Thursday, July 05, 2018

It's Hot in the City 


Maybe looking at Wayne Thiebaud's “Untitled (Three Ice Creams)” from 1964 will cool you down.

You know it’s really hot when you step out of your air conditioned office to find yourself relieved that it’s only 28°C with 66% humidity instead of “boil-you-alive° C” with “you’ll-never-feel-dry-again%” humidity. I spent most of the weekend lying prone in front of a fan, trying not to move for fear the exertion of say, batting an eyelash, may lead to more sweating. I’m starting to think the scientist who said, “sweating is the body’s built-in air conditioner” never really knew what an air conditioner was, or what “sweating” was, or what “built-in” meant. I realize that weather isn’t climate and one heat wave during one summer isn’t proof that we’re destroying the planet yet it feels so much like what I imagine the end-of-times would feel like, that blaming something like climate change feels good. Not "comfortably dry at 23°C" good, but the kind of good like when you curse after stubbing your toe. It does nothing but it mends the psyche if not the toe.

One thing did occur to me during the hottest moments of the weekend. Feeling near death in the punishing heat is sort of an ailment of the poor or the slightly less privileged. People who can retreat to air conditioned homes have something that people living in older sweltering apartments do not. People who drive with their vehicles sealed shut while running their A/C on full blast are far more comfortable than those walking the hot sidewalks or riding the older stifling streetcars. Air conditioning used to be considered a luxury but it has become a necessity of life. During a heat wave the city advises those without air conditioning to seek out cooling centres. Air conditioning is as essential to a modern city as elevators. You can’t live in a tall building without an elevator to take you to your floor and you can’t live on that floor of a tall building (essentially a chimney stack with rooms) without air conditioning.
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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tomorrow Begins at Midnight 

The World of Tomorrow
Over the last two years I’ve gained twenty pounds and I’ve lost the habit of exercise. Gains and losses. The story of modern life. How did I lose something so fundamental to who I am? No matter what I thought of myself, I could always see myself as active and, if not fit, at least able bodied. Then came a patch of illness and maladies that admittedly took more out of me than I realized. Eventually between that and a lot of travel for work, I lost my comely figure as well as the will to care. Of course, I thought I have to get back in shape. Then I’d go to the gym, tweak my back,knee, or some other thing and have push the reset button again.
“But that ends today! - was the thing I said yesterday”
If the ailments of age weren’t enough, the last couple of years my work has led to a schedule that might begin at 7:30 AM and end at 7:00 PM. Even if I did finish early there might be a “hacktivist" night to attend where cheese pizza satisfied as supper until I got home at around 10 PM. No techy meeting to attend? Hey don’t worry there’s a Cycle Toronto meeting to go to. No meetings at all? That’s fine, I still have to actually do the things I said I’d do at those other meetings, right? There’s nothing that will destroy your humanity faster than spending 16 hours of your day looking at a computer screen then to close your eyes at night and still see it. I seem to spend my days staring at the world through a glass window or staring at glowing pixels through a glass screen. Yet that’s what I signed up for. What was my reward for this effort? Certainly not sleeping and yet still having to get up the next day which inevitably begins with a headache caused by not sleeping. I think by now I’ve consumed enough ibuprofen to have dissolved my liver, at least one kidney and probably have added a hole where I don’t need one in my stomach lining.

"But that ends today!” was the thing I said yesterday and all the yesterdays before that. The last time I was in shape I discovered a magic number. 100. If you exercise everyday for 30-45 minutes for one hundred days consecutively (given some recovery days of light exercise in between) you will be a different person. Perhaps even a better person. They say you can accomplish almost anything in 100 days. Learn a language or learn to play an instrument as long as you do it 100 days in a row. When I did this before, I lost 25 pounds and felt 10 years younger. Thus I’m always just 100 days from being that person again.

I finally went for my first run in almost exactly one month. Then a day later, I intended to go to the gym but work did what work does and being committed to finishing something meant there was no way I could get to a workout. Then I was off to a Civic-Tech Toronto meet-up (where I heard the incredible 83-year-old sprite, Joy Kowaga talk about a community currency she helped create more than a decade before anyone had heard of cryptocurrency or blockchain). I left the meeting planning on doing a workout at home but first I had to grab some groceries. By the time I walked through the door it was almost 10 PM.

The next day I was again 100 days from my better self. I dusted myself off and started the whole thing over. Eventually, I’ll string together two days of exercise. Then three. Before you know it, I’ll need that recovery day. Some days tomorrow never comes, but other days, tomorrow begins at midnight. You can count on tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seen in… May 


Hey hey, the gang's all here. Image via The Movie DB

A month of crowd-pleasing blockbusters and one worthy Oscar winner. We’ve had such a warm (nay, hot) spring in Toronto that it feels like summer is already here. There’s ice cream to be had, air conditioned theatres to soak in and warm evening bike rides over wet streets to be enjoyed. There’s no denying good movies make summers better. Who am I kidding? Every summer needs some cheesy movies too.

Avengers: Infinity Wars
Almost a decade of Marvel films have alluded to or directly led to this film and its second half coming out next year and in a big way it feels like Marvel is still playing with us. These films have contributed to a culture of not being able to discuss a film without risk of spoilers. How can you talk about a movie when you don’t want to be the bad guy who ruins it for everyone else? Along with television series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, we’ve all participated in the oddest conspiracy of silence since JFK’s notorious philandering. Yet, I’ll try to give my two bits without giving anything away.

This film begins moments after the film Thor Ragnarok ended only to find Thor, his brother Loki and Hulk defeated by the purple-skinned evil lord of the Universe, Thanos. We then briefly see various members of Earth’s mightiest heroes living their lives; during a stroll in the park, on a school field trip, negotiating a lunch order, when the long missing Bruce Banner appears out of the sky to warn of the approach of Thanos. We learn of Thanos’ desire to complete his magic glove (or gauntlet if you prefer) empowered by the mystical and dangerous Infinity Stones and of his plan to use this power to correct the Universe’s overpopulation problem by simply eradicating half of all living things. This is probably the most radical act of environmental terrorism since Greenpeace scaled an oil rig to erect a flag. Thanos sends a trusted lieutenant, Ebony Maw, to take both the Time Stone and Mind Stones from the Avengers (I’m not going to get into what these stones do or how). Ebony Maw (these names, am I right?) is met with resistance from Iron Man, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, et al. Game on. Sort of. We still spend much of the movie re-assembling the team of supers called the Avengers from all corners of the Earth. From Scotland to Africa the band slowly gets back together for one last gig. Scarlet Witch, Vision, Captain America and Black Panther all team up for the mighty battle that we know is coming. Then it is over, seemingly with a snap of Thanos’ fingers. There are a lot of problems with this movie - mostly that you might pay $15 for yet another set-up to yet another movie. At this point we’ve all put so much in the franchise that we want a pay-off which we still don’t get. Worse yet, despite its own scattered, multi-plot, multi-threaded story line, this movie actually takes time to set up yet another franchise rather than just resolve the story we just watched. And, here’s the spoiler alert, a lot of crucial characters die, but we know they aren’t really gone, because they’ve all been given sequels that have yet to happen. Basically, this movie employs a “Time Stone” that feels like it will be kind of an “instant replay” stone or perhaps a magic Mulligan that will restore all of our heroes just in time to save everyone despite having already lost. What that effectively does is remove the stakes. An action or drama depends on high stakes. Will a couple stay together or ruin a family? Will the heist go off without a hitch or will the thieves go to jail? Will a pilot from a farm save the world or will everyone be killed? Marvel has essentially removed the biggest stake of all: death. When the film ended, the crowd I was with left quietly. Not a peep. No excited talk. No hollers of fun or joy. Just quiet. I don’t think it was the quiet of reverence (such as after the ending of Dunkirk) or of shock at what we just witnessed. It was the shock of a shrug and despite that, the knowledge that we would all plunk down another $15 in a year just to see how it all turned out.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

unbound 

Image from page 150 of "The Canadian field-naturalist" (1924)

I hate my backpack. I hate all backpacks. I even hate the name. Back. Pack. I hate this entire category of luggage. There was a moment when I thought what a great idea a “No-strap Backback” was, until I realized it was a terrible idea that was also an April Fools prank. Even the most ergonomically designed pack is putting stress on your shoulders and spine (even “strapless” ones). I hate the sweatiness of a pack covering a large portion of my back. What’s the point of wearing breathable fabric outerwear if most of it is covered with a heavy nylon unbreathable pack stuffed with junk?

