"My heart hates uggos."

The Vancouver Police Department is soliciting recommendations for a new cruiser decal and paint scheme. It’s kind of a nifty idea. This sort of thing is always fraught with peril, because you can end up with some truly hideous schemes, and it’s nice to see that the VPD actually cares what its citizens think. Or maybe not, since Chief Constable Jamie Graham will consider the suggestions and then make up his own mind. No one has ever accused the VPD — or any police department, for that matter — of being anything less than a democratic dictatorship.

There’s a form you can use to select among one of four pre-approved designs (or suggest your own changes). Though I’m not participating — it’s not my tax money at work, after all — I think all four schemes are ugly as sin. #3, in particular, has the disgusting look of a suburban American police department paint job.

Who did this stuff? Yecch.

That's the way the story goes

A couple of months ago, I made mention of Doug Coupland’s new book, jPod — a sequel, of sorts, to Microserfs, quite possibly one of the most beloved books in my life, if not the most beloved. When you find a book that so accurately captures many facets of your personality, and of the personalities of your friends, you tend to hold on to it (or reject it outright, simply because it frightens you). I’ve told a number of people that if they really want to understand how it feels to be me on some days, Microserfs is the book to read — even if it’s ten years out of date and I don’t work in that field anymore. This is me and my friends; I saw myself, and I saw people I knew, and I saw the culture that I considered myself a part of (and still do, to some extent).

Over the years I’ve encountered people who’ve read Coupland and had all kinds of reactions to his work; rarely, if ever, do I find someone who is ambivalent about his writing. You seem to either find him fascinatingly perceptive (to the point of frightening, sometimes) or maddeningly tedious; there’s not a lot in between, and I think where you fall depends largely on whether you find the characters appealing or not. Doug creates these great characters, builds a universe for them, and turns them loose, and while you can complain that his books lack plots, that’s a feature for me, not a bug. I can’t think of a single instance in a Doug Coupland novel where a character has done something that wasn’t wholly within their clearly-defined personality. I love that kind of stuff.

It doesn’t hurt that he sometimes nails things so well that it can be almost heartbreaking. “Love was frightening and it hurt,” he once wrote (in the passage that made me realize I’d be a Coupland fan for life), “not only during, but afterward — when I fell out of love. But that is another story. I’d like to fall in love again, but my only hope is that love doesn’t happen to me too often after this. I don’t want to get so used to falling in love that I get curious to experience something more extreme — whatever that might be.” Tell me that doesn’t sound like someone you know.

Anyway.

I’ve been dying to know how he was planning to follow up on Microserfs, and now I know. Sort of:

Could you tell us a little about jPod, the novel you’re currently working on?
It’s about people who work in game design, which is a lot of my friends here in Vancouver. It’s a sequel to Microserfs but different. Tech is such a different place ten years later.

Sweet!

What I want to know is this: Is there going to be a character in there who, unlike the bright lights who get their names in the credits at the end of the game, toils away in obscurity on the core technology behind the game, and maybe fights with shitty font rendering software the company picked for a bunch of potentially spurious reasons? ’cause that would kick ass if there were. (I don’t know anyone like this at all, can you tell?) I also expect some bitter coders, young pimply QA testers, art institute graduates who don’t know squat about programming but can design the shit out of anything, slave-driving managers, pissed off spouses with LiveJournals (with 5,000 comment threads), some cast-offs from the dot-com glory days, and people who went into the business not out of passion but out of a belief that you could make assloads of cash.

I can’t wait for it.

We knew her when

I was poking through my CD collection tonight looking for a few specific tracks (three versions of “Solsbury Hill” — album, live, and cover by Sarah McLachlan) and wondering why it was that I own all these discs but don’t actually listen to them on nearly as regular a basis as I should. Possibly I need to sit down and systematically rip them all; I found albums I hadn’t heard in years, but loved fiercely at the time — familiar names, like Sue Medley, Annie Lennox, Faith No More, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Alice in Chains, Melanie Doane, frickin’ Enya.. but names that I’ve forgotten in recent years, much to my sorrow. Why does this happen? Last night I heard Jann Arden’s Happy? all the way through for the first time since 2001 or so — probably since I saw her play live in support of that album — and was reminded of how her stuff used to blow me away. And I wondered why it was I hadn’t pulled it out and listened to it in four or five years.

