Canadian Yankee
Friday, January 16, 2004
Open Sesame!
N.B.: This post is inspired by a recent post on this man's blog, which was inspired by a recent post on this man's blog.

When I was in college, I lived in the University Scholars Program dorm (i.e., the geek dorm). Unlike most dorms on campus, which were divided up into named "houses" (which is supposed to build community I guess; instead of just living on the third floor, you could live in "Cumberland House"), we were divided up into numbered "suites". For three years, I lived in what was officially called "Suite 2". Yay.

Our RA's apparently decided that they wanted to get in on some of this community-building goodness, so each suite got to give itself an unofficial name. After some discussion, we boys of Suite 2 came up with the name "Sesame Suite". And there was much rejoicing (I told you we were the geek dorm). Eventually, we all had Sesame Suite t-shirts complete with a custom coat-of-arms featuring a silhouetted snufalufagus repassant (need I mention the "geek dorm" thing again?).

Some time in my third year, there were rumors that the university was going to abandon our numbers and give our suites official names. Our RA wrote to the housing office with a formal request to have our offical name be "Sesame Suite". We received a completely humorless reply saying that all residential suites and houses on campus had to be named after either counties Pennsylvania (and these were all taken already) or trees indigenous to the state of Pennsylvania. If we could offer evidence that the sesame tree was indeed indigenous to the state of Pennsylvania, then they might consider our request.

We pretty much gave up on it at that point, but apparently the next year (after I had moved out), someone had either discovered an old-growth forest of sesame trees somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania or the housing office had given up on their Pennsylvanian-county-or-tree requirement. I was back visiting my old suite and couldn't help but notice the University-provided labels proudly proclaiming this part of the dorm as "Sesame House".


Thursday, January 15, 2004
An Open Letter to a Certain Two Guys Who Were at the Gym Last Night, You Know Who You Are:

Dear Twinsies,

The only possible situation in which it is acceptable to wear a shirt identical to your workout partner's is when you are both members of the same sports team. "Abercrombie Gym Issue" is not a sports team.

Note that if A&F has whimsically attached the number "92" to the back of said shirts to make them more closely resemble sports team uniforms, the fact that you both are player number 92 makes you look particularly ludicrous.

Please dress more carefully in the future, otherwise the thin bonds of social convention may not be strong enough to restrain me from walking over and barfing all over you during the middle of your bench press sets. I somehow found forebearance last night - next time you might not be so lucky.

Thank you for your attention,
A Concerned Citizen
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Philosophical Zoning Ordinances
I work in a neighborhood commonly known as "clubland" because of its unusually high concentration of nightclubs (more on that in another entry to come). Anyway, it seems that at any given time, at least one of these nightclubs has its operating license temporarily suspended for one reason or another: overcrowding, illcit substances, underage drinking, or that most bizarre of Toronto bylaws, allowing people to carry alcoholic beverages into the restroom (yes, this is prohibitied in Toronto).

Anyway, today I noticed that a nearby club had been shut down for two weeks. The reason given was, "Exceeding the lawful capacity of the premise [sic]".

This sounds more like a philosophical violation than anything else to me. In fact, I'd really like to be able to give out this citation myself: "I'm sorry, Mister Ayn-Rand-Worshipper, but while your idea that government should not control every aspect of our lives is a good one, I'm afraid that your insistence that any law governing the disposal of toxic waste is tantamount to Stalinism has exceeded the lawful capacity of your premise. You are hereby ordered to pay a fine of $300, and you must wear a large nametag stating 'I am not the main character in a Robert Heinlein novel' at all times for the next two weeks."

I think that philosophical zoning ordinances are a must-have. They've been added to my list of executive orders that will be issued after I have been appointed Empress of the Known Universe.

Prepare yourself accordingly.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Bad Trip
Last week, on one of the very last days of 2003, I was working out at the gym and something went snap down near the bottom of my ribcage. I originally assumed that I had pulled a muscle, but it really didn't feel quite right and when it didn't seem to hurt any less one week later, I went to my doctor to make sure I hadn't seriously broken something. He poked and prodded a bit and said that no internal organs seemed to be damaged and assured me that an actual broken rib was very unlikely, meaning that the source of my pain falls into that nebulous category of "soft-tissue injury". This basically means that I've been encouraged to sit around in warm baths a lot and I was issued a prescription for "Tylenol No. 3" (which is the Tylenol that's filled with the creamy goodness of codeine).

