Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Day of Firsts

Every day, you do something you've never done before. But usually it's something like "today I ate three bites of my bagel before taking my first sip of orange juice, which I've done before, but this time I only took a nine-minute shower." Doesn't count. It's just gotta be a judgment call on your part whether something qualifies as new.

With that in mind, even though I didn't do anything particularly amazing yesterday, I did no less than five things I'd never done before, all of which count, according to me. In chronological order:

1. Take the Scarborough RT

The Scarborough RT is the only light-rail system connected to the subway, and it features prominently on the system map, so if you ask me it's part of the subway, which meant taking it for the first time brought me much closer to having been to every stop on the Toronto subway system. Still missing: McCowan (the last stop on the SRT, I got off at the second-last), and maybe Finch. I've probably been to Finch, but I can't specifically remember, so we'll keep it off the list for now.

By the way, I took the SRT to get to Scarborough Town Centre, which is where I was meeting a rideshare to get to Ottawa, where I'm hanging out for March Break, and the site of the next four new things...

2. Go For a Run With a Dog

I met up with my friend Bonnie, who suggested we go for a 5k. I'd been planning on 5king today because I'm training for the Goodlife half-marathon in a couple months, so it wasn't a problem to push the schedule up. Anyway, Bonnie's dog Argo accompanied us and was pretty game. He had to stop to cool off a couple times since he still has his winter coat on and it was relatively warm, which simply meant plunking himself down in the snow for 30 seconds.

3. Drink a Protein Shake

Bonnie is a serious athlete. She's, like, been in the Olympics before or something, I think (for fencing, which is really intimidating). So yeah, she's got her protein situation figured out a lot better than I do. The protein shake was pretty tasty. You might even say it was whey tasty.

4. Play XBox Kinect

XBox Kinect is really cool. I don't really follow video games, so maybe I'm way off-base on this, but it seems like it's been hyped much less than the Wii was when it came out, but based on my limited experience, Kinect is a lot cooler. There's no controller, you just stand in front of the screen and do stuff. FREE FROM THE SHACKLES OF THE CONTROLLER! Finally.

We played the Kinect dancing game, which is something like a cross between Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. It's much better than DDR, though, because you do actual dance moves instead of just stepping on squares. Like, for example, one of the songs is Crank That, and you actually do the Crank That dance moves. Totally sweet.

5. Go to Trivia Night at a Bar

I met with some teacher's college friends and we hit up trivia night at the Lieutenant's Pump, one of my favourite Ottawa bars (and, incidentally, the first I ever went to when I came looking for a place to live before moving here). There were probably seven or eight teams, some of whom were apparently regulars, but when all was said and done, we totally kicked all their asses. The trivia dude was like "usually I tell new teams that it takes a few times to get used to the questions, blah blah blah". Sure, buddy.

We each had different strengths, which is what you want in a trivia team I guess. Total team effort. We really came together. Stayed within ourselves. 110%. Some of my best answers: identifying the "hardest" song (Daniel by Bat For Lashes) (even though I couldn't get most of the "easier" ones), and successfully spelling (Peter) Sarsgaard and (Maggie) Gyllenhaal. I have Saturday Night Live to thank for that one ('their wedding gifts came from Craate and Baarrel').

The prize was $10 of food at the bar, each, which paid for most of my dinner. Sweet deal!

Anyway: such a good day for the old bucket list. I hope you have a bucket-worthy day!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Extreme Engineering

Use Case: simulate microphone configuration for purposes of practicing guitar/vocals with microphone in front of face.

System Diagram

Component functions to be described in the following section.


Component: Incense stick
Function: Simulate microphone

Component: Pen, tied to golf club with broken, not-being-used headphones
Function: Ability to rotate pen, thus adjusting height and angle of attached incense (see above)
Benefit: Increased customizability; ergonomic advantage

Component: Textbooks ('Physics for Scientists and Engineers'; 'Probability and Statistics for Engineers & Scientists'; 'Operations Research'; '1001 Essential Family Favorites')
Engineering Function: Increase height of music instruction manual 
Benefit: Improve operator's ability to read instruction manual

Component: Pitching wedge, Tuck Tape
Engineering Function: Microphone stand
Benefit: Accurate simulation of microphone stand

Component: Swively chair
Engineering Function: Maximization of swiviliness
Benefit: Increased customizability; ergonomic advantage 

Component: Hand
Engineering Function: Curling action of phalanges creates force necessary to alter sound frequency
Benefit: Music sound good

Future improvements to include second apparatus at higher level to allow operator to alternate between sitting and standing positions; lighting mechanism on incense stick to improve system odour; replace pitching wedge with 3 iron to increase range of apparatus; bionic hand to decrease hand fatigue.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Favourite Medias of 2010

I guess I'm a little late to the party of year-end lists, but whatever.

I wanted to take some time to appreciate the things that entertained me in 2010. But I'm not a  professional TV critic, or music critic, or Twitter critic (that must be a real job now, right?), so I won't attempt to list the "best" of each category, because it would really be the best of the 0.01% that I know anything about. And even then it would be wrong. (There is in fact a right and wrong in matters of taste, I googled it.)

So I just decided to write about some of my favorite... uh-oh, I know where this is going... it's unavoidable... can't... resist... urge............. things. Things that are delivered to me via some entertainment medium, anyway, hence the not-actually-a-word title.

These are in no particular order, because how do you even put S&M-based Friendster feeds and holographic Pokemon music videos to Nine Inch Nails songs on the same scale? Ha ha, just kidding, those things aren't on my list. At least not both of them.

Paul F. Tompkins

I already wrote about seeing PFT live in Toronto, so go check out that post for more detail if you're interested. Basically, I'd never heard of him before August or so, but I went to see him in October, and it was an incredible show. Since then, I've heard him do characters on a comedy podcast called Comedy Death-Ray, in which he's absolutely hilarious, and he's started his own podcast, which I think is pretty good and improving (I still have to catch up on a couple episodes).

Snarky Puppy

These dudes are a funk/jazz band from Texas who I saw on Hallowe'en. I found out about them from two completely different people (my uncle and a U of T friend) on the same day. It was so weird that it stuck in my memory, prompting me to look them up and discover how ridiculously good they are. Even though I haven't gotten around to buying any of their albums yet, their concert, at which they played a set of originals followed by a set of songs from Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life (a tradition, apparently - last year they also played the Hallowe'en show at the Rex and covered Thriller), was the best I saw in 2010, earning them placement on this list.


A cursory glance at my Google Reader would probably lead one to suspect that my favourite blog comes from the massive "Baseball" category which takes up about half of my 40 or so subscriptions. On the contrary, the #1 internet destination in my books is this pop culture blog which covers TV, movies, and the internet.

There are a ton of pop culture blogs out there, but the ones that keep you coming back are the ones with consistently excellent writing (courtesy of Gabe Delahaye), and an engaging reader community. Videogum boasts both of these things.

For some of Gabe's funniest writing, check out his Mad Men recaps (yes, even if you don't watch Mad Men).

Scott Pilgrim

I'm not really sure what my favourite movie of the year was, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is definitely in the running. Now, that isn't enough to make Xave's Favourite Medias of 2010, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the source comic book prior to watching the movie.

Harper's Cryptic Crossword

Those who know me well know that I'm a big fan of cryptic crosswords - to the point that one of my personal projects these days is creating them, and, eventually, maybe even trying to sell them. (Maybe I should stop saying that and actually do it.)

I learned how to do cryptic crosswords when I was a kid and have been brought up on Fraser Simpson of the Globe and Mail, but this year I discovered Harper's cryptic and it is simply astounding. The clues are so complex and well-written, and on top of that each puzzle has a crazy twist, like each answer in the grid is missing a letter or something. I can usually finish them, but it takes a couple of weeks and several googles of word definitions I didn't know.