Of course, it’s not really about the bag itself. Living in a city where you leave your house for hours at a time and don’t have a car to secure personal affects means you have to carry everything you might need with you. I’m fascinated by the “Persona” project where an artist asks to photograph a person and the belongings they deem essential enough to carry with them everyday (a surprising number of people carry two phones and knives - big knives?!) If I emptied out my backpack you’d find an asthma inhaler, a handful of ibuprofen, maybe a protein bar, a couple of notebooks, multiple pens, a phone cable and a backup battery to recharge my phone on the go. Probably the oddest things I carry are part of a repair kit for my bike, namely a wrench and a pump (a compact pump but a pump nonetheless).
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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Seen in… April


Hey there, Brigsby Bear. Image via The Movie Database

This morning I was reading some reviews from users on the site Letterboxd of the latest Marvel movie and some people were simply dumping all over it, while others were gushing with the kind of hyperbole one expects from a fan. In recent years we’ve realized that’s what the Internet has become. A place of divisive thought where everyone poses as an expert. The problem with film criticism (or any form really; art, literary etc) is that you know what you like and what you don’t and you think “like” and “don’t like” equals “good” and “bad”. Yet this is not so and that’s why “critics” exist and a lot of the approach is based in literary criticism and theory - so it’s kind of highfalutin and full of $10 words and such. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinions about why you like or didn’t like a movie, but being critical isn't capital “C” criticism, which is fine. I realize I can sound like a jerk when I write this stuff. I’m trying to be funny not jerky, but I get how being both unfunny and jerky equals “jerk”. Henceforth, if something sounds jerky remember not to take it too seriously.

I guess I feel guilty about saying how bad Temple of Doom was…

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 & 2

This is a surprisingly great adaptation of the movies to a continuing series of 30 minute episodes. If you know and love Sam Raimi’s films, The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, then this is a slam dunk as the same level of gore, fright, camp and humour are maintained and balanced throughout. Bruce Campbell is back as the eponymous Ash, and we find that he’s pretty much the same immature, irresponsible slayer of evil he was 30 years ago. Somehow Ash has kept the evil book of the dead, the Necronomicon, that opens a portal of evilness upon the world without consequence for all the time that has passed between the original movies and today but of course, that couldn’t last if you want to make a series about the forces of evil fighting a one-handed guy who uses a chainsaw as a prosthetic. You’d think seeing our hero and his new young friends getting into and out of more evil circumstances would grow old but after 20 episodes it’s just as fun as the first time.



Between a rock and a hard place and a disappointing sequel. Image via The Movie Database

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Eew and ugh. Despite Spielberg’s deftness with the camera this is a terrible movie, only partly due to the deafness of the script. It would be pointless to go back to an old movie and be critical of its political correctness but luckily there is no reason to revisit this movie anyway. The movie begins with our hero, Indiana Jones narrowly escaping what looks like a more interesting adventure only to board a plane set to crash over India. Since the previous film, Jones has for no reason, picked up a 10 or 11-year-old sidekick (who annoying yells every line), swapped his previous love interest of Karen Allen for a tag along night club performer, Kate Capshaw but maintained his trademark swagger. This unlikely trio wind up in a tiny Indian village that has lost a sacred stone which Indy, without much provocation, decides to help retrieve it. What follows is pretty bad. I tend to think of this film like the 3 Star Wars where a series goes off the rails, but fortunately the film that followed (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) was one of the best.

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