Now comes the part where I was really stupid. I went back to the gym yesterday for a light workout since I've just started the one-week trial period at a new gym and I wanted to really try it out before I get stuck in a non-refundable one-year contract. I figured that I couldn't hurt myself too much more if I took it easy, but I did in fact end up straining my injury and putting myself in more pain. I ended up taking two Tylenol #3's at about 8:30 PM, and then two more when I woke up in pain at 2 AM. This did not exceed the recommended dosage (1 or 2 pills every 4-6 hours), but it probably was a little more than was completely wise considering that my body weight is a good two standard deviations or so below average.

I woke up again at about 3 AM in really strange state of mind. If I concentrated, I could be completely lucid, but if I let my mind wander, I would drift off into a strange fantasy land dominated by thoughts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the nineteenth-century suffragette and Temperance Union agitator (no, this is not exaggeration or humorous absurdity - I really, honest-to-God, lay in bed last night with the name "Elizabeth Cady Stanton" echoing through my head over and over again). Why Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I have no earthly idea, but I really had been given the understanding that opium dreams were supposed to be a little more, um, voluptuous than Victorian-era social scolds bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to Winston Churchill.

I discovered from a bit of googling today that Lizzie-Cady (if I may call her that) sought to undermine not only the manufacture and sale of the Demon Rum, but also hoped to see the end of the opium trade. Perhaps she is now continuing this crusade from beyond the grave (Ooo-oo-ooo!), which would explain last night's visitation from the Ghost of Temperance Past. If so, her strategy is working - I'm definitely restricting myself to only a single pill every six hours.
Friday, December 12, 2003
Why Should Firefighters Have All the Fun?
For a few years now, fire departments all over North America have been raising money for charity by posing shirtless for beefcake calendars. I think I've heard that New York started the trend, but Toronto has its own as well. Of course, Toronto has to exude that typically Canadian touch-feely image of We Are a Diverse Mosaic of Mosaic-like Diversity, so the 2002 calendar featured, as Mr. June, the Toronto FD's only open-gay fireman; and this year's Toronto calendar even includes a woman (not shirtless), as if to definitively prove that "firefighter" is preferable to "fireman".

I must say, the Toronto calendar is much artsier (in that almost-soft-core-gay-porn, coffee-table photography book kind of way) than its New York counterpart, which reminds me of a high school yearbook, only shirtless. Toronto's FD calendar doesn't title their photos, but I can't help but imagine titles like, "Look! I am artistically posed with a large, phallic piece of equipment in front of European-style arch", or maybe "Behold my manly spray!", or even "No, this is not a complete and total rip-off of a Herb Ritts photograph, why do you ask?" Full set of images here.

Um, I seem to have gotten distracted. Where was I going with all this?

Oh, yes! "Why should firefighters have all the fun?"

It seems that some Italian photographer decided that anything firefighters can do, priests can do just as well! Thus we have the Calendario Romano. Admittedly, none of them are shirtless and some of them are wearing those funny Father Guido Sarducci hats; but what they lack in airbrushed and over-pumped artifice, they more than make up for in smoldering Mediterranean magnetism. Father May is my particular favorite - I like the intellectual look of those glasses (which look to be Kazuo Kawasaki designer specials - not exactly cheap LensCrafter specials; I guess even vows of poverty come in second to fashion sense when you're in Italy).

On the English language site, there's a quote from the photographer: "The priests are young and good looking, but that doesn't make them sex symbols. That depends on the imagination of the viewer." Uh huh. As if the March photo couldn't have been taken directly from the "backstory" part of some Falcon International video (you know, those bits you always fast forward through where the actors still have their clothes on).
Monday, December 08, 2003
Buddy, can ya spare a 10-cent piece?
There's a lot of buzz out there on the blogosphere about a possible plan to put Reagan's picture on the dime. Nancy Reagan is against it, so I don't think it'll go very far and I'll waste no more words on the Gipper dime. However, now that we're actually talking about changing our coinage, I have a modest suggestion: why not put a 10 somewhere on the dime? When I was in Japan, I was sooooo glad the 10 yen coins had the number 10 on them, otherwise I would have been completely lost. I couldn't help but think how annoying it would be for a Japanese visitor to the U.S. trying to figure out what the hell "ONE DIME" means. I understand that even the English are terribly confused by this labelling when they first see it.

In fact, why don't I just rank all the coins in circulation, from most usefully labelled to least, along with a letter grade.

