January 30, 2004

Concert Ruined By Guy Enjoying Himself

Concert Ruined By Guy Enjoying Himself (from "The Onion")

So a former co-worker emailed me to ask if this guy was me? Damn! I don't remember a thing... ;)

If you can find the picture somewhere on the web, I just want to say that it's NOT ME!

Familiar-looking bugger though, I must admit...

January 28, 2004

Open Directory services are cool...

Sites such as wikipedia.org, open-site.org or dmoz.org all are part of a neat trend in web development: self-managing web space, where members contribute and edit content themselves.

This idea is not new. Web discussion board have a similar (although much simpler) dynamic, and have been around almost as long as the web itself. However, the idea of a directory or hierarchy of information (like a web-based encyclopedia) that is mostly publicly-editable and non-commercial, is really kinda cool.

Actually, I think that Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is closest to the original vision of the Web as I understood it from reading the book by Tim Berners-Lee titled "Weaving the Web". In that book, he described the way that the web would work, and how information between documents could be interlinked and traversed by users in real-time. It sounds so much cooler when he says it in his book. When I say it, the words just kinda lay there flat...

Wikipedia.org is a sort of free-for-all web encyclopedia, where anyone can volunteer to create or edit information for the rest of the web to see. I have encountered some interesting and well-written articles in Wikipedia on subjects such as the Internet, ESL, and of course, DEVO :)

The Open Directory Project (dmoz.org) is Netscape's effort to build the largest hand-edited directory on the web. Unlike Wikipedia, "ODP" is edited by volunteer editors, who use their own discretion and god-like system access to add, remove or approve directory categories or contents. You can submit suggestions for content to ODP for free. I have heard that becoming an Editor on ODP can take a long time or be a bit difficult. I think it is an extremely busy and active web service.

Open-site.org is referred to as a "sister site" of ODP. Also a directory, it is slightly different in that it allows longer, more encyclopaedic articles and a greater variety in different "styles" of submission. It is also easier to become an editor. I am an editor there, although I have yet to decide exactly what I will do with my new-found power.

All these three sites are extremely well-ranked in Google, with front pages that have a pagerank of 9 out of 10, which is pretty dang high.

Babylon 5 is Number 1

I have been a huge Babylon 5 fan since the show first aired over ten years ago.

When most people think of a sci-fi TV show, Star Trek probably comes to mind first. The original Star Trek (and its spin-offs) set standards for the whole TV sci-fi genre. It has also, in many ways, become a very cliched, unoriginal, and repetitive franchise, in my humble opinion.

"B5" was a sci-fi TV series with a number of significant differences.

First, it's pretty obvious to me that B5's creator, J. Michael Stracynski, was heavily influenced by the famous epic novel, The Lord of the Rings. B5 is similarly large in scope, and there are structural and characteristic similarities between his races and Tolkien's. Place names in B5, such as Zahadum, the home planet of the Shadow race, are phonetically similar to Kazadum from LOTR. The Shadow vessels in B5 shriek, not unlike the Nazgul of Mordor. Oh yeah - and Marcus from B5 is a "Ranger" (and could also be mistaken for Aragorn if I squinted a little).

Now, what about the differences between B5 and that other mega-franchise, Star Trek?

Overall, I have found that Star Trek and it's spin-offs have little, if any, continuous storyline between episodes. Each episode is largely self-contained and usually resolved within the hour. B5 has numerous continuous plotlines that continue through the series' entire 5 year run. Secondary stories and characters are also integrated into a hierarchy of events, adding depth and realism to the main plotline.

In terms of makeup and special effects, I also find Babylon 5 to be superior to the Star Trek franchises of the time.

When channel surfing, I can tell a Star Trek episode by the alien races - the forehead or nose appliance the actors wear. It has become such a cliche of the show. B5, on the other hand, always used elaborate makeup for all the main alien characters. Only in recent years have Voyager and Enterprise begun to use more elaborate and convincing makeup for important alien characters.

Basically, Babylon 5 was an extremely well written and well produced sci-fi drama, and even though it's been off the air for years now, man alive, am I ever enjoying the DVDs! :)

January 20, 2004

Why Web Logs Suck...

I have to admit that sometimes I don't know exactly why I am keeping this Blog. I think I must fall vaguely into one of the categories in the essay "Why I ****ing Hate Web Logs". (See the link...)

Yes, it's a bit satirical... and funny as hell!

And, sadly enough for me (and for some other bloggers out there I'm sure), the author makes a point...

