Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Almost-Christmas to All

To You and Yours This Holiday Season from James Howard,
Winnipeg's Favourite Librarian-slash-Columnist-slash-Blogger:

Season's Greetings, one and all! I hope that this holiday season finds you well.

It certainly has been a busy 2009! I offer my congratulations to the city of Winnipeg on its twenty-nine homicides this year -- no more, and no less, than the number of homicides in 2008. In these turbulent times of uncertainty, this continued stability is a testament to the staying power and sticktoitiveness of our One Great City.

(If anybody should be murdered between now and the end of the year, I kindly request that our statisticians and news media agree to bankroll them for next year's tally.)

Slurpee Champions of the World again as well -- well played! It's good to know that our priorities are, as always, in order. Consider my hat off to all for their tireless efforts.

The year was a busy one for me, personally, as well. I completed my Master's degree this past August and returned to Winnipeg to find employment; owing to some insanely fortuitous timing, I landed a temporary full-time position within a week of my arrival. I owe Red River College a debt of gratitude, for offering the opportunity to a wildly untested commodity like me -- and I owe Uptown Magazine my gratitude, as well, for letting me carry on as a columnist during the full year that I wasn't even in the province.

But today is, as it turns out, something of a milestone for me; disbelieving phone conversations with two different levels of government this morning, and a previous provincial bursary that one only finds out about by winning it, have confirmed that my student loans are now officially paid off in full.

So I am, in short, tremendously lucky. I would pretend that the aforementioned triumphs have anything to do with talent or skill, but nope, mostly luck. So the year was a success in many ways -- besides me being single again, but that's really my own fault -- and with my Christmas shopping well behind me I look forward to an enchanting afternoon of public interaction tomorrow.

Tomorrow, as I'm sure you are all aware, is Christmas Eve; I will be working at the fine Library you see above until it closes at noon, and at that point I will be released into the downtown with time to kill and with no real pressing commitments on my hands. Those of you who know me well know that this combination can only end in hilarity, disaster, or both.

So! Tomorrow afternoon I intend to head on down to Portage Place, and just... hang out. Sip a coffee, take some holiday photos, and enjoy the zen-like schadenfreude (I know I use that word often, but in my defense I really enjoy it) of keeping my head while everyone else around me is losing theirs.

Perhaps I'll uncover the true meaning of Christmas! But, then, perhaps not.

So unless I get stabbed to death while I'm there (and I hope I don't; it would throw off the nice twenty-nine figure we earned this year), please feel free to check back in the next little while to find out what Portage Place looks like on the increasingly desperate afternoon of Christmas Eve.

And even if you don't, I'd nonetheless like to thank each and every one of you readers for every time you drop by and humour my efforts. This was a record month and a record year for traffic on this site, and I think that my writing skills might be better now than they've ever been before -- so it's probably all downhill from here. But my promise to you all is that I will do my utmost to remain, as you can tell from the enclosed photograph, one dead sexy beast of a man.

Happy Holidays to all!

Warm regards,

James Howard, Level 4 High Risk Blogger

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Even the Paperclip Knows What's Up

From the Desktop of Sam Katz:

This afternoon Police Chief Keith McCaskill is (finally) expected to brief the public on what good a police helicopter is even supposed to do. In setting the stage for the live feed, however, the Free Press felt fit to drop this snippet of pertinent information on us (emphasis added):

"In Edmonton, police recently debuted their second helicopter, $1.65-million EurocopterEC120B.

Police officials there said the second aircraft means it will be able to increase police surveillance power, as the first chopper isn’t available about 30 per cent of the time.


If you heard testimonials from other customers saying this about anything -- a car, a fridge, a popcorn maker, even a pen -- wouldn't you feel like giving your prospective purchase a little bit more consideration? Or would you honestly just rush right out to buy it, just to make sure nobody gets the chance to convince you otherwise?



Monday, December 21, 2009

Winnipeg: Like Silent Hill, But More Dangerous

Every so often the universe throws you a curveball, with some new idea or concept that you had previously never imagined possible, and the unique horror of this startlingly unpleasant new revelation casts everything you know into doubt and begins to gnaw away at your very sanity.

Freezing fog?

Freezing fog?

