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31 March 2010

 

Eumerdification: writing to impress academics

Deep in the notes at the back of philosopher Daniel Dennett's 2006 book Breaking the Spell, there's a funny little story:

John Searle once told me about a conversation he had with the late Michel Foucault: "Michel, you're so clear in conversation; why is your written work so obscure?" To which Foucault replied, "That's because, in order to be taken seriously by French philosophers, twenty-five percent of what you write has to be impenetrable nonsense." I have coined a term for this tactic, in honour of Foucault's candor: eumerdification.

The word is much nicer in French, since in English it would be something like shittifying. So here's the definition:

eumerdification
Making academic writing at least 25% incomprehensible crap, to seem smarter.

I love that. I suspect there's some eumerdification in this article I reformatted several years ago.

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30 March 2010

 

Crime, sin, and authority

I've tried to figure out why the escalating sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is making me so angry. I mean, there's the obvious stuff: some priests and other Church officials have been getting away with the rape and beating of children for decades. And much of the Church hierarchy and bureaucracy, including the man who is now Pope, has been working hard to cover it all up, often with the tacit assistance of governments and other civil authorities.

A few of my friends and acquaintances are Catholics, but as far as I know none of them have been victims of these monsters—which is a relief. And I'm not only not Catholic, I'm not Christian or religious at all, but a happy atheist. However, I'm not gloating about the Catholic scandals, in some sort of twisted "I told you so" way. I'm sad and viscerally infuriated, in a way I hope many Catholics are, and quite a few do seem to be. Occasionally, learning new details makes me want to vomit. (Then again, that's not hard to do in general these days.)

I think my fury is it's because it's been going on for so bloody long: not just the physical and sexual abuse, but public knowledge of it and Church inaction about it. More than 20 years ago, following the Mt. Cashel Orphanage sex-abuse scandal in Newfoundland, a friend of mine and his girlfriend (who weren't afraid of being a bit tasteless) came to a Halloween party dressed as a priest and an altar boy, respectively. Even in the 1980s, the concept of a molesting priest was so widespread that everyone at the party got the reference.

It's also been 12 years since the Canadian federal government began attempts to apologize for sexual and physical abuse of native students at residential schools run by the Anglican, United, and Roman Catholic churches across the country until the 1960s, and to compensate the victims financially. And that's just here in Canada.

There are, unfortunately, small proportions of sexual predators and sadists in positions of authority inside some institutions that care for children, including schools, hospitals, foster homes, summer camps, and so on—and also including churches and religious organizations outside Catholicism. And sometimes there are coverups. But once exposed, those coverups can, should, and usually do result in shame, dismissals, apologies, and criminal charges. Even decades after the events.

Many groups and individuals within the Roman Catholic Church have had integrity, trying to get the molesters fired, charged, and punished. Yet men of authority within the institution, throughout its hierarchy—from priests and bishops to archbishops, cardinals, and apparently right up to the Pope—have used its power, influence, and worldwide reach to deny, deflect, hide, obfuscate, and in many cases abet those of its members who abuse children.

Their priority seems to have been to protect their Church, and the pedophiles within it, at the expense of their victims, the most vulnerable and innocent of its billion members. When pressed by incontrovertible evidence and public pressure, those same authorities have released half-hearted and defensive apologies. The situation is abominable, and the scandal deserves to be global front-page news, as it has become in recent months.

The Catholic Church claims to be the highest possible moral authority on Earth. Of course, personally, I think that's ridiculous. The horrifying enormity of child abuse and coverup within the Church over decades—more likely centuries, if we're honest with ourselves—only reinforces my conviction.

Indeed, it's hard to think of crimes more vile. If the beating and rape of children—as well as covering up those acts and enabling them to continue—are not sins worthy of excommunication, and presumably hellfire in the afterlife, I don't understand what could be. So if Catholics intend to continue taking claims of moral authority seriously, they must demand some large-scale changes in their Church, and the Pope and his underlings must listen to and act on those demands.

Given the glacial pace of change in Rome, and the stupefying weight of dogma and doctrine and history, I'm not optimistic. But I also genuinely hope that I am wrong.

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27 March 2010

 

A weird way to hit a weight target

Titanium glassesA few years ago, before I got cancer, my doctor told me that an ideal weight for someone of my height and build was around 185 or 190 pounds (84 to 86 kg). Since I'd been hovering around 200 pounds for some time, I didn't worry too much about it. I was relatively healthy (despite my long-time Type 1 diabetes), eating reasonably well, cycling to and from work, and so on.

Then, of course, came the diagnosis. Over the next three and a bit years, among a hell of a lot of more alarming things, my weight fluctuated wildly—as low as 145 pounds (in mid-2007) and as high as 215 pounds (a couple of years later).

When I started on my latest chemotherapy regimen in December, at first I seemed to be losing about 5 pounds each treatment, which wasn't a good trend. I adjusted what I ate (i.e. more, when I could eat), and things stabilized. Guess where?

Yup, between 185 and 190 pounds, pretty much.

I would not advise this method to reach a weight your doctor recommends for you, however.

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23 March 2010

 

Another party movie

Reilly made a movie of the party we went to on the weekend:

You might recall another one of his videos I posted a couple of weeks ago.

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21 March 2010

 

Spring

It's Spring now, and in Vancouver, it feels like it:

Burnaby cherry blossoms

Crocus

In part to celebrate, Air and I went to a party last night, where everyone dressed up. We also got some of my favourite photos ever of us. Here's one with a cat, a young princess (who left early), me (in fedora), Air (pink hair), and our pal Catherine, who had the evening's best hat:

Cat, princess, Derek, Air, and Catherine

Thanks to Reilly and happy 30th birthday to Miranda, who were our hosts. I have my next bout of chemo tomorrow, so it was good to do something fun while I could.

And didn't my wife look fabulously hot?

Glam chair, baby!

Especially with the martini and the bubble chair. It was like 1968, baby! Except with iPhones.

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20 March 2010

 

Would he be OK with the fake one?

There's some great logic in these conversation snippets with kids. They reflect straightforward thinking and plain speaking, which we adults often spend a lot of time overthinking around.

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18 March 2010

 

I know, I know

People who put pictures of their pets on their blogs are a Web stereotype. I know. But come on...

Puppy portrait 1 crop

...what am I supposed to do? Not post that?

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17 March 2010

 

The Nikon FM3A

Nikon FM3a - 3 at Flickr.comCamera nerds have strange obsessions. Among film cameras, the Leica M series of small rangefinder devices is probably top among photo fetishists, who might argue about whether the original 1950s M3 or the current M7 or MP is the optimum design.

But to me, the manual-focus, precision-built electromechanical Nikon FM3A SLR is the real star of these old-school cameras. It was an oddity when Nikon introduced it in 2001—by which time ergonomically-shaped, plastic-bodied autofocus cameras were what almost everyone used, and digital was poised to take over from film almost entirely. (Even the FA of 1983, or the intro-level FG I owned around the same time, had more modern features in many respects.)

But Nikon was intentionally building a modernized retro camera for those fetishists. It offers basic but powerful light-metering, manual focus assistance, fill-flash compatibility, and aperture-priority automation if you want it. But it is also a fully-mechanical machine that will operate perfectly (except for the light meter) without any batteries. All the power to run it can come from energy stored in springs when you ratchet the film advance lever with your thumb, something that's hard to comprehend for anyone who's used to today's battery-sucking digital beasts, or even my 1988 autofocus Nikon F4.

Nikon only made the FM3A for five years, and manufactures nothing at all like it today. (Indeed, almost no one besides Leica makes fully mechanical cameras anymore.) If you can find one, it sells for pretty close to the $800 the model fetched when new, which is still a fraction the cost of a Leica or a top-of-the-line digital Nikon SLR. And it will use most Nikon-mount lenses made between 1977 and quite recently, when the company stopped including aperture rings on their SLR lenses.

I'd compare this rugged Nikon with modern versions of the Fender Stratocaster guitar, or a brand-new fountain pen: the FM3A looks superficially like something created decades earlier, and works pretty much that way too, but it has some clever modern enhancements that smooth the way for enthusiasts or professionals to use it elegantly. It's neat that Nikon ever decided to create it, and like the still-manufactured Nikon F6 film SLR, it's probably among the last of its kind.

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16 March 2010

 

The end of my live music career?

Neurotics in Tsawwassen - Sticky NeuroticThis piece is a text transcript of my segment on the latest episode (#79) of my podcast Inside Home Recording.


