Monday, September 29, 2014

trying my hand in Scotland

AirTransat flight, packed into the window seat, using my coat to cover my eyes. An uneven sleep. Two meals: a beef and potatoes dinner, and a continental breakfast featuring pink goop posing as yogourt. Greeted by my friend at the airport with a welcome coffee in hand. Short drive through Glasgow, stopped to admire one of the downtown campuses. Lunch at Bar Gandolfi: pasta with capers and anchovies. A sleepy but gorgeous trip to the house, gliding between soft green hills. Steak dinner in Casa Mia in Dumfries, my tummy enjoying the extended day.
Egg, venison sausage, back bacon

Sunday was a much needed sleep-in, followed up by a healthy brunch, a bike ride around the surrounding countryside, and recording an ALS ice challenge.

Loch Lomond
Monday was driving through Moffat to drop off the housecat, then to Glasgow with a short stop at a rest station for petrol and a heavy plate of sausage, potatoes and peas. Checked into the Citizen M, a modern, streamlined hotel, seemingly inspired by Japanese sleep pods. Walk to The Admiral Bar to catch a Glasgow Skeptics' talk on electoral inequality, which I found useful. Sidled up to some fellows afterwards, resulting in a night of drinking, debating and poking fun at politicians, ended with deep-fried sausage and chips eaten drunkenly on the stumble back.

Glen Coe
Tuesday was the second half of the drive up to Loch Ness, first with a rest stop at Loch Lomond, Then through the Highlands, that remote beauty, alternating massive rocky hills with green valleys. I was particularly impressed by Glen Coe, whose magnificence is lost in a photo -- the sheer gravity of all that stone and earth piled high puts one in a minute space, bending one's perspective. Upon arriving in Dores we had a fine meal; another steak for me, followed by a quiet walk along the beach.
Urquhart Castle

Wednesday was a full breakfast of fresh rolls, pancakes, bacon and eggs. Drove up through Inverness then down the other side of the Loch, stopping in Drumnadrochit for souvenirs before continuing to Urquhart Castle. Though it is a ruin, one gets a feel for how this was a living fortress of the Middle Ages, complete with drawbridge and trebuchet.

Loch Tay, with a crannog on the right
Our return drive continued south; we missed the Crannog Center's closing time, but our luck in finding lodgings for the night held true in Killin. Tonight's dinner was a creamy seafood pasta, courtesy of the charming Smiddy restaurant. We followed up with drinks in the local pub, entertained by a young woman and her French bulldog.

Thursday was a day-trip in Edinburgh -- visiting the Castle, seeing the newly installed trams. We took in some fine views from the top of the Camera Obscura building, which otherwise houses a curious collection of visual illusions, many of which I'd seen in my internet travels and in other science centres.

The Royal Mile
Now a coffee and sandwich while watching the continuous flow of tourists through the downtown, various street performers vying for their attention -- a young woman on a ukulele, another creating long bubbles, a bagpipe player, a Stormtrooper with a kilt.

Friday served as a day of rest -- pizza and video games, catching up on Twitter and news of the referendum. A walk in the nearby forest at dusk.

Saturday was another trip to Moffat, treated to brunch. Finally got to try a "99 flake", something I'd been curious about since seeing it in Little Britain -- the ice cream is a lot more watery than I'd prefer, and the flake itself was pretty bland. Purchased some souvenirs in the form of Scotch and Moffat toffee, which is more of a hard candy that goes from sweet to slightly sour, the acid shining through.

Road to Dumfries
And so on the Sunday I returned, back to Toronto, back to the cats (for whom I got a sitter), back to my condo and work and morning scrums. My summer adventure was over, and I return anew, wanting to do more, to be more.

I had a full breath of a fair, green land, and I hope to breathe it again, one day.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Flying to Scotland

I'm flying to Scotland tonight to see a friend there. I grew tired of having nothing to show for the summer -- nights of staying in watching Netflix, weekends with no plans. Feels good to finally do something.

Well, I caught a friend playing at the Emmet Ray this past Sunday, some live music to fill my time. Saw some faces I hadn't seen in ages, had a few beers, enjoyed myself.

