Monday, June 27, 2011

CANADA'S SHAME

That headline is a bit of a joke in our house. One morning, years ago, Dean told me he'd had a nightmare the night before. He dreamed he was looking at the front page of a big national newspaper (maybe the Washington Post) and that was the caption - directly overtop of a giant photo of him! Now whenever something goes wrong - Dean undercooks a piece of chicken, or fails to unclog the toilet, or whatever - we recall the grand headline of his dream.

Of course, today Canada's Shame is the herd of stampeding buffalo in Vancouver who decided to smash up the joint after the Canucks failed to win the Stanley Cup. I was going to post on this earlier, but I don't move as fast as I used to. It's pretty obvious that losing the Cup wasn't the "real" cause of the riot, just the handiest pretext. That bunch was going to have its riot no matter what, win or lose. This has happened before, and in Vancouver, too. But we also know from the G20 riots in Toronto last year that our society has degenerated to the point where any large gathering of people is viewed by some as a perfect setting for some smashing, looting, arson and general mayhem.

The "official" excuses were pretty much what I expected: the mayor of Vancouver and the police chief (how reassuring!) immediately blamed the fracas on "anarchists". This is the up-to-date version of "they weren't from around here" - every time there's a particularly shameful display of public brutishness, the people whose community has broken down immediately reach for the palliative excuse that it isn't really that there's something wrong with US. It's THEM - those darned outsiders, those alien Others who came into our innocent, blameless community and spoiled everything. The "anarchists" scapegoat didn't hold up too well because it was obvious that way more people were involved than could be attributed to any tiny fringe group of crackpots, which is what true anarchists are.

The police were almost comical in their wooly-minded perplexity over the mysterious manifestation of these fiendish anarchists:

The mayor said there was no advance warning of the strategy, which caught police and city officials off guard, and may force them to take a different approach to security plans for large public gatherings in the future.

“There had been absolutely no signs of this coming,” Robertson said Thursday afternoon. “Both during the G-20 [leaders’ summit in Toronto] and the 2010 Olympics these thugs were well known to be organizing and preparing to take action and criminal activities on the streets. There were no indications of that leading into last night,” he said.


Maybe the reason there wasn't the same trail of breadcrumbs they'd seen during the previous 2 cases is because in this case the same people weren't pulling the strings. Is it possible? Could the police actually be facing a situation that doesn't neatly fall into one of their two or three neatly-labelled pigeonholes? Maybe something quite new? Like a general breakdown of social order?

And the photos and videos that began pouring over the transom the day after this incident bore that out: this wasn't a pre-planned anarchist action that exploded in the middle of a blameless crowd of bewildered innocents, dragging them into somebody else's fight. This was a crowd of people we thought we knew - well-meaning, well-behaved Canadians - deciding that they'd like a little taste for themselves of the thrill of lawbreaking they've been watching other people on TV indulging in. When push came to shove, a lot of people who'd given a good impression of being civilized and respectful of the laws that make civilized societies work showed that they couldn't be relied upon.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

R.I.P. Peter Falk


Dean emailed me yesterday to say that Peter Falk had died, aged 83. I knew he'd been suffering from Alzheimer's for some years, poor guy. In his honour, we're going to watch some of his Columbo episodes, since I have all but the very last set of dvds. Those last seasons - the "new" Columbo episodes - weren't nearly as good as the originals, but there are still some bright spots. "Columbo Goes To The Guillotine" is pretty good, and I liked "Columbo Goes To College", though the plot was incredibly sophisticated and dependent on technological gimmicks. I found it hard to believe that two college boys, who weren't especially noted for their technological expertise (they were upper-class frat boys, basically interested in partying and playing around) could have come up with something that flawless in so little time.

Among the original episodes, there are almost too many excellent ones to be able to list in order of preference: I especially liked "Playback" with Oskar Werner, and pretty much anything with Jack Cassidy in it - he was such an arrogant bastard in every case. Dean likes to mimic one of his lines in Publish or Perish, where he's conning a demented explosives freak into thinking that he wants to publish his book "How To Blow Up Anything": "There's no doubt this book of yours will change the world!"

