Saturday, December 31, 2005

Since I'm sitting here I might as well make what's probably my last post of the year. Thanks to everyone who has visited here this year. Hopefully 2006 will be a better year for everyone than 2005, no matter how good 2005 has been.

Friday, December 30, 2005

As I was out and about today I saw two examples of stupidity. One was some kid riding his bike inside a shopping mall. He had to be told at least three times to get off his bike by someone from mall administration. You'd think anyone over the age of 5 would realise that bike riding isn't allowed in malls. Then there was the joker who tried to get on a bus with yesterday's bus transfers. He tried to claim he was just given them by another bus driver, but the driver on the bus I was on wasn't buying it. I later overheard some discussion over the bus radio system about someone who might have been the same guy.

Sometimes I wonder about the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. One of today's front page stories was a list of psychic predictions. Hardly the kind of thing that should be on the front page of a non tabloid. As is usually the case with such predictions they were a mismash of nonsense, sure bets, and deliberate vagueness. For example its not hard to predict that Kirk Douglas might die in the next year given that his health isn't what it once was and he'll be turning 90 next year. I'll make my own "psychic" prediction. The Star Phoenix won't publish a followup article this time next year detailing how many of the predictions they printed did not happen. On the other hand there are some people keeping track of failed predictions.

The former Hudsons Bay store at 23rd St. and 2nd Ave. in Saskatoon is currently being converted into condos. Unfortunately one of the casualties of the conversion is the mosaic on part of the building. Consisting of various coloured geometric shapes much of it has already been cut away to make way for the installation of windows. I would imagine the rest will be removed or painted over in due course. Its too bad this couldn't be preserved, but I'm definitely glad to see this project go ahead. Unfortunately nothing is happening with the old King George Hotel across the street, and the longer it stays unrenovated the more likely it is that it will have to be torn down. It would be a shame, as more condos is a much better thing for downtown than yet another parking lot.
Its interesting how much difference a name can make. I had lunch with my grandmother on Thursday at the retirement home she lives in. The first choice on the menu was sauerbraten, German roast beef. Apparently though most people had no clue what it was, as they chose the alternative, roast pork. In fact so many people chose roast pork that they ran out of it. If they had simply called the sauerbraten roast beef I'm sure most of the clientle would have chosen it instead.

There was a young man at the next table visiting his grandfather. He actually ordered the large serving of whatever it was he had. Yet the only thing he seemed to eat was the meat. Most odd.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The visitor count here sure has gone up in the last few days. Thanks to everyone who dropped in, and I hope some of the new visitors will come back.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Yes, another quick post. I was just checking out the recent hits for the blog and got a nice little nostalgic surprise. I received a hit from someone looking at the Radio Netherlands Media Network blog. Media Network is a long running Radio Netherlands program that deals with international and other forms of broadcasting. Back when I listened to a lot of shortwave radio in the early '90s I was a regular listener to the program, so its neat to get a visitor via their blog. Someday, I've said more than once, I'm going to have to try and see if I can start listening again. Unfortunately my listening has long been hampered by the noise level in the house, much of which comes from having the computer on.
Regular visitors to this blog have probably noticed the Firefox browser download icon I've recently added. Looking at the visitor statistics for this site indicates that they've got a long way to go in attracting users. Visitors using Firefox are a distant second to those using Internet Explorer in some form. Of course this is really no surprise given that most computers in use these days use some form of Windows, and IE comes with Windows. A user will in most cases have to deliberately decide to use another web browser, and this isn't an option for those who access the Internet via public terminals or systems supplied by their employers.

Monday, December 26, 2005

There was a personal irony for me in reporting Derek Bailey's death. Today I purchased Extrapolation, John McLaughlin's first album under his own name from 1969. The drummer on it was Bailey collaborator Tony Oxley. Incidently if you're a fan of late '60s jazz or McLaughlin check this one out. Saxophonist John Surman gets plenty of solo time, and in at least one place sounds to my ears a bit like Pharoah Sanders.
Sad news to report. Guitarist Derek Bailey has apparently died in London at age 75, although some reports state he died in Barcelona. Bailey began playing guitar at a young age and eventually became a professional musician playing in various conventional contexts. By the early '60s his playing began to move away from conventional forms. Initially playing contemporary jazz the trio Joseph Holbrook, which also included younger musicians Tony Oxley and Gavin Bryars, eventually became one of the first groups to play what became known as free improvisation. Bailey developed what he called a non idiomatic form of playing that was unique to itself, and would go on to play with numerous musicians of various genres, as well as extensive stints of solo playing and collaborations with dancers like Japanese Butoh dancer Min Tanaka and tapdancer Will Gaines. Despite his comment about having little interest in recorded music Bailey released numerous albums in his lifetime, his last being this year's Carpal Tunnel on John Zorn's Tzadik label. He also ran the Incus label which chronicled the free improv scene, and whose fate is likely in jeopardy given his death.

