The Den of Ubiquity

Thursday, July 31, 2003:

There's A City In My Mind

The dilation thing last Saturday went okay. Not too bad at all, really.

I went in to the optometrist as part of our normal Saturday morning mall trip. I got the air-puff glaucoma test again(even though I'd just had it a week earlier--I guess they like to be thorough), and then the optometrist gave me some eyedrops. They stung quite badly, but he said it would be the worst part of the whole process.

Then I went back out for twenty minutes, browsing in the bookstore, though after ten minutes I found that I couldn't read the back cover blurbs anymore. My eyes felt distinctly weird, too, sort of stretched.

After I went back to the optometrist's, he sat me down and shone bright light into my eyes for a few minutes. He shone and looked in each eye from every possible angle, asking to me to look in various directions, shining the light in, sometimes even opening my eyelids wider.

The coolest thing about that process was that sometimes, if the light was shining from the right angle, I could actually see the blood vessels and such on the back of my eye. When I asked the optometrist about it later, he said that I was actually seeing the shadows of them. It didn't take that long, and then I was done. Oh, I had to do the air-puff test again, but after what I'd just been through, holding my eyes open for that was a breeze. My eyes were still dilated, though.

I had been sure to bring in the clip-on sunglasses from the car, and I put them on before I went outside. Without the ability to narrow my pupils in the bright light, I could have been badly dazzled. As it was, I kept my eyes closed for a while in the car--Nicole driving, of course.

We actually went down to Beaumont for a while, since Nicole's cousin Michelle was in town for a wedding on the weekend, and she had stopped by with her father to see Nicole's parents. They only stayed for about half an hour after we got there, but it was nice to see them anyway. Michelle is one of my favourites of Nicole's cousins, but she lives in southern California these days. We don't get down there too often, but she comes up for family weddings and things...though most of those should be done for a while, on Nicole's side, at least.

I looked at my eyes in the bathroom mirror when we got there, and sure enough, the irises were almost invisible. I could mostly see okay, as long as I didn't try to focus on anything small, or look at anything brightly lit.

We stayed there for lunch after Michelle and her dad left, and then went home. I had been intending to do dishes while my eyes recovered, but somehow that didn't happen. Instead, I had a nap. Well, it had been my morning to sleep in, but I ended up not getting back to sleep after Nicole got the kids up, and I imagine all the messing around with my eyes must have made me tired, too. After I got up, I didn't feel like doing them either. But my eyes were pretty much recovered by that point--at least, I could read again.

I think the customized Blogspot ads these days are hysterical. Take a look. Because I just talked about my eye appointment, they're probably all about sunglasses and contact lenses and stuff. When I did my entry about the thistles, it was all on lawn care equipment. That's funny. Somebody is going and figuring out keywords to determine when certain ads come up.

This really calls for an experiment, on someone else's blog...

I think we have locusts in town. Not quite sure, because I didn't take a good look at them, but it could be.

I hate insects. With the possible exceptions of harmless- or even cute-looking ones, like ladybugs and aphids, and possibly dragonflies. And my mom would be mad at me if I didn't exclude bees. But the rest of them--and most of the rest of invertebrates, when it comes down to it--give me the willies.

I am totally squeamish around them. I can step on ants, that's no problem, but anything larger than that, I can't make myself do it. If I think it will make a noise, or I will feel it, or even if it leaves a visible carcass behind, I can't do it. I certainly can't touch the things(though I have been known to let ladybugs crawl on my fingers). Nicole, at least, could pick up a huge beetle with a kleenex and squish it. No way I'd even get near it. I'm glad that I live someplace above the cockroach line.

I remember when I was a kid we had a bunch of tent caterpillars in Alberta. They would be crawling around on the grass, on the sidewalk, on the trees, on the outside of your house. There were always tales of them falling into people's hair. I certainly remember getting grossed out when I ran them over with my bike, which was sometimes hard to avoid.

After it rains, I always have to step carefully to try to avoid stepping on earthworms, because that would gross me out, too. I'm sure I must look insane, studying the ground, hopping delicately from spot to spot. Sometimes I step to avoid something that turns out to be just a stick, but better safe than sorry.

Spiders are mostly fine, though. The bigger ones I am still a little squeamish around, but let's face it, they eat insects, and as long as they keep out of sight when they do so, that's fine with me. I read Charlotte's Web many times as a child, so I know that spiders are our friends. I hate walking into spiderwebs in the woods, though(possibly because of all the dead bugs that are probably on them), which is one reason I don't go walking in the woods.

Anyway, the locusts. I saw one outside of work last week sometime. Like a grasshopper, but bigger, and more of a drab yellow-brown than green.

Actually, now that I check into it, I see that they're not really locusts, because locusts apparently refer to the ones that actually swarm and change their eating habits or something. The picture on
this site is probably close to what I saw. Here's another article, from last year, about the lack of locusts in Western Canada. So maybe they are grasshoppers after all, just not bright green ones like I expected. I am, obviously, not an entomologist, nor do I have the slightest urge to become one.

But I haven't been seeing them on grass. The one was on the sidewalk. And somehow, one of them got into our car. I'm forgetting how, now, but it got in there. I would forget about it for an entire day, and then when I got home from work and got out of the car, I'd see it still clinging to the inside of the window of one of the back doors, just looking big and insectile and mindless. I finally got it out of there by opening the door and knocking it off with the largest wieldy-looking implement in our carport, the folding plastic snow shovel. I assume it hopped/scuttled off somewhere, and I haven't seen it since. But it gave me retrospective creeps, that it could have jumped down on me while I was driving, or on Luke, if we'd put him in there with it.

I haven't seen any in a few days, but I'm still not quite relaxed. I'm wondering whether the one window in the basement is sealed enough, if Simon is going to let some into the house when he forgets to close the patio screen door, and things like that. I hate insects.