This is a mostly good label - it says exactly what it is: one dollar. The dollar doesn't earn an A though for two reasons: (1) it requires you to know the English word "one", where a "1" would have been more internationally recognizable; and (2) judging from the look you get from most cashiers when you hand them a dollar coin, they'd rather that you paid in rodent droppings.

Like the dollar, these coins say what they are; and, like the dollar, they'd could be impoved by replacing words with numerals ("1" or "5"). They get a lower score though because their common names ("penny", "nickel") are completely different from their labels. Most Americans could figure out what you meant if you asked them for a "five-cent piece", but they'd look at you funny.

Well, it's sorta-good that they do say what they are: two half-dollars make a dollar, as do four quarter-dollars. On the other hand, they seem to harken back to that quaint time before the U.S. monetary system was decimalized and people used ha'dollars, shillings, and sixpence. Of course, the fact that a non-decimalized U.S. monetary system never existed just makes this stupid, stupid, stupid. (In a similar vein, anyone who refers to one-eighth of a dollar as a 'bit' - which comes from the old Spanish colonial peso, not any U.S. coinage - deserves to have "two bit" pieces stuffed up their nose until they start coming out their ears.) We have a decimal currency system here, is it too much to ask for a "25" and a "50" on the appropriate coins?

This is worse than stupid; it's actively hostile to foreigners. Unless you do some sort of Latin etymological study of that funny word, "dime", there's no way for you to know that this is one tenth of a dollar, or ten cents. The size of the coin doesn't even give you a hint. It's bigger than a one-cent piece, but smaller than a five-cent one, so it must be worth, ummm...two cents? That even makes a sort of sense etymologically: "di-" is a prefix meaning "two", so I guess a "dime" is two cents. See how confusing it is?

Really, America must be one of the very few nations on the planet that doesn't have numerals on its coins - it's certainly the only major tourist destination that doesn't. And it's an example of Americans' typical isolationism that so many of them have never really noticed it. Any American in Germany would indignantly protest a coin simply labeled "Fünftel DM" (one-fifth of a Deutschmark), yet we've been printing coins with "Quarter Dollar" and "One Dime" on them for ages without thinking twice.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Le Père Noël Est Mort
Apparently, this past Sunday saw the annual Christmas Parade (le grand défilé de Noël) in Laval, Quebec (a major suburb of Montreal). Unfortunately, shortly after the parade began, Santa Claus fell off his float and landed on his head. Eventually, the unconsious and bleeding personification of holiday giving had to be carted off in an ambulance as countless crying children looked on.

Um, wow. The child psychiatrists of greater Montreal stand to make a bundle this month.

Of course, there is a bright side. If parents want to save some money this year, they can just tell their kids, "Sorry guys, no presents this year. Santa's dead." That way they can afford those expensive therapy sessions for their poor traumatized enfants petits.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Superluminal Genitalia
I get lots and lots of unsolicited email from people who, despite never having met me, seem inordinately concerned with the size of know. Most of these people seem to have only the most superficial acquaintance with the English language - and I'm not just referring to the obvious spam-trap evasiveness ("en l arge your pen1s n0w!"). My favorite malapropism used to be "At last, the solution to the problem of penis enlargement!" (I thought that penis enlargement was meant to be the solution, not the problem.)

That was until I started getting the enticing come-on, "Do you want a massive penis?" My immediate response is, "My penis already possesses the quality of mass, thank you very much," but it does raise the intriguing possiblity that somewhere out there are guys with massless penises. This is even weirder than it sounds at first because basic particle physics tells us that any massless object must travel at the speed of light at all times. How do these guys buy a pair of pants that fits?

Of course, if there are guys with speed-of-light-travelling thingies, it's just a short conceptual leap to imagine guys with naughty bits constructed entirely of tachyons (that is, particles that travel faster than the speed of light). The mind boggles.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
The Old Man and the C:\
When you're in your mid-thirties and working in the software industry, you can't help but look around yourself at some point and realize that you're definitely above the median age in your office. Generally, I find being "old" in this industry to be a good thing, since many of these young whippersnappers just out of college can't code their way out of a paper bag. In particular, I know I'm better than any of them at writing fast code because when I was a grad student (back when we had coal-fired computers and those gigantic dot-matrix line printers with the fanfold, green-striped paper and cuneiform as one of their standard fonts), I was writing numerical analysis stuff that had to be run on big government Crays where we rented time by the CPU second. This means that I'm the one who gets to write the computational guts of our products (which are usually the most opaque and knowing how they work is excellent job security), where speed still matters. The fact that most compsci graduates these days have the math skills of a retarded stoat doesn't hurt my job security either.