This American Life

The way in which I consume media has shifted recently, and podcasts are rapidly gaining ground on Google Reader. This is mostly because I can do productive stuff while listening to podcasts like cooking, cleaning, biking somewhere, and I'm trying to use the time that I would previously spend clearing my RSS feeds working on projects.

This American Life is, simply, the best podcast. I'd be willing to bet anyone who listens to it would tell you the same.

One of the recent episodes.

Dinosaur Comics/Ryan North

Dinosaur Comics isn't my favourite webcomic (that title goes to xkcd), but it's up there, likely occupying the #2 spot. (If you're not familiar, the conceit is that the panels are the same every day, only the dialogue changes. Clearly it takes a brilliant writer to keep this fresh for something like seven years now.)

What separates DC is its creator, Ryan North. He's consistently one of the most entertaining and affable personalities I've encountered, and through his tweeting and side projects I've come to regard him as more of a "complete entertainer" than anyone else on the internet.

For example: in the fall he and collaborators released a book of short stories. A regular person would advertise in the normal ways. Ryan North decided that everyone who wanted to buy the book should do it on the same day so that it would shoot to #1 on the Amazon rankings. It worked, and in the process ruined the debut of Glenn Beck's book. Glenn Beck subsequently got all huffy that some comic artist he'd never heard of beat him on Amazon. The whole thing was absolutely hilarious, especially through Ryan's commentary.

(Doesn't hurt that he's a Torontonian either.)

Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid

My favourite album of the year is a combination of funk, soul, R&B, sci-fi and cool dance moves (see video below).

Louis C.K.

The comedians category really dominated this year, seeing as two made this list. While Louis C.K. wasn't my favourite comedian of the year (that would be the aforementioned PFT), he is simply one of the funniest guys around these days, and you can't really go wrong with anything he does.

But what got him onto the list was, in addition to his phenomenal stand-up, his new show (Louie), which he writes, directs, edits, stars in, grips, assistant best boys, I dunno, everything? It's a touching look at middle-aged divorced life which is often depressing, occasionally uplifting, and always very funny.

Honourable Mentions

Movies: Kick-Ass, Toy Story 3, Fubar 2, Inception, The Social Network (haven't seen most of the award-season films)

TV Shows: Community, Party Down, Lost, 30 Rock, Bored to Death, Mad Men, Futurama

Songs: "Faster", "Tightrope" (Janelle Monae), "Cousins" (Vampire Weekend), "Fuck You" (Cee-Lo Green), "Good Intentions Paving Company" (Joanna Newsom), "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (Arcade Fire), "Camel" (Beach House), "Bowls" (Caribou), "All I Want", "Pow Pow" (LCD Soundsystem), "Tell 'Em" (Sleigh Bells)

Albums: "Heartland" (Owen Pallett), "The Suburbs" (Arcade Fire), "Swim" (Caribou)

Podcasts: The Moth, Freakonomics, Comedy Death-Ray

Books: The Big Short (Michael Lewis), Contact (Carl Sagan), UBIK (Philip K. Dick)

Other: Joe Posnanski (Sports Illustrated writer, non-stop blogger), Dirk Hayhurst (baseball player, published author) What's Up With That (recurring Saturday Night Live sketch), xkcd (webcomic), Comixed (webcomic)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Goodbye, Failblog

Failblog, it's been fun. You've made me laugh on a consistent basis for a long time. You still do! There isn't much more I can ask from a blog based on human screw-ups. Or from any blog, really.

But all good things must come to an end, and Failblog, I'm sorry to tell you that this is our time. I feel like I'm sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper while you knit a sweater for that nice boy down the street. We aren't talking. It's not an awkward silence; it's comfortable. But that's kind of the problem, Failblog. I never wanted our relationship to be comfortable. I wanted it to be exciting, dangerous, and surprising.

No, Failblog, don't cry, please. Believe me when I tell you that I'm doing this because I love you. It's better this way - for both of us.