I finished reading Dulcinea. It was okay, in the sense that there were both really good bits and winceworthy bad bits. For instance, in the pre-gunpowderish magic-using fantasy world, the first-person narrator used "terrorist", "theremin"(as a verb, no less), and "microphone"! Bad Shalanna. And it took me a long time to get into it, because Dulcinea, her father, and the "apprentice" Raz were all acting annoyingly. Dulcinea herself was the one who showed the most improvement, perhaps because she's still a teenager. But she flip-flopped between being surprisingly, almost implausibly, competent, and acting helpless.

It gets a little bit Harry-Potterish at the end(or perhaps more Dragonsingerish)with the introduction of a college of majick, but I gather more of that may feature in the next book, Dulcinea's Dragon. Or not--from the sample chapter included at the end, she may leave the school before we see much of it. Anyway, I may be sufficiently interested to check it out, as long as I don't actually have to buy it in trade paperback(or hardcover). This is something I'd be willing to buy used, or for mass-market prices. Not much chance from this publisher, though.

I also(as I might have mentioned elsewhere, possibly on LiveJournal)read Eric Raymond's excellent The Cathedral And The Bazaar. It's a book about open source, which is a hot topic today, especially in the world of writing web applications with Java, where most of the tools are open source. But Linux is, of course, an early example, and so is Apache. Netscape/Mozilla(all but orphaned by AOL)is more recent, and in fact was apparently spurred by Raymond's title article. I recommend it to people who are interested in computers and stuff.*

I have started Ian Watson's Alien Embassy. It's interesting, reading this book(from 1977)so shortly after Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice And Salt, because Robinson's book makes extensive reference to "the bardo", the afterlife place(from Tibetan lore, apparently)where souls are judged before returning to life. It also turns up in Alien Embassy, though not in the same sense. That is, it's an organization whose acronymized name is a reference to the mythical one.

Watson is going by the premise that western science basically collapsed after first contact was made with a woman in a tantric sex ritual. Acupuncture, chakras, Kirlian auras, and Eastern philosophy have dominated, concentration of humanity in cities is being reversed, and a young African girl is about to start getting trained as one of these tantric travellers. Only in the 70's could one get away with this being science fiction.*

We bought a bunch of books at "Book Traders", a nearby second-hand bookstore, but few of them are ones I will be reading anytime soon. I am more likely to read one of the books that came in today in an shipment--Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life And Others. I loved his story "Understand" when I read it a few years ago, and have been waiting for more from him. This is a collection of multiple award-winning stories, including "Understand", and I bought it in trade paperback, something I rarely do. I am looking forward to it. Chiang is actually high on the list of authors I would like to meet at Worldcon...and so I should try to read his book first, right?

I'm also reading Drew Carey's Dirty Jokes And Beer as lighter fare, something I picked up from the library booksale table last week. It's okay so far, if not always consistently funny. But then, he isn't always trying to be funny, and he seems to be okay at serious, too. I've never watched his show, apart from the April Fool's(?) episode which included a Sims-style scene, though I did get accustomed to him on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Yesterday, while they were having the big concert in Toronto to promote tourism and convince people that SARS is really not a threat anymore(which it isn't, from everything I've heard from the people who live there), I ended up listening to the Rolling Stones' "Forty Licks", which I suppose is almost like being at the concert. It is an impressive body of work, though I would almost have to favour the first disc, of work before 1969, to the second. "Satisfaction" has really grown on me over the last few years, and "Mother's Little Helper" was disturbingly familiar. Some of the other songs I had actually only ever heard(that I recall)as part of Weird Al Yankovic's "Hot Rocks Polka".*

Today, I listened to the soundtrack of "Once More With Feeling", that musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I have to say, that while the music itself did nothing for me, and I am not impressed with Sarah Michelle Gellar's singing ability, it fills me with an increased desire to actually watch the show. Enough so that I am seriously considering getting a DVD player this weekend, so that we can either rent or borrow the first season's episodes. If we rent them, we'd have to try to watch the whole season in a week, which sounds impossible...but if we borrow them, then we have to find someone we know who has them, and most of those people are Cult of Pain members from Calgary, who won't be coming up until the meeting on August 9th(or from Singapore, who won't be here for the foreseeable future)...and we won't even be at the meeting, because of the Prairie Heraldry Society barbecue which I forgot about.

I've been looking at character guides and episode guides, just trying to glean some basic background information, even though I know I probably shouldn't. I've already picked up a fair bit, though, so it doesn't bother me that much.

I also listened to the "Daredevil" soundtrack, but I'd have to say that the only song I liked was that Evanescence one. When did movie soundtracks start to be filled with sludge-rock? I remember when they were all alt-rock stuff, like "Empire Records" and stuff. Maybe it's just the superhero movies, because "Spider-Man" was just as bad. Is this what the teenagers are really all listening to these days? Kids. But I will have to check out Evanescence.

Long weekend coming up, and I almost forgot about it! It's the Heritage Day weekend here in Alberta; it's not a national holiday, but most provinces have some holiday or other that day. There's probably one in the U.S., too, but I don't remember. Columbus Day or something.

It's been kind of hot around here for a few days--it was up to 32°C today. Almost as bad as last summer...except that last summer there was no respite. This summer, we do get rain every once in a while, and even some cloudy and cool days.

I have definitely gotten completely inverted from the majority with respect to my tastes in weather. Anytime the radio announcers say, "It'll be a beautiful weekend! Sunny, with highs of 29 on Saturday...", it just makes me wince. I'd much rather hear about clouds and rain. I don't like sunny weather, that's all there is to it. It's too hot and it's too bright. I'll sit down in the basement with my fluorescent lights and my computer and avoid it, if it's all the same to you. The rest of you walk around outside and get skin cancer if you want to.

Time to count it down, boyo:

302. Savage Progress: My Soul Unwraps Tonight, from Celebration

One of the best titles in my list, I have to say. This may have been the only song from this album ever to get a video release, and it may not be the best on the album, but it is pretty damn good. African rhythms, deep male vocal harmonies contrasting with the female lead.

