Thursday, April 27, 2006

Foot in mouth disease

me: "So, are you a professor here?"

Beth: "No, I'm a research associate. My supervisor studies Lyme disease, so he goes around collecting ticks all over the state. Then I crush them and extract the DNA."

me: "...


Current Music: Stevie Wonder - Uptight (Everything's Alright)

Monday, April 24, 2006

What's Wang This Week

I've been meaning to do a WWTW for a long time now, but then things keep coming up that are time-consuming, urgent, related to my continued studies at Berkeley, and not all that interesting to write about. I think I have found a solution to this; stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a quick update.

After a three-week absence, the folks over at Homestar Runner have done it again. I give you... Thy Dungeonman III! I almost died at the beginning, because I couldn't find a way to convey "wedge the bone in between the walls like Luke did in the first Star Wars movie in a futile attempt to stop the garbage mashers".

I bought a digital camera on Saturday night off Amazon. I had my decision down between the 4 megapixel Canon Powershot A430 and the 5 megapixel Canon Powershot A530 for only $50 more. I then a) read somewhere that 5 megapixels is too much for normal snapshots, and not enough for more detailed prints, b) realized that $50 on a $150 purchase is, like, 33% of the price. So, in the end, I Did What Jowen Would and bought the cheaper.

I then took the money I saved and applied it to a purchase of a NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: PLATINUM CUT DVD COLLECTION!!! W00T Better yet, it was on sale for half price. I really Did What Jowen Would all over the place.

Why do I keep buying pork rinds?

On a happier food note, I've decided that instant oatmeal is for sissies and I've moved on to buying proper, large, rolled oats and cooking them in the microwave. Difficulty: they keep boiling over the side when I cook them. I've since devised a solution, though: first put in 2/3 of the liquid, then microwave for half the time, then add the rest, and finish microwaving. It's science!

Some of my friends (aided by Brad's endorsement) have become interested in Sloan after my really long post about them that no one actually finished. I spread the good word.

Current Music: Sloan - Penpals

EDIT (12:48PM April 24, 2006): I forgot to mention that I've also switched to brown rice, once again Doing What Jowen Would.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Great albums of 1999, part II

In some cool clips of Sloan from the mid-90s I saw on YouTube, people called them "Canada's answer to the Beatles". Critics always loved them, and rightfully so. Pitchfork said that regardless of their outward guise, be it grunge, 60's pop, or 70's rock, the members of Sloan -- Chris Murphy, Pat Pentland, Jay Ferguson, and Andrew Scott -- are A+ songwriters and there isn't much that can hide that. (Except maybe whatever the fuck they did on Action Pact.)

There doesn't seem to be much agreement on which is their best album. iTunes' review claims that One Chord To Another is their "consensus" best album, yet Chart magazine has twice rated Twice Removed the greatest Canadian album of all time. Meanwhile, amongst my peer group Navy Blues is another popular choice.

They're all wrong, because this is their best album:

In Chris Murphy's words, the "underappreciated" Between the Bridges.

As the dedicated will know, around 1995 Andrew moved to Toronto, effectively breaking up the band. Well, not so effectively, because the next year One Chord came out, and around that time they all moved to Toronto, one by one. Around the time Navy Blues came out, I read a quote from Murphy saying something to the effect of, "I've already written all my 'should I leave Halifax' songs, and now I'm writing my 'why did I leave Halifax?' songs." Between the Bridges is the result.

Before anyone says it, I am aware that this is also the consensus worst-rated and least-loved album in their catalogue. Well fuck that. I will grant you that it does not have a "Money City Maniacs" or a "The Good In Everyone". Indeed, I think they only made one video for their singles off Bridges. The charming lo-fi pop sounds of One Chord and the thumping basslines of Navy Blues gave way to something that, on its surface, is a lot less upbeat, less sing-a-longy, and just... greyer, as reflected by the cover. To make matters worse, it was like their marketing machine had forgotten to do anything. When it came out, I hadn't even had any idea they were working on a new album. Well, how good could it really be? I thought. I picked it up thinking it would be so-so, not great, and after a few listens it'd take a more or less permanent place on the shelf.

Then when I listened to it for the first time I was absolutely 100% rapt. I sat next to the CD player looking at the track times because I was so eager to hear what came next. One after another these songs drew me in. The immediate radio hits were missing, sure, but that isn't to say the melodies are tuneless rock pablum. They aren't; they're big and glorious. It's an evolution of their rocking sound on Navy Blues but leaner and with more focus.