Look, I never want you to change, but in a hypothetical world, if I was forced to change one thing about you, which I never would, I promise, it would be your prolificity. You show up in my Google Reader like 20 times every day, and that's just a little suffocating. I mean, it would be, in this completely hypothetical scenario.

I guess there's one other thing, Failblog. I have to admit, I don't really like your friends. Maybe they're not your friends. Maybe they're just random people who scrawl messages on your walls. I'm not really sure what the situation is, and I don't want to pry. But for the most part, they're immature jerks.

On that note, I have to bring up a sore subject for me. Your friends' jerkness is never more apparent than when it comes to Justin Bieber. I've written about the Biebs before (read that to understand my disdain of your "friends" putting him down), so I'm worried that you'll start thinking I'm a JB fanboy, because I do care what you think of me Failblog, I really do. But I'm not a fanboy. I even enjoy the odd lesbian joke at JB's expense.

But voting him the Failiest Person of the Year, in a landslide, mind you, ahead of such real atrocities of human beings as Mel Gibson and Tiger Woods, is going a little too far. Now I know it wasn't you Failblog, it was those "friends" of yours again, but the fact is you let it happen, and that's a little disappointing. Not unforgivable, just disappointing.

I want to make it clear, though, this isn't why I'm moving on, Failblog. As I said before, it's just our time. I'll still visit every now and then. I still love you, after all. And I'm grateful, Failblog; thank you for all the joy you've brought me.

Monday, December 20, 2010


There are a couple posts I've been meaning to write over the last couple months, and this is the season to do it! Today I present to you: FREE CATS!

I moved back to Toronto at the beginning of September, and one of the first things I noticed upon settling in to my new house were the two cats that frequently wandered through my room and the rest of the two-story part-of-a-duplex apartment. As far as I knew these cats didn't belong to my roommates, so I had no idea where they came from. As it turns out, they jump over the fence from our other-side-of-duplex neighbours, entering our house through the third-floor deck.

To me, this is the perfect pet situation. You get all the cuddliness and meowdowns (meow showdowns - who will stop meowing first), and none of the upkeep costs. Unfortunately, they don't visit so much in the winter, but when I first moved in they were hanging out all the time, and I managed to snap a few photos.

Click "view on slideshare" or whatever the bottom right button says if you want to fullscreen this and optimize your viewing experience.
Free cats

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Justin Bieber Screed

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, and was reminded it of it last night after having another Justin Bieber conversation. If you're reading this, you probably hate Justin Bieber. I say that because it's the general reaction I've been getting from my friends and other people my age and, honestly, I don't get it. I mean, Justin Bieber's music is bad. I'm not here to defend his music. I don't listen to it, and the few times I have, I haven't liked it, but that's beside the point.

Look, there are always going to be Justins Bieber. Pre-teen girls have to be in love with someone, and that someone is always going to make bad music. Pre-teen girls just have terrible taste in music. It doesn't matter how cute the guys from Animal Collective are, they aren't getting a grade 6 fan-base.

(By the way, I'm not trying to be sexist here - pre-teen boys have terrible taste in music too. I was listening to FM 96 (London's The Edge) non-stop at that age, as we all were.)

So yeah, Justin Bieber isn't a new concept. It was the Backstreet Boys and then 'N Sync when I was that age. It was the New Kids on the Block before that. Hanson was in there at some point. Now it's Justin Bieber, who took over for the Jonas Brothers. Justin Bieber is just a fact of life. But he's a fact of life that absolutely doesn't concern people in my generation, so I just don't understand why ADULTS care how good his music is.

Even if you do want to debate the merits JB, I think he stacks up pretty well to his predecessors. Groups like BSB and 'N Sync were money-making monsters created by record labels (same with the Spice Girls - remember when they were created? Something crazy like 10,000 people auditioned, and it was so publicized, the Spice Girls were superstars before we even knew who was in the group).

While J-Biebs is clearly a product at this point, his rise to fame was somewhat more organic - he was discovered through Youtube videos of him singing covers. It may seem like splitting hairs, but I think there's a big difference between being "discovered" and auditioning for a group that would be formed one way or another.

