December 18, 2010

Friday Random Ten

...because I haven't done one of these in a while...here are the first ten songs, randomly selected by iTunes to load on my iPod.

1) When I Die, by Motherlode
2) Siberian Khatru, by Yes
3) Runaway, by Leahy
4) Torn and Tattered, by Joss Stone
5) Anything For You, by Gloria Estefan
6) The Ribbon Dancers, by Michael Occhipinti
7) You're Everywhere, by The Tragically Hip
8) Sick & Tired, by Default
9) Rinse, by Vanessa Carlton
10) Own True Way, by Great Big Sea

plus, one bonus song, because I really like this rendition:

11) Ode To Billy Joe, by Molly Johnson


December 16, 2010

Animation fan? Prove it!

Complements of Byzantium's Shores, here is a quiz similar to the books and music ones I've found before at Kelly's blog. This one's about animated movies. I've modified the rules he quoted a bit. I removed the words "loved" and "hated" from the descriptions, as I think that someone who hates a movie has difficulty judging the importance of things in life (not you, Kelly - I know you were just copying and pasting). I've also removed the "seen part of/haven't finished" category. Really, why would anyone be interested in hearing about movies of which I've seen only bits and pieces?

Also: commentary...

The Rules:

- X what you have seen
- Bold what you liked
- Italicize what you disliked
- Leave unchanged if neutral

CLASSIC DISNEY
-------------------------------
[X] 101 Dalmatians (1961)
[X] Alice in Wonderland (1951)
[X] Bambi (1942) Even as a little kid, I found the depictions of the various animals to be too cutsie. Never turned my crank. Also, I never got that Bambi's mother died.
[X] Cinderella (1950)
[X] Dumbo (1941) This one was alright, I guess. I always found the Pink Elephants on Parade number to be overlong, and practically incomprehensible.
[X] Fantasia (1940) Saw this one in the theater with my parents when it was rereleased in the seventies and was frankly bored silly by it. Watched it years later on video and loved it, although I have always found the Fantasia 2000 version to be a more enjoyable film.
[X] Lady and the Tramp (1955) We are Siame-ese if you ple-ease.
[X] Mary Poppins (1964)
[X] Peter Pan (1953)
[X] Pinocchio (1940)
[X] Sleeping Beauty (1959) Although I know I've seen this one multiple times, I can't really remember much about it. It clearly did not make much of an impression on me.
[X] Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Fun.
[ ] Song of the South (1946)


DISNEY'S DARK AGE
-------------------------------
[X] The Aristocats (1970) Everybody wants to be a cat!
[X] The Black Cauldron (1985)
[X] The Fox and the Hound (1981)
[X] The Great Mouse Detective (1986) This marked an interesting departure from Disney's former offerings based on traditional children's literature. The Great Mouse Detective was their first feature film adapted from adult literature.
[X] The Jungle Book (1967)
[X] The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
[X] Oliver and Company (1986)
[ ] Pete's Dragon (1977)
[X] The Rescuers (1977)
[X] Robin Hood (1973) When I was a kid, I had this movie in the form of a book and LP record combination. I used to listen to the album over and over again, until I could recite the dialogue from the entire movie from memory.
[X] The Sword In The Stone (1963)


THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE
-------------------------------
[X] Aladdin (1992) A huge coup for Disney, this film marked the return to glory for the company.
[X] Beauty and the Beast (1991)
[X] A Goofy Movie (1995) Huyuck!
[X] Hercules (1997) This was an interesting experiment in a more stylized from of animation, based upon traditional Greek artwork. They would continue to play with this idea in films like The Lion King, Mulan, and The Emperor's New Groove.
[X] The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) This was one of the less popular Disney movies, but I enjoyed it.
[X] The Lion King (1994) The pinnacle of Disney's second golden age.
[X] The Little Mermaid (1989)
[X] Mulan (1998) The last good thing Eddie Murphy ever did.
[X] Pocahontas (1995)
[X] The Rescuers Down Under (1990) This one's a ton of fun. The cinematography of the opening scene is brilliant.
[X] Tarzan (1999)

DISNEY'S MODERN AGE
-------------------------------
[X] Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) I always thought this one was a great idea that was never really fully fleshed out. At 95 minutes, it isn't really all that short, but it feels like it is. The whole thing seemed rushed to me.
[X] Bolt (2008) Another ton of fun.
[ ] Brother Bear (2003)
[X] Chicken Little (2005)
[ ] Dinosaur (2000)
[X] The Emperor's New Groove (2000) I like David Spade. He and John Goodman really clicked on this film.
[X] Fantasia 2000 (2000) Excellent.
[ ] Home on the Range (2004)
[X] Lilo & Stitch (2002)
[ ] Meet the Robinsons (2007)
[X] Treasure Planet (2002)

PIXAR
-------------------------------
[X] A Bug's Life (1998)
[X] Cars (2006)
[X] Finding Nemo (2003)
[X] The Incredibles (2004)
[X] Monsters Inc. (2001)
[ ] Ratatouille (2007) Need to see this one.
[X] Toy Story (1995)
[X] Toy Story 2 (1999)
[ ] Toy Story 3 (2010) And this one
[X] Wall-E (2008)
[X] Up (2009) Meh.

DON BLUTH
-------------------------------
[X] All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
[X] An American Tail (1986)
[ ] An American Tail: Fieval Goes West (1991)
[X] Anastasia (1997)
[X] The Land Before Time (1988)
[X] The Pebble and the Penguin (1995)
[ ] Rock-a-Doodle (1991)
[X] The Secret of NIMH (1982)
[ ] Thumbelina (1994)
[X] Titan AE (2000)
[ ] A Troll in Central Park (1994)

CLAYMATION AND STOP-MOTION
-------------------------------
[ ] The Adventures of Mark Twain (1986)
[X] Chicken Run (2000)
[X] Corpse Bride (2005)
[X] James and the Giant Peach (1996)
[X] The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) I thought this was considerably better than the aforementioned Corpse Bride.
[X] Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
[X] Coraline (2009) I can't understand why everyone raved about this. It wasn't any better than just so-so, and I couldn't really discern a plot, a climax, or a resolution. Did not like.


CGI GLUT
-------------------------------
[X] Antz (1998)
[ ] Bee Movie (2007)
[ ] Happy Feet (2006)
[X] Ice Age (2002)
[X] Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
[ ] Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
[X] Kung Fu Panda (2008)
[ ] Madagascar (2005)
[X] Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) Bad, just bad.
[X] Monster House (2006)
[X] Over the Hedge (2006)
[ ] The Polar Express (2004)
[X] Robots (2005)
[ ] A Shark's Tale (2004)
[X] Shrek (2001)
[X] Shrek 2 (2004)
[ ] Shrek The Third (2007)
[ ] Shrek Forever After (2010)
[ ] Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

IMPORTS
-------------------------------
[ ] Arabian Knight (aka The Thief and the Cobbler) (1995)
[ ] The Last Unicorn (1982)
[ ] Light Years (1988)
[ ] The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
[ ] Persepolis (2007)
[ ] Waltz With Bashir (2008)
[ ] Watership Down (1978)
[ ] When the Wind Blows (1988)
[ ] Wonderful Days (2003)
[X] Yellow Submarine (1968) How can you not like the cartoon Beatles?


STUDIO GHIBLI/MIYAZAKI
-------------------------------
[ ] The Cat Returns (2002)
[ ] Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
[X] Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
[ ] Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
[ ] Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
[ ] Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
[ ] My Neighbors The Yamadas (1999)
[ ] My Neighbor Totoro (1993)
[ ] Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
[ ] Only Yesterday (1991)
[ ] Pom Poko (Tanuki War) (1994)
[ ] Porco Rosso (1992)
[ ] Princess Mononoke (1999)
[X] Spirited Away (2002)
[ ] Whisper of the Heart (1995)
[ ] Ponyo (2009)


SATOSHI KON
-------------------------------
[ ] Millennium Actress (2001)
[ ] Paprika (2006)
[ ] Perfect Blue (1999)
[ ] Tokyo Godfathers (2003)


SHINKAI MAKOTO
-------------------------------
[ ] She and Her Cat (1999)
[ ] Voices of a Distant Star (2001)
[ ] The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)
[ ] 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)


OTHER ANIME FILMS
-------------------------------
[ ] Akira (1989)
[ ] Angel's Egg (1985)
[ ] Appleseed (2004)
[ ] Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)
[ ] Arcadia of My Youth (U.S. Title - Vengeance of the Space Pirate) (1982)
[ ] Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2003)
[ ] The Dagger of Kamui (U.S. Title - Revenge of the Ninja Warrior) (1985)
[ ] Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1987)
[ ] End of Evangelion (1997)
[ ] Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (2007)
[ ] Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (2009)
[ ] Fist of the North Star (1986)
[ ] Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
[ ] Ghost in the Shell (1996)
[ ] Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
[ ] The Girl Who Lept Through Time (2006)
[ ] Lensman (1984)
[ ] Macross: Do You Remember Love (U.S. Title - Clash of the Bionoids) (1984)
[ ] Memories (1995)
[ ] Metropolis (2001)
[ ] Neo-Tokyo (1986)
[ ] Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)
[ ] Ninja Scroll (1993)
[ ] Patlabor the Movie (1989)
[ ] The Professional: Golgo 13 (1983)
[ ] Project A-ko (1986)
[ ] Robot Carnival (1987)
[ ] Robotech: The Shadow Chronicle (2006)
[ ] Silent Möbius (1991)
[ ] The Sky Crawlers (2008)
[ ] Space Adventure Cobra (1982)
[ ] Steamboy (2004)
[ ] Sword of the Stranger (2007)
[ ] Unico and the Island of Magic (1983)
[ ] Urotsukidoji: The Movie (1987)
[ ] Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
[ ] Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1982)
[ ] Vampire Hunter D (1985)
[ ] Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust (2000)
[ ] Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force (1987)

Not being a fan of animation per-se, I haven't gone out of my way to watch any Japanese animated fare. I'm not a fan of the Japanese Anime style animation at all - I particularly find thier depictions of women distasteful. People seem to rave about Miyazaki, but I found the two of his films I saw to be merely so-so.


CARTOONS FOR GROWN-UPS
-------------------------------
[ ] American Pop (1981)
[X] The Animatrix (2003)
[ ] Beavis & Butthead Do America (1996)
[X] Cool World (1992)
[X] Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
[ ] Final Fantasy: Advent Children (2005)
[ ] Fire & Ice (1983)
[ ] Fritz the Cat (1972)
[ ] Halo Legends (2009)
[X] Heavy Metal (1981)
[ ] Heavy Metal 2000 (2000)
[ ] Hey Good Lookin' (1982)
[ ] Lady Death (2004)
[ ] A Scanner Darkly (2006)
[ ] Sita Sings the Blues (2008)
[X] South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
[ ] Street Fight (Coonskin) (1975)
[ ] Waking Life (2001)

OTHER ANIMATED MOVIES
-------------------------------
[ ] The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
[ ] Animal Farm (1954)
[ ] Animalympics (1980)
[ ] Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon The Movie (2007)
[ ] Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
[ ] Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
[ ] Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
[ ] The Brave Little Toaster (1988)
[ ] Bravestarr: The Movie (1988)
[ ] Cats Don't Dance (1997)
[ ] Care Bears: The Movie (1985)
[X] Charlotte's Web (1973)
[X] Fern Gully (1992)
[ ] G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)
[ ] Gobots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986)
[ ] Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)
[ ] He-Man & She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword (1985)
[X] The Hobbit (1977)
[X] The Iron Giant (1999) I Superman! Great film!
[ ] Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
[ ] Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
[X] Lord of the Rings (1978) I saw this one in the theater somehow. In 1978, I wasn't old enough to be interested in Tolkein, that I can remember, so it must have been rereleased at some point. It was pretty bad.
[ ] Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992)
[ ] My Little Pony: The Movie (1986)
[X] Pink Floyd's The Wall (1982) Used to go downtown and see this with a group of buddies regularly. I own it on DVD, but the in-home viewing experience simply cannot match the big-screen, big-sound, in-theater experience.
[X] The Prince of Egypt (1998)
[ ] Powerpuff Girls: The Movie (2002)
[ ] Quest For Camelot (1999)
[ ] Ringing Bell (1978)
[X] The Road to El Dorado (2000)
[ ] Shinbone Alley (1971)
[X] Space Jam (1996) What? I liked it.
[ ] Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)
[ ] Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
[ ] Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
[ ] Superman: Doomsday (2007)
[ ] The Swan Princess (1994)
[ ] Transformers: The Movie (1986)
[ ] Wizards (1977)
[X] Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
[ ] Wonder Woman (2009)
[ ] Balto (1995)
[ ] Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

As Kelly pointed out, this is hardly a comprehensive list. There are many sequels to listed films that do not appear here, and I can think of at least a few stand-alone films I have seen that have been missed here. Still, for what it is (an interenet quiz), it's an interesting look at people's animation viewing experiences.


December 09, 2010

Sally Anne Hates Harry Potter

Are you donating toys to The Salvation Army this year? Maybe you should rethink that.

Recent news items have brought to light the fact that many donated toys never make it the children for whom they were intended. Because the Salvation Army is a Christian organisation, any toys that are deemed "not in line with Christian principles," are rejected by the charity. This includes the most popular items for young teens this year: Harry Potter and Twilight themed merchandise.

Are these items rejected at the donation sites? No. Your donations are taken to a warehouse where they are sorted, and the $40 Harry Potter Lego game you gave, and other toys like it are separated out, and discarded. Why? According to a representative of the Sally Ann, it's because they promote the occult and black magic.

So, you decided to donate a gift this year. You chose something you thought a child might like. The charity is second guessing you, and your choice of toy might be labelled inappropriate. If you thought it was inappropriate, you wouldn't have donated it.

The Salvation Army claims that the rejected toys are sent to a third party, where they might end up being distributed to children in a different manner, but they did not deign to identify that third party, so, really, who knows?

My charitable donations will certainly be aimed somewhere else this year. Yes, I think so.


hat tip: The Friendly Atheist


December 01, 2010

Beer Reviews #1

A couple of years ago I frequented a website where the community could post online ratings of beers they had tried, including detailed descriptions of their impressions of said ales and lagers. I don't spend much time there anymore, but the interest in and taste for fine beer the site engendered in me continues today. I thought I might, from time to time, post a review or two here of beers I have tried.

Vacation Fall 2010 091In late September the wife and I took a short road trip to the Washington, D.C.-Richmond, Virginia region, where I tried a few new beers in area bars and restaurants. In addition, I brought several bottles of beer home with me to enjoy (see photo at left).

Herewith, then, please find attached the first of the aforementioned beer reviews for your reading, and drinking enjoyment.

