Monday, November 20, 2017

Nature's Soft Nurse 

Winsor McCay's Little Nemo always found Slumberland even if it wasn't always an easy ride.

I thought I had defeated my sleep problem but over the last few months it has crept back in like a pest you thought you had dealt with only discover it has broken into the pantry, chewed through every box and pooped everywhere. What a fool I was. I’m undeniably a night owl. My natural rhythm would be going to sleep at 2 AM and getting up after 8:30 AM with a midday nap happening sometime between dawn and dusk. Yet that isn’t how “society" works and it certainly doesn’t work that way if you want to remain employed. I’m struggling to get to work, then get through the day at work, then getting to bed early enough so I can be rested to get to work the next day. It all comes crashing down on the weekend which is something I would really like to be awake for. It’s like living in a state of near constant jet lag.

The problem is partly mine and partly work’s. I work on what my company calls “distributed teams” where team members are based in many different geographic locales as opposed to "co-located teams” where the team members work in the same location. Which means the only time to talk to anyone in India is 7 or 8 AM which would be fine if I’d gone to bed by 11 PM rather than 1 AM. I take it back. 8 AM meetings are never fine. This schedule was supposedly temporary. We had a project to be done for a certain trade show. Once that was done, we could go back to normal. Instead, it became normal. To complicate matters I was travelling more, getting regularly sick and getting regular medical treatments, which led to dropping the one thing that was keeping me alive: exercise. I never recovered. The old adage that it’s easier to stay fit than get fit has never felt truer.
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Thursday, November 09, 2017


Working alone is like… Alain Delon in Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse’ (1962)

Every once in awhile, maybe every other week I WFH - work from home. The custom of sending a wide e-mail informing co-workers of this pretty much ended years ago. Actually about three or four times a week I SWFH. That is I "Start Work From Home” due to early morning conference calls but then head into the office. It is pointless to tell anyone about this because to the majority of my colleagues, many of whom I’ve never met, I am nothing more than a crackling, fuzzy and distant disembodied voice. They live and work on another continent. When I do go into the office those sitting near me are also working with people on other continents that they’ve never met. We sit side by side with fingers on keyboards playing chords of code sent all over the world to people we neither know or recognize. So why do I go to the office at all?

Funny you should ask. In the last two weeks I’ve attended two different conferences, one focused solely on the technology of artificial intelligence and the other focused on design issues, namely the practice, business and art of design. While the practical side of attending conferences is to improve your skills and knowledge while discussing processes and business with your peers, I think I like to go to prove I exist. Talking to other people feels like it proves I exist as if I were a ghost surprised that the residents of a dwelling I haunted could suddenly see me when for years no one else had. This is essentially why I go to the office to work. I need to see other people who see me to prove to myself that I exist. Sure you could call it “social interaction” but whatever you call it, it is worthwhile to prove my existence. Read more »

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Seen in… October 

The Night of the Living Dead image via The Movie DB

This is a kind of corny but loveable sci-fi comedy that doesn’t ask much of you. It stars David Duchovny and Orlando Jones as a pair of small town college professors who happen to be in the right place at the right time when a meteorite carrying a fast evolving alien life form lands in the nearby desert. Everyone from the FBI to the state governor wants credit for the discovery but the conflicts lead to confusion which leads inevitably to a pterodactyl type thing flying through a mall. I’m sure Duchovny took this role in a light comedy to offset or play against his overly serious role as Fox Mulder on the much-loved X-Files but sometimes, because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

Scene (cell?) from Loving Vincent image via The Movie DB

Loving Vincent
Someone actually thought it was a great idea to film actors portraying the last years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life then paint over every frame in the style of the Dutch painter and animate it painstakingly. Sort of crazy. Crazy beautiful. Unfortunately the premise which endeavors to bring to life not only Van Gogh’s story but the stories of the people and places he painted goes a little bit Agatha Christie and winds up with a spurious murder theory. The film is strikingly beautiful and creates wonderful vignettes that shines a light on the lives of the small town where Van Gogh painted but the conspiratorial tone intended to create tension is a more fraught than taut. Despite those flaws, this film is worth seeing for its technical and aesthetic merits alone and the filmmakers allow you to bath in all its golden barley glory and swirling indigo night skies. Certainly a big screen experience.