My condo's heat pump was a bit wonky for a week or so there. It turned out that the fan for the building's water supply to the heat pumps needed a reset, or some such thing. Anyway the cooling works again, which puts my mind at ease regarding the cats. I actually dreamt of them last night, scrambling at the walls, trying to escape from what I gather were zombies or a similar threat. I feel guilty every day that I don't play with them, such is the attachment I've grown. I hired a cat sitter to look after them while I'm away, who appeared very prepared and professional. Still, the cats' well-being occupies my mind.

I am really liking Breaking Bad. I'd been holding out on watching it, the premise being so implausible to me. Once one gets over that hump however the show truly stands on its own as a work of television art. Much more addictive than Game of Thrones, which I found to be shallow, without substance. Seeing Walt sink into depravity is both fascinating and painful; I feel sorry for those around him. And I'm only in the second season!

Apparently Rob Ford is making a comeback in the polls! Toronto, my how you dumb/disengaged/jaded you've become!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Summer of Shows

Well, I'm caught up on A Game of Thrones. I was not all that into the show for the first three seasons, which is strange -- you'd think I'd be all over something full of swords and magic and intrigue. But no, it wasn't until the fourth season that I started to get that "just one more episode" feeling. It's difficult to say exactly what the show lacked for me. Not enough relatable characters? I did come to enjoy the Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark stories, and I liked the idea of Sansa developing into something other than a pouting ingĂ©nue. Over in Essos, I couldn't get past the idea of Daenerys freeing slaves by merely talking to them, as if one could change a person's core belief with only reason. Were that the world was so easily fixed! And, on a nitpick scale, how is she feeding her army? Where are the trains of supply wagons?

I've now moved onto Breaking Bad, and I have greatly enjoyed my time with it thus far, some five episodes in. I've heard about the descent the characters fall into, and am glad that their slide is slow for they are quite likeable as they are now, on the precipice of still being moral. This last episode had Walt turn down an offer to pay for his chemo, which I thought was quite foolish, and would appreciate some more justification for this. A minor quibble; the show is very well done and lives up to the hyperbole.

Did I mention that I finished the US version of The Office some months back? I quite liked it, even after Steve Carell's character left. Sure, the show felt quite different with the rotation of bosses, but simply seeing my favourite personalities continue to interact was enough. Never did like Ed Helm's Andy Bernard; while Carell's Michael Scott had an innocent quality to him, Andy was just a fickle, self-absorbed jerk. Anyway, I'm glad to have finished it.

Back in the real world, I finally made it over to Bike Sauce over the Simcoe weekend and changed the freewheel on my bicycle. It was a relatively painless operation, with the guiding words of the volunteers there. I think next I shall replace the seat and the pedals, both of which are in very sorry states indeed.

Urp, yes, I continue to play Hearthstone daily. Naxxramas, the new single-player campaign, has added some variety and cards to the game, so hopefully the metagame will see some changes. I do like building anti-"Miracle Rogue" decks -- my best bet is with a Paladin rush deck so far, though it only wins maybe 1/3 of the time it's played. Currently I run a lot of Warlock handlock/giants, and try to figure out the best ways to work in the new cards.

The summer is nearly over! I watched a lot of movies and shows, and certainly put in a lot of hours in video games. Spent time with friends, exercised, intermittently volunteered, but what else have I gotten done? Are there any adventures left before the autumn?

We shall see!



Friday, July 11, 2014

a midsummer's update

The fan for my heat pump stopped working. It's been wonky of late, and when I got home last Tuesday, after a day under the sticky glaring sun, my condo offered little relief. Indeed I ended up resorting to drinking myself to sleep, cursing the humid air. I was at the Evergreen Brickworks, enjoying beer and meat and fruit pies, a foodie event to be sure.

Yes, Canada Day, a country I love and cherish but is governed by fools I cannot abide, seemingly populated with people I hold less and less in common with. Well, not truly truly, but certainly I find the divide between us has seemingly deepened. Or perhaps it was always thus, and only as my eyes look broader do I see the chasms of empathy, of understanding, of relating. Let it be said that variety is both humanity's strength and weakness.

But the weather, the weather since that day has mellowed, a mild summer with much rain and cool winds. I find it comfortable; surely this is better than the raging waves of heat and humidity in summers we've known before here. Thus my heat pump (the fan, in fact) lies dormant, the comfortable evening air a viable, even preferable, alternative.