That's not--this isn't--

I am consistently amazed by the unique and creative ways that this city can kill people. That isn't a weather condition, that's a horror movie.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The End is the Beginning is the End, or: Black and Blue and Gold All Over

Uptown Magazine! The snack that smiles back!

There are only two weeks left before we find ourselves in 2010, bidding farewell to another decade and then wondering just what the hell happened for everything to go wrong in the last ten years like that. But there's no point dwelling on it for too long, so just enjoy the moment and reflect on your own personal growth in the last decade -- then remember that we're all going to die because an essentially extinct civilization said so, which is the perfectly logical and irrefutable conclusion of my column this week. Hope you like sarcasm!

Speaking of sarcasm, and speaking of catastrophes -- ah, segues -- was anybody else disproportionately, perversely satisfied by the terrible day the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had yesterday? I don't mean to sound like I cherish schadenfreude above all else, but I usually do, so that's definitely how it's going to sound.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heli You Say

So the city is buying a helicopter, whether we like it or not, and whether we can afford it or not. And we won't find out that second part until the new year, because nobody in charge of the city has any idea how long-term planning works -- but you probably already knew that, if you've visited our downtown any time this millennium.

And as you're probably also already aware, the city's second biggest news story of this week was the death of Zdzislaw Andrzejczak when he was hit by a stolen car and the subsequent arrest of repeat offender Mark Douglas Rogers. Although his mother insists it wasn't him, of course.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Journalism: Not Immune to Temptation

Have you ever read the headline of a news story and thought to yourself, "they couldn't resist writing that"?

They couldn't resist writing that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Streetz Smarts, or: Kids These Days and Their Devil Music

104.7 Streetz FM officially launched today, after several weeks of initial on-air testing, and good for them.

My predilection for hip-hop is well established by now, I think, so I'll grant that this announcement is right up my alley; I think this is exactly the kind of development that FM radio needs in this city, unless somebody out there can convince me of his or her genuine belief that the city desperately needs another pop-rock station. They even seem willing to pander to my penchant for the oldschool, because I had it on last Friday on my way home from work and they played me some Afrika god damn Bambaataa.

And me listening to the station's test run for half an hour on the way home means that it's already beating HANK FM in the ratings, so I'd describe this as a mutualistic symbiosis. Everybody wins! Great how that works.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Winnipeg Cat, By Popular Demand

Well! My regular traffic multiplied literally tenfold in the last couple of days, which was a little bizarre to watch. You could imagine my surprise to discover that people really, really liked the debut of Winnipeg Cat from a couple of weeks ago; it had debuted to almost complete silence at the time, of course, because nobody actually reads this blog under normal circumstances.

Monday, December 07, 2009

James Howard Clears Out November, Part II

Why so serious?

Yes, we're now a week into December, and as such it is about twenty below outside. I'm quite fine with this! It is Winnipeg, and it is December, and last December this city was a frozen hell. So anything keeping our windchill above minus thirty is fine as far as I'm concerned!

Yeah, how about that weather, look what a great writer I am. On to some actual content!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Headlines Expected to Inform, or: James Howard Complains About the Smallest Things

Consider this an interlude between Part I and Part II of our ongoing series; we'll return to James Howard Closes Out November after these brief messages.

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but -- I'm not repeating myself, am I? Okay, good -- Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but it would be nice if you would stick to certain English language conventions when you're writing the headlines for your stories.

I don't mean to pick on you guys! You're still the best daily (or mostly-daily) paper we have in the city, and you can take that as you will. (And it's not like there's really much point in doing a string of posts about the Sun, unless I would repost Brodbeck's column or the Sunshine Girl every day and add a perfunctory "YEAHHHH WHAT-EV-ERRRRR" after them.) But you folks at the Free Press, like folks at most newspapers, usually only tend to use certain turns of phrase in a certain way, so if all of a sudden you use them differently it really causes a lot of mental dischord for us gentle readers.

Here are seven unaltered headlines from the Winnipeg Free Press, in chronological order; six of them are used to describe something in the future, and one is used to describe something in the past. Read each one in turn, and see if your brain picks out the interloper on your first readthrough.

See what I mean? See what I mean?