Bailey's playing isn't for everyone. To many what he does sounds like random noises strung together. But for those whose ears can hear it there is melody there, just not the kind of melody you're likely to hum walking down the street on a sunny day.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

I was outside a few minutes ago unplugging some Christmas lights. After I did I decided to look up at the sky for a couple of minutes. Imagine my surprise when I saw a meteor streak across the sky. Its neat when something like that happens completely by chance. If I'd gone out even a little bit later I probably would have missed it.
It may be Christmas Day, but the con artists are still at work. I've checked my e-mail a couple of times today, and the fake eBay messages and so forth continue. I guess they don't want to miss a single chance at ripping someone off.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Have a Merry Christmas everyone.
Its Christmas Eve, and for many today will be one of panic, perhaps even all out terror. These are the people who have left their Christmas shopping until today. I'm not talking about people buying incidentals, like buns for tomorrow's turkey supper. (You'd better not be thinking about buying turkey today, you'll probably get the bottom of the barrel.) I'm talking about folks who will buy all their presents today. As a result they'll be forced to brave massive crowds desperately hoping they can finally find the presents they need, that they're not sold out. Indeed some will still be trying to figure out exactly what they are going to get people. And is often the case when large numbers of frantic people are out and about the stupidity quotient will likely go up, driving store clerks everywhere up the wall with stupid requests and childish behaviour. Of course this probably isn't the worst day of the year for Canadian retail employees. In much of the country that will be December 26th, Boxing Day, when stores have massive sales and hence bargain hungry consumers descend en masse in a frenzy, their common sense overriden by the need to buy that 39 buck DVD player or what have you. Not to mention the dumdums who just can't get it through their heads that most places will not be taking returns that day.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Looks like its bad news for James Bond fans, at least in Saskatchewan. If you watch Spike TV you've probably seen lots of ads for their "8 Days of Bond" Christmas marathon. But what are we seeing at the moment? Not Bond, but episode after episode of VIP. No doubt its some sort of rights conflict, with some Canadian station having rights to the Bond films in the Canadian market at the moment, but its still annoying.
Weird. I'm suddenly popular in Ireland apparently, as the last few hits have all come from Ireland. Well, okay, its not me, its Megas XLR pron that's generating the hits. Naughty naughty!
Wal Mart in Canada is trying an experiment. Until 6 pm on Christmas Eve 9 Wal Mart stores will stay open 24 hours a day. One of them is the Saskatoon Preston Crossing outlet. Personally I doubt Saskatoon is currently a good market for the idea. There aren't enough shift workers who would be interested in shopping at 2 in the morning to provide enough regular customers. It doesn't help that the Preston Crossing store is located a bit out of the way for a casual shopper in the middle of the night to just drop in.

One of the things that the city needs to consider when updating its bus routes next year is improving service to Preston Crossing. Currently only two routes service the area, 22 and 27, and 27 only runs on a full schedule while the University of Saskatchewan is in regular session. The last bus out to Preston is 6:30 PM, limiting access to anyone who doesn't have an automobile, including employees of the stores at Preston Crossing. There should be more routes that access Preston Crossing more often. A route that connects the bus mall at the Centre at Circle and 8th to Preston Crossing would probably be a good idea, as residents of the east side of Saskatoon currently have to go downtown or to Place Riel on the University of Saskatchewan campus to catch a bus out there. The existing bus stops up there either need to have bus shelters installed or be moved closer to the actual stores.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

When it comes to pulling muscles pulling the ones under your chin from yawning wrong has to be amongst the more painful. I did that a few minutes ago. Ouchy.