301. Talking Heads: Road To Nowhere, from Little Creatures

This is the song that got me into the Talking Heads. To be sure, I hadn't really listened to them before, though I had seen my brother's vaguely scary "Stop Making Sense" single lying around. It still has killer harmonies, a propulsive rhythm section, and wonderful lyrics. Totally singalongable, too.

Please eat up quickly once the package is opened by you. --AjD

Aaron // 11:04 PM Clix me!

Thursday, July 24, 2003:

Now It Cuts Too Close

I did indeed get my LiveJournal set up, and you can look at it
here, or up on the sidebar over there. So far, so good with the short entries. I will be trying to point back here from there, but not vice versa(except for a specific topic), since I hope to be updating there more frequently than here.

I spent a while last night filling in my "Interests" list, which was kind of fun. I hope to do a series of short posts over there on the interests on the list, just because I think it would be interesting. I haven't filled in my Friends list as much; I put in half a dozen talk.bizarre people, and then came across JT Traub, who was the only other person to put "Lorenai" as an interest. That's pretty much it so far.

I went to the optometrist last Saturday. No special reason, just a checkup. Nicole and Simon went a few days earlier. It was Simon's first eye doctor visit. Apparently at that age they tend to give you pictures to look at rather than letters, but from what Nicole said the pictures were not ones that Simon would necessarily recognize, like older-style phones. Simon knows all his letters, so he could have done that, and next time they probably will. He will almost certainly need glasses, but then we expected that. Neither of his parents is particularly keen-eyed. And he does seem to want to stand awfully close to the TV when he watches it.

My vision was fine, for the most part. My left eye is stronger than my right, of course, but that's to be expected, since I'm mostly right-handed. My glasses prescription hasn't changed since last time, and apparently I might actually be 20/15 with them on.

I have to go back this Saturday, though.

My mother has glaucoma, you see. She's getting treatment for it, but she's got it, and so I have to get checked for it. And not just with those puff-of-air tests they do, either. I still pass those no problem, unpleasant as they are.

No, I have to get my eyes dilated so they can take a good look at my nerves and blood vessels, to see if there's even the glimmerings of a problem now, and if not to see what the current state is so they have something to measure it against later.

I've never had my eyes dilated, and in fact I hadn't even heard of the procedure before that South Park episode with the succubus and the Loch Ness Monster. I go in Saturday morning, they put in some drops, my eyes dilate, and then they look at them. After that, 4-6 hours later, it wears off.

While my eyes are dilated, I will have trouble doing things like reading or looking at a computer screen. I guess I'll be doing dishes for some of that time, so it won't matter too much. I'll probably have to bring sunglasses so that I don't get blinded when I go outside. Or maybe it will be cloudy. (It's gone back and forth this summer, an immense improvement on the unrelenting heat of last summer.)

It's a little bit scary, but hopefully it will turn out okay. I'll keep you posted on the experience.

I finished reading both Andy Nebula and The Salmon of Doubt. The latter I already posted about on my LiveJournal. The former was a pretty good read; for a YA book, it had some pretty frank talk about drugs in it. Drugs as evil things that can hijack one's life, of course, nothing all that ambiguous about it, but then these drugs had pretty unambiguous effects. An interesting take on the whole "manufactured band" phenomenon, too.

Now I've started reading Shalanna Collins's Dulcinea. I remember Shalanna from the Fidonet Writing Echo some years ago--probably almost a decade, by now. I read that one a lot, though a lot of my posts didn't get through for whatever reason(Fidonet not being the 100% greatest transport medium), so I guess I was mostly a lurker. She'd told a story of screwing up her first signing with an agent, and I'm glad to see that she has recovered from that one. Not very far into the book, which is a YA fantasy with the titular female protagonist(though with the prosaic last name "Brown").

I want to try to fit in Ian Watson's Alien Embassy before the end of the month. It's currently in the position of being probably the book I have had the longest without having read, and I like to keep that position moving ever-so-slowly forward, at the rate of one a month if possible. I was very impressed by his short story "Windows" in Asimov's some years ago, and I started buying his books. I don't think I've read any of his novels yet, this should be interesting.

I picked up a few CDs recently, too, some new at A&B Sound, and some cheap at the library booksale table.

The new ones were:

Weird Al Yankovic:Poodle Hat. As often, I stumbled across this one without being aware that he had a new album out, though I'd heard about his parodying the Eminem song(which I haven't even heard). All in all, a decent contribution to his oeuvre.

Neil Young:Are You Passionate?. I keep hearing bad things about this album, but then, the first Neil Young album I bought was the lambasted "Landing On Water", so that's par for the course. I think the songs on this album work quite well, and hope he does more albums with Booker T & the MG's.

Cake:Prolonging The Magic. Not altogether that new, I've actually been wanting this one for a while, but I just hadn't gotten around to picking it up. I am glad I did.

Hooverphonic:The Magnificent Tree. Very glad to have this one, too! It is an exquisite album.

The The:NakedSelf. Not quite as good as I remember on my last listen, but I'm still happy to have it.

From the booksale, I got:

Philip Glass:1000 Airplanes On The Roof. Well, I didn't care for it that much, but for a buck I was willing to spring for it. It's not like it was bad, more that it didn't make an impression.

Goldie:Saturnzreturn. I remember being quite impressed with the hour-long opening track, "Mother", when I first listened to this one some time ago. The rest of the album(most of which is, of course, on the second disc)is quite listenable electronica.

Sophie Zelmani. Another one that never really made it onto my wishlist, but there was one quite striking song on it, "You And Him(String Version)"(though I'm not sure where any alternative versions of it may be, since there aren't any on the album), about a woman talking to a homeless man and trying to overcome her first impressions of him. The rest of the album hasn't made much impression yet, but that song was worth a buck.

Rollins Band:Weight. I'm not sure about this one, since mostly it's too heavy for me, but "Liar" was a fairly approachable song, so I might keep it around for a while.

I am still borrowing CDs and listening to them, but I just can't keep up with them. Maybe I'll try commenting on them realtime on LiveJournal or something.

Time to continue counting down my 750 favourite songs:

304. Peter Gabriel: Kiss of Life, from Security

It's mostly the intense and propulsive drums that I like from this song, since I haven't made much headway with figuring out the lyrics yet. It's more fun to pound the steering wheel to than to sing along in the car with, so far.

303. 'Til Tuesday: Winning The War, from Voices Carry

I make no bones about liking 'Til Tuesday better than Aimee Mann's later solo work. This song was one of my favourites from their first album since I bought it(though the first two singles were strong enough to get me to do so). Maybe it's the harmony on the chorus, or the interweaving vocal lines in the coda, always one of my favourite techniques.

The pills that I took, they made my fingers disappear --David Bowie, "Time Will Crawl"

Aaron // 10:29 PM Clix me!

Monday, July 21, 2003:

The Strong Man Suddenly Became Weak

A few days ago I looking at a headline on, and I realized it could be read a few different ways. The headline is "Police find body searching for arms expert". Now, not only can you parse that as "Body searching for arms expert is found by police", but if you conveniently omit the word "expert"(which appears on the next line in my browser), then it becomes the even better "Police find body searching for arms", which is a great mental image. Or it could even be "Police find body searching for arms to be expert".

Last week, I was listening to Rupert Hine's "The Wildest Wish To Fly", and happened to take a good look at the cover art. Like most of my musical collection from the 80's, I have it on cassette tape, so it's hard to make out. It basically consists of a circle with a picture of a plane in it, and writing around the outside. The top part of the writing says, "The Wildest Wish To Fly", which of course makes sense. But I'd never looked at the bottom part of the writing before, which apparently says: "Does the power command the right". This is not a line from the title song, or from anywhere on the album, as far as I know. A Google search on the phrase as a whole turn up nothing. It's something I can see Hine writing, though, especially given his next album with the Thinkman project. But I'd never gone to the trouble of reading those words before.

Our new office doesn't have its own washrooms; instead, we share them with everybody else on the floor. The men's washroom doesn't have much of a fan in it to dissipate fecal odours, but it does have an air freshener, which I assume is what is in that plastic container mounted at the top of the stall. Until a few days ago it was a pleasant, mild cherry scent. Now, though, it's a rank "pine" scent. "Pine" like a pile of fresh pine needles that have all been broken in the middle and then left sitting half-submerged in stagnant water. It's repugnant, as well as pungent. I feel like writing a complaint on a sticky note and putting it on the plastic container. It doesn't seem worth pursuing a more formal complaint, but it might get some results.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a proponent of even usage. If I have four water glasses, then I will try to use them all equally, which usually means in a last-in-last-out queue. I am still vaguely suspicious of, say, disk allocation algorithms that use a stack, because, well, don't the memory locations frequently popped off the top of the stack get used more often? And isn't that bad for them? I know nothing about how hard drives degenerate through usage, so this is mostly baseless.

A few years ago there was a proposal to switch the "slow traffic" lane on four-lane highways in Alberta. Since the largest vehicles, which cause the most wear on the road, tend to be slow ones, they were always wearing out the right-hand lane faster than the left one, and so the highway would need to be repaired when really only half of it had been worn down. It made sense to me that if you switched every year or something, that the wear would be spread more evenly, and this would be a good thing. But I guess more people thought that it would be too hard to have to remember which the slow lane was, or, worse, that the slow drivers(like those of us who go the speed limit)would end up in both lanes, rendering the speeders unable to go as fast as they craved. (Yes, I know that there are genuinely slow vehicles out there, but as someone who drives the speed limit, I'd have to say there are more faster than me than slower.)

And I have come to learn that even usage is not always desirable. It was brought home to me in the bathroom in our old office. There were two toilet paper rolls, and I would always use the one which had the most paper on it. Until they were both close to empty, and I realized what would happen if they both ran out before they were replaced. Since then, I've been conscientious about using the less full roll every time.

The shared bathroom we use in our new office has three rolls, two on the actual racks and one sitting around loose. The loose one seems to get used more often, which seems nonsensical to me, but then it often sits on top of the other rolls, which makes it difficult to use them. I tend to move it to the top of the tank, so it can serve its correct role as a spare. The racks also have elliptical rollers instead of round ones, which I find quite strange. Do they have some kind of advantage I'm not aware of? More ergonomic? Harder to steal? In our house, Simon often runs off with the rollers, and more often than not the toilet paper just sits on the counter.

But back to even usage. Of socks, this time. If I buy a new package of six pairs of socks, and then try even usage, then they tend to wear out around the same time. It's hard to do pure even usage, because the socks are indistinguishable, for the most part. And then, if I buy another six pairs, I will tend to use the new ones in preference to the old ones, until one day I found that the old ones are less worn than the new ones...

So it's still possibly not the best policy in all situations. It works well with food, or at least the queueing model, so you always use the oldest milk carton until it's empty, though pouring equal amounts from each carton is just plain silly. (So would be wearing each pair of socks for one-sixth of a day.)

Recently we finally got around to seeing "Star Trek: Nemesis". We missed it in the first-run theatres, we missed it in the discount theatres, but we finally found it on video. It was okay, but I guess I always have the same problem with Star Trek: TNG movies. They are too much like the TV show. The special effects are better, but the plots are basically the same. They're like the two-hour season finales, except without necessarily having an arbitrary cliffhanger in the middle.

The original Star Trek movies were at least different from the series that spawned them, because of the gap in time in between. Special effects had developed, budgets increased, and I imagine that some of the plots got better, too.

Watching Nemesis also inspired me to compose a couple more entries to
The Evil Overlord List. These may constitute spoilers, so read at your own risk:

A. If I make an exact duplicate of a hero, then I will assume that any time it is out of my sight it could conceivably have been switched with the original hero, and act accordingly.