Most of my music career has had nothing to do with recording. It's been about playing live, mostly in a cover band. I've been doing that since 1989, more than twenty years. And I think that has now come to an end. Let me explain.

The first live performance I remember giving was on nylon-string guitar, to a group of senior citizens, I think at a music recital at a local church. It was organized through my elementary school, about 30 years ago. I was playing "Romanza," a well-known classical piece. And I forgot to tune my guitar beforehand. They applauded anyway, and I learned my lesson.

A few months later I played the same piece for a school talent contest. I remembered to tune this time, and I won the contest. But it was nerve-wracking. While I loved being in plays and skits, I found precision of live music performance a bit terrifying.

After I took my Grade 4 Royal Conservatory guitar exam in 1982, and then changed high schools, I quit guitar lessons, and stopped playing, and forgot everything, including how to read music. Every once in awhile I'd be startled by a string breaking inside the guitar case in my closet, but I never even bothered opening it.

I was inspired to take up music again at the end of 1987, when I discovered I could play drums half-decently without ever having tried it before. In 1988, my roommate Sebastien and I decided to form a band with our other roommates Alistair and Andrew, and my friend Ken. We'd all play instruments, and we'd all sing.

One day Sebastien and I went out with the agreement that I would buy a drum kit and he would buy an electric guitar. We got the cheapest, crappiest instruments we could find at pawn shops, and we were on our way.

The next lesson came when the bunch of us got paid for a show. But we didn't use our instruments, because it was a lip-sync contest at UBC. We were very silly and overblown, with costumes, makeup, props, a giant wall constructed of cardboard boxes (for a Pink Floyd song) and even some unauthorized flames (for our Alice Cooper impression). We won, and received $600. That was more than we'd get paid for a gig for quite a long time.

The lesson was that showmanship was important. Sometimes more important than musical skill or talent, especially when you're starting out and don't even know how to sing proper harmonies. You need to put on a damn show.

Our first real gig, in the spring of 1989, was at a year-end university party where we sounded great because the audience was really drunk. We played up the schtick, calling ourselves the Juan Valdez Memorial R&B Ensemble (though we played little R&B) and featuring Batman logos on our instruments and T-shirts, for no particular reason other than that we played the theme from the "Batman" TV show.

In some form or another, Sebastien and I have played in bands together on and off ever since, me on drums and him on guitar. We even tried it full-time for awhile in the mid-1990s, with a short-lived original act called The Flu we took as far as Australia, and cover bands with names like The Love Bugs, HourGlass, and The Neurotics to pay the bills. Sometimes we busked in downtown Vancouver for spare change. The direct rewards were a great way to learn what people liked, or at least what they'd pay for.

I left the band for a few years after I got married and had kids, but still guested when they needed a drummer in a pinch from time to time. I returned in the early 2000s when the gigs were more stable and better paying. We even got flown to New York City once for a single night's show in the fancy Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

The Neurotics, our long-running cover act, has had a rotating cast of musicians for years, but it's always been both about the songs—the classic hits people always respond to—and the show, including glittery jackets, wigs, fake British accents, improvised jokes, crazy stage-leaping, and intentionally mangled lyrics. This past decade, I can't think of a gig where I haven't laughed uncontrollably at least once at the antics of my bandmates, either onstage or in the dressing room between sets.

It's been so much fun that even after I found out I had colon cancer at the beginning of 2007, I tried to keep playing as much as I could. On Canada Day that summer, less than a week before my major surgery, and hopped up on morphine against the pain, I played drums and sang in the sun on the shores of Vancouver's Coal Harbour. Luckily our substitude drummer, Christian, was there on percussion, and could take over on the kit when I needed a break.

I didn't play again until the following February, having lost more than 60 pounds and then regained much of it. Once more, Christian and I spelled one another off, and I made it through. I kept playing through that year and the next, weaving around chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, more surgery, side effects, and fatigue.

But it was getting harder. In 2009, I had to turn down more and more shows. Paul Garay invited me to fill in on drums with his new band Heist that July, for a long daytime outdoor pub booking. It was great, but setup, playing, and teardown exhausted me for days afterward. I had to refuse an offer for a two-night gig a few weeks later.

The Neurotics had two shows, at the end of September and beginning of October 2009, a week apart. Sebastien suggested that, for the first time in years, I try playing rhythm guitar with the band, in addition to drums and percussion alternating with Christian.