...but somehow blogging is kinda fun though, isn't it?

The Possibility of Electro Shock Therapy at Riverview

Somewhere in the past, maybe an Aunt once told me that my Mother had undergone Electro Shock Therapy while at Riverview Hospital. This was (and still is) such a repulsive thought to me, that I still want to deny the possibility.

The idea that my own Mother would have been strapped down and submitted to electrical shocks to her head - her brain - is so hard to consider! But it is possible. I do believe that they did that sort of thing at Riverview, even during the 1980s when my mother was admitted. It's possible.

My father, sister and I all noticed how Mum's behaviour slowly changed over the years, how she became more distant, quieter and less talkative. We noticed how she constantly twitched and rocked in her seat.

I guess we accepted the possibility that the medication she was always on was responsibly, or that perhaps the long-term confinement and lack of stimulation, the lack of a real life, had contributed to her general emotional and physical decline.

But the idea that she would be physically restrained and electrically shocked was too aggressive and intrusive a possibility. I don't know if it's just a rumour, or the result of fear and misinformation. I cannot imagine how such a treatment would come to be prescribed to her.

There's very little I know about my Mother's life at Riverview, really. It's hard to imagine, and sometimes I wonder if I try to avoid thinking about it...

Related links:

130 Forced Electro-Shock Treatments - Rally at Riverview Hospital

January 16, 2004

The Plight of the Young Savage

In Aldous Huxley's novel, "Brave New World", John (the young "Savage") was confronted with the degraded condition his mother, Linda. After reading the scene, I was struck by some similarities to events in my own life... (see the URL above, from my family history site)

Linda was once a member of the proper, modern society, but became pregnant and abandoned by a high-level city Administrator during a holiday to a distant New Mexico Reservation years earlier. She bore her son on the reservation and eventually integrated herself into that lifestyle.

John and Linda come back to the city when John was a young man, and John experienced and confronted its (to him) peculiar ways, while his Mother, who had a much more difficult time reconciling herself with the now unfamiliar lifestyle, succumbed to heavy drug use and escapist entertainment.

When John caught up with Linda again, she had been institutionalized in the "Park Lane Hospital for the Dying", a vast palliative care facility where the inhabitants passed comfortably into senility and death while placated by heavy drug-induced dementia and pleasant television broadcasts.

Having lived much of her life in the "savage" lands, an Indian reservation in New Mexico, far away from the great modern city of London, Linda has had a much more difficult and less healthy lifestyle than the city dwellers, and appeared to have aged beyond her years. Once she was clean and perfect, genetically engineered into her caste, and conditioned for a particular role in her society, but now she is forty-ish and fat, and her wrinkles and missing teeth seem to make her look like a monster in the eyes of the city dwellers, to whom youth and cleanliness are assumed to be the norm.

John finds his mother in a bed far at the end of the ward, half unconscious in her "soma coma" - soma is the drug of choice in Huxley's brave new world. Linda barely acknowledges John's presence, but eventually is shaken out of her stupor and has a brief moment of clarity, recognizing her son's face and calling him by name, before choking and suffocating to death. John is furious at not being able to reach her, and blames the society's dependence on soma which prevented them and his own mother from seeing the truth of their condition.

January 14, 2004

Ravings on Politics (I'm a leftie...)

Oh God. The state of the world. The world as a state. Where to even begin on the topic of world politics today?

Maybe I'll start by saying that I am admittedly biased towards the left. Having said that, I'll step back a bit further and say that politics is all so much bullshit. I think it is divisive and confrontational, as I see it misused today, particularly when accelerated like a brush fire in the mass media.

At heart, I am a pacifist, humanist guy, who's rear is permanently dented in the shape of a fence. However, it's impossible to avoid falling one way or the other within seconds of starting a discussion with someone on, say, US foreign policy and the Canadian Gov't.

So, I had to read up on this crap and make up my mind for myself. Of course, I dug right into literature that was written by critics of the US Goverment and the US media. I am one of those people who might use the phrase "military industrial complex" or "right-wing media" and mean it.

So, I read a lot of different stuff:

I read almost everything written by Michael Moore, who's straight-up blue-collar, man-in-the-street indignation and social activist agenda gets my blood rolling. Michael Moore is an American who makes me feel proud to be a Canadian. Hell - Adrienne Clarkson should give him some kind of medal. Maybe one made from Maple Sugar, on a red ribbon, hung around the neck of one of those kitschy plush bears in a Mountie uniform. And have the presentation at a Motel 6, so we don't have to freak out over the cost of it all. Moore would enjoy that, I think.