B. My dungeons will not be connected with the rest of my headquarters through a complex maze of passages. There will be one simple, well-lit corridor(devoid of alcoves, as another rule states), so that there is no chance that escaped prisoners will be able to sneak past me while I am going to interrogate them.

Of course, one of the main points of the movie was that the bad guy was not infallible, far from it. But still, I had to shake my head when I was watching it.

I'm still fiddling around with Marvel Superheroes stuff. I found an interesting web site, at, which had some nifty utilities for MSH, including character generators, character sheets, and the like. I haven't tried them all out yet, but the MSH Character Generator looks like it might be a bit of a timesaver.

They had a PDF copy there of the "Ultimate Powers Book". I think that Jeremy probably had this one--at least I think I'd seen it before--but I'd forgotten about it. It was an attempt codify every single possible power that anyone has ever had in any comic book, plus anything else that seems like a natural interpolation. So it suffers from serious kitchen sink-itis, but I was getting a little bored with the relatively tiny list in the MSH book, so I guess I'll try it.

One of my favourite powers listed in there was "Troubleseeker", which basically means that every few days you are automatically teleported into some situation where your help is needed. You can't leave the area without teleporting back(not even if someone else is carrying you!). Sort of like the protagonist in Dean Koontz's excellent Cold Fire. Or, if you add in Time Travel and Dimensional Travel, and a British police box, you get The Doctor... Or maybe even "Quantum Leap".

I think I've come up with a tentative plan about what to do with my superheroes. At the moment I've mostly just generated the cluster of mutants in the Calgary area; I've been converting their powers to the UPB equivalents, which is not always easy, and been coming up with little histories for them. But what do a group of heroes need? They need a reason to come together, and a reason to stay together. They need a place to stay, and ideally they need some equipment.

I kept toying with the idea of making of the mutants bad guys, but I haven't managed it yet. Somehow the bad-guy origins are just not occurring to me. So I thought, I need a whole different class of people to be the bad guys. How about the good old alien invasion? The slow, infiltrative kind.

I had a kooky idea for someone who could be a mentor, and I swear it wasn't entirely inspired by the Royal Canadian Air Farce. See, I remembered how Alpha Flight was sponsored by the government, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau turned up in reference to them at least once. That made me instantly think of another former Prime Minister who is currently more or less based in Calgary--Joe Clark. Now Joe Clark was Prime Minister for less than a year, because of the quaint tradition of the "non-confidence vote" that we inherited from British politics. It's one of the first political events I actually remember, in fact, his getting voted out of office. He returned to politics briefly a few years ago, and won a seat for the Progressive Conservative party in Calgary.

So he'd be perfect! Say that when he was Prime Minister, he was contacted by a member of this alien species, who opposed the conquest of Earth, warning him about it. Maybe he kept it to himself, maybe it's really why he was voted out of office. Anyway, he keeps in contact with the aliens, and eventually manages to broker a deal where the government(which has been dominated by the Liberal Party for years)clandestinely sponsors groups of superheroes. The Air Farce often lampooned him as the goofy "Joe Clark, International Agent", or called him "Joe Clark, the Dan Quayle of Canada". But hey, maybe he was an international agent!*

I was also thinking that this might be first generation of mutants, and maybe the dissident aliens also engineered that somehow, by introducing mutagenic particles or chemicals or radiation or whatever into the atmosphere. Maybe the dissidents are mutants themselves, second-class citizens of this other race. I haven't worked that part out yet.

Maybe this will turn into my NaNoWriMo novel this year. Superheroes in Calgary.

Of course, there will likely be tons more mutants in the rest of the world, too, if I keep to my original premise of one in every million or so people being a mutant. But I could change that(6000 mutants is a lot to keep track of, quite frankly), or downplay it. Or it could even just be Canada that has mutants, for whatever reason. I kind of like that idea.

Anyways, I'm still having fun with the idea, so I'm running with it.

I finished Driving Force, which was a perfectly good but not exceptionally brilliant work from Dick Francis. Now I'm mostly frantically trying to finish the Rebecca Blood book because it's due back at the library tomorrow...but reading it makes me want to blog, so I'm going back and forth.

I'm also reading Douglas Adams's The Salmon of Doubt. I elected to treat it as a nonfiction book, despite the novel fragment at the end--the fiction book I'm really reading right now is Ed Willett's YA-SF Andy Nebula, Interstellar Rock Star. (Hmmm...apparently Ed, an SF Canada member, is quoting me reviewing Soulworm. I remember reading that one, but I don't remember when I posted the comment he quoted. It sounds like me, though...)

Anyway, The Salmon of Doubt is incredibly engaging, and makes one realize how superficially one could judge Douglas Adams based solely on his Hitchhiker's Guide books, even adding Dirk Gently. I feel his loss more keenly on reading this book than I did when it actually happened. Dammit.

I still have to get around to reading as many of the Hugo/Aurora eligible short stories, which are probably online somewhere to facilitate being voted on. The voting deadline is the end of the month, I think, which is only a little over a week away...

Continuing on with the counting down:

306. Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper: Circus Mystery, from Root Hog Or Die

This is one of those rare Skid songs, and probably his best. With atmospheric music, Skid lovingly recounts various symptoms of distress in the circus community, making many bad puns along the way. What is the circus mystery? He never says.

305. OMD: Crush, from Crush

This album is so much more than the two singles, "So In Love" and "Secret". The title track features Andy McCluskey's huskily melancholy vocals in constrat a number of repeating patterns of vocal samples, with lyrics that complain of rain and allude to heartbreak.

'I want you to accompany me on the safari.' 'I've never played one in my life!' --Seagoon & Bloodnok, "The Goon Show"

Aaron // 10:35 PM Clix me!

Thursday, July 17, 2003:

You Were Born, And So You're Free

It was my birthday on Monday. My age? Well, let's just say that I'm into six bits now, and leave it at that.

Pretty low key. I didn't get that many presents, but I didn't solicit them from that many people.

Nicole got me an X-Men book I'd been drooling over in the bookstore the week before. X-Men: The Ultimate Guide or something, a recent edition with passing references to the second movie. I was curious to find out what they had done with the series(singular or plural)after I stopped reading fifteen years ago. But more on that below.

We went out to a movie, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". It was either that one, T3, or "Pirates of The Caribbean". We missed the other two, so LXG it was.

It wasn't too bad. I was neither completely at sea among the numerous literary references, nor puristically outraged at the liberties they took with the source material and characters. Nautilus seemed to do some pretty improbable things, like regularly going into water much too shallow for it, but whatever. It managed some poignancy to it, and the plot twists were neither too obvious nor too contrived.

I've been toying with the idea of going to
LiveJournal, actually. I've been reading Rebecca Blood's book on blogging, and I think that I've gotten myself into a rut blogwise. I can't do short entries anymore. They have to be long. So I don't get anything really spontaneous.

I've got a system, you see. I do my countdown entry, and from the lyrics of the two songs in that entry I draw my title. I can't convince myself that I can write an entry anymore without such a title, or to "waste" a title on an entry that's just the countdown. Or something. That's the obsessive-compulsive side of me. Or perhaps just the hobgoblins of foolish consistency.

I have often seen people who have more than one blog/journal. Sherry has a blog for short entries and a journal for longer entries, both on her own site. TranceJen has a Diaryland site for her journal, and a LiveJournal for quizzes. Zannah has a blog for links, a journal for longer entries, and...something else...for shorter daily entries.

I can see that being able to let things out in short entries would make it less likely for long entries to come out. But then I think, my long entries aren't coming out anyway! So what do I have to lose?

I hadn't realized that LiveJournal had tightened its admissions recently, though. You either have to have an invite from an existing member, or you have to pay. It makes a certain amount of sense. They make the code free, so anyone can start their own LiveJournalesque site with different limitations. It's big enough that it can't be accused of being cliquish.
Getting an invite will hardly be a problem. Last time I checked, at least half a dozen former talk.bizarre folks had LJ sites, and some of them should be kindly disposed towards me. I'll try to put something on my sidebar, at the very least, if and when I get a LiveJournal site.

I've been doing a lot of weird things lately, sort of comic-related.

Rereading my X-Men comics for some reason made me dig out my old Marvel Super-Heroes RPG boxed set. I had this urge to create my own world of mutants, and possibly other heroes as well, and see what happened.

It's hard to create decent characters, of course. I've been mostly rolling them up, and sometimes it doesn't work that well. Not to mention having characters with Strength Feeble(1) and Fighting Excellent(16) or something.

Then, in another fit of geekiness, I decided that I wanted to figure out where my mutants came from. By random means, of course. So what I needed was population tables, the more specific the better.

It's pretty hard to find, and download, the appropriate data from Census web sites, but I managed to find some for Canada, at least, from last year. The entire population of Canada, broken down into cities, counties, towns, or whatever census units they came up with.

I whipped up some code to loop through it, with a 1/1,000,000 chance of every person being a mutant. I quickly discovered that shortcomings of Microsoft Access's pseudorandom number generation. Whatever cycle length it has before the whole sequence of numbers repeats again, it's definitely lower than 38 million. I noticed it because there was a weird cluster of mutants in Calgary, and then another one later on. But I can deal with a cluster of mutants in Calgary.

I know that it's just another project I will never finish...but I enjoy the process more than I enjoy finishing things, really.

Reading the X-Men guide spurred me on, too. One thing I always wanted was to be able to construct an intricately woven storyline like that. Though Nicole says that that is, basically, a soap opera. The X-Men universe comes complete with evil twins/clones, obscure deaths and frequent resurrections, and even children who age offscreen(say, by being sent into the future and brought back as adults).

I confess a certain curiosity to actually read some of the comics from after my time. I also confess that I can't stand most of the modern comic art that I see, though. It all seems to look the same, which makes me wonder who they're all emulating. Art was never the reason I liked a comic book, though. It's hard for me to even pay attention to it sometimes, though I try. For instance, I decided that Paul Smith was one of my favourite artists from the X-Men run, though John Byrne seems to epitomize the characters best.

I took a quick look in at a nearby comic store for back issues. I managed to fill a couple of gaps, #128(the end of the Proteus storyline) and #135(the one where Dark Phoenix destroys a star). When I opened up #135, it seemed like the pages were stuck together...but only for the first half of the issue. Was it stuck? I tugged a little bit, but not too much. Then I happened to notice the problem. It was stapled an inch or two from the spine. In fact, those were the only staples holding it together--the copy had obviously slipped when being stapled, or something.

I took out the staples, but I haven't yet managed to restaple it properly. My stapler isn't deep enough to insert a whole comic page, and without the little curved notch at the bottom of the stapler, the staple won't curve back on itself properly. If I can find two staples and unfold both of them, maybe... I haven't tried to get a discount from the comic store owner, since likely he hadn't noticed.

I've considered going on to reread the New Mutants as well, but I never liked those quite as well, especially the early issues. There's also X-Factor and Excalibur, neither of which I have very much of. But for now I'll hold off.

I finished reading The Years of Rice And Salt. It was fitfully interesting, but started to drag towards the end, IMHO. The fact that you switched characters and plotlines(if any)every hundred pages made it difficult to maintain interest. Though it is nice to see an alternate history with this kind of scope, the lack of character continuity is why they usually don't make good novels. The reincarnation thing also faded out towards the end, as the general culture became more secular, I guess. So, in a nutshell, I don't think it'll be my top choice for the Hugo novel. I'll have to figure that out sometime before the end of the month...

That book took me more than a week, so it was nice to go on to something shorter: the Explorer anthology, edited by Julie Czerneda. This is from a series of SF anthologies aimed at kids, and it's quite short. Five stories, and each of those is under twenty large-print pages. I finished that in about an hour and a half of total reading.