Next time you have some junk food take a look at the weight of the fat in it. I had a bag of potato chips on Wednesday, and of the 60 grams total weigh of the package 15 grams were of fat. In other words the actual weight of the potatoes themselves is only 45 grams. Check out your favourite soft drink and you're likely to be equally disturbed by the weight of the sugar in it. Hmmm, perhaps its time to consider another "I'm gonna cut back almost completely on the junk food" New Year's resolution folks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

It looks like Saskatoon may be in for a Brown Christmas. The forecast for the next few days calls for the daytime high to be around the freezing mark until Sunday. Definitely better than a -30 degrees Celcius like some years.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New York City is currently in the grip of a transit strike. This reminded me of when Saskatoon had a transit strike years ago. I actually ended up walking across the city when the bus drivers went off the job mid morning. Fortunately it was spring or summer when this occured. I think it took me about 2 hours give or take to cross from the Mall at Lawson Heights to my home in College Park. I've made a similar trip on foot a couple of times over the years, and one of these days I'll have to try it again.
Condolences to the family of Wayne Gretzky. His mother Phyllis has died at 64 of cancer.

From the "only the good die young" files comes the news that Vincent "the Chin" Gigante has died of heart disease at 77. Gigante was the head of the Genovese crime family, one of the "Five Families" of organised crime in New York. For years he avoided prosecution on various charges by pretending to be mentally ill. But he was convicted in 1997 after a number of Mafia figures testified that Gigante was anything but insane, such as Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, former associate of John Gotti. Regular viewers of the series Law and Order may remember an episode from several seasons ago where a high mob figure is pretending to be insane to avoid prosecution, a plotline very obviously based on Gigante. Gigante admitted his sanity as part of a 2003 plea bargain.

And to end on a silly note there are times I wish I could bring things out of my dreams. Just before I woke up this morning I dreamed I found several empty beer bottles and pop cans in the street. I've got a pile I'm about to take in for recycling and a few more would be that much extra cash.
I'm a lucky man right now. I've got all my Christmas shopping done. Of course this is because I have only my immediate family to buy for. Finding gifts for them is hard enough. I'd hate to think of having to buy gifts for a bigger family, or for random co-workers. Its hard to say how hard it would be to find a gift for a girlfriend if I had one. It would depend on the woman of course. Of course I could have been really lazy and just bought everyone gift certificates, but there's just something about buying an actual object as a gift, something you actually put some thought into, that makes it feel more appropriate.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My brother got lucky. He came in via Westjet Friday night. Unfortunately they lost one of the pieces of his luggage. They found it sometime Saturday and brought it to Saskatoon. Not only that they had someone drive it over here Saturday evening. Given the screwup its nice they didn't make him have to drive all the way back to the airport to pick it up.

Friday, December 16, 2005

It was announced today that the costs for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are going up, and that the Vancouver Olympic organising committee will seek more government money. Is anyone surprised?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Anyone who gets large amounts of spam gets their fair share of penis enlargement offers. One would assume that the purpose of these is to make money, but another possible, darker purpose comes to mind. The folks behind this spam are really interested in putting together a list of the people who respond positively to these ads. They will then at some point reveal this list to the world, hoping to embarrass untold numbers of men by pointing out "Hey, this guy has a small penis he wants to enlarge!"

