Canadian Yankee
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.

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