It’s always interesting to remember the most poignant moments of your relationship with music from certain artists — I was in San Antonio, for instance, when I discovered Shawn Colvin (in a duet with Bruce Hornsby), and I recall the “holy shit” moment with stark clarity, lying in the dark of my hotel room listening to the disc by myself. Many of these “holy shit” moments seem to involve travel and being away from home, which may magnify and heighten the feeling of discovery; I knew I liked Fumbling Towards Ecstasy from the pre-release tracks I’d heard on the radio ahead of its release, but I didn’t fall in love with it until I listened to “Wait” with my headphones partially plugged in, in a hotel room in Vancouver. These moments, and hundreds more like them, are seared into my memory — as I suspect they are for most people who love music and build soundtracks for their lives, one day and one track at a time. You almost never do it on purpose, but inevitably, it happens.

It was in Montreal that I bought Time For Mercy back in the late fall of 1993. I’d heard “Will You Remember Me?” on the radio a week or so earlier, and it happened that I was in Quebec on the day the disc was released, so I ambled over to the record store and bought a copy. And then I sat in bright October sunshine, in the concrete plaza in front of the IBM tower in downtown Montreal, and listened to the whole thing twice, trying to focus on reading something I don’t remember anymore but being thoroughly distracted, and thinking that it was the most amazing stuff I’d heard in years. I played that disc so much over the next few months that looking at it now, I’m amazed it still plays — a testament, I suppose, to the error-correcting power of the CD format, and the flexibility of new CD players. And then I moved on to other things. But I can’t shake the feeling that forgetting about these artists, discarding these albums, is somehow wrong, regardless of whether I can actually find them again and have the joy of re-discovering something so treasured once upon a time.

There’s an element of sadness associated with this rediscovery, especially if it turns out there were other memories associated with the music. It’s hard for me to listen to Paula Cole’s Harbriger, for instance, since it came into my life during a moment of great stress and sorrow. But when I do, I remember the misery and how much it hurt… and I remember that whatever I felt then, I don’t feel now. The hurt is gone now, and I’m better. It’s a good feeling. Happy? I dunno. But not sad. Not that at all.

Ain't that the frickin' truth?

Chad Orzel: “To the extent that I do believe that blogs will change society, I think it will be a different kind of change than readers of political blogs are looking for. Political blogs aren’t a new kind of journalism, they’re a new kind of punditry– they’re talk radio with lower barriers to entry.”

Amen to that.

One thing I’d add is that the only thing about blogging that’s fundamentally different from any other form of Web site in the entire history of the World Wide Web is that the person doing the writing doesn’t actually have to have any technical knowledge. As Teresa Nielsen Hayden has said, it used to be that there was some kind of barrier to making a nuisance of yourself in public. You either had to “learn how to run a mimeograph, and you had to pay postage to distribute your deatheless prose,” and the people who didn’t “found other hobbies.” The Web dramatically lowered the knowledge barrier to this kind of thing; blogging per se didn’t change anything — there have been personal journals on the Web since the earliest days of http — but blogging software changed much: It eliminated the need to know anything about HTML and Web site configuration and management.

The revolution had nothing to do with Pyra or Blogger or Instacracker or whoever, it had everything to do with Marc and NCSA — remember this? I do.

The format changed by getting easier, the underlying essence did not. I am undecided as to whether this is, on the whole, a positive thing or not.

Update: Has it really been 11 years since Mosaic came out? Holy hell.

The four sweetest words in February

Let’s face it: February sucks. It sucks so much, in fact, that all kinds of organizations, from unions to my former home province, look for any reason at all to declare at least one long weekend during the whole thing. Reading break, so welcome in November (read: near the end of fall semester), comes ridiculously early in the winter/spring term, and spring break.. well, you’ve seen the late night commercials. Spring break looks like a lot of fun.

But most of us don’t have spring break, and most of us don’t work for entities that are willing to declare holidays. Some of us, in fact, work for entities where a declared holiday has absolutely no effect on whether you can slack off at home while hung over or not. Which sucks, but this is the life we chose. So February, for the majority of us, sucks.

When I was a kid, it meant snow, crazy-cold weather punctuated by crazy-warm chinooks (depending on the vagarities of coastal weather), being tackled to the thawing turf during those rare moments of mid-winter warmth, and not getting Valentine’s Day cards. Now that I’m theoretically grown up and live elsewhere, I have to watch for the mud and deal with crazy-cold weather punctuated by rain. I don’t get tackled anymore, and as for the Valentine’s Day cards.. well, let’s just say that some years are better than others, and this was a very good year.

As I’ve gotten older, though, and as I’ve come to have different hobbies, and as my love for certain things has intensified, I’ve begun to see February in an entirely different light. And it all has to do with four simple little words that make most of my friends roll their eyes: “Pitchers and catchers report.” Go ahead, laugh. It’s stupid. It’s baseball. Sports fandom, for the non-fan, is always incomprehenisbly dumb. But baseball, the sport of the long season, the sport with 162 days of news and surprise and delight, has six months of dormancy — and every year, I anticipate the approach of the new season a little bit more. Those words become sweeter every year; the wait between the end of the World Series and Opening Day becomes longer every year, too.

This year felt worse than most. I missed baseball more that I think I did last year, despite the crappy crappy season of Mariners baseball I was forced to endure in 2004. Anticipation built and built, thanks to some truly brilliant moves on the part of the team, and I cannot wait for 4 April — it’s just going to be a beautiful thing, watching this team take to the field. Last year I went to Arizona for my first spring training; this year, it’s not possible, but I’ll be there in spirit. There’s no better way to kiss the winter goodbye, and usher in spring, than watching the fledgling baseball season get off the ground. A fabulous, wonderous thing.

The old game waits under the white
Deeper than frozen grass
Down at the frost line, it waits
To return, when the birds return
It starts to wake in the south
where it’s never quite stopped
Where winter is a doze of hibernation
The game wakes gradually
fathering vigor to itself as the days lengthen late in February
and grow warmer
Old muscles grow limber
Young arms throw strong and wild
Clogged vein systems in veteran oaks and left-fielders both
Unstop themselves putting forth leaves and line drives
in Florida’s March

Migrating north with the swallows
Baseball and the grasses first green
Enter Cleveland, Kansas City, Boston
–Donald Hall

Go Mariners.

I hope you've had enough to drink; it's going to take courage

Following the euthanizing of Under a Blackened Sky, I decided I still needed some kind of outlet for idiotic inanities, and this seems like as good a place as any. The truly sad thing is that I’m likely to end up updating more over here than I ever did at the other place, and that I’ll also end up giving money to the LJ guys because I use and (ugh, I can’t believe I’m about to say this) actually like their software. So here we are.

I’ve been back and forth between Victoria and the mainland a lot lately, for four or five days at a stretch, living in hotels and generally missing people who know who they are. This week I’ve been staying in Richmond — the downtowny part of Richmond, I mean. The part you drive through from time to time, but don’t actually spend any time in. It’s a neat place, and I’m starting to wonder why I never realized that before. It reminds me a bit of being in Tokyo, without actually being in Tokyo (or leaving the country, for that matter) — once again, there are lots of little short people all over the place, talking in a language you don’t understand, with signage you can’t read, and, if you were to walk into a random shop in both Richmond and Tokyo, you’re probably about as likely to find someone who can speak English.

It’s the little things: More neon than you might be used to seeing in North American (though Vancouver has always been a little unique in that department), strobe lights advertising stuff, incomprehensible deals on strange prodcuts you’ve never heard of, bizarre foods, both prepared and raw, and a preponderance of really damn good and fast Asian food.

This can get particularly funny — I went to a Japanese bistro last night, where the food was better than average North American quality, but worse than what you’d get on the other side of the Pacific. As you might expect, the menu isn’t really in English.. but it’s also not in Japanese, either. I walked into the restaurant, and the staff yelled out, “Irrashimase!” just like they do Over There. “Cool!” I thought. “This is one of those Japanese restaurants!” I turned to the guy closest to me, and said, in Japanese, “Good evening, and thank you; I’d like a table for one, please.” And I got this blank look back. “Oh-kay, clearly not one of those Japanese restaurants.” Yet Cantonese was widely spoken and understood. I don’t know what to make of this.

No, people don’t drive on the wrong side of the road, and the alleys and streets aren’t quite as vibrant, but there’s a touch of difference about this place that I find kind of appealing. Two years ago, the last time I spent any significant amount of time in Richmond (about a day), it mostly annoyed me; now, I kinda like it. But Yaohan is easily the equal of any shopping mall you’re likely to find in Japan, and if you close your eyes.. well, you might not believe it, but you could fool yourself.