That sequence again, in helpful animated .GIF format:

I'm not trying to cause a stink, and I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy the word "walloping", but I really would appreciate it in the future if you guys didn't just nonchalantly screw with our understanding of time. You couldn't have written "feared for life"? Or "had life threatened"? The way that headline was written, it had me expecting and anticipating an upcoming scheduled event in which an ex-gangster would be put to death via a ferocious, ferocious walloping -- and honestly I'm actually a little disappointed now, since that isn't the case. Here you guys had my hopes up and everything, like maybe this was the next step of Project DIVIDE -- but, no. Dang.

In conclusion: "expected to" is very important to our future, and I am very disappointed in you.

Now, with that exciting interlude out of the way, we can move on to Part II of our continuing series; it can be expected to (see how that works) show up in the next couple of days. And by that point we'll already be a week deep into December, but hey, I've got to strike while the iron's still... lukewarm!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

James Howard Clears Out November, Part I

Is it seriously December? It can't be December, that's ridiculous. It was minus one yesterday! And there's barely even snow on the ground; hell, it's only snowed twice so far all season, and only half of one snowfall stuck!

Fine, fine. Let's go on the assumption that it's December. Since it's been about a week again since I last dropped in, let's just hammer away at some backlog today; better start clearing out the In bin if we're going to get a fresh start to the next decade.

Is it seriously going to be 2010 next month? fffffffffffffffFFFFFFFF--


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winnipeg Cat Has a (Local) Flavour, or: James Howard Uses the Internet For Mischief

Greetings from my lunch break! How are you all doing? Good, good.

A whole week has elapsed between my last post and this one, which is really rather unacceptable, but when a lapse like this occurs you can usually assume that I am either A) tremendously busy, B) tremendously lazy, C) up to something sneaky, or D) all of the above. If none of the above apply, it is because I am dead.

However! The correct answer, in this case, is D -- because I have alternated between being preoccupied and being so tired out of my mind that I fall asleep fully dressed with the lights on, but I've also been surreptitiously working away in my rare free time on a project of such importance (and potential entertainment) that it would have been improper to give it less than my full attention.

(Don't think that I hadn't noticed when both the Sun and the Free Press built off some of my stuff in the past week or two. I'm glad they liked it! And if it means that people start paying attention and coming up with ideas, so much the better; it's not like it was much of a big, carefully guarded secret that the area needs work.)

So what ill-advised madness and calamity am I up to this time, you might ask? Well, I'll walk you through the decision-making process I followed, so bear with me on this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade, Saturday, November 14th, 2009

A retrospective! That's super-secret blogger code for "it was three or four days ago", but let's not dwell on semantics. These recaps usually tend to serve mainly as historical documents, anyway, as I am constantly reminded by the bizarrely high traffic on my Video Games Live review alone.

Yes, this past Saturday saw the centennial edition of the Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade -- technically the "Power Smart / JCI Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade", but no way am I typing that out any more than I need to. So, for the sake of reasonable brevity -- because I took a lot of pictures, narrowed it down to still a lot of pictures, and then took forever trying to write something for everything -- I'd like to give you folks a nice short-form summary of some high- and lowlights of the event.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Santa Claus Parade Post Pending

After much deliberation, yes, I indeed went to this year's Santa Claus Parade. Sorry, fight-game enthusiasts! I figured I would go with the least expensive option that also minimized my capacity for complete and total personal failure, and anybody who has seen me attempt to play a video game in the last few months understands immediately how useless I would have been.

Plus they threw candy! Candy is pretty great.

So I took in the Parade and its after-parade Forks festivities, including fireworks (woo!), and I intend to have a lovely post about it sometime tomorrow evening-ish. In the meantime, because I'm also pretty terrible at photography, I've been deleting countless dozens of photographs that came out like this--

--and trying to figure out what the hell I'm even looking at, like my camera was just tripping balls the whole night and nobody told me.

Regardless! A good time was had by... most... and I'll tell you about the good bits, the bad bits, and the complete and total mysteries once I've cobbled together some shots that aren't completely terrible.

[Monday Edit: Ha ha, nope, still working on it. What the hell, it's late anyway, may as well make it one for the ages. Here's hoping for tomorrow night!]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scheduling Conflicts

Augh, Saturday. Augh, augh, Saturday.

There's a lot of interesting things to do this Saturday, if you're looking to get out and enjoy the city and its unspeakably-warm-for-November temperatures. The annual Santa Claus Parade will kick off this Saturday at 5:00 PM, and nothing brings me joy like standing in one place and letting free entertainment sail past me. Sometimes they throw candy! Candy is pretty great.