I read a bunch of books by Noam Chomsky (such as "911" and "Manufacturing Consent") to bone up on negative aspects of mass media manipulation.

I read some slightly whacked book by a questionable French journalist, who claimed that it could be likely that 9/11 was in fact an attempt at a military coup of the US Gov't by the CIA, or Army or whomever else wanted the reins that day. What can I say - I love conspiracies. I believe that Roswell was probably real, and I loved the X-Files too.

I read "No Logo" by Naomi Klein, who has documented the dominance of global business over foreign souvereignty and government (i.e. money before national pride, or money over people in general).

I read "Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right", by Al Franken. He nailed US Media and the Bushies to the cross, and did it with such great documentation and humour. And the title itself is classic.

I discovered newspapers like "The Columbia Journal" and web sites like "The Tyee". I read the mainstream newspapers like The Vancouver Province, The Vancouver Sun, and The National Post. I watched the difference in reporting bias between CNN and CBC. Since 9/11, I really do prefer CBC Newsworld over other Canadian TV media outlets.

I re-read "1984" by George Orwell, and am now half-way through "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. These are the classic "world gone wrong" stories that all those apocalyptic sci-fi movies are based upon. You know: the ones where we have lost touch with our humanity by various forms of mass delusions wrapped up as "entertainment", and where common sense takes a back seat to towing the party line.

Does that sound familiar at all?

So, it seems to me that although I was born after the post-WWII Cold War paranoia, I am unfortunate to be living through it again. Only the names of the players have changed. The roles look very similar to me.

So, you can tell that I am not a right-wing, Reform party-voting (oops, I mean Alliance..., oops, I mean Conserva... what the hell are they called today?) kind of guy. But sheesh, even the Canadian Political Right seems left compared to the US Political Right.

And Bush's tax cuts are like a sugar rush that is starting to wear off. Maybe he's hoping the long-term gain will come from the colonization and development of Iraq's oil or something. I don't know. I think this is where my country can really show it's committment to humanism, cooperation and international law, by sticking with its position on Iraq, and not bending to pressure from our best friend to the south, the U.S. Gov't.

No dominant civilization stays that way forever. The Roman Empire. The British Empire. The American Empire. In the long-term, I think events since 9/11 are sign posts along the road to the decline of the U.S. I don't think the country will fall into ruin or anything drastic like that, but I do believe that the playing field will gradually become more level where the American Gov't is concerned, and they may recede in influence to the point where they realize how much they need the rest of us to cooperate with them.

Interdependence is the reality of it all. How can I truly say I'm better than you when the truth is that I need you as much as you need me?

January 10, 2004

Work, Career, or Calling?

When he was asked what do you do for a living, the Dalai Lama replied "Nothing."

From what I have read, I think the Dalai Lama sees his activities as his calling, so of course, he might feel that it is not his occupation or living.

In the book "The Art of Happiness at Work", the Dalai Lama describes three categories of (or approaches towards) employment. These three categories are "job", "career" or "calling".

These three terms are defined as follows:

A job is something you do because you are paid to do it. Your interest in this occupation is primarily monetary, and you do not identify with it very much, if at all.

A career is a progression of occupations which are related or similar in nature, and you have taken a conscious effort to stay in a particular line of work. You see your occupation in terms of personal advancement, perhaps more in terms of power or responsibility than in terms of money. Title, pride, and importance are significant factors.

A calling is some activity that you believe in strongly for it's own inherent value. You may feel that this occupation helps others or makes some significant difference in the world somehow. A calling is something you might even do for free because it makes you feel happy or fulfilled when you are doing it. It is more idealistic.

As a young man, perhaps when I was in my early twenties, I felt as if my education was a calling. I was fairly obsessed with it and my own development, and thought of most things in terms of how they related to my education or some future career.

After school, when I finally began to get employment that was related to my schooling, I began to think of career development. I saw myself in terms of a certain desired professional role, usually something like "Art Director", where I could have the word "art" in my title, implying a largely creative function, and "director", which implied that I would have a managing or consulting role, perhaps wothout having to get my hands too dirty. :)

Reality was different: I had little practical job experience, but ended up christening myself as Art Director when working with small companies or associations. It was, I guess, my attempt to validate myself - making myself "make it" out from under Tom Hudson's shadow a little bit. Instead of being "directed" by someone else, I wanted that role for myself.