I spent a couple of weeks woodshedding to figure out chords to songs I'd played for decades, but always on drums, and we had one rehearsal, because there were other new people in the lineup. Always confident behind the kit or the mic, I was nervous with the guitar around my neck, but I got through.

The last show was on October 3, at a golf club in Tsawwassen, one of Vancouver's southernmost suburbs. I did okay. My drumming and singing were fine, and I didn't miss too many chords on guitar. But the two gigs, even days apart, wiped me out. I slept a lot over the next few days.

Since then, I've returned to a more aggressive chemotherapy schedule to try to combat the cancer that long ago spread to my lungs and chest. I'm often nauseated, immensely sleepy, and unreliable. I can't in good conscience say yes when Sebastien calls me about an upcoming gig, because I can't promise I'll even be able to show up.

So, unless my cancer improves and I can take less nasty treatments—which isn't all that likely—I've had to admit to myself that my time as a regularly gigging musician is probably over. Sure, I might appear as a guest from time to time with some of my old bandmates at the occasional show, for a song or two, maybe.

But I've had to look at my studio at home now and think of how to rearrange it. For at least ten years it's included drums and PA equipment, cymbals and mics and stands and cases, packed on shelves and in bags, ready to load into the car. I think I can take them down, and maybe set them up to play at home instead.

It's no longer a storage room and preparation space for my job as a player, but a space for me to practice music as a hobby, when I feel up to it. I think now I may as well make it work that way.

Like many things I've had to jettison as my health has declined, I regret the change. But it had to come eventually. Even if I could live to 95, I don't think I would ever be like Les Paul, gigging until weeks before his death of natural causes. But I also didn't burn out and die drunk in a hotel room on the road somewhere, like others have.

The choice to stop playing live has been forced on me, but at least I get to make it. And I still have music all around me.

Besides, if my kids ever want to start a band after all their years of piano and singing lessons, then the rehearsal space is right here. And they don't need to buy a thing. Plus, I can teach them about how to put on a damn show.

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15 March 2010

 

Studying for jobs that don't exist yet

After high school, there are any number of specialized programs you can follow that have an obvious result: training as an electrician, construction worker, chef, mechanic, dental hygienist, and so on; law school, medical school, architecture school, teacher college, engineering, library studies, counselling psychology, and other dedicated fields of study at university; and many others.

But I don't think most people who get a high school diploma really know very well what they want to do after that. I certainly didn't. And it's just as well.

At the turn of the 1990s, I spent two years as student-elected representative to the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia, which let me get to know some fairly high mucky-muck types in B.C., including judges, business tycoons, former politicians, honourees of the Order of Canada, and of course high-ranking academics. One of those was the President of UBC at the time, Dr. David Strangway.

In the early '70s, before becoming an academic administrator, he had been Chief of the Geophysics Branch for NASA during the Apollo missions—he was the guy in charge of the geophysical studies U.S. astronauts performed on the Moon, and the rocks they brought back. And Dr. Strangway told me something important, which I've remembered ever since and have repeated to many people over the past couple of decades.

That is, when he got his physics and biology degree in 1956 (a year before Sputnik), no one seriously thought we'd be going to the Moon. Certainly not within 15 years, or probably anytime within Strangway's career as a geophysicist. So, he said to me, when he was in school, he could not possibly have known what his job would be, because NASA, and the entire human space program, didn't exist yet.

In a much less grandiose and important fashion, my experience proved him right. Here I am writing for the Web (for free in this case), and that's also what I've been doing for a living, more or less, since around 1997. Yet when I got my university degree (in marine biology, by the way) in 1990, the Web hadn't been invented. I saw writing and editing in my future, sure, since it had been—and remains—one of my main hobbies, but how could I know I'd be a web guy when there was no Web?

The best education prepares you for careers and avocations that don't yet exist, and perhaps haven't been conceived by anyone. Because of Dr. Strangway's story, and my own, I've always told people, and advised my daughters, to study what they find interesting, whatever they feel compelled to work hard at. They may not end up in that field—I'm no marine biologist—but they might also be ready for something entirely new.

They might even be the ones to create those new things to start with.

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14 March 2010

 

The privacy transition

Marina MillerA few weeks ago, my daughter Marina, who's 12, asked me to start mentioning her by name on this website, and when I link to her blog, photos of her on Flickr, the new blog she just set up with her sister, and so on.