It's not like the songs are all sad and lonely either. Everyone (in Canada that is reading this) remembers "Sensory Deprivation" from all those beer commercials. "Losing California" and "Take Good Care Of The Poor Boy" are two of their finest rockers. "The Marquee and the Moon" was Murphy's trademark wit applied to something deeply emotional and moving, and "A Long Time Coming" is, for my money, one of their best love songs. But these descriptions are glib and could be attached to the best stuff off any of their albums. What sets this one apart is that all of the songs have a certain depth to them that they had never demonstrated before. The grey that is pervasive in the look and sound of the album is intentional, reflecting the confusion of uprooting and the feeling of homesickness. This is an album with a unified purpose, and as such there is an urgency to each one of their songs that isn't on any of their previous albums.

To be fair, I am sure that a lot of why I love this album so much is because when I first heard it I was in grade 12 and about to graduate. I was grappling with the decision of whether to stay at home and go to SFU or to move to Vancouver and go to UBC. I had lived in the same house my whole life and I wasn't sure if I could bear to give it up. This album spoke to my difficulty, and because of that I identify it really strongly with a time and a place. I put on this album and I am sitting at home (home home) next to the stereo on a rainy day, admissions booklets on the desk and the TV on mute.

That alone would be enough to ensure this album a place in my personal pantheon, which makes my decision to not bring this album to Berkeley with me when I moved here really strange. Even before I moved, it had been a while since it had come out so I hadn't listened to it a lot. But I've since retrieved it and it feels even more important to me. I listen to it and I feel like I am hearing, watching, my own life. There is Sloan, sitting outside on a foggy day thinking about home and wondering if they made the right decision to leave. There they are, returning home for a weekend, maybe, going to a place they've been a million times and finding that the records in the jukebox have all been replaced. Wondering if they'll ever fit in with their old friends again. Trying to convince themselves that they had to prove they could manage all by themselves. Getting encouragement from their family, friends, and old mentors. Losing themselves in moments and wishing they could stay. Having a bit of success, but only thinking about what they've lost. Fortifying themselves with a final "we believe in you" from home and plugging forward.

Or is that me doing all that?

Lately I've been playing a lot more music and I got to thinking about writing songs again, but I couldn't think of anything to write about. Then it hit me; maybe I could write about being a Canadian in the US, being surrounded by things that are so similar on the surface but just different enough to sting. I could write about how half of being grown up is wondering what you've lost. I would capture the frustration and confusion of wondering if I would have been better off staying put at UBC. Maybe I could write a whole album! Maybe it would one day be regarded as the great Canadian album about growing up and leaving for bright lights, big city, and the big leagues.

But then I realized that Sloan already wrote it.

Current Music: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Suck My Kiss

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Crawford Era

Is it pretty much understood now that Marc Crawford will be gone after the end of the season? I certainly think he will be, and along with him will be Bertuzzi and maybe Naslund. I personally won't be too sad to see Naslund go, as for the whole last season and the end of the previous season he hasn't been giving off good vibes. This season there have been numerous stories about the problems in the Canucks' dressing room. In particular, I read a report on TSN that said that a player who started the season in the Canucks' lineup (McCarthy?) claimed their problems to be "ten times worse than they appear to be". The way Naslund played definitely supported the rumours (for fuck's sakes, pass to Morrison/Ohlund/Jovo/Salo/Baumgartner/not Bertuzzi, he's open). Now, any hockey fan knows that hockey writers' opinions are a very noisy signal, so to speak, but any statistician knows that as you average them out you tend towards the truth. It's the law of averages!

Anyway, when I look back at the great Canucks teams of recent years that came short in the playoffs, it always comes down to the goaltending. Cloutier was steady in the regular season but didn't seem to flat-out steal a lot of games. Fortunately, he rarely had to. This year Auld carried the team at stretches, but then he reverted back to ordinary, which I assume has something to do with only getting four games off in the last four months. Giving Cloutier the benefit of the doubt, maybe that's what happened to him the last four years.

This has always rankled me, ever since Brian Burke and Crawford came to power. Great as their team may have been, it really seemed like they simply could not handle goalies. Burke was responsible for the acquisition of Felix Potvin, remember. As for Crawford, I have this theory that at any given time in the last five years, either the wrong goalie has been the starter in Vancouver or the backup goalie is unduly getting the shaft. 2001: Dan Cloutier got the start over Bob Essensa in the playoffs. 2003: Peter Skudra had a couple of bad games and Crawford lost all confidence in him -- never mind that Skudra stood on his head to get the Canucks into the playoffs the previous year. 2003: the Canucks pick up Johan Hedberg. I always thought that if you went around the league the majority of coaches would start Hedberg over Cloutier. Hedberg had a string of bad games, probably relating to his broken hand, and just like that Crawford is done with him, causing Hedberg to play even worse. Auld got the nod in the playoffs as soon as Hedberg let in one bad goal.

This year, Auld wins -- well, falls ass-backwards into -- the backup job by virtue of his contract situation. He plays well but peters out, likely due to fatigue. Why did he only get four nights off? His first backup, Maxime Ouellet, has three ordinary games and is finished in Vancouver. His second backup Mika Noronen, yet another Goalie Of The Future, plays one so-so game and is shelved for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Auld falters down the stretch but Crawford continues to go to him, night after night. He was no better than ordinary when I saw him the other night.

This all seems hypocritical of Crawford when you consider all the breaks he's given to Cloutier. Why? I have a theory, which I of course pulled out of my ass because I really don't know hockey enough to be talking about it: Crawford's pre-Canucks NHL career was exclusively with the Nordiques/Avs, where he had to deal with a rather lame tandem of Stephane Fiset and Jocelyn Thibault before they got Patrick Roy, whom Crawford rode to the Cup. I think his mistake was treating Cloutier as if he was Patrick Roy, at the tender age of 26. Maybe he had bad memories of the platoon situation?

Anyway, I really hope that the next coach of the Canucks is ready to give the other guy a chance, dammit, and I'd like to see a backup goalie actually get a fair chance to get hot. Every year a backup goalie rises to prominence and steals the starter's job. For example, Auld seems alright but let's not forget that the previous season in Manitoba he lost his starting job to Wade Flaherty, then 37 years old. I'm not saying that it will happen, but that it could happen and if it did we'd all be really happy about it. Besides, why run Auld into the ground? He's not Patrick Roy either, he's only 25.

Oh, and I hope, if he stays for next year, that Naslund passes to someone else, dammit. Also, that "world renown writer" Kevin Kinghorn sits on his own nuts and faints.

Current Music: Guillemots - Bad Boyfriend

Friday, April 14, 2006

With the convenience fee, I paid $22.50 for that

I also drove, so I didn't get tanked on $7 beers. I decided instead to get a $4.25 jumbo hot dog and $5.25 nachos with that processed cheese goop stuff. In retrospect, I feel that it was just as fitting a metaphor for the Canucks' season.

Anyway, we lost, Edmonton won, the season is a bust. We didn't just lose, we went down like bitches. Perhaps I will bitch more later (because who doesn't want to hear about hockey from someone who can barely skate?) when I'm more coherent and not stuffed full of In-N-Out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

B'oh Canucks B'oh

With tonight's overtime loss, the Canucks are one point out of the playoffs with two games remaining. If Edmonton wins both their games, the Canucks are eliminated. If the Canucks lose both their games, the Canucks are out. If the Oilers win one and the Canucks lose one, the Canucks are out. Understandably, I'm not terribly happy. I'm even unhappier because I happen to be going to the Canucks/Sharks game tomorrow night in San Jose. I bought these tickets months ago, thinking it would be a good game and I'd get to see the Canucks in playoff form ready to feast on an 11th-place Sharks team.

Well, that's not exactly how it's worked out, and now that I am not driving to the game either, I am considering getting absolutely tanked on ridiculously expensive hockey game beers. It will be an allegory of the Canucks' season. I will start out drinking beers that are decent but not quite worth the money. As time goes on, I will switch to Bud Light -- probably after the first intermission -- and then just after the second intermission, things will look up for me and I will drink one more decent beer. After that, though, things will go to shit and I'll be sitting there stupidly drinking $9 Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Now, I know that $9 is way too expensive for beer, but fuck off, the Canucks might miss the playoffs.

On the other hand, it's at least two hours on the train back to Berkeley, and that's a long time to have to take a leak, so I may have to tone it down some.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Jim pointed out to me yesterday that I neglected to mention Sloan among the bands that represent Canada to me. This is borderline inexcusable, as Sloan is my favourite Canadian band ever. I recently ripped all seven of their albums so I could put them on my iPod and I can't stop listening to One Chord To Another, Twice Removed, and Navy Blues. I decided to look on YouTube for some videos.

I wasn't disappointed. Take a look at this:

What a great song that was. I remember seeing it all the time on MuchMusic. It feels like it was yesterday.

Well, it wasn't.

It was ten years ago.


Current Music: Sloan - The Lines You Amend

Monday, April 10, 2006

Random quotes from my past, provided without context #36


-- Jim Dinning

Current Music: Barenaked Ladies - Shoebox

Haven't you always wanted a monkey?

I have a theory that if you reside in Canada for one calendar year, odds are better than 80% that you will hear "If I Had $1000000" by the Barenaked Ladies at least once. Even if you only casually channel surf past MuchMusic or MuchMoreMusic, you might still hear part of it. Failing that, it may well appear on at least one commercial for a non-profit organization on CTV or Global. Then there's specials on Bravo!, various specials on Showcase and the Comedy Network, &c. Suppose you don't even have a TV. There's still parties, outdoor carnivals and fairs, and of course radio. Now, I've only lived in and around the Lower Mainland so I can't really attest to other areas, but I imagine that you'd be just as likely to hear them in the Prairies, and even more likely to hear them out East. Maybe not in the Territories, though.


I don't know how popular the earlier Barenaked Ladies stuff is in the US (that is, everything before that live version of "Brian Wilson"), but I assume not at all. I've always been amused that Americans really started to latch onto them only when they were well past their prime. Remember "Enid"? Remember "Jane"? "Be My Yoko Ono"? If I'm correct, the Canadians are thinking Of course! while the Americans are thinking Wha? I liked "One Week".

Hearing this stuff again really stirs some memories. About a year and a half ago I had, for the first time in my life, a real, strong urge to listen to the Tragically Hip. I realized that it had been three months since hearing any Hip, and that is probably the longest I'd ever gone in my life without hearing "50 Mission Cap". The stuff had really wormed its way into my brain; it apparently is deeply entwined in my upbringing. It's the same with this early Barenaked Ladies stuff. These songs, along with all sorts of other weird and wonderful (?) gems by Glass Tiger, I Mother Earth, Ashley MacIsaac, the list goes on, represent something very peculiarly Canadian. A lot of it, I would think, would never fly on American radio.

And that's a damn shame.

Current Music: BNL - If I Had $1000000

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Perhaps I should just accept my stupidy

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unfortunately it also seems to make the brain grow duller. Yesterday I was trying to put together a combinatorial formula for the Fed Ex of Funk and I fucked it up. Today I spent about two hours trying to figure out a "really easy" exercise, then cursing my professor for labelling it as such, then kicking myself when I finally got it. (It really was easy.) I think Spring Break has made me stupid.

Or maybe it's just that I'm getting dumber as I age. When I was younger I was such a promising mathematician. Now, I might be if I could remember half the stuff I learned two years ago. This feeling drives me to think that I should instead spend my time sharpening other skills, like songwriting, guitar playing, internet humour-ing, and cooking. I've gotten in touch with my old English teacher and it's reminded me what it was like to not be known solely as a math/CS/stats student. It was so much more fun being known as "the guitar guy". If I'm just getting book-stupider as I get into my mid-20s, why not give up in the brain game and join a band?

Then again, I met an undergrad at the bus stop yesterday who was sharpening ninja stars that his roommate had sent back from Japan. (Damn, Americans take that whole right to bear arms shit seriously.) He said, "We're just looking to have some fun with them, you know." And then I think, "Wow, I would never do that." And then I remember, "Yeah, I probably would have at his age." Maybe I'm not getting stupider.

And so I guess I'll go to class tomorrow.

Current Music: Eisley - Plenty of Paper

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

One of these days I'll remember what it means

Reading Dr. McNinja a few days ago, I encountered my old foe Deus ex machina. No matter how many times I look it up, I never remember what it means.

Fortunately, in today's day and age, I can always just Wikipedia anything I don't understand. Quoth the article:

In modern terms the Deus ex machina has also come to describe a person or thing that suddenly arrives and solves a seemingly insoluble difficulty. While in storytelling this might seem unfulfilling, in real life this type of figure might be welcome and heroic.

You don't say.

So if a couple of years ago I said, "Man, I wish I knew what 'Deus ex machina' meant, but am nowhere near anyone literate," and then Wikipedia became popular, I guess that would have been a Deus ex machina. And now my world is a little richer.

Current Music: XTC - Go 2
Current seemingly insoluble difficulty: Gosh, I sure am hungry right now.
Current really seemingly insoluble difficulty: World hunger

Saturday, April 01, 2006

LUGsWang: The Unpleasant Obligation to Blog

Yammer yammer Dunning yammer yammer Math Club yammer yammer Get Flash Player yammer yammer thanks Graham