However, there's nothing that makes me feel more like a geezer than talking with my co-workers about computer games. I do love games, but the ones I love are things like the Myst series (the next chapter,
Uru, just came out this weekend) and that granddaddy of all turn-based strategy games, Civilization (the newest chapter of this series, Conquests, also just came out - I'm in the middle of an days-long game in the "Fall of Rome" scenario - my Anglo-Saxon horde has successfully helped to topple both the Roman and Byzantine empires but the evil Vandals, once my closest allies, have ambushed me and I've had to bribe all the other Germanic barbarian tribes to join me in punishing them, but I digress). My younger colleagues spit on such games. They need adrenaline, excitement and realistically rendered explosions and/or splatters of blood. I need a game that engages me mentally, but is slow enough that I can watch TV at the same time.

I can't even say that I like girly games, becase my female gaming co-worker at least likes real-time strategy games (Starcraft, etc.), which are far less wussy than my comfortable turn-based games.[*]

My favorite games are worse than girly games - they're old lady games.

[*] For those of you who don't know the difference between real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy (TBS) games, TBS games are like an old-fashioned board game. You and your opponents (whether other humans or computer AI players - I generally prefer to play against the computer) each get a turn, one after another, to move any or all of their pieces. While one player is having his turn, no one else gets to do anything, so speed and reaction times are totally irrelevant. RTS games, on the other hand, are the ones where there's a clock ticking in the background - they're meant to imitate sports or battles or something like that where, if you sit around and do nothing, your opponents will run up and whack you in the head. Compared to RTS games, TBS games are little more than glorified solitaire, but I like glorified solitare. I can (and do) play glorified solitaire for hours. Sometimes my cat comes and sits in my lap while I'm playing glorified solitaire (your cat would never sit in your lap if you're playing a first-person shooter game like Half-Life because you're moving around too much to be a comfortable cat-seat). All I need is granny glasses and knitted shawl, and my transformation into antiquated geezer will be complete.

Monday, November 17, 2003
Evan Kirchhoff is a Canadian living in California. This weekend he writes that, despite his eight years in the U.S., he just doesn't understand why "a third-tier holiday ranking somewhere below St. Patrick's Day on the natural order of things has somehow been elevated to a status on par with Christmas in this country."

Yes, Virginia, there is a Thanksgiving in Canada, but it's not the same Thanksgiving I grew up with. Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, and is generally treated like any of those other interchangeable three-day-weekend holidays. Imagine Presidents Day without all the pomp and pageantry.

This means that Canadians don't make vast migrations across the continent to have dinner with their extended family. They don't send each other Hallmark-produced Happy Thanksgiving cards featuring the Love Is... children, one wearing a pilgrim hat and the other one wearing an Indian war bonnet, having a turkey dinner together ("Love is...cranberry sauce in the nude"). They don't cover the windows of their elementary schools with moppet-produced happy turkeys created from the cut-out paper outlines of moppet-hands. They don't show "Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving from the staff and management of WABX channel 43" public service messages on every TV station every seven minutes for the entire week before Thanksgiving. Most of all, they don't assume that everyone with a penis wants to spend an entire Thursday afternoon and evening watching college football.

The first Canadian Thanksgiving I experienced was a little weird. I expected my neighborhood to pretty much empty out, since gay ghettos are largely populated with people who grew up Somewhere Else (and this is even more the case for gay ghettos within spitting distance of large universities). It didn't, because Canadians just don't go Somewhere Else for Thanksgiving. More people left my neighborhood during Montreal's Gay Pride than left during Canadian Thanksgiving. And if you asked a Canadian why he didn't "go home" for Thanksgiving, he'd give you the same uncomprehending stare you'd get from an American if you asked him why he didn't pay $450 to sit for three hours in an economy class airline seat just for the privilege of celebrating Arbor Day with all his least favorite second cousins.

In the end, I find that I don't miss American Thanksgiving. It's located inconveniently close to Christmas, which is annoying for (at least) two reasons:

  1. If you tend to sing in an amateur chorus that puts on a big Christmas show (as I have done for the past eight years or so), you end up with everyone leaving town or being otherwise unavailable for an entire week just one or two weeks before opening night. This sucks because that's about the time when everyone is realizing that no one know any of the music or choreography and we really need to buckle down and do some extra rehearsals.