Middle Ages Brewing Company - Wailing Wench Ale

The Middle Ages Brewing Company is in Syracuse, New York, which could be considered local to the Buffalo store Premier Gourmet, where I bought the beer. Middle Ages bills this beer as a "full bodied ale screaming with hops," which fit in with the profile of several other beers I had been wanting to try, for example Stone Arrogant Bastard, so I put it in my basket. Who am I kidding, it also has a picture of a woman with big boobs on the label. It comes in a full pint bottle, which is a little more than I'm used to consuming in one sitting - especially since it's 8% alcohol by volume. Kinda like drinking four Coors Lights at once...except with flavour. If you're interested, they also make a Double Wench, at 12% ABV, with a girl with even bigger boobs on the label.

At 8% alcohol, I expected some kick out of this beer, but the alcohol is not intrusive in the taste at all. The hops, on the other hand... The "screaming with hops" subtitle on the label indicates that this was an attempt at a 'hop bomb' by the brewery, and they certainly succeeded in that. A bit too much so for my tastes. Now, don't get me wrong, I like hops as much as the next beer snob, but this beer was just trying too hard. The malt was definitely there, but the hops simply overwhelmed it on my palate.

There wasn't much in the way of complexity here either. The brewer's website doesn't indicate how many or what varieties of hops were used in this beer, but I couldn't really distinguish between the start and the finish here. It was just bitter hops all the way through. I didn't dislike this beer, but in the American strong ale/IPA category, there are many that I like better.

What? I need a rating system? OK, let's call this one 3/5.


September 21, 2010

Woman's world

A few weeks ago I posted about Stacey Kaniuk stealing the show at the Aurora Jazz Festival with a smoking rendition of a James Brown classic. Here is the video of that performance:


Tonight's retro playlist:

Kayleigh, by Marillion (this song got stuck in my head for days a few weeks ago)

(I Just) Died In Your Arms, by Cutting Crew (I just like this one)

Dance Desire, by Haywire (best song opening ever)

Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone), by Glass Tiger (most famous band from closest to where I live ever)

Turn It Loud, by Headpins (turn it up - just do it)

Whatcha Do To My Body, by Lee Aaron (hottest rock chick ever)

Roxy Roller, by Sweeny Todd (sung by Nick Guilder - for years I thought it was a chick)

Fantasy, by Aldo Nova (most pretentious video ever)

Lunatic Fringe, by Red Rider (most boring video ever)

Fox On The Run, by The Sweet (worst sound ever, but I like this song)

What's your retro playlist?


September 11, 2010

In remembrance

...and in support of those who grieve:

http://awvarchive.blogspot.com/2005/09/now-of-it-all.html

http://awvarchive.blogspot.com/2006/09/weekend-assignment-remembering.html

Those posts now reside in an archive of the original Aurora Walking Vacation blog. If you feel moved to comment, please do so here, rather than there.


September 02, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - Z

illum_z is for Zhou, as in Zhou Yan, lead on the 2009 women's world champions from China. Zhou, and her teammates Yue Qingshuang, Liu Yin and Wang Bingyu burst onto the international curling scene in 2005, winning the Pan-Pacific Championships. They had been curling for only four years. The Chinese experience is but the most notable of what has been a recent explosion of popularity of curling around the world.

There was international curling in the early days of the twentieth century, but it was usually confined to a team visiting another country and touring around playing exhibition games in various clubs. This happened numerous times between Canadian and Scottish clubs during the first half of the century. Curling was also contested at the 1924 and 1932 Olympics. In fact, in 2006 the IOC declared the 1924 result to have been "official" and awarded medals - for most, posthumously, I suspect. In 1959, an international championship, the "Scotch Cup" was inaugurated, having developed out of a semi-regular Canada vs. Scotland contest over the previous decade. The Scotch Cup grew from two to eight countries, and led to the formation of an International Federation.

The World Curling Federation was formed in 1966 (originally as the International Curling Federation), with seven members: Scotland, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and the United States. Germany joined a year later, and membership stayed at eight until the seventies. For three decades, growth was slow, with six new national organisations joining in the seventies, and only five in the eighties. And then, something happened. Thirteen new member nations joined the WCF during the nineties, and another fourteen since the turn of the millenium.

What happened? Why, the Winter Olympics happened. Curling returned, after an absence of 64 years, as a demonstration sport at the 1988 games in Calgary, and again at the 1992 games in Albertville. It was made a full medal sport just in time for the 1998 games in Nagano. It has proved to be more popular with the fans at every games since. So much so that during the 2010 tournament the players had difficulty hearing themselves over the raucous, capacity crowds filling the venue.

Recent additions to the roster of WCF member nations, along with China, include Brazil, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Lithuania, and this year, Slovenia. Most of those countries have only a handful of curlers, but significant growth is only a matter of time. Take Brazil, for example. The Brazilian Ice Sports Federation has been an official member of the WCF since 1998, but the address listed for them on the WCF website is a post office box in Norwell, Massachusetts. All that is changing in a big way this year. In August, Nutrogena hosted a ten day, open to the public curling clinic in a local mall in Sao Paulo. Several Canadian and Norwegian curlers and coaches were on hand to not only teach people how to curl, but to train local coaches to carry on without them. Reportedly several hundred people tried the game over the course of the event, and the Brazilians will be left with a solid base upon which to build. Will we see a Brazilian curling team competing at the 2014 Olympics? At first it sounds farfetched, but considering the success of Zhou Yan and friends, maybe not so much.

Time will tell.

<- Start at the beginning.


August 19, 2010

The (not so) great wi-fi debate

You probably haven't been able to turn on your computer and surf the Internet the last few days without running into a story about Barrie, Ontario area parents claiming their children are being made sick by Wi-Fi radiation in the schools. The media is giving all kinds of attention to one or two scientists who are saying there might be a health concern. Unfortunately, it is giving little more than lip service to the vast bulk of the scientific community who say the opposite.

Sure, many publications have expressed some more or less skeptical opinions - in a wishy-washy kind of way, but no one, anywhere, is telling it straight. No one is saying what should be said. No one is saying that there isn't a shred of credible evidence that there is any harm whatsoever from Wi-Fi signals. No one is saying that the cell phones all these kids have glued to their heads twenty-four hours a day emit considerably more radiation - in the same frequency range - than Wi-Fi transmitters. Heck your DVD player emits more RF radiation than your wireless router, but I don't see any of these parents cutting up their Blockbuster cards.

What needs to be said - loud and clear - is that, in order for the claims of this group to be in any way valid; in order for there to be a health risk from Wi-Fi signals, everything we currently understand about physics would have to be wrong. I'm not talking about a minor correction to our scientific understanding of the world. I mean we'd have to throw the laws of nature out the window and start all over again. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing. That means it doesn't have enough power to damage cells beyond heating them. A typical microwave oven is about 1000 watts. A typical cellphone is less than one watt. What that means is, in order to reheat your cold cup of Tim's to a piping hot, drinkable state (what your microwave would do in about one minute), you'd have to hold your cell phone up to the cup for around seventeen hours...in a shielded box that didn't allow any of the radiation to escape into the environment at large...in an insulated cup that didn't allow any of the heat to escape into the air. OK, let's be honest, it's impossible. And your average Wi-Fi transmitter is about half the power of a cell phone - and typically not held up against your head.

This idea - that Wi-Fi radiation can somehow be harmful to people's health - is what we, in the skeptical community refer to as, "not even wrong." What we mean by that is it is an idea that is so far out of the realm of reason that it's like asking how many pot-roasts the Yankees scored last night. It's a statement that doesn't even make sense in the context of a reasonable discussion. No, these parents are barking up the wrong area rug. They're "not even wrong."


