and I quote

may 2009

click here for permalink May 26, 2009

polar iceWe had a few friends over for drinks last Friday and at one point I got up to make myself a drink (everyone else was either drinking beer or had a full drink... come to think of it, if I had been making drinks for everyone, this might have been a much funnier story). Anyway, I was pouring my vodka and tonic and listening to the conversation in the living room, then I took a sip and grimaced involuntarily at the unexpected, thoroughly unpleasant taste that had assailed me. I stared down at my glass, baffled.

I took another sip and reflexively made another face, this time probably more a look of pain than mere displeasure. What the fuck?! Vodka. Tonic. Squeeze of lime. Where had I gone wrong?? I retraced my steps; opened the freezer, pulled out the bottle, which looked exactly like the one above... until you looked at the very bottom of the bottle where it was clearly stated in a tiny, soft brown font: "Northern Maple Vodka." MAPLE. Vodka... with tonic... I know I'm Canadian and everything but this — this is uncalled for.

And that's all I have to say about that.

color bookcaseA few months ago, I "stumbled upon" this awesome idea and just had to try it out for myself, even though my books are all spread out across two rooms in three tall, thin little bookcases — and the majority of them are actually in the linen closet, double-shelved. But the ones in bookcases are now all organized by color. I love it — I don't even know why — but every time I look at my bookshelves now I feel a bit more, hmm, viscerally at peace, somehow.

I knew I had saved/bookmarked this photo back when I first saw it but when I went to post it here today, I couldn't find it. So I did a search just now and found it immediately but I also found the "Flickr Rainbow of Books Pool," where there are several pages of — well, I don't want to say "girls" but let's be real — who have done the exact same thing and uploaded all their pictures. I suppose I should just count my blessings that I didn't find them before... of course, that's probably because they didn't exist before.

Those girls probably "stumbled upon" the idea right around the same time I did. In the intervening time, they were probably busy reorganizing their living rooms and dormitories and home offices just like I was. If you could view them all on the Flicker map and somehow roll it in reverse, you could see when each of their pictures were posted and you'd probably discover that we were all, in fact, moving our individual stacks of books around at the exact same time, give or take a few hours for time zones.

It would probably even be possible to watch it unfold in real time on some as yet unreleased Google application; on this one particular day, an army of Rainbow Girls from all over the world, in every other conceivable way unrelated, mobilized with a startling similarity of purpose. You could watch as their separate lives coalesced in a weird, unconscious kind of global unison, like migrating monarch butterflies or bees in different hives on different continents seemingly connected via one mind; simultaneously sorting books into monochromatic piles on their bedroom floors, sofas and stairs, then triumphantly arranging them on shelves, a million parallel rainbows emerging and bursting into tagged, digital photographic reality on the map.

Yup, it's sort of weird and shallow (or is it "demented and sad but social"?) but that's all I got today... well, except for this: I spent every morning last week watching this British show called "Mock the Week" on youtube (you can search it), after my staples of Democracy Now and The Daily Show. It's the funniest goddamn thing. I understand about 75-80% of the jokes, the rest are too obscure (let's call them obscure) references to UK politicians, minor celebrities and "football" players. Of the ones I don't understand, I think about 30% might be on account of the accents, which are sometimes funny enough that it doesn't even matter. It's a good way to start the day.


click here for permalink May 19, 2009

Flamingo Pink fridgeThis past winter, the fridge in our apartment began leaking excessively. At first we thought it was a problem with the temperature control settings so we embarked on a highly unsystematic process of fiddling with the needlessly cryptic dials that independently regulate cooling for the fridge and freezer. When I say "cryptic" I am referring to the fact that these dials, oriented horizontally and labeled "1, 2, 3..." and "A, B, C, etc." respectively, provided absolutely no indication as to the temperature or energy output, relative or otherwise, that they were supposed to control.

[Not our fridge but isn't it dreamy? Order yours today!]

There was no way of knowing whether the numbers/letters were correlated to temperature — the higher the setting, the higher the temperature — making 1/A the coldest setting, or if 1/A represented the lowest level of refrigeration so that each subsequent letter represented an increase in cooling, so we were left with no recourse but to shift the dials from side to side at random, hoping to detect any obvious temperature change in one direction or the other. We didn't think it could possibly be that complicated to ascertain an optimal configuration for keeping ice cream frozen and milk liquid, while simultaneously stopping the fridge from leaking all over the floor.