Champion and His G-Strings will also be playing the Pyramid Cabaret later that night, if, y'know, you like music. In fact, if you read these directions before noon on Friday, you -- yes, you! -- can enter for a chance to win passes to the concert! Painting Over Silence is a very fine local music blog.

And another very fine local blog, West End Dumplings, brought to my attention that SilverCity Polo Park will be screening a single showing of Gone With the Wind, in freaking High Definition, at 11:00 that morning. How often does that happen? I dare say, not very often. In fact, if you believe the hype, it happens... once. Sounds like a worthwhile venture to me!

So why am I augh-ing, you ask? What drives a man to augh in the face of a fine lineup like this? My friend, this weekend is also BaseLAN 18, and the video game tournaments that I really want to attend -- Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6, not that I stand much chance of winning a match in either of them -- completely overlap with everything else that day, and particularly the parade.

I am quite, understandably, conflicted. Few things in life entertain me like flailing and dying in fighting game tournaments, and I'm as loyal a supporter of the local fight-game scene as anyone else (who was out of town for a year and forgot everything he knew in the meantime), but anybody who knows me knows that I god damn love parades! And it's the hundredth anniversary parade, so I'm (perhaps unreasonably) expecting a great effort -- maybe not as great as the joint parade with the Grey Cup a few years back, but certainly better than the timid blahfest they ran the year immediately after that.



Of course, for those of you amongst my readers who aren't big into the world of competitive tournament-style fighting-video-games -- and that would be just about all of you, now that I think about it -- there really isn't much in the way of conflict here. So while I'm filling you in on interesting upcoming events, let me add one more that even I should be able to enjoy:

Aww, yee! Bargains! Livin' the Winnipeg dream, baby!

Note of course that this isn't their usual quarterly sale of half-off everything, which means no musical instruments this time around. (Alas.) But it's still easily enough of an incentive to get me out of the house after work, and I figured I would at least let folks know ahead of time in case they want to plan their attack formations.

Anyway -- my internal conflict and I will give the matter of Saturday scheduling some intense deliberation. I'll see if I can't pop in tomorrow evening to whip up some fine miscellaneous bloggin' in the meantime, though.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Slurpee Capital Football Team Finishes 7-11

Well, that was a stinker of a last stand.

Now, I know we're all looking forward to the post-season (not to be confused with "postseason", cue laugh track) hilarity of the fallout from this miserable, terrible, soul-crushing, playoff-killing stinkbomb of a performance. Certain sizeable segments of the fan population will call for Coach Kelly's head, Mister Congeniality himself will insist that they don't count because they aren't real fans, and he'll keep his job because so far we haven't even finished paying off the coach we had before him.

But don't automatically assume that this particular loss should be hanged on him! I used my high-ranking connections to procure a copy of the Blue Bombers' offensive playbook, and I think you'll agree that they executed it to the letter:

To be fair, he did complete one pass in the second half, which is still probably more than LeFors or Dinwiddie would have accomplished. Something to build optimism off of for next year, for you true-blue Bomber fans out there!

In all honesty, after watching that game, I'm actually sort of relieved that the season is mercifully over and we can move on with our lives. No more accusations from the Bombers staff that we just don't love the team enough, no more hilarious and terrible quarterback outings, no more Randy Turner columns about how much revenue the team is bleeding in ticket sales. (Now there's a tack of sympathy I didn't understand all year. What difference does the team's bottom line even make this season? Is there a magic dollar figure or a magic number of tickets sold, or unsold, that would result in the team not being owned wholesale by David Asper once his mall is built?)

At any rate -- see you next year, Blue Bombers! Maybe if we work together with the Manitoba Homecoming 2010 people we can throw a twentieth-anniversary party for our last Grey Cup.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Downtown, Let's Go Downtown

Love Me, Love My Uptown Magazine!

So this week saw the publication of my most recent column for everyone's favourite local weekly (haha oh snap), and I hope you'll pardon me my once again musing on the state of the downtown. But after listening to and reading so many different proclamations about the National Hockey League, none of which covered this particular angle, I figured that it would be worth considering the actual environment around our prospective hockey team's prospective hockey arena.