Gosling looking comfortable in his artificial skin image via The Movie DB

Blade Runner 2049
Set 30 years after the original (though filmed 35 years after the original) this highly anticipated continuation of the story of a cop whose job is to hunt and “retire” rogue androids (“replicants” if you please) satisfies stylistically if not entirely. Denis Villeneuve is a very thoughtful and patient director who is willing to let a story take its time to unfold and reveal itself which certainly suits the atmosphere of this future dystopian vision of L.A. that Ridley Scott created in 1982. The visual references and style of this film are without question on point and live up to the hype. I guess my only quibble is the story is too complete, too structured in that it is a more conventional plot driven reckoning of all the openings the original let us fall into. The original Blade Runner was far more open ended giving us a classic sci-fi story that left more questions than answers. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love the original and the director’s cut of the original, there were moments I didn’t like or aspects that made no sense (Deckard’s “unicorn vision”? Was it a dream? A piece of a different movie that fell into the projection reel? It felt really out of place and at the time I couldn’t even tell if it was a dream, a memory or just a random music video that Deckard was watching.) Yet this version almost feels too “standard”, too rote. There is even a scene that could potentially set up another film, a scene that suggests a connection to Prometheus and the Alien films and a very coherent ending. It seems strange to say a film was too well written to be satisfying but I think a few loose strands to pick at would have been better. After all, it was the unanswerable loose threads that made us revisit Blade Runner again and again and made it one of the most enduring sci-fi films of all time.
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Monday, October 30, 2017

Tis the Seasons 

Welcome to the future, where October is the Super-season: all seasons at once.

When did October become a season of seasons? This year was the warmest October on record for Toronto and Northeastern North America, so despite autumn’s official date we enjoyed summer’s reprieve with ice cream, laying supine upon the beach and celebrated it with the portmanteau, “Hotumn” (though we also would have accepted “Hawt-tober”). Even without the unusually pleasant weather this year fall seemed like a cluster of other seasons.

The initial indicator of autumn’s advance was a Starbucks sandwich board announcing “PSL - Pumpkin Spice Latte is back!” A 10-foot tall inflated “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” along with copious amounts of theatrical cobwebs were the first indicator of Halloween. Let’s not forget that it is, in fact, still decorative gourd season. The other day, as I rode down Queen Street, I saw that the Bay was preparing their Christmas display windows. Recently, about two weeks from Remembrance Day, I noticed a “Lest We Forget” wreath in the lobby of the building where I work. We’ve reached a cosmically weird clusterfest of seasonal celebration. In approximate order, Torontonians have or are about to celebrate Sukkoth (Jewish), Diwali (Hindu), Thanksgiving (Christian & secular), Halloween, All Saints Day (Catholic), Day of the Dead (Mexican), Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving (American) and Christmas. Five of those are in November and December. I’ve already received several enticements to book holiday (aka Christmas) events now before all the good dates are taken.
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Friday, October 27, 2017

A Word of Advice 

“the only advice I can really offer”
I don’t know much about relationships or careers or politics or business or about healthy living so you know, don’t take this to heart but I do know a few things.

First: you can never say, “I told you so” to anybody of any importance in your life. Friends, family, loved ones — never say this to them. Enemies? Sure. Say it 'til the cows come home. Say it until the cows come home, throw off their shoes and say ‘whew, whadda day!’ have supper, fall asleep on the couch then go to bed. Knock yourself out with saying that to opposing teams of whatever sport you play but never, ever say it to anyone you want to keep in your life.

This also applies to eye-rolling and tut-tutting. For what are eye-rolls and tut-tutts if not an “I told you so” by another name? They are simply “I told you so’s” wrapped inside another gesture.

Second: get your own damn fries. I know you said you didn’t want fries but then you ate some off my plate and it was cute — the first time. It is only cute once. Never again. If you want fries or wooly socks or batteries or phone cables then get your own damn fries. This is not about generosity or ownership or territory but the act of abusing a relationship to get what you want without the appearance of desiring it. So. Get your own damn fries.

Third: don’t stay out until 2AM drinking when you have an 8AM meeting the next day. It is not cool. It is disrespectful to the other people in said meeting and shows poor forethought. Don’t stay at a party where you hardly know anyone, hanging around being the last to leave because you are genuinely interested in what new acquaintances are saying or because you want to catch up and reconnect with old friends who you sorely miss but don’t want to say that for fear of seeming needy or forlorn. Don’t linger to watch curious videos of Buddy Guy playing furiously in “Winnipeg’s bright white light”. Then definitely don’t ride your bike out into the night hurling yourself through the abyss of darkness stopping to discuss with strangers about the oddity of solo piano playing in a park at 1:30AM. Obviously don’t then write a plodding sentimental, though honest account of such an evening like some kind of teen-ager’s “feelings journal”.

Fourth: however, do take two ibuprofen, one Imodium and a large glass of water before bed to offset the effects of the next day’s hangover. No seriously, that works. That is the only advice I can really offer.

Interesting note: this is the 800th post of this site.