I still want something quick to read, so now I'm 60 pages into Driving Force by Dick Francis. It's not that involving so far, but maybe that's because I was reading it while Simon and Luke were playing in the living room, not a good environment for undivided attention. Nicole, trained from reading on the school bus, can read oblivious to such distractions, but I have no such training. I can read with music in the background, and that's about it.

I'm going to end it here, with another countdown entry. I have sent off an email to a former t.ber on LiveJournal, so hopefully in a day or two I'll get started on there. Hopefully I won't abandon this one entirely...

308. Laurie Anderson: Born, Never Asked, from Big Science

I have a few versions of this song. The version on "Big Science" has a spoken intro followed by what is mostly a violin instrumental, with a few more spoken words. On "United States Live", though, the spoken intro is part of "So Happy Birthday", and the instrumental is called "For A Large And Changing Room", which is a great title IMHO. There is also a version of "Born, Never Asked" proper, without the spoken intro, and with a more drawn-out coda.

But it's mostly the violin music that I like. It's a very dramatic piece, which probably has some synth underpinnings now that I think about it. Anderson was "classically trained"(as they always say)on the violin, I believe, and here you can really tell, because it's exquisite.

307. Happy Rhodes: Runners, from Equipoise

This song, like many of Happy Rhodes's, benefits from the contrast between the upper and lower registers of her voice(so frequently misidentified as "Kate Bush and Annie Lennox"). The chorus, in the lower register, is sinister; the verses, in the upper register, sound sprightlier, but the lyrics have an undertone of menace to them as well. The song is about trying to survive all the dangers of the modern world, and also about worrying about them to the point of paranoia.

Heck's Angels: Born to be Mild.

Aaron // 11:15 PM Clix me!

Tuesday, July 08, 2003:

Run Wild With The Buffalo

See, what did I tell you. July. It wasn't a self-fulfilling prophecy, I swear.

Do I still have any regular readers? There's still the odd click-through from someone linking to me, but half the hits I've gotten since my last post were people searching for that Melanie Doane song. Well, it's not like checking me out daily is likely to be very rewarding.

Things do seem to be improving slightly. Nicole's parents and my dad have come over with reasonable frequency, babysitting and what-have-you, and often doing chores like lawn mowing and washing dishes. Some neighbourhood teens did some mowing for us a few times, for $5 a yard--which is probably sidewalk robbery, but I don't complain too heartily, because it's worth it to me.

Our back yard is getting pretty bad, though. Some of the thistles, especially close to the fence, are now a few feet high. No way I could mow them down now anyway. And there's still tons of dandelions. Maybe when we go to Toronto, and we won't be around for a few days, we could arrange for someone to come and kill all our weeds. The kids will me staying with Nicole's parents, and hopefully not around to eat poisoned plants. Luke is still putting things in his mouth, though not as much as he once did; Simon is not as much of a problem. He might be allergic to clover, too.

Getting someone to do it when we're away might be a bit more of a problem. Maybe I should get my uncle Daryl to do it; he's got a lawn care business, and it'll be easier for me to arrange things. In the short term, we should try to borrow Nicole's dad's weed-eater.

The company I work for has moved offices. Our old office was a little bit too large for our modestly-sized company, and I got the feeling we weren't getting along with the current landlords. Edna had looked into moving a few times, but we always ended up renegotiating our lease instead. Not this time. This time we went through with it.

We're still close to the same place, because Dick & Edna want the office to be within reasonable walking distance of their house. We're now on 124th street, in a five-storey building. We're still settling in, a process which has been complicated by everyone taking turns going on holiday. It might be a month or two before everything's organized and/or unpacked.

We have underground parking now, too, though it's at a different building. There's three close together, you see, and I guess the one parkade is full or something. So while I will still have to venture outside to get to work, the car itself won't have to, say, get brushed off in the winter. And it won't get that sticky tree-leaf stuff on the windshield.

We have a funky little security card like I hadn't seen before. It's plastic and mostly unmarked--no magnetic strip or anything, but there's obviously a heavier core. You wave it close to this sensor which looks like four lights in a square, and somehow it senses the card and turns green. It's all very high-tech.

Not being there when Edna & Janet were picking their parkade stalls, I ended up with the very bottommost, the highest number. It's not even listed on the directions--I'm in 182, and the signs in the stairwell say like "101-133 ->" and "<- 134-181". No 182. It's behind a pillar, and located such that when I come down the ramp to the last level, I basically have to do a 180° turn to the left to get into it. There's not much clearance, either. I supposed I'll eventually get the hang of it.

The first two days I came in, after the move, there was someone parked in the spot, which I guess had been unassigned for a while. So I had to go all the way back up the parkade and then park on the street. And when I saw "on the street", I mean "three blocks away". Property values are pretty high in that area, and a lot of places are "No Parking 8:00-10:00", which discourages the working crowd. There's one street where parking is permitted. Anyway, Edna had a talk to the building manager, and my spot has been free ever since. Which is good, because I don't see how you could possibly tow a car out of it.

Weather has been quite pleasant, at least for me. By that, I mean that we are spared the never-ending sweltering 30+ °C weather, the stifling humidity, and the general uninhabitibility of the upper two stories of the house during the majority of the day. We are also spared the general drought driving up forest-fire risk and making it barely necessary to mow one's lawn unless one is foolish enough to water it(when such is not expressly forbidden).

No, instead we have cloudy days, cool days that are at least around 20 °C, and fairly frequent rain. I think it's raining right now, though it's hard to tell in the basement. I heard a bit of thunder, and, since the baby monitor is still on, I can hear what sounds like rain hitting Simon's window.

That's another benefit of the underground parking--no more sunlight heating up the inside of my car so that even on a moderately sunny day, it's an oven. It's always nice and cool seven levels down(or however many--I haven't counted yet)in the parkade.

Unfortunately, my office window faces east. If it's sunny in the morning, then not only is my office often uncomfortably warm(unless the blinds are closed), but it's too bright. I have to squint at the screen of my computer, or hold up a hand to shade it. This kind of thing is why I really don't like sunlight. As far as I'm concerned, it can be cloudy all day long, or you can just put me underground.