Ridiculous? Hey, its no more ridiculous than most conspiracy theories. And if it takes off you read it here first.
Saskatoon will be having a very interesting visitor in March. Former US President Bill Clinton will appear at the Centennial Auditorium March 8th to give a speech on international relations and take part in a question and answer session afterwards. The appearance will be hosted by local talk radio host and former Progressive Conservative MP John Gormley. I heard a radio ad for this today, which asked what Clinton and Gormley have in common. Although the answer in the ad is "Not much" my response is that the probably both have rather large egos. I don't imagine I'll be going. It would be interesting to see a former US President in person, but the cheap seats are 84 bucks, with the most expensive tickets being $235. A tad out of my price range I'm afraid.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If you know someone named Jason Leitner please let him know his spam is ending up in my mailbox. For some reason over the last few days I've gotten multiple pieces of spam that have a subject line that's some variation on "Hey, Jason Leitner." Hmm, does that mean someone is getting spam addressed to me instead of me?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It seems that former Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Jim Pankiw is likely going to run in this election. He wants to run as an independent in Battlefords-Lloydminster. The incumbent MP in the riding, Conservative Gerry Ritz, smartly commented Monday that "He got a brand new parachute for Christmas and I guess he wants to try it out." I can't say I had really heard of Ritz before today, but I do like that comment. One can only wonder why Pankiw is running again when he seems less than interested in the actual work of being an MP, defending his absense for three quarters of all Parliamentary votes since 2000, and all of them in 2004, by stating that voting "changes absolutely nothing." Ritz thinks Pankiw is banking on voters in a largely rural riding being more supportive of his behaviour than those in a largely rural one. I suspect he's wasting his time. Ritz has been MP since 1997 when he was elected as a Reform member, and the people of Battlefords-Lloydminster apparently support his eventual membership in the current Conservative Party, or they would have voted for someone else. And Pankiw's candidacy isn't likely to hurt Ritz that much, as Ritz won by more than 5000 votes over his nearest competitor, Shawn McKee of the NDP, in the 2004 election. My conclusion? Pankiw shouldn't bother, but I guess the spotlight is too hard for him to stay away from.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wow, Dave Brubeck has just turned 85! I hadn't realised he was that old. Fortunately despite his age he's still active as a player. Its always nice when artists can keep on doing their craft at an advanced age.
A quick hello to all those visitors who have come by thanks to Randy McDonald's link to my comments on the Memoirs of a Geisha movie. There have been quite a few of you over the last few days.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The world of comedy has lost an influential figure. Richard Pryor has died of a heart attack at age 65. Pryor began as a stand up comic in the 1960s and eventually moved on to a successful film career, including 4 films costarring Gene Wilder. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 which eventually curtalled his career. Pryor also had substance abuse problems, which has prompted occasional speculation that drugs played a role in the onset of his MS. Many of today's black comics such as Chris Rock would likely not have careers if not for Pryor's pioneering work, so perhaps they should consider donating money in his name for MS research.

Friday, December 09, 2005

When Arthur Golden's book Memoirs of a Geisha hit the shelves in 1997 it quickly became a bestseller. Not surprisingly the book generated controversy in some quarters. It was a first person narrative told from the perspective of a woman who was sold as a child to a geisha house in the late 1920s and her life in that world. Yet it was written by a white American male. It didn't help that Mineko Iwasaki, a former postwar geisha who Golden interviewed extensively for the book, sued him for revealing her involvement in creating the book despite promises not to, and what she claimed were inaccuracies.

Now, some eight years later, the movie version has hit the theatres. Its had a long genesis, initial preproduction work beginning back in 1999. Steven Spielberg was the first of several potential directors, with production finally getting underway with director Rob Marshall. Spielberg is executive producer. The initial critical response has been largely negative. Not surprisingly a lot of reviewers found it to have a problem I long suspected, that of language. Its no surprise the film is in English given that its an 85 million buck American production. But the choice of actresses greatly complicated things. The role of Sayuri is played by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, and her costars are Chinese actress Gong Li and Malaysian-Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh. Only Yeoh has extensive experience with English, and the result is apparently often stilted dialogue, especially with Zhang Ziyi struggling with her first English role. Its too bad she didn't have a chance to debut in English in a situation where her unfamiliarity with the language would be less of a problem. Ironically this problem would all but certainly have turned up if Japanese actresses had taken those roles, although Youki Kudoh, who plays a supporting role in this film, would have made an excellent choice given her English language acting experience.

Casting non Japanese as geisha has proven controversial in many quarters, but was probably inevitable. Unfortunately there are no Japanese actresses with the same kind of American name recognition as the starring trio. Unfortunately marketability is going to be the first and foremost concern with a movie like this. Some of the other changes, such as heavily toning down the traditional white geisha makeup and hairdos because of concerns they would turn off American viewers, are less easy to understand. The viewer is already being presented with an unfamiliar world. In other words one gets the impression that the filmmakers don't trust their audiences enough.

But in the end the reviews seem to indicate the biggest problem with the film is that its simply poorly written. Flaws in setting and language can be overlooked if the story overall works, but that doesn't seem to be the case with this film. It sounds like the hope was that the exotic setting would carry the film past its flaws, but it doesn't seem to have worked.