August 08, 2010

(not quite) 100 more SF books everybody should read!

Kelly has come across another list of somebody's opinion of indispensible science fiction novels. He called it 100 more SF books..., but I only count 84. This list overlaps the previous one only a small amount. Once again, I will boldinicize those titles I have read, and add commentary where the inclination strikes me.

1. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
2. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
3. Cities in Flight – James Blish I have this book (got it for Christmas a couple of years ago from an online secret santa gift exchange). I haven't read it yet.
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
5. The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
6. Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
7. Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
8. The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe
9. Gateway – Frederik Pohl
10. The Rediscovery of Man – Cordwainer Smith
11. Last and First Men – Olaf Stapledon
12. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
13. Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. Dick
14. The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
15. Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner
16. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
17. The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard
18. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
19. Emphyrio – Jack Vance
20. A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
21. Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon
22. Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
23. The Book of Skulls – Robert Silverberg
24. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
25. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes I have not read the novel, but I have read the short story by the same author upon which the novel was based.
26. Ubik – Philip K. Dick
27. Timescape – Gregory Benford
28. More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
29. Man Plus – Frederik Pohl
30. A Case of Conscience – James Blish
31. The Centauri Device – M. John Harrison
32. Dr. Bloodmoney – Philip K. Dick
33. Non-Stop – Brian Aldiss
34. The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke
35. Pavane – Keith Roberts
36. Now Wait for Last Year – Philip K. Dick
37. Nova – Samuel R. Delany
38. The First Men in the Moon – H. G. Wells
39. The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
40. Blood Music – Greg Bear
41. Jem – Frederik Pohl
42. Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
43. VALIS – Philip K. Dick
44. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
45. The Complete Roderick – John Sladek
46. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
47. The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
48. Grass – Sheri S. Tepper
49. A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke
50. Eon – Greg Bear
51. The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
52. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
53. The Dancers at the End of Time – Michael Moorcock
54. The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55. Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick
56. Downward to the Earth – Robert Silverberg
57. The Simulacra – Philip K. Dick
58. The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
59. Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
60. Ringworld – Larry Niven
61. The Child Garden – Geoff Ryman
62. Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
63. A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick
64. Tau Zero – Poul Anderson
65. Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
66. Life During Wartime – Lucius Shepard
67. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
68. Roadside Picnic – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69. Dark Benediction – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70. Mockingbird – Walter Tevis
71. Dune – Frank Herbert
72. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
73. The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
74. Inverted World – Christopher Priest
75. Cat’s Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
76. The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells
77. Childhood’s End - Arthur C. Clarke
78. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
79. Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany
80. Helliconia - Brian Aldiss
81. Food of the Gods - H.G. Wells
82. The Body Snatchers - Jack Finney
83. The Female Man - Joanna Russ
84. Arslan - M.J. Engh


Like the previous list, this one seems Philipp K. Dick happy. In fact, there are more Dick books on this one than the last, and only a few of them are duplicates. How many books did this guy write? It seems that there are dozens of novels on this list by authors I have read other works by, but not the ones listed here. Also, there are a good number of books on this list that I've never even heard of before. I guess, between this list and the last, I won't have to look far for ideas when I need something new to read.

How did you fare on this list?


August 01, 2010

Hello, Police? I'd like to report a stolen show.

The second annual Aurora Jazz+ Festival was held this past Friday night and Saturday. I didn't have a chance to see any of the Friday night performers, but I spent the entire day at the Town Park Saturday listening to the Jazz, Blues, R&B, Pop, Folk, and Rock music line-up the organizers had put together. Along with returning artists like Joel Krivy, Bobby Rice and the Mike Massaro Band, there were a bevy of new performers along for the ride.


July 31 2010 046

Joel Krivy from King City performed his acoustic renditions of blues standards


The organizers, George and Sher St.Kitts, seem to be dedicated to showcasing as much local talent as possible, and included many amateur, semi-pro, and up and coming York Region performers. The absolute highlight of the show, for me, was Stacey Kaniuk - a cute-as-a-button local girl with a voice that'll knock your socks off. This girl cannot be far from breaking through into the big time. During a hot enough to set the stage on fire rendition of the James Brown hit It's a Man's Man's Man's World, the performers due up next stood on the alternate stage, arms crossed, watching the rug being pulled out from under them. This is a singer-songwriter on her way to the top, mark my words.


July 31 2010 066
Stacey Kaniuk's rendition of the James Brown hit It's a Man's Man's Man's World brought the house down


Other local performers included the amateur acts Higher Ground and Six Way From Sunday, and aspiring pros Chris Hau, and The Julian Troiano Band. Also in the mix were the traditional Jazz sounds of the After Hours Big Band - another local group - and big name headliner Robert Michaels' cuban/flamenco (cubamenco) guitar stylings.


July 31 2010 019
After Hours Big Band trombonist


The event was in support of two local charities; The Canadian Center for Abuse Awareness, and Safehaven.

I was somewhat disappointed with the turnout this year. The park was pretty much empty until evening. Most of the spectators came out to see Robert Michaels play after 8:00PM, but during the day acts were, unfortunately, playing to a sparse littering of no more than a couple hundred people. I'm not sure whether the problem was the timing - on a summer long weekend - or a lack of widespread promotion, or something else - or, more likely, a combination of these factors, but hopefully next year's event will be better attended.

For more pictures of the event, visit my Flickr photoset.


July 27, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - Y

illum_y is for Yellow, a common identifying colour for curling rocks. At one time, curlers owned their own rocks, and brought them to the rink for each game. Everybody's rocks were different, and one became familiar with the way one's rocks behaved on the ice. Different stones would go farther, or stop sooner. They might curl more, or less than other people's rocks. As the game evolved, and rules became more universally standardized, and clubs accquired their own buildings and facilities, privately owned rocks fell by the wayside. A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that he has one of his grandfather's old curling stones propping open a door in his house in St. Catherines.

The goal of any modern curling club is to have all of thier rocks behave the same way on the ice. In reality, that turns out to be something of an impossible dream. There are just too many variables involved, and miniscule variations in the texture of the running surface can result in dramatic differences in how far a rock will travel, or curl. Most icemakers will spend a not insignificant amount of time throwing all the rocks in the club, and trying to pair up - or 'match' - identically running rocks to make sets of eight that will be at least similar to each other during game play. This is an exhaustingly laborious undertaking, and as such, most clubs rocks will be matched in only the most rudimentary manner. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that a rock's behaviour might change over time as it's running surface wears.

At large national and international curling events being contested by the best teams in the world, exceptional care is taken to ensure the curlers are playing with the best possible rocks. The Canadian Curling Association keeps a set of top quality stones that they transport around the country for use at major CCA sanctioned events. Before, say, the Brier national championship, the stones will be carefully matched so the players can have the best possible experience on the ice. With all this care, the players still find minor differences between the rocks, and will often swap rocks around in throwing order based on how they believe they will behave under different circumstances. During the course of the week at one of these events, as teams play on each different sheet of ice, using each different set of rocks, they will meticulously chart the performance of the stones. Should they reach the finals, they will be allowed to select any of the rocks from across the rink to assemble a set of eight they like.

At most organised bonspiels, rock colour is preselected for the teams before they go on the ice. During regular in-club league play, however, the team who is throwing first as determined by the coin toss will usually select whether to throw blue or yellow rocks. Regular club curlers will often have their own opinions which colour rocks are better to choose on any given sheet based upon prior experience. Of course, during the off season, the rocks might be stored without handles, and reassembled in a different order the next year. Or, the running surfaces might be retextured at some point, which changes everything. Each team starts a new year in club curling having to suss out the rocks all over again before they come to a conclusion, like: "on ice two, don't take blue!"