Until now, I've been pretty careful about just calling her "M" or "Miss M," because while I'm personally comfortable putting my own name and information on the Web, that's not a decision I should have been making for my kids, especially before they were able to understand what its implications are. (For similar reasons, here on the blog I generally refer to my wife by her nickname Air, at her request.)

But Marina has started to find that annoying, because when she searches for "Marina Miller," she nearly always finds other people instead. She's starting to build herself an online profile—and the first component of that is establishing her online existence.

I was online around that age too, but at the turn of the 1980s it was a very different thing. In fact, no one expected to be themselves: we all used pseudonyms, like CB radio handles. And it was a much smaller, geekier community—or rather, communities. I had no Internet access until the decade was over, so connections were local, and each bulletin board system (BBS) was its own island, accessed by dialup modem, often by one person at a time. The Web hadn't been invented, and the concept of a search engine or a perpetual index of my online life was incomprehensible.

On a recent episode of CBC Radio's "Spark," Danah Boyd, who researches these things, noted that today's adults often look at our online exposure in terms of what can go wrong, while our younger compatriots and children look at it in terms of its benefits, or what can go right. It's not that they don't care about privacy, but that they understand it differently.

Marina is now closer to adulthood than toddlerhood, and her younger sister, at 10, is not far behind. I think that's a bit hard for any parent to accept, but in the next few years both our daughters have to (and will want to) learn to negotiate the world, online and offline, on their own terms. Overprotective helicopter parenting is a temptation—or today, even an expectation—but it's counterproductive. Just like we all need to learn to walk to school by ourselves, we all need to learn how to live our lives and assess risks eventually. I'd rather not wait until my kids are 18 or 19 and only then let them sink or swim on their own.

I think I share the more optimistic view about being myself on the Web because, unlike many people over 40 today, I have been online since even before my teens, and I've seen both the benefits and the risks of being public there. I hope my experience can help Marina and her sister L (who hasn't yet asked me to go beyond her initial) negotiate that landscape in the next few years.

That is, if they continue to want my help!

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11 March 2010

 

Winter arrives, and departs

Slushy march! at Flickr.comI'm just emerging from another few days of post-chemotherapy haze, but this morning was an interesting way to emerge.

After many a joke during the Winter Olympics about how there was no snow here in Vancouver in February, we actually got our first proper dump of snow—less than two weeks before the start of spring. My daughter Marina photographed it.

Of course, since we're in Vancouver, it has almost all melted now in the rain. That's okay. Like most of us, I remember last year.

P.S. Marina and her sister set up a fashion design blog yesterday. It's pretty cool—especially since they required no grown-up assistance at all, as far as I know.

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07 March 2010

 

Get the T.A.M.I. Show on DVD

Any musician or music geek worth his or her salt knows about The T.A.M.I. Show, a one-off 1964 TV special/theatrical movie. It capitalized on that year's Beatlemania with an astonishing evening of concert performances by hitmakers from the U.S. and the U.K. in Santa Monica near the end of October of that year:

The film is now available for purchase for the first time (yes, the first time in 46 years). Like The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, The T.A.M.I. Show has been mired in copyright and ownership disputes for decades—bootlegs have abounded, but even those lacked footage of The Beach Boys, who had their part removed after the initial theatrical release in '64.

The T.A.M.I. Show is best known for the explosive performance (and amazing hairdo) of James Brown, then nearing the peak of his powers as a singer, dancer, bandleader, and musical innovator. (He would basically invent funk the next year, with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag.") If you were among those who thought The Beatles were strange and radical in 1964, then this footage of James Brown and the Famous Flames would have simply exploded your head.

But check out the rest of the lineup too: The Barbarians, Marvin Gaye, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean (who hosted), The Supremes, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Plus a few other acts you might have heard of: Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones. All on one concert stage.

It's a shame the movie has been essentially underground since before I was born, but now it will be easy to find starting March 23. I made sure to pre-order a copy, and I'd like to thank Tim Bray for telling me it was showing on PBS tonight. I've been trying to see the whole thing since the 1980s.