Several months later, we gave up the charade and removed the half dozen or more sodden hand towels from the bottom of the fridge which we had been using to prevent the lake that would accumulate every few weeks from overtopping the "levees" and flooding our kitchen. We called our landlords and (bless their hearts) they suggested without hesitation that they purchase a new one and have it delivered by the end of the week.

Right on time, give or take a couple of hours, two delivery guys showed up with our brand-new appliance; since our building's intercom system wasn't working that day, we told them to wait and we'd be right down to let them in. They replied rather testily that they were already behind schedule and would have to make it quick in order to avoid backing up the rest of their appointments —then they proceeded to waste the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to fit the fridge through the kitchen entryway. They tried and retried every conceivable angle, inching the cardboard-shrouded monolith around a quarter-turn at a time, switching places and giving it another go, all the while bitching about how late they were. In the end, they finally conceded to Mr. Pink's initial observation that the only way it was going to fit through the entrance was if they removed the door. It worked like a dream.

Once the new fridge was in place, the dynamic duo disappeared in a puff of smoke, dust, styrofoam crumbs and five+ years' worth of behind-the-fridge debris, leaving us to the tasks of cleaning the entryway and kitchen, reattaching the door, installing the handles and removing an unfathomable amount of packing tape — actually it was more like double-sided extra-strength saran wrap — which was generously and meticulously used to bind all the shelves, drawers and sundry other moving parts inside.

hydro chartConsidering the fact that it overlaps the footprint of our old fridge and the cupboards and countertops by more than six inches, and the fact that it made so much noise in those first few weeks it gave our dishwasher an inferiority complex, we've adjusted pretty well to the presence of the white monolith in our kitchen.

Even so, when our next Hydro bill clocked in at around 25% less than normal, I didn't immediately make the connection. I logged onto our account on the BC Hydro site and checked the handy bar graph they provide so you can chart your power consumption and discovered that our bill was actually 25% less than the monthly average for all Aprils since 2005. Then I found this tidbit, which I wish I had known six months ago when we were piling towels in the bottom of the old fridge:

"A 10-year-old refrigerator or freezer can cost considerably more to operate than a new energy-efficient model of the same size. Improvements to the compressors and cooling coils, better insulation, tighter door seals and other design improvements all contribute to the higher efficiency of newer models. Depending on its age, your refrigerator may be so inefficient that replacing it is the wisest decision... A new refrigerator will pay for itself in just a few years." [BC Hydro Appliance Guide]

Even better still, we didn't have to pay for it at all. Can someone explain to me again why buying is better than renting? With a straight face. No?

CorporationI just watched a great TED Talk today with Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Global, Inc. (the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet) who is much better known for his recent ubiquity in documentaries like The Corporation and The 11th Hour. Anderson featured prominently in both films as an environmentalist entrepreneur and self-described "reformed plunderer" and was described by producer-director Mark Achbar as the de facto hero of The Corporation.

"At his carpet company, Ray Anderson has increased sales and doubled profits while turning the traditional "take / make / waste" industrial system on its head. In a gentle, understated way, he shares a powerful vision for sustainable commerce." [TED Talks Director, youtube]

If you've seen those films and have since found yourself wondering about the soft-spoken business man with a mission — and a deadline — to make his company sustainable by 2020 or get out of business, here is an update. If you haven't seen those films — well, shame on you — but you should still check out Ray Anderson because his idealism, integrity and effectiveness thus far are good reasons for optimism. He's also terribly charming and he's got the most soothing Southern drawl since Bill Moyers.

Another reason to be optimistic comes from the other end of the generational spectrum in the form of Tim DeChristopher, the student from Utah whose spontaneous act of non-violent protest single-handedly sabotaged the sell-off of more than 100,000 acres of federal land to Big Oil. He puts the act back in activist — and he is also rather charming. (Who am I kidding? He's an environmentalist pin-up!)

"Tim DeChristopher made headlines in December when he disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine. The trial is set to begin in July." [Democracy Now, April 29, 2009]

Since we're on the topic, it seems appropriate to top off this discussion of global warming and the poisoning/strip-mining of the environment with my favorite standup activist's polemic on peak oil.

Electric scooterFor those of you who haven't seen it, Robert Newman's History of Oil is the history of the 20th Century rewritten with its most-traded commodity cast in the leading role. I know I've recommended and linked to it before so, for anyone who is just now joining us or who simply cannot take a hint, trust me. It's not often that you get the chance to laugh so hard while learning so much — and you will never be able to think about World War I or Tony Blair quite the same way again.