I really hadn't planned on seeing this film in the theatres anyways, but the reviews haven't helped. I think I'll wait until it appears on the cable movie channels, and maybe sit and watch with the sound off just to check out the costumes and sets.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Despite my melodramatic post of last night I'm still around. Still don't feel too great however. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

If you don't see a post here again its because this horrible bug I have has done me in. Boy, do I ever feell like crap tonight. My mother wasn't feeling well at the start of the week and I speculated it might be food poisoning. Guess not. If you live in the Saskatoon area good luck at not getting this thing, whatever it is.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Someone in an online forum I frequent made a comment yesterday about his frustration that so many current films seem to be remakes or based on old TV shows. This made me think that there is one film I've never heard anyone suggest was due for a remake: Citizen Kane. I wonder why. Much less well known films, such as Flight of the Phoenix, have been remade. Although the story was very obviously based in part on the story of 19th Century newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst its not hard to imagine a modern version being every bit as relevant to comtemporary viewers. Perhaps its considered too much of an icon to tamper with, just as no one seems to be in a hurry to make a modern take on Cecil B. Demille's 1956 classic The Ten Commandments. (Ironically Demille made a Biblical epic of the same name in 1923.) Perhaps the film is seen as a jinxed one given Orson Welles problems with Hollywood after making Kane. Of course knowing the way things go someone is even as I write this considering a Kane remake.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm not sure how much I'm going to post about the current Canadian election campaign. There's going to be more than enough commentary as it is. But one thing I have noticed so far is very few election signs have gone up yet. I've only seen a couple in my riding for the New Democratic candidate, Andrew Mason. I suppose its early days yet, but his signs seemed to be up within a day or so of the election announcement.

I reside in the Saskatoon-Humboldt riding, and it will be interesting to see what happens this election given how close the last one was. The current MP, Conservative Party member Brad Trost, won by 417 votes in a hotly contested riding. Second place finisher Nettie Wiebe of the NDP came in only 18 votes ahead of Patrick Wolfe of the Liberals. The wild card was the notorious Jim Pankiw, the incumbent MP at the time. Its safe to say a lot what drove the vote in 2004 was the desire by many to get rid of Pankiw. With him gone will voter turnout drop? Trost has been relatively quiet as MPs go, which is not surprising given he's a rookie and apparently doesn't have Pankiw's pechant for outrageous statements and grandstanding.

As always I encourage Canadians to get out and vote if they can, even if its to vote for the candidate you find least objectionable.
Very strange. My blog has a different background and format when I look at it from my computer than if I look at it from other computers.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Is it a bad sign when a film or TV show has major characters who have the same first name as the actors and actresses playing them? In my experience it often is. An example is a film I just watched a part of, China Strike Force. This 2000 Chinese made film was obviously intended for an international audience given the casting, which features American action adventure actor Mark Dacascos(who really should be in better roles than he usually gets), Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok, rapper Coolio, and Japanese actress/spokesmodel Norika Fujiwara. Unfortunately it really doesn't work, having a weak script and a lot of limp acting. And to top it off we have the "real name" problem. Coolio's named Coolio! Fujiwara plays a character named Norika. (The film was released in Japan as Spy N, to cash on her popularity.) When scriptwriters can't be bothered to spend 2 minutes to come up with names for some of the major characters they generally aren't in a hurry to put much effort into other areas of the film.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I was just looking up a book on Wikipedia, and the front page presented an interesting bit of information. It had an article discussing the recent Gabonese election. The winner? President Omar Bongo Ondimba, who has ruled Gabon since 1967(as long as I've been alive), and who is Africa's longest currently serving leader.

To a North American seeing a President Bongo is a bit odd. His name sounds like something from an old film, and its not hard to imagine that many people on this side of the Atlantic, not knowing of his existence, would consider naming an African character Bongo in a piece of fiction, movie, or TV show to be bordering on the edge of racism. Yet he's a real person, not a fictional character. Most peculiar.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

If your hobby is collecting the autographs of Canadian musicians you might want to be in Saskatoon April 1st, 2007. It was announced today that the 2007 Juno Awards will be held at the Credit Union Centre as well as possibly other venues like the Centennial Auditorium. In recent years the awards have been held in various locations across Canada. Next year's edition is scheduled to take place in Halifax.
How's this for silly? A Norwegian film director believes that JK Rowling may not actually exist, and that the Harry Potter books are written by ghost writers. The woman we know as JK Rowling? She's just an actress, speculates Nina Grunfeld. Oh well, at least she's not claiming the Potter books are a plot by evildoers to convert children to Satanism.