I volunteered with Cycle Toronto today, working as a bicycle valet for the opening of the nearby Corktown Commons, a thoroughly modern oasis in the city, nestled in a remote corner, complete with a water park and pond. It's quite the thing, and I hope to enjoy it again soon.

I've been burning through Death Note, an anime that holds up to the praise I've heard. The premise: a high school student finds a notebook that, when a person's name is written in it, will cause that person to die. Given this somewhat absurd item in an otherwise modern Japan actually makes for a good crime-drama, with a group of detectives attempting to find and bait out the killer, who sees himself as a kind of god, punishing those he deems unfit for the world.

I've also been trying some other iOS games, looking for an alternative to Hero Academy, which has unfortunately been neglected by Robot Entertainment, its creators. Such an excellent turn-based game! I dare say a classic, and I've not yet seen its equal. I lament its gradual demise. In any case, I've tried Summoner Wars, Uniwar HD, Outwitters, with the last of these being the closest (and yet still falling short) to the type of strategic thrill of HA.

Am I seeing anyone, you, like so many around me, may ask? No, I am not. Strange how one's outlook on daily life can change by such a small fact, such an innocent point. I remain single, comforted by little, dragging my feet through the days, growing heavier and wondering what next can I do to keep sane, to scrape up what little joy I can from the dregs I've surrounded myself with. Ha, but I exaggerate, a bit anyways.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

what i am doing, i am doing what, what am i doing

I spent the day at home, having to wait to get my heat-pump serviced (again) -- this time it seems it needed a flushing out, by which I suppose it was clogged in some capacity. A novel thing, working from home: cats at my feet, a large pot of coffee within reach, dressed in my most comfortable of attires. I rather enjoyed it, and got to try out the local Sky Blue Sky sandwich shop; excellent chowder!

Earlier this week I did one of my spur-of-the-moment rides across the city, from downtown to the beaches and back home, a circuitous route, some 20 km, navigating by will alone, without a destination or goal other than to feel the city pass by, to push my legs and lungs. Such glorious weather, I could not deny its call to enjoy it.

I have been keeping up with karate. Mostly keeping up, there being only the one class a week right now. I would like to say that I've been keeping up with my workouts as well, but that would be a blatant lie; I go through phases of regular and not at all. I often blame the waves of fatigue I feel when I arrive at home, though perhaps now that the A/C is on again I can self-persuade myself more frequently. Sleep is certainly a factor here, though the quality of that is my lack of willpower, my lack of drive.

Oh yeah, Monday night was so blasted warm I got very little sleep, having to resort to drinking half a bottle of wine to endure the evening air. Summer's early warning shots are scary indeed.

Saturday I was in Trinity Bellwoods, putting in some hours with Cycle Toronto. Strange to think of myself accosting strangers, attempting to raise awareness and sell memberships. I was glad to be out and about, at least. For I am in a funk, have been for the past couple months. I feel myself becoming farther and farther removed from those around me. I suppose much of it has to do with everyone settling down and coupling up, but even so.

I'll mention lastly that I saw Godzilla (terrible, just brain-dead action) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (the best of the series, has heart and teeth).

Here's to hoping for some joy in June!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

zizek's the pervert's guide to ideology

Here are my notes made while watching Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. I've italicized those parts which I feel ring the most true or insightful for me. I've little illusion that you, dear reader, will understand all I've hastily scribbled down, but perhaps it'll give some fresh perspective into these films.

"They Live"
The glasses allow the wearer to see ideology. To put them on, to be free, and to have one's illusions shattered, is a painful experience; hence the big fight scene. Freedom is painful.

"The Sound of Music"
The guilt felt by people confessing is not from having sinned, or betrayed their conscience; it's from not having enjoyed the sin enough.

Coca Cola, Kinder Egg
Desire begets desire. The ultimate horror of desire is to have it fully sated, so that it disappears. The centre is the prize, which allows us to enjoy the chocolate (?), "probably made in some Chinese gulag."

"Ode to Joy", "Clockwork Orange", "West Side Story", 2011 England Riots
A piece of music with a fascinating history of use. Who is excluded from the universal joy? How can you know all this, that the actions are wrong, the causes of it, and still do it. "Even the most brutal violence is the enacting of a certain symbolic deadlock."