<- Start at the beginning.


July 23, 2010

100 SF books everyone should read...

Kelly points out a list, at Bookstove.com, of 100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read. They don't give any commentary on these books at all. They just say, "hey, you should read these." As with all such lists, it is highly subjective. There are books on this one I'd probably leave off, and books I've read that I think should be here. What are your thoughts?

Taking a cue from Kelly, I've emboldenated the ones I've read, and added commentary here and there.

1. The Postman – David Brin
2. The Uplift War – David Brin Of course, this is the third book of a trilogy, so if you want to pick up some Brin, I wouldn't start with this one.
3. Neuromancer – William Gibson Big fan of Gibson. Highly recommended.
4. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
5. Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov
6. Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov ...and the multitudinous sequels and prequels - I have seven Foundation Series novels.
7. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
8. The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
9. Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys
10. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
11. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury I'm pretty sure I've read this one, but I don't really remember it at all.
12. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
13. Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke My grade ten english teacher passed copies of this book out to the class, and told us to read it for an upcoming assignment. He never mentioned it again.
14. The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
16. Armor – John Steakley
17. Imperial Stars – E. E. Smith On this list? Perhaps as an example of Golden Age Science Fiction pulp novels, but important? Good? No, I wouldn't say so.
18. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley I've tried to read this several times, but have bounced off (as Kelly puts it) the antiquated writing style.
19. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
20. Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
21. Dune – Frank Herbert
22. The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert I'm a fan of Herbert, but I think Dune is probably representative enough for this list. Not sure why such an obscure example of his work appears here.
23. Journey Beyond Tomorrow – Robert Sheckley
24. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
25. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
26. Valis – Philip K. Dick
27. A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
28. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick Hard to believe I've never read any P.K. Dick. I should do something about that. Having said that, is his work really important enough to rate five inclusions on this list?
29. 1984 – George Orwell
30. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
31. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
32. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
33. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
34. The Island of Doctor Moreau – H. G. Wells
35. The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
36. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
37. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
38. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
39. A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
40. From the Earth to the Moon – Jules Verne
41. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
42. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi Again, not sure why this one's here. I mean, it was a pretty good book, but I wouldn't call it excellent, literary, or important.
43. Nova Express – William S. Burroughs
44. Ringworld – Larry Niven I've read just about everything Niven's written. Yep, a fan.
45. The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell
46. The Unreasoning Mask – Philip Jose Farmer
47. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
48. Eon – Greg Bear
49. Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
50. The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
51. Lightning – Dean Koontz
52. The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
53. The Fifth Head of Cerebus – Gene Wolfe
54. Nightside of the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
55. A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs
56. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
57. Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson Another author I really have to read.
58. The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
59. Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
60. Doomsday Book – Connie Wills And another.
61. Beserker – Fred Saberhagen
62. Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
63. The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin
64. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin
65. Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
66. Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
67. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
68. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
69. Star King – Jack Vance
70. The Killing Machine – Jack Vance
71. Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance
72. Hyperion – Dan Simmons
73. Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
74. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
75. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
76. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
77. More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
78. A Time of Changes – Robert Silverberg
79. Gateway – Frederick Pohl
80. Man Plus - Frederick Pohl
81. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham Lots of people seem to have studied this book in high school. I didn't.
82. Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
83. The Execution Channel – Ken Macleod
84. Last and First Men – W. Olaf Stapledon
85. Slan – A. E. van Vogt
86. Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis Here's a classic I should check out.
87. They Shall Have Stars – James Blish
88. Marooned in Realtime – Vernor Vinge
89. A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
90. The People Maker – Damon Knight
91. The Giver – Lois Lowry
92. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
93. Contact – Carl Sagan Saw the movie, but haven't read ths book.
94. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
95. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
96. Battlefield Earth – L. Ron Hubbard Yeah, I really did. Take my advice: don't.
97. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain
98. Little Brother – Cory Doctorow I've read other Doctorow, but this one's pretty new.
99. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
100. Planet of the Apes – Pierre Boulle There was a book?

Well, looks like I've read 40% of these titles. I was doing really well on the top half of the list, but fell off a bit on the bottom half. Author's I think probably should have made this list:

Cordwainer Smith
Roger Zelazny

What do you think?


July 20, 2010

Fionavar Tapestry Character Test

This has been sitting in my Test Journal since April 24, 2007. I never published it here before because I didn't think anyone would be interested. Activity here being what it is, however, I thought I'd dig out some old stuff just to let everyone know I'm not dead or something.

I'm Paul Schafer!
I'm Paul Schafer!
Take The Fionavar Tapestry Character Test today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Personality Test Generator.

You are Paul Schafer, the Twiceborn. You are a private person who values self-control but inspires loyalty in your friends. You expect much of yourself and are willing to push yourself to your limits, both physically and mentally. You may have a fondness for tree-houses.


So, WTF? The Fionavar Tapestry is a fantasy trilogy by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay of which I am very fond (the trilogy, I mean - OK, and the author, too). If you haven't read it, the quiz results will be somewhat meaningless to you. Also, if you haven't read it, I recommend you do so. It's rather good.


July 12, 2010

Monday Stealing

I ripped this off from Kelly, who, apparently, ripped it off from somewhere else (as it was meant to be ripped). I'm not a big quiz kinda guy, but this one fed right into my own personal sense of misanthropy and self-superiority. You probably shouldn't read it.

1. Lindsay Lohan was recently sentenced to 90 days in jail. What do you think her future has in store for her?

Who cares?


2. What is the biggest fashion "don't" that you would like to police?

Who cares?


3. How should we punish sites that lure us in with "read this" and take us somewhere where we are first greeted by a pop-up and then a series of click throughs to actually read the meat of the story?

Be smart enough to not click on the lure link in the first place. I mean, c'mon, they're pretty damn easy to spot, you know. Also, who cares?


4. What is the most you will do to post a comment on a site? At what point is it not worth posting a comment?

I usually balk at signing up for some proprietary commenting system that isn't widely used. I mean, I have a Blogger (Google) ID, an AOL ID, a Wordpress ID, a Yahoo! ID and a Typekey ID. If your blog uses some other sign-up required system that I've never even heard of before, I'm unlikely to make the effort, 'cause, you know, who cares? Unless, of course, I need to point out how stupid you are, or something.


5. If you purchase something online and you are charged for postage, is it still reasonable to charge for "shipping and handling"? What exactly does "shipping and handling" entail?

"Shipping and handling" is just another scam way of inflating the profit on your sale. I just add it to the purchase price in my head and then decide if I think it's still a good deal. Ebay users who charge it deserve to be shot. And, to carry on the theme, "who cares!"

That's all.


July 01, 2010

Oops.

In my recent inactivity and inattention, I have let my blogiversary pass unmarked. This past Monday was the sixth birthday of Aurora Walking Vacation. What, you're skeptical? Please allow me to present my evidence.

As you were.


May 20, 2010

Everybody draw Mohammed day

Doodles2
This post is very important. Discuss.


April 26, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - X

illum_x is for X-Rated. If the nineties was the decade curling discovered it had an audience, this will be remembered as the decade curling discovered it had sex appeal. Several internet lists of "Olympic Hotties" at the 2010 Vacouver games were topped by 43-year-old Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard, and included many other curling athletes - women and men included. But this was not always the way.