Once I had it on my business card (and I was the guy designing the cards too), I liked it, and was fortunate enough to be able to assign that title to myself in the next reincarnations of the raggedy little companies which eventually became TVI Interactive Systems. TVI was where I learned what the title actually meant, increasing my responsibility and ability to manage and negotiate the changes and challenges of a small, hyper-active high-tech company.

At this phase of my working life, I thought my work was my career but mostly I acted as if it was a calling. I identified myself with my role at TVI so strongly, that I couldn't or didn't want to imagine being anywhere else. I bought into the idealism of doing the best job I could, and the idealism of loyalty and teamwork.

I think that at this stage of my professional development, I was still carrying over the "calling" approach which I had learned at art college. The impression I was left with from Emily Carr College, from my teachers, classmates, and the environment, was that as an artist you must rely on yourself first and foremost, for you could be the only one in the world who believes in what you are trying to say or accomplish. Having a "my work is my life" attitude naturally tended to flow out of such attitudes. Portrait of the artist as an obsessed young man.

Finally though, the lay-off of TVI's staff in 1998 was a devastating blow for me personally. Obsession gave way to desperation as I hoped that the company might come back to life and hire me again. Seven months later (five of which were spent across the courtyard at a neighbouring web company - an insanely lucky break for me), I was finally able to return to work at TVI, now re-christened as TranDirect Holdings.

I think at this point my "calling" approach was replaced with "career" as I realized that I would "outlive" my employers. It seems obvious to me now, but at the time, this was a significant lesson.

In my post-TVI career, I had to grab whatever opportunities presented themself to me. Practicality came first: get a job that could provide a challenge and allow me to use my skills, and then see if it could provide further meaning later on.

Since making that slow change in approach and expectation, I've also found numerous personal outlets through which my need for an idealistic or almost obsessive "calling" could have expression.

This does make it easier to leave work at 5:30 PM and go home - to have more distinction between work and home. I think this has led me to a much more balanced lifestyle.

What's the deal with all my web sites - and now the Blog?

So, what's up with Blogs anyway?

So, what's the deal with these things? I have developed this minor obsession with extending my ideas and personality out into the ether - or at least into the web.

First, back in '97/98 it was my own web site, then in '99 it was a web-based family memoir, then a myfamily.com site a year later, then more web projects, and then an online portfolio, and now this blog.

What up? It's like I can't stop talking about myself!
I can't. I can't stop, you know. Talking. About myself.


My inner cynic is saying "Who cares? What - do you think it'll bring you attention or even fame? Grab a brain buddy. Nobody's going to read it. And if they do, what does that mean? What is that worth?" I hate my inner fricking cynic. He can be such an asshole sometimes.

My inner optimist says that this is not so much about a blog or even the web providing me with opportunities to gratify my ego. It's about fulfilling some automatic need for personal expression - having, and using an outlet. I suppose that in itself is enough.

And this way, I don't drive my wife nuts with vocalizing all my spurious brain emissions. ;)

Living from delusion to delusion...

A random brain emission...

Today, due to a leaky pipe from the suite above, and the need for someone to be home to let the plumber in, I enjoyed a day of working from home. I feel as if I got a lot accomplished today!
However, now that the work is done, and I'm reflecting a bit, here's what occured to me:

Working from home, without the "foreground noise" of being at work (physically being in the space, talking to the people and manually carrying out work tasks), I find that I have been more aware of delusion or desired intention as it relates to my ego.

(Yeah, I know... barf! He's getting all introspective now...)

In other words, when I'm in a work "mode", the priorities and immediate goals of the work jump to the foreground, and for the most part, seem to obscure the long-term implications - the long-term relevance of the goal.

Okay - those "other words" I just used weren't very helpful, were they... I'll try again...

In work mode, I care about how many people visit my employer's web site, or how many log into it's message board. I care about how full, empty or inactive these work-sponsored online communites are (see http://forums.vec.ca), and then, when I'm home, I care about how much attention or how up-to-date my own web presences are. Like this blog. This is all rather on the edge of obsession...

So it hits me that I am a tiny speck, a little thread in this vast churning sea of spam and stuff that we call the Internet... What seems so meaningful and important today, will fade away and be archived by www.archive.org tomorrow - in another few years or a decade, when I am somewhere else, doing something different, with some other cause in mind.

So far, every IT job I have had has reminded me of this fact in one way or another. The relationship of impermanent life to our attempts to nail our personal bit of jelly to the collective wall of history.

(That's the dumbest metaphor I've ever hacked out... funny! Time to call it a day and get back to real life...)