Good Music Gone Bad

I will shamelessly admit that I purchased Nelly Furtado’s Whoa Nelly! a few years ago, mostly on the strength of the “Party’s Just Begun” song that was also included on the soundtrack to Brokedown Palace (I never saw the movie, but the soundtrack rocks!).

Recently on the radio, I’ve been hearing this really irritating country-tinged song, so I finally made myself listen to figure out who I hated so badly. After spending 5 minutes deciphering whiny, nasal lyrics drowned by whiny, nasal violins, I managed to puzzle out the words “powerless” and “things you do” – Google did the rest. To my disappointment, it was Nelly Furtado.

So, Nelly Furtado, “Powerless” is crap* – if that’s the typical tone of your new album, there’s no way in hell I’d even bother to download it.

(* “Crap” describes my personal opinion. Objectively it’s just a song, but to my ears it’s painful. YMMV.)

My Novel is Complete

Okay, it’s an hour later than I really intended to have it posted.


It’s up. Alice can be officially considered my first novel. It finished up at roughly 51,849 words, which is something like 205 pages of doublespaced Courier 12pt. That makes it a small novel.;-)

It’s also a first – the story idea came to me over a year ago and I wrote the first two thousand words and stopped. For some reason at the end of October I felt compelled to write, and wrote feverishly through November 17; I spent the next two weeks editing. The semi-finished product you see now.

The state of the story is basically a “second draft” – I’ve completed basic editing, grammar, and spellchecking, as well as cleaning up any obvious plot holes I came across. That said, I’m so close to the damn thing that I will require some time and then I’ll go back and make one more edit for the true “final.”

The story – well, check it out for yourself. It’s loosely inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but you might say that is very loosely. The story has a bit of a fantasy feel overall, so would probably fall into that genre.

Feel free to let me know what you think. You can email comments directly to – all praise/feedback/flaming welcome (spammers, I will see you burn in hell). 🙂


Say again?

From Amtrak Begins Random ID Checks on Trains:

“It is a ticket verification program, which is not intended to determine a person’s identity, but to make sure the person who’s traveling with the ticket is the person whose name is on the ticket,” Black said.

When I read the above, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, so I decided to bring it here for dissection.

Okay, so what we have so far is:
a ticket verification program
not intended to determine a person’s identity
And is
intended to verify that the name on the ticket
matches the name of the person who is travelling with the ticket.

First of all, whatever happened to the days when all that people cared about was that you HAD a ticket? I actually am too young to remember when the “you must have a name on the ticket” policy was implemented, but frankly, it’s really stupid. When I step on a bus, I drop a token in the slot – nobody cares if my name is on the token. The important thing is that I am transformed from a rotting vagrant to an upstanding citizen with the right to ride the bus.

But more importantly, this whole premise is shaky. First, if you can’t verify that the name of the person matches the name on the ticket at the time of the ticket purchase, then frankly something is wrong with your ticket purchasing process (although the argument could be made that if you find it necessary to put names on tickets, there’s something wrong anyway – but I digress). Secondly, if your ticket verification process requires a person to produce identification so that you can confirm anything about them, regardless of the motivation for doing so, then your process is at heart an identification process intended to confirm a person’s identity. Perhaps it’s not solely for that purpose, but to state unequivocally that it isn’t is misleading at best and flat-out deceptive at worst.

Anyway, I’m sure that suicide-bent terrorists ride Amtrak everyday, and this will prevent thousands of lives being lost. In addition, it will ensure that nobody can just mug some old lady and ride Amtrak on her ticket – that happens often enough to make this a worthwhile addition to the struggle of the upstanding American corporate citizen against a world full of greedy, selfish, wayward consumers (*cough*terorrists*cough*).

Fear not, my loyal fans

I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.

Well, wonder no more.

I’ve been working on a novel! Oddly enough, this is NOT a NaNoWriMo project. I started this last month, and am just about wrapping it up. It will be a short novel, somewhere around 55,000 words*. Look for it around Dec. 1. It’s loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, mixed with a great dash of my own twisted outlook on life.:-)

I’ve finished the rough manuscript and am now in editing-and-rewriting mode. Keep an eye out!

(* If you don’t think 55,000 words is a novel, well, too bad!)

Whither the [random, online] conversation?

I gotta say, the internet has changed.