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06 March 2010

 

Movie from still frames

Our friends Miranda and Reilly had going-away party last night for Tanya, who's moving to Calgary with her fiancé Barry. Reilly made a video:

Interestingly, he used a digital still camera. Not even the movie mode on a still camera, but the super-high-speed burst shooting mode of his top-of-the-line Canon EOS-1D Mark IV digital SLR, which can fire away at up to 10 frames per second. (Miranda and Reilly are the kind of people who are supposed to have expensive cameras. They're wedding photographers, and very good ones.)

The final video, compiled from over 5000 individual photographs, is arty, and a bit strange. My wife Air and I are in it, mostly in the background, but we're featured about four and a half minutes in, just as we were leaving. I'm Mr. Handshaking-Guy-in-a-Hat.

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Ida: now just a nice fossil

Remember the crazy hype last year about "Ida," the beautifully preserved 47 million–year–old primate? The one I called a "cool fossil that got turned into a publicity stunt?"

It turns out that, yes, the original authors seem to have rushed their paper about Ida into publication, presumably in order to meet a deadline for a TV special. And even by the loosest definition of the term, Ida is no "missing link" whatsoever, and not closely related to humans. (Not that relatedness to humans is what should make a fossil important, mind you.)

So now, like Ardi, who's ten times younger, Ida is what it deserves to be: a fascinating set of remains from which we can learn many things, but not anything that fundamentally revolutionizes our understanding of primate evolution. And that's a good thing.

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02 March 2010

 

Chirp

Last week, around 3 a.m., there it was.

Chirp.

Somewhere in the house. Was it electronic, or alive? Probably electronic, but it didn't sound like any of our cordless or mobile phones when their batteries die. Then again, a few seconds later.

Chirp.

I got out of bed and stood in the hall, in the dark.

Chirp.

It seemed everywhere and nowhere. Was it upstairs or down? Living room? Kitchen? Bathroom? Downstairs office? In the walls?!

I waited.

Nothing. It had stopped before I could isolate it. Was it a battery not quite depleted enough? Or something that heard me? No way to know, so I went back to bed.

In the morning I saw that our new PVR was full, deleting the oldest recorded programs to make room for new ones. Perhaps it had chirped a warning? I purged some archives, leaving lots of room. Taken care of, perhaps.

I'm not sure if it was the next night, or maybe two later. 5 a.m.

Chirp.

I was up immediately, head cocked to the side. Where was it? What was it?

Chirp.

Maybe it was a phone after all, left out on a table or sucked inside the couch cushions. Or some other device we have that I'd forgotten about, an old Tamagotchi or McDonald's Happy Meal promotional toy, perhaps?

Silence again. Nothing. Back to bed, until the next night, only 1:30 a.m. this time.

Chirp.

Wait, it was quieter in the kitchen and bathroom. More to the front of the house.

Chirp.

Downstairs! I crept down our creaky steps, not wanting to wake everyone else.

Chirp.

In the carport? That didn't make sense.

Chirp.

Nope. Laundry room.

Chirp.

And I was staring at it, right over my head. The basement smoke detector, whose 9-volt battery was weakest late at night, when the house is coldest and electron-moving chemical reactions slowest. I pulled it down, removed the battery, and stomped back to sleep.

We had peace at night now. Until a couple of nights later, 2 a.m.

Chirp.

What the hell?

I immediately went downstairs. No, it wasn't the laundry room smoke alarm. That still lay on the dryer, dead battery beside it. Pushing its test button did nothing.

Chirp.

My younger daughter L's room. I'd forgotten that we'd bought two smoke detectors, of the same brand, with the same batteries in them, on the same day when we renovated her bedroom so she could move downstairs.

Chirp.

I wanted to rip it off the wall, but L was asleep right there, so I gingerly rotated it out of its mount, took it to the laundry room, tore out the battery, and left it in a heap beside its twin. In the morning she asked me why it was missing from the wall, and I explained.

Both alarms have new batteries now, and next time I hear that chirp, I'll know exactly where it's coming from.

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01 March 2010

 

I loved the Closing Ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics...

Lighting the Flame at the Closing Ceremonies at Flickr.com...until the end part.

I wanted to like the whole thing, I really did. I've turned into a total Winter Olympics fanboy in the past two weeks, and I watched it on TV and made my way to several of the Olympic sites. I cheered and cursed and got myself in knots over curling (curling?!) and snowboard cross and hockey and bobsleigh and speed skating, and even events where Canada wasn't in the medal running, like the men's 4x10 cross-country ski relay.