I liked Falk as Sam Diamond in Murder by Death, too - all that tough guy bluster concealing some very bizarre backstory involving a lot of sexual confusion. "Sam, why do you keep all those naked muscle men magazines in your office?" "Suspects. Always looking for suspects."

What was nice about Falk was that even though he was pretty typecast as Columbo after the 70s, he never seemed to resent it. Not like Basil Rathbone, who hated Sherlock Holmes and detested the way that character dominated his career. Falk seemed to like Columbo, and never minded the fact that this was to be what he'd be most remembered for. And why should he? "Columbo" was a good show - well written, with good performers and handsome production. It holds up very well today, especially compared to freakish murder mysteries like "CSI", where everything seems to be caused by some new secret underground world of fursuit fetishists, or diaper-wearing fantasists, or mouse-worshipping cannibals, or whatever. Columbo was almost always set in the real world; no matter how unusual the people he encountered, they all ran on recognizably human motives - money, jealousy, revenge, fear.

So long, Columbo - you and your car and your raincoat belong to the ages.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Visiting NY state

Emma and I went on a little daytrip to the U.S. last weekend. We drove down to Prescott, and crossed the bridge over the St. Lawrence near Ogdensburg. The purpose of the trip was to do some very specific grocery shopping - there are several flavours of Jello fat-free, sugar-free instant pudding mix that are simply not available in Canada. We have chocolate, chocolate fudge, white chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch. In the U.S., they also have pistachio, as well as banana cream, cheesecake and lemon. The last two are new flavours that came out since our time in Boston, but I've been hankering for the pistachio since we moved from the States 9 years ago, and I decided that it was worth making a trip over the border to find some and bring in back.

Emma also had a list of things she wanted, particularly cereal. She's been talking about the American Nesquik cereal for years - she says that, unlike the Canadian version, it will actually turn white milk poured on it to chocolate! She also wanted Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles, so I said we'd see what we could find.

While in Ogdensburg, we went to look at a tall ship that was moored in the harbour, then headed off to the local Price Chopper store. I'm sorry to say that they had banana and cheesecake flavours, but NOT the pistachio or the lemon! I picked up a few of the former, even though the banana is not my favourite flavour, and then looked through the store for other things we can't get in Canada. I found diet Vanilla Coke, so I got a case to bring back, and a few cans of Libby's pumpkin pie filling. We have pumpkin pie filling in Canda, of course, but not this brand.

After the groceries, we went over to Walmart and got some summer clothes - Emma needed new shorts, and I got some skirts and T-shirts. I haven't had new clothes for a very long time, and figured it was time to get something that actually fit me properly.

I must say, Ogdensburg wasn't quite what I expected. I thought it was larger, for one thing, but its population is only 11,000. It also seemed rather rundown. I always have this presumption that the U.S. is bound to be wealthier and better than poor little Canada, but this town looked like it was in a long decline. Houses were ramshackle and unpainted, lots of places were boarded up, particularly old factories and businesses - this must have been going on for a long time, predating the Obama Depression. Now, I didn't see the ENTIRE town, staying mostly on the eastern half, but still, the population wasn't so large that I can suppose that there's a huge, wealthy sector hidden just around the corner. The place looked rather shabby and poor, overall.

I wasn't willing to abandon my pudding quest with the failure in Ogdensburg. I remembered long ago crossing the border at Cornwall, and vaguely recalling that the shopping on the other side of the border was better than where we were, so we decided to head east to Massena and try our luck there. We could come back to Canada over that bridge, and the trip back would be a bit longer, but we had time and Emma would enjoy seeing a little more of the countryside.

Our drive through northern NY state didn't show a much different face from Ogdensburg - the whole area looks a bit rundown. It's surprising, that waterfront property wouldn't be more valuable, but I guess business and employment has really drained away from this part of the state.