I remember the days of using Powwow and FreeTel, of the “chat with a random person” actually being useful on ICQ.

These days, the only time I get contacted by a random person online is if a) they’re inserting V1@GR4 spam in my email, or b) they think I’m someone they know. It occurred to me tonight that the landscape has changed, because now the only time someone contacts me randomly is if it’s the virtual equivalent of a wrong number.

I think it’s a trust thing, though. I remember the few times I tried to contact someone randomly in the last year or two, I was greeted with general suspicion. It seems like the media and the paranoid parents have finally managed to make the internet a place where any stranger is to be treated as the stranger-with-candy. Or maybe it’s the co-option of instant messaging technologies into the corporate environment; can’t have our busy worker bees bombarded with messages from potential industrial spies.

Before I move on, let me stop one line of criticism before it starts – I have plenty of offline friends, make more on a regular basis, and have no problems doing so. I have a girlfriend, am well-adjusted, and social, so just give up – I just trashed your argument before you really thought of it.:-)

Why do I care? Because I actually miss the days of chatting it up with someone I don’t know, getting a window into another culture or hearing about current events from far away first-hand. I also don’t really enjoy visiting Yahoo! chatrooms for a weak version of that experience. I’m sure it’s just nostalgia, but it feels like the internet I actually liked has disappeared.

Not that there are very many people I met back in those early days with whom I still converse. I’ve grown, and I’m sure they have as well. People grow apart, have different interests, make different friends. Still, there is that handful, the five or ten people with whom I suspect I’ll be talking even five or ten years from now. It’s that which makes me miss the old days – that suspicion that out there are people who I’d genuinely benefit from talking to. As I said earlier, it isn’t that I don’t have offline friends, but during the time that I must spend online as part of my work and research, it’s nice to feel a sense of community while in cyberspace. I read and type fast enough that it’s not a serious distraction to talk to someone intelligent and interesting, and it hardly takes any time at all to block someone I don’t like.

Take it or leave it. Things being what they are, I’m sure that the people with the open, curious mindset who actually like communicating with the world (and not just their little close circles of friends and family) have migrated elsewhere, away from ICQ and the other mainstream IM communities. My only curiosity is, where would elsewhere be?


Of all people out there, I’m a quite vocal opponent of spamming – that is, unsolicited emails usually advertising some product or other. I know this problem won’t go away anytime soon. Indeed, almost every day I spend 30 minutes to an hour cleaning out literally thousands of spam messages from dozens of inboxes, so obviously I don’t consider this fun.

Recently a small non-profit association I’ve helped out in the past contacted me with an interesting problem – they were unable to send messages to Cogeco users. A bit of research revealed that their SMTP server was on an IP address blocked by SORBS, a DNS blacklist service that a number of ISPs apparently use when determining what messages may or may not be spam.

Further research revealed that this non-profit was using a shared server from a US-based hosting service. The IP address in question supported at least a few dozen different sites owened by different people – standard shared hosting fare. Okay, nothing unusual, so I started looking into getting the IP address removed, since the non-profit was not a spammer and this was hampering their ability to contact members of their association.

Imagine my surprise when I discover this delisting process:

” The effected IPs (the ones used to send the spam) will only be delisted when US$50 is donated to a SORBS nominated charity or good cause. The charities and good causes SORBS approves will not have any connection with any member of the SORBS administrators either past or present. ”

Now, this immediately disturbed me, so I did a google search for the definition of ‘extortion’ and came up with this. “Extortion is a criminal offense, which occurs when a person obtains money, behaviour, or other goods and/or services from another by wrongfully threatening or inflicting harm to his person, reputation, or property. Euphemistically, refraining from doing harm is sometimes called “protection”.”

Now, some people online have argued that it isn’t exactly extortion because SORBS isn’t actually blocking your emails; rather, it’s the particular ISPs that decide to use SORBS as a guideline for mail-blocking.

This, to me, is bullshit. If extortion does include the reputation element, then SORBS is definitely damaging your reputation by implying you are a spammer, and then requiring you to pay money in order to remove the spot on your reputation. The fact that SORBS doesn’t get the money is irrelevant. This is a bit like the mob not trashing your business so long as you support a political party they approve of, or some other thing. What if for whatever reason you disagree with the SORBS-handpicked charities?

In addition, this particular blacklist service is totally unfair to small organizations and individuals who can’t afford dedicated servers of their own. Most teenagers, and probably a lot of adults, run websites totally out of a sense of community, and if they’re unable to use some of the resources of their website such as the SMTP server because of some asshole spammer using shared space, it’s hardly their fault. The same applies to the masses of computer-illiterates who get backdoored and zombified for the purposes of spam – sure, they’re hard on the community at large, but the problem isn’t the computer user, it’s the spammer. $50 may not be a lot of money to a big corporation but for a minimum-wage working person, that’s a quarter of a week’s wages.

To sorta sum up, I think SORBS took a good idea and a motive of protecting the community, and ran WAY too far with it. I’m sure the charities listed by SORBS are quite happy, but I doubt anyone else is. By basically extorting money in exchange for reputation, SORBS is revealing itself to be the selfish bully of the anti-spam battle, hurting anyone who happens to get in the way in its zeal to be seen as a leader in anti-spam technology and DNSBLs. To those fighting the spam battle on the ISP and hosting ends, I say fuck SORBS and use something a little more fair to the small guys caught in the crossfire.

ScaredSacred and the Aliens

On Thursday afternoon, I found myself standing in line at the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto, waiting to be escorted down into a dusty basement theatre to see Velcrow Ripper’s new documentary, ScaredSacred. Another International Film Festival offering, the film seemed to be a bit off the beaten path, and both my girlfriend and I separately chose it when we were looking through potential movies to see.

I went in prepared to see a gory bloodfest, since the whole premise of the movie is that Ripper visits all sorts of “ground zeros” of the world, looking at the devastation and trying to find the “sacred” in it. What I got was something quite different – not quite depressing, not quite uplifting.

The documentary covers a lot of ground. Ripper starts in Bhopal, moves on to Cambodia, Hiroshima, Pakistan’s Afghan refugee camps, concentration camps in Germany, Israel and the occupied territories, Bosnia, and elsewhere. He seems to be doing this as much as a personal pilgrimage as anything, since he starts his journey feeling like the world is becoming a bleaker place by the day.

Oddly enough, I still find it difficult to package a reaction to this film. “Breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion.” I see Ripper being fired at by Israeli soldiers in a walled-in Palestinian village, then I see him eating a hamburger in some burger joint in NYC.

I think what makes the film so difficult for me to digest is that Ripper doesn’t offer any practical solutions to the violence and destruction he documents. Granted, this is something that humankind has found itself fairly unable to do as a whole, but somehow I found it difficult to empathize one man’s catharsis into some sort of positive personal experience. That isn’t to say that the film wasn’t touching – I don’t think anyone could watch a 14-year-old Afghan girl struggling not to cry as she describes her father being killed in front of her without sensing that pain – but rather that it issues such a highly emotionally-charged call to arms without providing a leader, in many ways.

During the question-and-answer session with Ripper following the screening, he made the comment that he found the world to be a bleak place, and that he was not an optimist. Rather, he was hopeful. Being able to find a doctor treating chemical-sickened patients in Bhopal, an old Sikh musician in Kabul who protected his instruments against the worst of the Taliban, the RAWA women’s movement in Pakistan, the couple in Serejevo creating art to maintain sanity under a hail of bullets – these things, he said, provided him with hope.

Maybe it’s too much sociological training on my part, but I find it difficult to be hopeful. Ripper himself acknolwedged that for every experience of the sacred, there were dozens of people he met who were violent, revengeful, angry – and this, I think is the broader state of humanity. Ripper recognizes something I’ve long said, that the problem is the “we and the them.” It’s that tendency of humans to want to separate themselves into friends and enemies, always a dichotomy.

What’s the solution? In all honesty, I think that nothing short of the threatened death of the planet due to, say, asteroid or supernova, or perhaps a nice alien invasion – nothing but these will even begin to make humanity unite and focus on the common good and stop the destruction, vengeance, and exploitation.

I, for one, welcome our new…

Kung Fu Hustle Impressions

Having just returned from the world premiere of the Stephen Chow film Kung Fu Hustle courtesy of Toronto’s International Film Festival, I thought I’d offer a spoiler-free impression of the film.

The film was visually awesome. Lots of great imagery, good special effects, and impressive martial arts throughout. Chow seems to have taken a bit of quite a number of movies and woven them into something quite interesting. The Film Festival take keeps mentioning the Shaw Brothers, but this is way before my time and I can’t really comment. What I can say is that I recognized homages to the Matrix, Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs in particular), Untouchables-esque gangster films, possibly Shaolin Soccer, every classic Western and kung fu movie, and even old-fashioned slapstick cartoons (as well as a Jim Carey Mask-esque flair here and there).

The acting was pretty good. Over the top, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. Despite this being a Chow film and starring Chow, the real star of this film would be Yuen Qiu, in my honest opinion. She and actress Huang Shengyi showed up for the premiere, and Yuen Qiu was introduced as the eldest sister of Jackie Chan, which is interesting. Anyway, she totally rocked as the landlady in this film, and basically stole the picture.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was a lurking feeling that this whole movie could easily have been a stage production. There are about three main locales within the set, and the over-the-top acting actually works because it creates that musical/stage feeling rather than simply smothering you with cheese. I would almost like to see it done on stage someday, although I suppose the special effects might be difficult to recreate

Anyway, from my tired perspective, I’d give it two thumbs up. This is a film I laughed all the way through, and despite some Tarantino-esque graphic scenes which shocked at first, was entirely comedic. I’ll be adding it to my film library when it’s out on DVD, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again in movie theatres, assuming it’s released in North America.

Magic: The Gathering Strikes Again

So I was bored Friday evening, and decided to try a few old games out. I like to do this occasionally because once in a while, you run across these gems that validate your search and provide a few hours of non-crappy entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, modern games are visually spectacular but they often seem to lack something in terms of gameplay. For instance, in the last two months, I’ve tried the following games:

  • Dungeon Siege – nice graphics, nice party-based hack’n’slash, but got bored about halfway through. Lacked story.
  • Age of Mythology – why the hell can’t there be a more intuitive interface? This just made me miss Total Annihilation (and TA: Kingdoms).
  • Rise of Nations – felt like the Age of… series, but with a Civilization-like twist. I played this for a few days, and got incredibly bored after winning the thirtieth single-player skirmish. This game could’ve been so much cooler if borders actually meant anything, and I missed the Civilization-like ability to totally dominate and have riflemen fighting spearmen. Perhaps it was more “fair,” but it was less fun.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War – the story has always rocked in Deus Ex. I would love to read this as a novel, but somehow I wish there was more to do besides shooting. Maybe a Deus Ex with an adventure game twist and some actual puzzles would’ve been nice. And deformable environments.:-P
  • Neverwinter Nights – I’d looked forward to this for a while, but absolutely hated the inability to summon more than one creature or have more than one other NPC in your party. Baldur’s Gate 2 totally kicked this game’s ass.

Anyway, so I ran across Magic: The Gathering on the Underdogs website. Granted, some people would call this a questionable source for games, but in my opinion, discontinued = fair game. You can make up your own mind about the morality of this.

Moving on, I installed the game, only to have Windows XP crash on me with a fault in “cardartlib.dll” – just great. Being the inquisitive type that I am, I spent an hour or so on Google trying to dig up resources on this problem. I found a few websites that mentioned it, but essentially all they’d say was “install the game, install the patch.” Okay, morons, did that already (in fact, I believe the patch is pre-installed in the Underdog bundle for download, but reinstalled it anyway) and it didn’t help.

So I experimented a bit. The deck editor crashed every time I loaded it, and the game itself ran okay until I tried to manipulate the deck. Intuitive leap of thought led me to suspect that it was something with my display settings.

So, for those of you running Windows XP, and wanting to play Magic: The Gathering (that whole Shandalar thing) – if you get an error with cardartlib.dll and installing the patch does not help, here’s the solution: drop your resolution to 800×600 and the game will run just fine.

Yup, that’s all there is to it, at least on my system. Apparently 1400×1050 is just way too much for this old (1997) game and the card art libraries were never intended to stretch the cards that much.

Now, to deal with the consequences of installing this virtual crack cocaine…god, after the 50th loss to a !#$(!##!$#@(*(!@ druid, I want to smash something, but I want my lost cards back more. Talk about addictive…and me just the little naive innocent who wandered into this having never played or more than heard of Magic before.

Hope this helps some other addict-to-be out there.:-)