I've been trying to read some of the Hugo and Nebula nominees before Worldcon. I think the voting deadline is the end of July, so I might make it.

I did finish Ties of Power, and I decided that, even though it is an Aurora nominee, I am not going to read the next book in the series, To Trade The Stars. It was just too annoying. Which is really a shame, because I like her Web Shifters series, and the(so-far)standalone In The Company of Others. It's just the Trade Pact books that make me grit my teeth.

Then, as I said, I went on to China Miéville's The Scar. That book took me a long time to read as well, but was a bit more rewarding. Miéville's style is a bit difficult, and his pace is often glacial, but it is almost overcome by the richness and exoticness of the world he builds, especially when it comes to names. Most of the names are based squarely in English(Miéville is British), and yet they still seem exotic. I made a list of ship names from the book--there are quite a few of them, for reasons I won't spoil here--which I'll have to use in Lorenai or something.

It's a book that seems better to me now than it did when I was reading it. A few times I almost winced at the transparentness when the "scar" image kept coming up, and every character had something to say about it. But, in the end, Miéville pulls it off, and he might well get a high Hugo vote from me.

After The Scar I went straight to Harry Potter & The Order of The Phoenix. It took me longer than I meant to get to it. When it came in on the 21st, we were lucky to be home to receive it, since my cousin Tammy's wedding was that day--in Edmonton, luckily. I was still reading Ties of Power, so Nicole got to read it first. And then, on Sunday night, when I had finished my book, Nicole was still reading it...and on Monday morning as well. So I had to pick another book to take with me to work on Monday(The Scar), because...well, I think a lunch break is wasted if I don't have a book to read. And then it took me until the next weekend to finish that one.

I took June 30th off because July 1st is a Canadian holiday--Canada Day, the equivalent to July 4th in the States, even though we did nothing so dramatic as a revolution. We just sent some legislation through the British Parliament, and there we were, our own nation. Anyway, I read the book that weekend. I stayed up until after 1:00 on the night of the 1st(though part of that was a stupid desire to update my
Cygwin installation at 10:30 PM), before Nicole got me to go to bed, with 100 pages left. (Then she had some food poisoning or something and spent some time throwing up, which helped us get lots of sleep...) I finished it in the morning, though.

The book itself? Well, I'd have to say that it was a rip-roaring addition to the Harry Potter œuvre, and now I have to wait for the next one? The level of conflict in the Harry Potter world is definitely escalating, and with any luck there will have to be a bit less sneaking around in the last two books. (And I was right--Harry does get to teach "Defense Against The Dark Arts"! Sort of.) I don't want to spoil it too much for anyone who might happen to read my site, and most people don't need me to give too much background, but suffice it to say: It is worth it to read it now.

From that one I went on to an Aurora nominee, Karin Lowachee's Warchild. This is also a first novel, and in fact a winner of the Time-Warner First Novel Contest. And it's a really good novel, too. It starts with the main character being eight years old, and the things he undergoes from that age onward are often quite harrowing. He has to deal with issues of trust and betrayal on a regular basis, and it's a wonder he doesn't end up more screwed up than he does. An excellent book, and probably deserves whatever awards it can get. (John W. Campbell, at least, and possibly Philip K. Dick, and maybe even the Aurora.)

Now I'm reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice & Salt, which I believe is the last of the Hugo nominees. It's sort of an alternate history--the population of Europe is almost completely wiped out by the Black Plague, so the cultures of Islam and China dominate the world. But while we start with a journey through the fringes of the shattered continent of Europe, it's not a focus of the book. The focus is on the journey of two souls, "B" and "K", who are reincarnated over and over again into different forms and cultures, moving us forward through history but also through their own spiritual development. (Their particular incarnations always happen to have the same first letter, so you can tell who they are...) You get numerous afterlife scenes, which I suppose should technically make the book fantasy, although Stranger In A Strange Land had them too, didn't it?

Not much for nonfiction. I have been reading Rebecca Blood's The Weblog Handbook, in an attempt, perhaps, to rekindle my interest in blogging. There's always other things to do, though, unfortunately.

I have started a project I'd been considering for while, which I'm calling a "Wheel of Time Concordance". It's not really a "concordance", because I believe that to do that I'd have to tally and index every word in Robert Jordan's series, but I am trying to go through the books and painstakingly note down every character's appearance, synopsize the events of each chapter, and generally keep track of things in a systematic way. I'm up to Chapter 9 of the first book, The Eye of The World, and the project is holding my interest.

There's not as much to keep track of in this book, as I recall--not as many ongoing characters introduced, that is, though a lot of history is covered. This is really the first good reread I've given this book, though--I did go through it for my namelist project, but I could skim over whole chapters and just look for proper nouns without reading much more than that. But there's lots of things that have significance to me now, after ten books, that meant little or nothing on first read. Like Rand's dream of Tar Valon as a place of menace, for instance. Which won't mean much to most of you, of course...*

Lots of other projects ongoing too, but with luck I will have time to talk about that before August rolls around.

310. Kate Bush: The Night of The Swallow, from The Dreaming

"The Dreaming" is the most innovative of Kate Bush's albums, but also the least accessible. Her lyrics are often cryptic, and this song is really no exception, but musically it's more listenable than some of the songs, particularly the Irish fiddle sections. It has a real sense of drama, that the characters in the song are getting involved with something they won't be able to handle, though it seems like a simple job, "a hired plane, no names mentioned". You could base a whole movie on what's said and implied in this song.

309. Five Guys Named Moe: She's On A Mountain, from Five Guys Named Moe

I believe this band is pretty obscure, possibly a local Alberta band, and they might not be the only ones to use the name. But I found myself liking this album more and more as I listened to it, and this song in particular. The drums, vocals, and rhythm guitars all combine to propel it forward, and the harmonies make it compelling.

Making your day more daylike.

Aaron // 10:48 PM Clix me!

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