In 1987, with the Calgary Olympic games around the corner and curling included as a demonstration sport, the Canadian Curling Association issued a directive to several national level curlers expected to compete at that year's Olympic trials: lose weight. Ed Werenich, a former Canadian and World champion, considered one of the favourites to represent Canada the following year, took great umbrage at the threat of being excluded from the trials if the national body did not consider him 'fit enough.' If a team is winning at an elite level, what matter if the members weigh two hundred, or even three hundred pounds, he argued. He and his vice, Paul Savage, threatened to show up to the trials with a case of beer as a training aid, and a local exotic dancer as their official coach. In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and Eddie showed up without "Marina" and eighteen pounds lighter - a fact on which he blames his loss to this day (the weight difference, not the lack of a stripper).

In the end, the CCA needn't have worried. The general rise in the level of competition in the upper echelons of the game over the past two decades has resulted in elite level curlers looking to improve their overall fitness levels in order to remain competetive on the world stage. Kevin Martin's Olympic gold medal winning squad became so devoted to their fitness regimens it led vice John Morris to write a book about curling specific exercise routines.

In 2006, following on the rousing success of naked or nearly naked fundraising calendars from firefighters, golfers, skeptics (and skep-chicks), and quilting guilds, Andorrran professional photographer and competetive curler Ana Arce convinced a dozen world-class curling women to pose nude or semi-nude for their own calendar, Fire on Ice. The project was successful enough to spawn a 2007 version. It lapsed in 2008, but was revived in '09 and published again this year.

Clearly, even in curling, sex sells.

<- Start at the beginning.


April 12, 2010

Concerning Debcons, and The Great Tim Tam Heresy

My friends, my dear, dear friends, we have been led astray. The path we have been following faithfully, it turns out, is but a maze of deception. We have been led astray.

Let me explain.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was about seven o'clock on a Saturday night. Most of us had arrived at Lai Toh Heen restaurant near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton for our "Taste of Kitai" dinner and Debcon Bright Weavings Get Together. Things were going about as usual. Guy was buying drinks (thank you, Sir); people were renewing old accquaintances, and making new ones; we were all admiring Niel's authentic first off the press editions of Lord of Emperors, Ysabel, and Under Heaven; I was calling Paula on my cell phone... As is also usual at these gatherings, new people were fitting in like old friends. At one point, I wandered over to the other table to see how things were going. Loni was there. Our eyes met. There was a sudden hush around the table - almost a stillness in the room. And then, she said those three little words: "I brought Tim-tams."

For a moment, I didn't say anything. Then, as is my wont, I tried to make light of the situation. "Where," I said, "are we going to find hot chocolate?"

It was Loni's turn to spend a moment in silence. The look of confusion on her face alarmed me. "What," she finally managed, "what ever would you want with hot chocolate?"

I looked around furtively. There were several of the uninitiated in the room. I leaned in close. I whispered, "you know, for the...slams."

She laughed. Not with malice, but with affection. She patted my hand reassuringly, much as one would pat the hand of a young child who had just announced that he doubted the existence of Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny... or Jesus. "Silly boy," she said. "You do Tim-tam slams with coffee, not hot chocolate."

The room spun. I struggled to maintain my footing on a floor threatening to fall out from under me. "But, but, Thunderchi-, Terry... he said-"

Someone else spoke then. In my condition I could not even tell who, but the words shall be burned indelibly on my soul from this time until eternity: "Paul, Terry didn't drink coffee." At last the heresy was revealed. Terry, Thunderchild, he who preceeded us all, had taught us an alternative Tim-tam slam. He had modified the traditional ritual in order to suit his own, personal tastes and preferences. Our slamming had never been authentic. From the very beginning, we had indulged in a fake cultural phenomenon. Happily, blissfully unaware of the error of our ways, we had slammed Arnott's Chocolate Biscuits using the wrong hot drink. We were like Anglicans taking fake communion, moderate muslim women wearing pants, Hindus eating hamburger. We were heretics.

I welcomed the inquisition. I confessed my sins. I renounced my heretical ways.

I ordered a coffee. Carefully, I nipped the diagonally opposite corners off a delicate chocolate biscuit. I dipped it into the strong, black, unsweetened chinese brew. I drew the warm liquid in through the makeshift chocolate straw. Just as the bitter coffee hit my tongue, I shoved the rapidly softening cookie into my mouth.

Oh.

My.

God!

My friends, the truth was revealed to me that night. The everlasting truth that is the real path of the Tim-tam slam was delivered to me in a blast of mouth watering, soggy, bitter-sweet Arnott's Chocolate Biscuit. And I cannot keep this truth to myself. It fills me to overflowing. I must pass it on. Hear me now, friends. Get up off your couch. Get youself down to your local imported confectioner and buy a package of Tim-tams. Pick up a coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way home - black, no sugar. And then, my friends, my children, my dear, dear children, and then... Slam those babies!

Hallelujah!


April 08, 2010

So you want to play mind games...

lalala


A couple of years ago I happened across the blog of one Denyse O'Leary. One of many, actually - she maintains about fourteen, it seems, and spends most of her time contriving to link from each to all the others in an attempt to create some kind of meta black hole. Mixed in between the links to her other blogs, and the further links to her Amazon page where she hawks her books, she manages to cram in some confused, rambling anti-"Darwinist" screeds, and Intelligent Design apologetics.

I don't remember the exact matter in question, but I left a comment on one of Ms. O'Leary's posts asking what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question. The comment was deleted in extremely short order. I emailed Ms. O'Leary, asking her why she had deleted the comment, to which she replied that she only allowed comments that were truthful, or factual, or some similar descriptor. Funny, that. I had thought the point I raised was factual. What Denyse really meant was that she only allowed comments that agreed with her world view and personal opinion.

I guess those weren't all that common, as her blogs no longer accept any comments at all.

That kind of reaction, censorship in order to protect oneself against uncomfortable and inconvenient realities, is all too common in the world of "Woo." Whether it is religion, or alternative medicine, or conspiracy theory, woo-meisters will always choose to end a dialogue when presented with actual facts that are difficult for them to rebut. On another occasion, I wrote a blog post about a local Homeopath in which I discussed some of the claims she made on her public website. Rather than address my criticism of her claims, she chose to complain to my ISP, and they chose to delete my blog entry with no warning, no explanation, and no recourse.

These events are brought to mind by a couple of similar experiences I have recently had, although not with people who traditionally fall into the category of "woo." At least people who do not, at first look, appear to fall into that category...


The first instance occurred last week, when I was directed to a web forum for audiophiles. Now, audiophilia is generally not grouped in with other "woo" because it really does no harm to individuals - unless you count to the wallets of those who fall under its sway. However, the claims made by audiophiles, and by the companies that make and sell the products they buy, are equally as specious as those of any homeopath, astrologer, or Catholic Priest. On this occasion, I read a forum thread talking about accessory power cables available for high end audio equipment. Never mind the miles of questionable wire the power flows through to get to one's house, apparently changing a three foot power cable from the wall to one's amp can result in remarkable improvemments in sound.

The person who directed me to the discussion - a Grammy winning sound engineer - had spoken up to say that he had done careful listening tests and was unable to hear a difference between different power cables - or any reasonable quality speaker or interconnect cables for that matter. He was looking for some support from some reasonable and skeptical people, so I registered for the forum, and posted a reply.

I did not criticise any of the posters. I did not accuse them of lying, or of being deluded, or of being stupid. I wrote one simple, factual sentence. I said, "if you can successfully tell the difference between different cables in a controlled listening test, you can win one million dollars." That was all.