"Taxi Driver", "The Searchers", Anders Breivik
Fantasy is a lie in that it covers up a gap in consistency; fantasy provides an easy answer. What drives the violence of the hero is not that the victim is just a victim but rather that the victim enjoys and even participates in their own victimhood. Indeed, the violence should rather be directed inwards, towards the ideology that chains you, ties you.

"Jaws", "Triumph of the Will"
The function of the shark is to trade all of our smaller fears into a single target. Perhaps in a similar way as anti-Semitic Germany. Fascism aims to maintain a conservative hierarchy. Develop a narrative that explains the problems with a target, a foreigner.

(Sidenote: Rammstein have been accused of having Nazi sentiments (?), but in reality they separate the parts of mass group rituals from Nazism, allowing people to enjoy the ritual without the ideology.)

Airplane graveyard
Capitalism is a kind of religion, where one sacrifices oneself, one's environment, so that capital is moved.

"Titanic", "The Fall of Berlin"
Winslet's character has a broken image of herself, which DiCaprio literally and figuratively puts together; she draws energy from a lower-class person before she can return to the upper-class. The catastrophe overshadows this conservative message, of the rich taking advantage of the poor, using the couple as a vessel to hold the movie together, to make it more palatable to the liberally minded.

"Full Metal Jacket", "M.A.S.H.", "If...."
Military routine can induce one of two reactions: ironic distance e.g. joking around, or an obscene supplement e.g. marching chants. Communities always require unwritten rules. But to get too close to this obscenity is suicidal, destructive.

"The Dark Knight", rhetoric justifying the invasion of Iraq
Disturbingly perpetuates the myth that telling the truth (the Joker) means distraction -- the idea that if the public were to learn the truth (that Havery Dent committed those murders rather than Batman) would result in chaos. The lie maintains order, an old conservative wisdom: That the truth is too strong to be told to ordinary people.

9/11, the Big Other, "The Loves of a Blond", "The Fireman's Ball", "Brief Encounter", "Brazil"
"If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Patently the opposite is true; the concept of God allows people to do horrific things. The same can be said of true Communists, who see themselves as instruments of their shared perceived historical destiny; as tools they allow themselves to do terrible things, since it is not they, personally, who orders them. To undermine this ideology one needs to ridicule the practices of the individual in the system, not (just) their leader. The Big Other, sometimes embodied as a nosy busybody, forces us to act civilized, to maintain social appearances. Thus is the tragedy of our predicament -- the necessity of the Big Other, and yet there not actually being one.

"The Last Temptation of Christ"
All new inventions come from hysterical questioning. Judaism persists in the anxiety of the question: "But what do you want from me?" Christianity resolves this tension with love. However, in Christianity and Christ's death there is a strong atheist message -- that one is free to do as one sees fit (?).

"Seconds" (1956)
A change of the external did not change the man; the dream the company fulfilled was a shallow, materialist dream. The first step to freedom is not just to change reality to fit your dream; it's to change the way you dream. Which, again, will hurt, as all satisfactions we have come from our dreams.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Notes while watching Safety Not Guaranteed

WITH SPOILERS

Who names their daughter Darius?

Difficult to believe that Aubrey Plaza's character, she of the smouldering eyes, would be such a shut-in, speaking as an aspiring one myself; that kind of sarcastic, skeptical-of-life intelligence attracts the like-minded, at least to a close-knit few.

Weekend getaways, especially ones near the ocean, trigger memories of 2009, wherein I had many such trips. Quiet towns, lonely roads, quaint B&Bs, diner food.

Ugh, shooting without goggles? Running through the line of fire? C'MON!!

Not sure how I feel about the subplot, this slick guy, a self-assured jerk whom I care little for, seeking out his old flame. Is it my lot in life to be so agonized by these fellows?

Aw, he turns into a nice human and helps a virgin seduce high-school students with alcohol.

Heh, someone had a lot of fun making that thing: A combination of the classic Time Machine machine and the alien device in Contact, with lasers and a few Tesla coils thrown in.

Eh, the film was okay. Felt a bit rough in dialogue and jokes. Strange to see Plaza smile fully.