Secondly, I like that he's actually a teenager himself. Somehow it seems disingenuous to market a boy band of 20-year-olds guys to 12-year-old girls. Bieber is 16 now, but he was "discovered" at just 13, having already become popular on Youtube.

Now, some people have pointed me to videos where JB has come off as arrogant, stupid, annoying, whatever. He's not perfect. But at the same time, anything he says or does is magnified quite a bit, and nobody's on their game 100% of the time. And he's so ridiculously popular, I can understand him thinking he's the shit. He basically doesn't know any other way of living! Finally, he's been the victim of a LOT of ridicule and mean-spirited internet "jokes" (4chan is bunch of assholes, I don't care if funny stuff comes out of there occasionally), and, fame and money or not, that can't be easy. On the whole, he doesn't seem like a bad guy to me.

Now, while I'm baffled and disappointed by the hate JB receives from people my age, I fully endorse it coming from anyone under the age of 18. Just as falling in love with teen pop stars is part of growing up for some people, rejecting what's popular is part of growing up for many others. I hated the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync when I was a kid, as most boys did (and some girls too, let's not leave them out of the hate-fest!), and that was part of my childhood identity. So hate on, kids! But the day you turn 18, or graduate from high school, or, well, somewhere around that time anyway, you're not allowed to care anymore.

(Then you can care again when you're a parent and you have to deal with positive and negative influences and all that stuff, but I have to imagine innocent teen pop stars are the least of your concerns when you're worrying about violence and sex and stuff.)

I am a little worried about the Biebs. Where does he go from here? He's going to lose his pre-teen fan-base at some point, and his reputation with non-pre-teen girls has pretty much been forever tainted, no matter if he actually becomes a good musician at some point. There's a little hope, though: did you hear about that crazy band with one of the Hanson dudes, the Smashing Pumpkins guitarist, and a guy from Cheap Trick? I have no idea if they're any good, but that's kinda cool. And, obviously, Justin Timberlake is the gold standard for terrible pre-teen pop musicians becoming amazing artists. Let's hope JB's hilarious SNL sketch with Tina Fey last year is a portent of future success.

Of course, maybe I'm just trying to defend my Hallowe'en costume.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Real-Life Edition

On Saturday, I heard about a "Real-Life Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" scavenger hunt type thing. It sounded fun, so I texted a few friends, got one interested, and we met at King and Bay in downtown Toronto for the event.

We were given a piece of paper with six locations scrambled using a cipher, which were pretty easy to decipher. It instructed us to find informants in six locations: the Eaton Centre, Commerce Court, Hockey Hall of Fame, the Metro Convention Centre, First Canadian Place, and 32 Dundas East. After finding the informants, we were to receive clues from them, solve some sort of puzzle, and then get a clue regarding CS's final location. Presumably, in the end, we could combine all the informant clues to solve the mystery. Additionally, the instructions revealed that all the informants were stationed in the underground PATH network.

Thinking time was of the essence, I hopped on my bike and sped towards the Eaton Centre while my partner Jimmy ran alongside. We then proceeded to spend about half an hour looking unsuccessfully for the Eaton Centre informant - for one thing, the EC is connected to several branches of PATH, all of which are extremely busy, being connected to the Eaton Centre and a couple of subway stations, and since we hadn't encountered any informants yet, we didn't know what to look for. Eventually, we found tiny stickers on a set of doors saying something like "anywhere but Sears". We decided this was a pretty clear indication to look in and around Sears, but (spoiler alert) we never did find the EC informant, so whether those stickers were even related to the scavenger hunt is unclear.

After giving up on the EC, we went to the next closest location, 32 Dundas East, which, as it turned out, was an address that didn't exist (the correct building was 10 Dundas East). I'm not sure if they had ciphered the numbers 32 in addition to the letters, but if they had, there wouldn't have been enough information to figure that out. Furthermore, the complete location was listed as "32 Dundas East, 5th Floor". There was no 5th floor, so we looked for a while on the 3rd floor, thinking they might be including the two basement levels in their calculation. That failed, but eventually we stumbled upon the agent... on the first basement level (second floor from the bottom).