First, let me note that the Derek Miller playing guitar and singing with Eva Avila and Nikki Yanofsky early on was not me, though since the camera angle was pretty wide, I probably could have gotten some good mileage from pretending he was. But no, he's won Juno awards and is way more talented than I am.

Anyway, watching the Closing Ceremony on TV today with my family, I liked its tone, happy and respectful when it needed to be, delightfully cheeky beyond that:

  • The "repair" of the cauldron that malfunctioned at the Opening Ceremony, with Catriona Le May Doan on hand to relight it (she missed out on her earlier chance because of the snafu).
  • The informal, casual return of the visibly relieved and tired athletes to the stadium—in a loose, milling throng instead of the regimented blocs of nations from the also-lovely Opening Ceremony a couple of weeks ago.
  • The beautiful seaside figure skating piped in from Sochi, Russia as part of their feature during the event.
  • The spontaneous (and lengthy) standing ovation after Vancouver chief organizer John Furlong's brief but apt tribute to dead Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.
  • William Shatner's Canadian semi-slam poem. I mean, come on, The Shat, my friends! People joked about the idea online beforehand, and then IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED! Awesome. (I just wished they'd beamed him up at the end. After all, Scotty was from Vancouver, you know.)
  • The whole every-Canadian-stereotype-and-the-kitchen-sink production number with Michael Bublé. Loved when the Mountie-ettes tore off his Red Serge uniform, when the giant inflatable beavers appeared, when the hockey players broke into a brawl. I'm not sure everyone around the world got the intended irony, but I don't care. It was hilarious.

Alas, the musical cavalcade during the finale was a disappointment. There is so much more diversity, talent, and power across the Canadian music scene, and much of it was on hand for the free LiveCity concerts during the course of the Games.

But not at the Closing Ceremony. Neil Young played "Long May You Run" as the flame was extinguished. Good job. k-os finished the evening with some of his distinctive and rousing hip-hop. Also good. In between, we got Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Simple Plan, Hedley, and Marie-Mai. All very mainstream, white, big-selling pop acts.

None of those acts, on their own, was particularly problematic. (Lots of people have a hate on for Nickelback, sure, but like the absent Céline Dion, they sell the records). However, all of them together reflected a profound lack of imagination.

The reaction among Canadians online, which had been mixed before that point, turned savage. Steven Page, former singer of the Barenaked Ladies (he or his old band should have been there), got in some of the best digs:

  • "It's easy to make fun of Nickelback, but there are worse things. And Chad's hair looks nice. Like Katie Couric's."
  • "I have nothing to say about Avril. Except I wish it was Anvil."
  • "Wow. If I just arrived on Earth now, I'd believe that sports were better than music."

Entertainment Weekly piped up with, "Where is Rush? Be cool or be cast out, Canada..." Comments from my friends and other rank-and-file Twitter and Facebook users were less kind. At the end, my friend Ryan pointed me to Parveen Kaler, who summed it up with this:

Think about some of the other options: Sloan, Blue Rodeo, Spirit of the West, Stompin' Tom Connors, Arcade Fire, Jessie Farrell, Tegan and Sara, Matthew Good, Alexisonfire, Bruce Cockburn, Hot Hot Heat, K'Naan, The Trews, Paul Anka, D.O.A., Mother Mother, Skydiggers, Lights, Sarah Harmer, Robbie Robertson, Metric, Diana Krall, The Tragically Hip, Bedoin Soundclash, Jann Arden, The Guess Who, Divine Brown, Odds (with my friend and sometime co-musician Doug on bass), The Stills, 54-40, Sam Roberts, Cowboy Junkies, Colin James, Great Big Sea, Bif Naked, Wide Mouth Mason, The New Pornographers, Shania Twain, Feist, and I could go on. Wouldn't it have been nice to see some of them in the mix?

I'm not even including French Quebec, jazz, country, blues, metal, R&B, folk, reggae, bhangra, and hip-hop artists I don't know much about. Doubtless there's a huge list there too.

So, as with its opening counterpart, I loved the ceremony part of the Olympic Closing Ceremony, and all the staff and volunteers did great work bringing it together. For this fan of Canadian music, alas, its musical finale felt like a fizzle.

Fortunately, the two-week-long street party that several parts of Vancouver have become continues, especially after the big hockey gold medal yesterday afternoon. I bet some of those revelers are singing Nickelback songs too.

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