Finally, is this just another environmentally friendly news item or an early plug for this year's birthday? Who can say.


click here for permalink May 5, 2009

My friend and I were talking about movies the other day and, since neither of us has an iPhone or an inter cranial wireless port, it turned into one of those conversations where you find yourself saying things like, "you know, that actress... she's kind of like Marissa Tomei but blonde?" But they don't know; so you end up trailing off into another topic, then another and another; leaving a breadcrumb trail of asterisks pointing towards a series of temporarily irretrievable IMDB pages.

When I got home that night I immediately fired off an email to my friend, tying up five or six of the really intolerable loose ends I'd left dangling during our conversation (Mira Sorvino — damn it, I knew it started with an M..) along with several supporting Youtube and Wikipedia links. This whole outsourcing memory thing has its drawbacks.

One of those links was to a brilliant short film I found a few months back called Tarantino's Mind (below), which started off a lengthy digression into obscure realms of auteur related trivia and hours of general film geeking-out.

The first cool thing I found was the Film Personality Test proposed by Ben Tesch and augmented by Jason Kottke, wherein you pick your favorite films by each of the following Directors:

1. Joel Coen: No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona, etc.
2. Wes Anderson: The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, etc.
3. Hal Ashby: Being There, Shampoo, Harold and Maude, etc.
4. Kevin Smith: Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Clerks, etc.
5. Quentin Tarantino: Grindhouse, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc.
6. Stanley Kubrick: 2001, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, etc.
7. P.T. Anderson: Boogie Nights, Hard Eight, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood
8. Errol Morris: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven, Mr. Death, The Fog of War, etc.

magnoliaMine would be: Fargo, The Royal Tennenbaums, Harold and Maude, Dogma, Pulp Fiction, Dr. Strangelove, Magnolia and The Fog of War but I don't think this list of directors is nearly sufficient to the task at hand. While they are all obviously among the best in their class, they still represent a pretty narrow slice of the big picture, and the eight directors you think should be on the list might say a lot more about your personality than your favorite eight films from someone else's list.

For a far more inclusive but less interactive "test," check out The Comprehensive Film Personality Test, self-described in what I think are overly modest terms as a "loosely categorized groupings of directors and their most notable films."

If that's not scientific enough for you (and I hope it isn't) there's the Film Addict Checklist, taken from the IMDB Top 250, where you check off all the movies you've seen, then see how your score compares to mine and everyone else's.

I've seen 64% of them which is pretty respectable considering the fact that I haven't seen some of the most recent releases and refrained from counting movies like Pan's Labyrinth, which I've tried to watch twice (I can't help feeling like that should count for something). I also left off movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Sting which I "know" I saw at some point as a kid even though the only things I can remember about them are a single scene and a still frame, respectively.

But that's the best thing about this kind of list; you always come away with a brand-new crop of films to watch because you're reminded of all the ones you haven't seen and the ones you meant to see but forgot to. For me, that includes The Dark Knight (2008), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and The Lives of Others (2006).

AirportSpeaking of lists — which this topic always seems to unavoidably boil down to — here are a few random but thoroughly enjoyable sites I found along the way. For hours of my kind of fun, this List of Philosophical Films is an impressive collection, divided into numerous categories including "the Meaning of Life," "War," "Personal Identity," "Business Ethics," "Free Will/Determinism" and many others.

Three more fun lists are the Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time, Grinning Planet's best environmental movies by category and Filmsite's extremely detailed and exhaustive list of Greatest Disaster and End of the World Films organized by era and itemized by type of disaster.

Box Office Mojo is actually a goldmine of lists with more data than you'll ever need — unless you're prone to having the kinds of conversations I am, in which case it may come in handy for settling bets. My favorite feature is the genre listing, e.g. the top 600+ Documentaries of all time in order of box office gross. The top six are:

  1. Fahrenheit 9/11
  2. March of the Penguins
  3. Sicko
  4. An Inconvenient Truth
  5. Earth (2009)
  6. Bowling for Columbine

I knew Michael Moore was successful but I would never have guessed that he actually holds three of the six top spots of all time. Errol Morris doesn't even make his first appearance until #20 with Fog of War — but then this list is all about the money, not taking into consideration any other measure of value (Madonna: Truth or Dare is, after all, #7). I would be interested to see a list of documentaries that have made the biggest difference in the world, you know? An Inconvenient Truth would obviously retain a spot in the top five. Maybe I'll do some more research and get back to you on that...