We should have been annoyed by the misleading instructions, but we were just relieved to finally find our first informant an hour and a half into the event. The agent told us he needed to know the price of a plane ticket to Johannesburg, so I went in search of travel agencies while Jimmy went back to search the Eaton Centre some more. The first travel agency didn't have anything listed, so after a few minutes of fruitless pamphlet-searching, an employee asked me if I needed anything. So I asked her for the price of a ticket to Johannesburg. Obviously, her first question was "when?", because plane tickets are not fixed prices. I had anticipated this ambiguity in the clue, but wanted an answer to bring back to the guy anyway, so I said "tomorrow". She was confused.

After explaining the situation several times, I finally got a quote and went back to the guy. He told me I was wrong, obviously, but after telling him how I got the answer, he straight up told me to go to a different travel agency. Unfortunately, he didn't tell me which one, so I went to a second incorrect agency and wasted 10 or 15 minutes there before meeting up with Jimmy again. Jimmy had a brainwave and remembered a third travel agency nearby, though clearly the third-closest to the location of the informant. That travel agency had a deal to Johannesburg on their window, and this proved to be what the informant was looking for. How we (the solvers) were expected to know to go to this particular travel agency is beyond me, and if it wasn't for Jimmy I would probably have wasted the rest of the day on this search.

At this point it was pretty late in the competition (it was to be three hours long), so I decided it was imperative to split up if we had any hope of contending. I sped down towards Front Street and hit up Commerce Court. That clue was easy; the agents were easy to find, and I just had to decipher a couple of scrambled messages using the same key as before.

Next was the Hockey Hall of Fame and, once again, a quick and easy solution. That agent was an "actor" who had a problem - he couldn't cry on command, and asked me to show him how. So I started pulling out my nose hairs. After fake crying out in pain and faking some tears (I was sweaty from running, it was easy) I started on another nose hair, and the guy was like "dude, okay, that's fine!"

At that point I was feeling good; if Jimmy got one or two we might still solve this thing. Then I went to the Metro Convention Centre and spent 45 minutes looking for the informant. The PATH network doesn't go into the MCC; it just connects via the Skywalk (the passage from Union Station to the CN Tower). So I figured the agent would be in the Skywalk, but I walked up and down several times and didn't see anyone remotely agenty (one thing I will give the group who organized this is that the agents were in costume and in character). I also ventured into the convention centre itself on several occasions, even though the informants were supposed to be firmly in the PATH. Inside the MCC I encountered some sort of bizarre balloon convention. Seriously, there were all these well-dressed people... and then a large number of people carrying classic multi-coloured bunches of balloons. It felt like I was at the premiere for Up or something. Needless to say, my ratty clothes stood out and I was gently asked to leave (even though there had been no security I had to sneak by or anything).

Eventually, I gave up on the convention centre and met up with Jimmy who had given up on the Eaton Centre for a second time and had found the agent in First Canadian Place. That agent sent him to Union Station where a sub-agent was waiting; we found that guy and returned to FCP with the clue answer only to discover the FCP agent had left his location, permanently, about 15 minutes before the end of the competition (and we encountered other groups experiencing the same frustration).

Jimmy had to go, but I was interested in at least getting some closure, so I went to two of the locations where I knew agents had been. They had left, but it was after six at this point, so that was understandable. Less understandable was the lack of people at the starting location. I thought there would at least be someone announcing the end of the competition or the winners or where the after-party was or something, but it was desolate. So I thought to myself: "um, okay, I guess I'll just go home now?" I was pretty disappointed; I was expecting an after-party at some nearby bar, or at least, as I mentioned, some kind of closure. None was to be found.

All in all, I had fun at times, but we spent most of the three hours looking for agents rather than solving clues, and it just sort of petered out at the end. Pretty disappointing, on the whole.