We didn't stop to look at Massena, just got a bit lost in it looking for the shopping mall, but it seemed slightly better off than Ogdensburg. Next time, when I'm not struggling with maps and highway signs, we'll look around and get a better idea of the place. We finally found the St. Lawrence Mall, and a big grocery store, where - hallelujah! - we found the pistachio and lemon pudding mixes! I bought about 18 boxes, which, with all the other flavours, should keep me supplied for the better part of a year. I didn't bother buying flavours we can already get at home.

We were flagged for Customs scrutiny when we came back, but on looking over my bills the agent just dismissed me and we weren't charged duty. It was almost all groceries, with a few Walmart clothes - I don't suppose there would have been much to collect in any case.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New computer

I have a new computer, but it's not just any computer. This one, I actually built myself! I bought all the components, a case, hard drive, processor, dvd/cd drive, etc., and put it together on Sunday.

It all started with James's campaign of terror against the Mac. He kept saying he wanted a Dell, but I didn't want to buy him a new one, so I found an old one at the thrift store, and thought I'd try to upgrade it. Turned out it had a fried hard drive, so I thought maybe I could replace that, and I started looking for videos on YouTube on how to do it. When I saw it demonstrated, I realized that it's really pretty easy - same thing goes for replacing a cd-rom drive. But there was a hitch; I discovered that the computer was really pretty old - from about 2003 or so, and a lot of the connectors have changed in the meantime. Finding compatible parts looked like it was going to be a difficult, expensive process.

Then, while looking for "how to upgrade your computer" books in Chapters, I saw one on how to build your own pc. (This one). I took note of the title, and found it was available in our library, so I took it out and read it. This is when I decided I could do this myself, so I followed their "recipe" for building a budget computer, and gradually accumulated all the parts needed. Then on Sunday I followed their pictures and guidelines and put it all together. And believe it or not, it all worked perfectly the very first time!

Of course, they said they could assemble it in 30 minutes, while it took me 4 hours! And that included a trip to the computer store to buy another SATA cable, because the components only provided one for the dvd drive, not the hard drive.

Since this was a first-time attempt, I saved money by buying a $10 monitor at the Salvation Army, and a used keyboard and mouse for just a few dollars each. Now that I see how well it worked, I'll watch the sales and get a really nice monitor when I see a suitable one on sale - it's a bit weird to go back to this curved square screen again, as it's one of those old-fashioned monitors with the big long rear section, just like an old TV.

Now that I can do it, I'm going to save up and build a really super computer in a year or two: something with huge memory, that I can use as a media center, with all our movies on the hard drive, and connected to big HD TV! Ahhh, it gives me something to dream about...

Here are the components I used:

Case - ANTEC NSK 4482B (Power and fan included)
Motherboard - MB ASROCK K10N78M-PRO
Processor - CPU AMD|ATH II X2 250 3.0G AM3 RT
Memory - 2x2GB Crucial CT2KIT25664AA800 R (4GB total)
Hard Drive - SEAGATE ST3500418AS 500 GB
Optical Drive - Asus
Speakers - Altec Lansing 2.0 Computer Speaker (VS2620)
Monitor - Dell (used)
Keyboard - Dynex wired (used)
Mouse - Logitech wired (used)

It's almost exactly what was recommended in the book for a "budget system", except that the processor they called for was #240, I think, and this slightly more advanced model had replaced it. I'm just a beginner, and I didn't know enough about computer building to feel competent to change the components, but maybe someday I will.

I strongly recommend the book to anyone thinking of building a pc. For the most part it's very easy to understand - they occasionally get swept away using acronyms and tech terms, but eventually you'll find a definition or explanation of what they're talking about. Before I tried this, my only computer hardware experience had been connecting cables at the back and prying off keyboard keys to clean the dust and hair that was gumming up the works. If I can have a success the first time, I think anyone can, you just have to be patient and read the instructions and get a clear idea of what you're about to do.

Taking apart the old computer was a big help - it was useful to actually see how things fitted onto a motherboard, how big a processor and fan were, how many cables there were, etc. It made the real thing much easier to comprehend.

Here's a picture: