quarterfinals at this year's US Open, the ESPN or USA or wherever broadcaster OF COURSE asked him to do impersonations of Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal to the people in the stands and those watching at that slippery slope's already begun.

Still, I hope he continues to do well. He's a phenomenal player and he's certainly brought interest back into tennis for me

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More meta-blogging

Recently, I've found myself half-composing posts in my head only to abandon them once I reach the keyboard. Not for a lack of interesting topics certainly, what with the controversy over the Bomber Command exhibit at the Canadian War Museum, the proposed designation of the "Highway of Heroes" for the 401 highway (aka the MacDonald-Cartier Expressway, or the MCE), an appropriate response to "Planet of Slums" by Mike Davis, etc., etc. The complete dearth of posts seems to have created a positive-feedback towards my reluctance to write any piece of coherent analysis.

I'm hoping this will push me towards writing more again, so that out of whatever comes out, at least a small amount will be analytical in nature. Alright, that's enough self-indulgence for one day.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I love New York City. Oh yeah! New York City!

Title's from "I Love NYC" by Andrew W.K. just so you know.

Having never been to New York City and only knowing it through The Media, I had no clear expectation of what I would find. Now though, I’ve had a brief glimpse of why people say it's the best city in the world.

My friends and I eschewed motor transportation and just hiked through Manhattan. We had 12 hours to do it in and we were determined to hit up our two desired locations: Campers (shoe store) in Soho and Central Park.

Walking down any of the 5th-8th Ave., I find myself feeling much less claustrophobic in Manhattan than say, Hong Kong, probably because it was early in the morning and with the wide sidewalks and four-five lane road, there's a greater sense of space between the towers (until you get into midtown, and well, that feeling goes out the window). It was very enjoyable actually walking through a near-empty Manhattan, since the city didn’t get going until 11AM (when we arrived, there was already a line-up of tourists itching to go up the Empire State Building). It was interesting watching the city’s residents wake up and slowly open up their shops, revving the economic engine that is Manhattan.

We walked through a bit of SoHo and Greenwich Village, but it was all too brief to really get a sense of what Jane Jacobs loved about the area. What also didn’t help was my focused pursuit of a Magnolia Bakery's cupcake, made more famous by SNL’s “Lazy Sunday” skit. And yet, I had to ask THREE different NY residents before I got an idea of where it was, the third being (I’m guessing) a transplanted Aussie who told me to just head west on Bleecker Street. Turns out, it was way the hell west (West 11th Street and Bleecker, FYI), but man, those cupcakes did have mad frosting!

We then headed up 8th Ave, which apparently was home to a gay district (if not ‘The’) as well as a weekly roving street fair on West 23rd Street. It was these impromptu non-touristy New York experiences that I enjoyed the most. But once we reached 31st Street, it was time to blend into the jam-packed crowd walking through Times Square. Pure sensory-overload, that’s how I would describe it. Everything exploded on a grand scale in neon-colour (made even more apparent in the evening). Even the blind could follow the New York Stock Exchange ticker tape. And of course, who could forget The Naked Cowboy, a Times Square staple…

Eventually we were free of the crowds and into the quieter attraction of Central Park. Time running short, we enlisted Omar and his pedicab, as he toured us through the lower half of the park. A Malian (?), a fan of the Celtics and Jay-Z, he showed us various notable landmarks (2nd oldest carousel, Central Park zoo, the fountains, Strawberry Fields, etc). You could spend an entire day in Central Park alone, but it was nice to be inside some greenery, if ever so briefly.

Best part of the trip: Manhattan’s grid system made it very easy to navigate, considering I had never been. The landmarks helped too. Runner-up was finding The Onion in newspaper format. It’s teh awesome!

Worst part of the trip: Being held up at US customs for 1-1.5 hrs because 3 of the passengers were trying to cross the border without an entry visa and with only their non-Canadian passports. Runner-up was that I couldn't bring back any Magnolia cupcakes...

Photos are all on Facebook. I’ll link them once my friends puts them up.

EDIT: oh wait, they won't let me link up...ummm...if you don't have Facebook, sorry.
EDIT2: Oh man, how could I leave out THE CUPCAKES as the best part of my trip?!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Art of Consumption and Everyday Life

Profiled in the Toronto Star today, Photographer Chris Jordan have captured or digitally composed provocative images of the things we consume in everyday life but also statistics that we may not be able to grasp intuitively. For example, this work from his "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait" is titled, 'Plastic Bags, 2007'.

It's description: "Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds".

The actual print is 60 x 72". It's BIG. If you zoom in to actual size:

And if you were to take the time to count each plastic bag, you would find all 60,000.

All his images are thought-provoking, and very reminiscent of Edward Burtynksky's work, Manufactured Landscapes, creating art out of the mundane materials of western society. If I was to apply Chip and Dan Heath's principles from "Made to Stick" about how to communicate ideas effectively, Jordan's work would pass with flying colours:

Simple - The images are simple. In the "Running the Numbers" exhibit, It's one item, one number, one message.
Unexpected - The images appear abstract, until you look closer and find an everyday item.
Concrete - These aren't computer-generated products (although some are digitally composed together), but images of real things.
Credible - The numbers in his statistic has to match the numbers in the image. Otherwise, he'd lose all credibility.
Emotional - The shock is in making an abstract statistic into something tangible and can be grasped.
Story - It is a very short story about the different impacts we make collectively as a society.

As he says, he's not trying to guilt anyone, but to show what each person's everyday life looks like in aggregate. Whether we choose to do change something about it is another thing entirely. Do check out his other sets on his website, "Intolerable beauty" and "In Katrina's Wake".

Both images from

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A timeline to Potter-madness

Having stood outside in the cold in January waiting in line for a Nintendo Wii for/with my friends, I thought I understood the nature of obsession.

In fact, I understood nothing. Yesterday, on July 20-21, 2007, I had finished my 9-3 AM shift for the 12:01 AM release of the final installment of the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Here now a chronology:

11:25 AM: I’m still working my Friday 7-12pm regular shift and this is when the FIRST Harry Potter fan of the day asks where to start lining up for the book.

8:30 PM: I drive into work and already the store’s set up 2 lines for people outside, one for fans who’ve pre-ordered the book, and the other banking on getting it at one past midnight. Inside, it's filled with people loitering and as I’m fitted into my costume (I’m a Death Eater manning a booth…who says dark wizards can’t be bureaucrats?), plans are in motion to finish the last arrangements for the store. The skids of books were not to be moved to the floor until 11:50 PM.

9:30 PM: A co-worker’s cousin who has more than a passing resemblance to Daniel Ratcliffe got dressed up as Harry Potter for us…and was soon swarmed by those same girls for photos (…though since he was starting university in September, he hoped none of this ended up on YouTube).

10:00 PM – 1130 PM: We’ve finally moved the lines inside, which also meant the start of activities around the store. There are now more people than I’ve ever seen in the store, and I must admit, it feels a little bit claustrophobic. I don’t get a chance to see the buzz of activity around because my job is to pre-register people who’ve pre-ordered the book by giving out wristbands. The roaming magician we hired is a popular attraction, entertaining those in line with various card tricks.

11:00PM – By about now the girls at the front of both lines have decided to start cheers for every hour, half hour, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. for the countdown to the book’s release. And with each passing cheer, my tolerance for them lowers just that much more.

11:50 – 11:59 PM – The girls decide to hold a cheering contest between the pre-order and the regular sales line. By now I’ve a ringing in my ears that won’t go away and a headache. Earplugs would’ve been good right about now. Not that the timing helped, because the Skids of the much-anticipated books are now being moved out from our Receiving Area to it’s respective areas, with security guard in tow. That’s right, we hired security guards to protect books. These are pretty much J K Rowling’s Crown Jewels. Loud cheering ensues and flashes go off behind me as people photograph the boxes of books. Stop and think about what you've just read...

People are taking pictures of cardboard boxes....okay, you can resume reading now.

12:00 – 12:01 AM – People start counting down the seconds. I'm hoping that people won’t just rush us and steal the books, because really, 4 employees and a half-indifferent security guard would not be able to hold back a crazed mob. If only they authorized my Taser request…

12:01 AM – The book release arrives!

12:01 – 1ish AM – It’s a non-stop flurry of books, bags, and gift cards as my friend and I try to process people through as quickly as possible. Slight delays ensue as some people cut in lines and don’t have a wristband force me to stop the flow and check off their names. Mild irritation, granted, but we wanted these crazies out of our hair as fast as possible.

1-3 AM – The craziness is over! We actually get people out the door with their Precious in a little over an hour, which is pretty impressive. We had some stragglers left coming in to pick up pre-orders or make outright purchases, but for the most part, we could nonchalantly start cleaning up the mess customers made. And of course, it WAS a mess. But we only did a half-hearted attempt because we were tired and really didn’t care all too much. I don’t envy the people who had to come in this morning to clean up after us…I seriously think we need to shut down the store for a few days just so we could re-shelve and re-organize everything.

3 AM – We’re done, so we all get together in our costumes for some staff photos. I manage to find someone peering through our front door. It seems he’s wondering if he could still buy a copy for his little brother, whom he promised would have it by the time he wakes up. I tell him he’s about an hour too late and think, “shouldn’t have gone to the bar first and then try to buy the book…”.

3:30 AM – Finally leaving the store and I need FOOOOOOOOD! Just as we’re rolling into a McDonald’s drive through, they tell us it’s going to take 20 minutes for them before they can serve us because they’re switching over to the breakfast menu…my timing couldn’t be more terrible.

And so ends this madness. I get to sleep at 5 AM, knowing many people will still be up reading the Deathly Hallows. In fact, I’m sure some people are STILL reading as I type this. Who’s going to sleep well? JK Rowling for one, since she will probably by the end of this be double the financial worth of the Queen of England. The other is Heather Reisman, head of Chapters-Indigo, who will also have made a truckload of money.

Me? I get to eat a sandwich from Burger-King at 4 in the morning. Who’s the winner tonight, you think?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two elephants walks down the street...

If you haven't heard this yet, this may be the funniest story to ever happen to the Town of Newmarket.

So the circus was in town (ha ha) and the electrified fence for the elephants went down and realizing this, two of them decided to play tourist. The thing is, where the circus was set up (Ray Twinney Complex, it seems), it is surrounded by suburbs. So of course, where do the elephants go but down suburban streets, surprising some night-owls while they enjoy a midnight snack of golf course and front lawn trees.

Anyways, York Regional Police was kind enough to post mp3s of a 911 call reporting this and the dispatch conversation with police officers sent to...ummm...corral these animals. The cops were definitely having fun relaying their efforts back.

Update: It seems the York Region Police have taken down the mp3s. Luckily, the good ol' CBC has a realaudio format of the initial call to police. If I find a link to the other one, I'll post that one too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Lack of Posts

For someone who doesn't have a full-time job, I am surprised at the sparse blogging that I've done. While the cliche is that job-hunting is a full-time job unto itself, it is not wholly to blame. There frankly hasn't been all that much of interest that I've wanted to talk about.

I've completely lost touch with the national and international political scene (what I get for not watching BBC World and reading every available news site possible) and while I had a piece to say about the fine journalism from the Toronto Sun on their coverage of the National Day of Action recently, the moment's past (it wasn't that interesting, just me being snarky at them).

But on the whole, there's nothing much to say that couldn't be said in one sentence:

- Live Earth will not have created a new environmental consciousness, but hooray for 26 hrs of mediocre music!

- Michael Bay ruined Transformers the Movie and I will NEVER see it.

- I just finished reading "Field Notes From a Catastrophe". It is very much an underrated book, if partially because "The Weather Makers" took all the hype.

- The fact that people care enough about whether a fictional character like Harry Potter lives or dies enough to create websites and petitions make me want to both laugh and cringe.

- I'm tired of most Canadian politicians claiming their city/province/Canada is at the leading edge of implementing environmental policy. We are not. Let's be honest with ourselves and admit that so we can work at becoming that leading edge instead.

Alright, that's enough for now. Hopefully, I'll get back to some semi-regular blogging soon.