Being a brand new member, my post was not published immediately, rather directed to the moderation queue, so I determined to come back later to see if there were any replies. Later, I was unable to login to the forum. It appears that the forum moderators/administrators deleted my first and only post, and immediately IP banned me from the forum. For making a simple statement of fact.


The second thing happened just this past weekend. Have you seen the NHL commercials currently airing in which famous plays are "rewound"? The first one I saw was the one that asks, "what if Orr didn't fly," and shows Bobby's iconic goal being "unscored", and Orr flying backwards through the air to land on his feet and retreat from the net. The ads end with the line, "history will be made." I believe the suggestion is that, even if the NHL's most famous plays had never happened, new history will be made, starting in this year's playoffs.

The ads have become popular fodder for YouTube spoofs, with video creators picking out all their favourite imfamous plays, and asking, "what if..." They are being reposted all over the internet. One of my Facebook "friends" posted one to her profile showing the contentious triple overtime goal by Brett Hull that won the Stanley Cup for Dallas over Buffalo in 1999. This spoof asks the question, "what if Brett didn't cheat?" Of course, this "friend" is a Buffalo fan.

I commented on her link, pointing out that Brett did not, in fact, "cheat;" that the goal, though hotly contested by the Buffalo team, was completely legal. She promptly responded that I didn't know what I was talking about, that she was a huge hockey fan, and had been all her life, therefore she knew the goal was illegal, and that "they" had changed the rule right after that game (the inisinuation was that the NHL had somehow tried to post-legitimize Hull's goal).

Well! Anyone who knows me knows that attempting to present me with "facts" based on ideology rather than information is just begging to be schooled. I did the research. I scoured YouTube for every replay of that goal I could find so I could refresh my memory of exactly how it had unfolded. I looked up the rule in question - the crease crashing rule that was in force for only that one year - and read it carefully. I compared the details clearly visible in the replays to the rule. I then returned to comment again. I quoted the exact language of the rule that pertained to Hull's goal, and pointed out where and why in the replay it was evident that the goal was legal. I also explained that the rule wasn't changed in order to validate Hull's goal, but because it was a poorly thought out rule to start with. The rule did, in fact, do what was intended, that is, reduce the instances of players crashing the net in order to distract and impede the goaltender. Unfortunately, it also resulted in dozens of goals being called back that should not have been; goals on which there had been no goaltender interference or distraction, either intentional or inadvertent.

The response to my reply? She "unfriended" me. It was more important to her to preserve her illusions about the perceived massive NHL conspiracy against the Buffalo Sabres, than to engage in honest dialogue about the actual facts of the matter. She was just like the audiophiles, or the Homeopath, or Denyse O'Leary, all of whom chose to avoid dialogue rather than confront reality; to surround themselves with sycophants and toadies and yes-men who were willing to join them in drinking the woo kool-aid.

Me, I choose to live in the world of fact, and deal with uncomfortable realities as they present themselves.


March 23, 2010

Weekend Assignment #311: Cheese It!

via Outpost Mavarin

Karen says:

Weekend Assignment #311: What is your favorite kind of cheese and why? Do you have it often, or just occasionally?
Extra Credit: Is there a kind of cheese you hate?

Yeah, I'm a cheese fan. A big cheese fan. Last summer the wife and I went down to the St. Lawrence Market and bought rice and cheese. We bought nothing other than rice and cheese, and we spent about seventy five dollars. Mmmm, cheese.

Lessee, in the fridge right this instant we have: cheddar (of course - probably a couple of different varieties), mozzarella (for all that Italian cooking), provolone (goes good on cold cut sandwiches), swiss (no - wait, I just finished the swiss for my night time snack), roquefort (a form of blue cheese {although roquefort's marbling is more green} that I think I will use in an omelet this weekend), Kraft processed food-type cheese-flavoured slices (Matt won't eat a grilled cheese sandwich made with anything else), and Beemster.

I saved the best for last.

Mmmm, Beemster. We discovered Beemster several years ago, and enjoyed it so much we try to always have some in the house. It is a very versatile cheese, going well with crackers or by itself. It also melts well, making it great for cooking. I like to grate it over cauliflower, or put it on burgers. Then there's the onion, bacon, Beemster and lime omelet. Very yummy.

Is there a cheese I don't like? I haven't found one yet. But, you know, I haven't tried them all, so I guess anything's possible.


March 03, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - W

illum_w is for Weight. Of the many aspects of the game of curling, perhaps the most difficult to master is weight control - that is, how hard or soft to throw the stone to achieve the desired result. Beginners are generally taught two weights: draw and hit. Draw weight is what one throws to put a rock in the rings, and hit weight is what one throws to take one out.

Due to the four rock free guard zone rule, and because they start at the lead position, beginners learn, in very short order, that there are actually two draw weights, one to put a rock in the house, and one to put a guard in front of the rings. A few more weeks in, and they will probably be asked to throw a slightly heavier draw weight, intended to tap a rock back without actually removing it from the rings.

A curler who has moved on to join a more competetive team may be asked to throw several new weights in the hit category. Most teams will establish what they call a "normal" hit weight - a default weight for most take-out shots. Some circumstances dictate a change in that weight, and player will eventually be asked to learn to throw a firmer weight shot for situations in which more than one rock is to be moved, or if a long roll is desired, and a lighter weight shot, used when some curl is necessary, or when the team wants to avoid having the shooter roll out of the rings.

curling-sheet-reverseLearning to throw all of these different weights consistently requires throwing many practice rocks over many years. My current team usually uses about eleven different weights. Lessee, there's long guard, tight guard, draw in front of the T, and draw behind the T. Then there's back-line, hack, bumper, control, normal, firm, and peel hit weights. At higher levels of competition, the weights are broken into even smaller demarcations. During the Olympic curling coverage, you might have heard the sweepers calling out numbers as the rocks travelled down the sheet. These numbers were telling the skip where they thought the rock was going to end up. The high level curlers break the in-play area of the curling sheet into ten zones (plus one - see diagram). Those zones are defined as, 1-long guard, 2-halfway guard, 3-tight guard, 4-top twelve foot ring, 5-top eight foot, 6-top four, 7-t-line, 8-back four, 9-back eight, 10-back twelve, and 11-just through. That's in addition to whatever number of hit weight shots they have to master.

Now, the throwers are not all alone in trying to put a rock in a certain spot. If you remember our discussion of sweeping, you'll recall that two strong sweepers can extend a rock's travel by up to twelve feet. So, if a thrower can get the rock to within a few feet of its intended target, the sweepers can do the rest. In fact, most skips rely on their sweepers to judge the weight of a running rock, and sweep as necessary to arrive at the right spot. The exception to that, of course, is if one throws the stone too heavy. There is nothing a sweeper can do (legally) to slow down a rock thrown with too much weight.

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Apparently, the Olympics are over

Traffic Feb1 to Mar1-2010

Good thing The Brier starts this weekend.


February 25, 2010

Where all you all coming from?

This blog, which usually gets between five and fifteen unique visitors per day, has averaged over 60 hits a day over the last ten days, with a high of 91 unique visitors on February 20th. Virtually all of that traffic has been generated by Google searches for curling related terms. The most common searches have been for variations on 'curling t line'. That comprised about 41% of incoming traffic. Another twelve percent of people were looking for information on curling measuring devices, and six percent seem to want to know how thick curling ice is.

The ABCs of curling series is certainly not an in-depth look at the game, but I hope those of you who have checked it out have found something interesting to take away.