  2. There's your Great-Aunt Mabel - you know, the barely coherent, anachronistically racist, and offensive-odor-producing great-aunt - the one about whom your mother says, "Yes, dear, I know she's not always a nice person, but she's family and God only knows that she may not have many months left on this earth and this may be your last chance to see her before she ... passes on." Well, you can proabably tolerate her once a year - maybe even once every six months - but the dread timing of American Thanksgiving combined with its mandate of family togetherness means that you have to put up with the flatulent old hag twice in the span of a month.

It's often said in the U.S. that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the most psychologically stressful time of the year. I don't doubt that being exposed to your entire extended family and/or family-in-law twice in a period of four weeks is a big part of this stress. Great-Aunt Mabel and Great-Aunt Mabel II: The Fartening is just more than anyone should have to deal with, especially with the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder and all those other climactic messages that tell our animal hindbrain that it's time to retreat from the world and go into hibernation. It's no wonder people figure it's the end of the word as they know it and off themselves in numbers unmatched at any other time of the year; and it's no wonder that Canadians seem to be more mellow without the twice-in-one-winter family gather-a-thon.

One final thing I've noticed about Canadian Thanksgiving. For all the casualness and "oh, it's just a third-rate holiday; I don't know what you Merkins are so excited about," all you have to do to get a Canadian to passionately defend this holiday is mention "Canadian Thanksgiving" and "Real Thanksgiving" in the same sentence. Hoo boy, are you in for an earful! And if there's beer involved, expect it to get around to, "And we burned down your White House, so there!" within about four minutes.

Friday, November 14, 2003
Not Shopping
Don't you hate it when you're supposed to buy something but completely forget? I was supposed to buy a red feather boa during my lunch break today, but completely forgot. Now I have no boa and I'm going to have to make a special trip tomorrow.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
The Matrix Revulsions
Yes, I promised daily blogging, and yes, I broke that promise as expected when I left for the weekend and then found it hard to get back to blogging again. But this time I'm in town until at least Christmas, and we finally got past our big deadline at work, so I'm back to daily blogging again.

On Tuesday night, I went to see The Matrix Revolutions. Bleah. I suppose many people will go to see it like I did to see the "end" of the story (scare quotes because the movie definitely leaves an opening for a sequel or three). I can advise you not to see it because maybe ten minutes of it didn't suck, but I know you're going to see it anyway. My advice: bring along a good book and an Itty Bitty Book Light. Once you get past the ten minutes that don't suck (you'll know when it happens - it's about fifteen minutes into the movie and doesn't involve Keanu Reeves in any way, shape, or form), you can read your book and not miss much at all.

(Note: if you enjoy stilted, improbable dialog, painfully shallow glosses over major chunks of religious philosophy, and action scenes that are so frantically edited that you can't tell who is shooting at what, then ignore my advice - you've found the movie of your dreams.)

Update: My favorite review of this piece of poo I've seen so far, courtesy of The Self-Made Critic.
Friday, October 10, 2003
Tigers and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
The past week or two has apparently been dedicated to proving that humans are not at the top of the food chain after all.

First there was the guy in New York City who had a pet tiger (I had no idea that any NYC apartments were large enough for a tiger, let alone a tiger and an alligator!) that bit his leg.

Then of course there was Roy of Sigfried and Roy who was mauled by one of the tigers in their act. I've read different things about this event - some people think that something scared the tiger and it was just trying to protect Roy by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and dragging him to safety like a mother cat would do for its kitten; others think the tiger was going for a killing blow to the jugular.

Finally, we have the environmental activists who went to Alaska to live among the bears, but ended up being eaten by them instead.

Mother Nature can be one mean bitch.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
The Mark of the Geek
Today in email I almost used the phrase "meatspace coordinates" (to mean home mailing address). I stopped myself just in time - but still, that would seem to be a big warning sign of terminal geekitude. The only thing I could do to wash away this horrible stain was to go clothes shopping during lunch. Nothing cancels out geekery like a little bit of shallow physical narcissism. Now I not only feel a little less like a geek, but I also got a cute new pair of corduroy pants.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Okay, now it's been almost a month since my last post. I guess I'm going to have to make a pledge that I hoped wouldn't be necessary. I hereby promise to blog at least once every day, even if it's inane drivel. Hopefully, I can commit to this schedule, at least until this weekend when I leave for a three-day visit to New York City.

So, why haven't I been blogging? Here's the list:

But now I have a working computer at home, a working connection at work, and it's getting so close to our release date that only minor changes are being authorized on my project, so I'll have no excuses to avoid a daily entry here. Stay tuned.

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