The ABCs of Curling - V

illum_v is for Vice, also known as the third on a curling team. The term is a diminuitive of vice-skip, meaning, perhaps, assistant skip. Traditionally, the vice-skip throws the fifth and sixth rocks of each end, and then holds the broom in the house for the skip's rocks.

As the vice is responsible for the house, and making sweeping calls during the skip's rocks, it is important that he or she have a good understanding of the game, and the ice. The skip will often discuss shots and strategy with the vice during the game, as well.

While I am of the firm opinion that, on a competetive team, every position's rocks are of equal importance, the vice rocks come at a crucial point during the end. The vice is called upon to make the set-up shots that will give the skip the opportunity to complete the end according to the game plan. As well, if the end is not setting up as desired, the vice may be counted on to provide the bail-out shots - tough double take-outs, or touchy freezes that will allow a team to escape from an end that is going against them.

The vice is also often the line of communication between the skip and the front end players. He has to manage the lead and second for the skip, as well as manage the skip for the lead and second. The best vices are often true diplomats and negotiators.

In some instances, the vice delivers the last two stones in an end, while the skip throws the third pair. The most notable example of that being the six time Brier champion, four time world champion Randy Ferby rink from Alberta, on which Ferby called the game - having the best grasp of strategy - but vice David Nedohin - who was the best thrower on the team - threw the last two stones. Sometimes the roles are even more fluid. On the Colleen Jones 1999-2005 rink - considered the most successful women's team of all time - lead Nancy Delahunt held the broom for skip Colleen Jones' shots.

The rule governing the positions of team members only states that the players must declare a throwing order at the beginning of the game, and must throw in that order for the entire game. There is a penalty for throwing a rock out of order. Outside of throwing order, there are no rules that govern where and what the players do. The team member that holds the broom and calls the game can change at any time during a match, as long as the team continues throw in the same order as they began the game.

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February 13, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - U

illum_u is for Ursel, one of Canada's great curling families. Jim Ursel learned to curl in Winnipeg, and had early success as a member of the 1954 Manitoba Provincial Schoolboy Championship rink of Gene Walker. Eight years later, as a third for Norm Houck, he won the Manitoba Men's Provincial Championship, and made his first appearance at the Brier, where the team finished in a three way tie for first place, losing in the tie-breaker to teams Hec Gervais and Ernie Richardson.

In the seventies, Ursel moved to Quebec, where he won the Provincial Championships six times between '74 and '80. His team of Art Lobel, Don Aitkien, and Brian Ross won the 1977 Brier - the first ever Brier win for a team out of Quebec - and went on to finish second at the World Championships in Karlstad, Sweden to home team Ragnar Kamp. In addition, he was selected first team all-star skip at both the '74 and '77 Brier.

Ursel later returned to Manitoba, where he won the Senior Provincial Championships in both 1990 and '91, going on to win the national title both years. As an interesting bit of trivia, his vice from 1977, Art Lobel, was on the 1989 and 1992 Senior Canadian Championship winning team of Jim Sharples.

Jim's son, Bob Ursel, following in his father's footsteps (or slider path?), is a former Canadian and World Junior Champion, and has appeared in the Brier three times.

brierchamps1977
1977 Brier Champions Jim Ursel, Art Lobel, Don Aitken, and Brian Ross
(plus some dude from MacDonald Tobacco)


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February 11, 2010

Pear Chutney

Put about a half a cup of white wine in a small pot or pan. Add about a half a cup of malt vinegar, and a tablespoon or so of brown sugar. Sprinkle in some cloves to taste. Peel, core and chop two pears and drop them in there, too. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the pear pieces are soft enough to mash. Continue simmering until liquid is reduced enough that sauce is at your desired consistancy. Cool and serve with your favourite pork dish. We had it with garlic and clove rubbed tenderloin. Yummy!

(quantities are rough estimates because I didn't measure anything - I was just making it up as I went)


February 05, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - T

illum_t is for...hmmm. Like 'H', T is for a lot of things in curling. There is a T-line, which crosses the centre line in the exact centre of the rings (or house). It is usually desirable to keep ones rocks "in front of the T." There is, of course, the "takeout" shot, in which an opponent's rock or rocks are removed from play - including the always exciting triple takeout.

T can be for timing. Several times a year I am asked by new curlers, "whatcha doing with that there stopwatch?" By measuring the time it takes a rock to travel between two predetermined points on the ice, one can extimate how much weight to throw for a given shot. By using two points close to the delivery end, for example, timing how long a rock takes to travel from the back line to the hog line, the sweepers can estimate how far the rock will travel and whether it will require sweeping.

Other things T can be for are Tap Back, a light weight hit, and twelve foot, the largest ring in the house. But, the most important T in curling is the T in Team. Curling is a team game like very few others. Each player throws the same number of rocks, and it is impossible, with so few members, to hide a weak thrower at any position. A missed shot at any point during the end can be disasterous. Even the very first rock thrown, depending on where it comes to rest, will have a significant impact on the outcome of any given end.

Curling is such a social game, that the team extends beyond the field of play. Pick the four best players available, and put them together on one team. They might win a lot of games, but if they don't get along off the ice, they won't be a team for long.

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January 14, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - S

illum_s is for sweeping. The most iconic thing in curling, the thing that makes people unacquainted with the game ask, "what the heck is that all about?" is the sweeping: two guys with brooms sweeping the ice in front of a piece of granite, and everybody else screaming their heads off at them.

What the heck is that all about?

Although nobody knows for sure, it isn't hard to deduce how sweeping the running rocks in curling began. Curling was originally played outdoors, on frozen ponds and rivers. Early participants would certainly have brought brooms along, in order to brush accumulated snow off the playing surface. If it was snowing, or windy, it isn't difficult to imagine regular breaks necessary during the game to reclean the surface...and have a wee nip o' whiskey. In fact, letting imagination run, one can naturally arrive at an image of a player cursing because his rock was impeded by a little tendril of snow that had crept across the rink unnoticed. From there it's a short step to the idea of appointing a team member the duty of escorting a running rock down the sheet, and sweeping away any snow or debris that might interfere with its natural (and perfect - naturally) path. After that innovation, it was only a matter of time until a thrower shifted the blame for a missed shot off of the ice, and onto the sweepers - and thus, the modern game was born.

So, what, exactly, does sweeping do? The answer to that question was touched upon in the entry L is for line, where we talked about why a curling rock curls. If you clicked through to the "sciency stuff," you learned that the downward pressure on the ice of the weight of a running rock momentarily melts the surface a bit, reducing friction, and allowing the rock to travel smoothly along the ice. Vigorous sweeping in the path of a running rock slightly warms the ice surface, adding to the effect, and reducing the friction even more. So a rock that is swept will travel farther than an identically thrown rock that is not swept. Conventional wisdom has it that a rock swept end to end, by two strong sweepers, will travel as much as twelve feet farther than it otherwise would have. The sweepers will decide to sweep a rock if they believe it is not going to travel far enough to make the shot as called.

Another aspect of the game is that the rocks curl more dramatically as they slow down. Because sweeping a rock helps it maintain its momentum, a swept rock will curl less than an unswept rock. This leads to the classic sweepers' conundrum. In order to reach the desired spot in the rings, a rock must both have the right amount of weight and the right amount of curl. If a rock is going to curl too much, it needs to be swept...unless it also has too much weight, in which case it should not be swept...except then it will curl too much...you get the picture. I am reminded of one of the guys I played with in high school, who called sweeping on every shot like this: "Yeah!...No!...Yeah!...No!...Yeah!...No!..."

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