The MTS Centre is one of the top twenty arenas in the world, but I'd suggest that you can't quite credit its neighbours for pulling their weight in the equation. So I brought up the immediate area around the block of the MTS Centre, suggesting that the reader could take a walk around the block and judge for themselves -- but who has time to go all the way downtown and just walk around, these days? Who even goes downtown these days? (Besides me, I mean.)

Well, never let anybody tell you that James Howard talks the talk without walking the walk!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dab Nag It!

The top half of this picture is a public transit advertisement from the Manitoba Gaming Control Commission. It features a serious-faced, middle-aged, blazer-wearing professional woman, apparently looking distraught because she is out of money and didn't stick to her spending limit.

The bottom half of the picture is the first Google Image Search result for Gail Asper, the head of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The pranksters at the MGCC are either being very, very brave or very, very foolish. I'm on to you guys!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I Went to the Central Canada Comic Con 2009

And, yes, I'd definitely say that I got my twelve bucks' worth.

There were cool cars:

There were cool costumes:

There were Julie Newmar and Adam West, the latter of whom had a lineup across the floor and all the way to the wall (and who, at eighty-one, is still taller than half the people in the room and swankier than everybody on the planet):

There was Batman bustin' out the fretwork:

(He practices hard to be the best at everything.)

There were children who give us hope for the future and assure us, the elders, that the future of the planet is in safe hands:

And there was the wrestling legend and longest running WWF Intercontinental Champion of all time, the Honky Tonk Man, who I just now realized wears his hair nowadays like a library mural woman or Crimson Viper.

So, good times all around. And I'm sure those of you who also went have your own favourite experiences from the event, but for me, my favourite moment was coming face-to-face and getting a picture with a legendary twenty-first-century modern icon.

That's right:

The internet-fabled, world-famous, second-generation WRESTLING SUPERSTAR VIRGIL sign. No, not even the man himself, just the sign. Virgil himself wasn't even around the couple of times I circled around, which made Bushwhacker Luke look around a bit wondering where the guy went. But, just as well; I'm not sure how I would have explained to him that I dropped the price of admission specifically to get my likeness emblazoned beside a true-blue piece of world wide web history for all the wrong reasons.

Central Canada Comic Con 2009: results are in, complete success!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dial 'M' for... Misleading

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but... man, it seems like I've been saying that a lot lately. Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but sometimes you offer some questionable conclusions.

I'm thinking specifically of your report yesterday, proclaiming -- I can only assume with true, diehard civic pride -- that Winnipeg successfully reclaimed its crown and walked tall as the Murder Capital of Canada in 2008.

Yeah! Woo! Party!

But, no, hang on a second here. Much as I adore our city's constant contendership for the Slurpee and Murder Capital crowns (because, admit it, it's nice to believe that we can win something), there's a lot about this declaration that I don't think I can fully endorse.

The first natural reaction is "why the hell are you guys reporting last year's statistics as news, it's like Halloween by now", but you have to play the cards you're dealt. It's attractive to suggest that Statistics Canada put out their Homicide in Canada 2008 report like it was a big deal, but the truth is that they just do crap like this for fun literally all the time. Every weekday they produce a whole bunch of news reports on various things that they were in no particular hurry to get done, a StatsCan function they like to call "The Daily" -- which is totally unreasonable, because what kind of 'daily' doesn't even publish on a Sunday? I know, right?

So, rather than treating it as any sort of major news story, Statistics Canada scheduled their big press release about last year's homicide statistics for the same release date as a report on railway carloading figures from a couple months ago, a study of the placement of hatchery chicks on farms, and a coast-to-coast headcount of pigs. You can see how important this is to them.

Late as the figures may seem, we get 'em when we get 'em, so that one's pretty much out of your hands. But then another, stranger question popped up: why is Winnipeg the "Murder Capital" if, according to Statistics Canada, the murder rate is highest in Abbotsford-Mission, BC?

The Winnipeg Sun took the uncharacteristically reserved tack of titling their article on the subject "Gang violence drives up homicide rates", but they're the Sun so who cares. The National Post offered no commentary and only put up the raw numbers, assumedly because everyone over there is too busy worrying about whether or not they'll still be employed on Monday. CBC News lists the ten largest cities as a sidebar but ignores them in the text proper, instead talking about provincial homicide rates and firearm use. And Global Winnipeg echoed the Free Press' "Murder Capital" declaration, but that's only because they just copied and pasted the Free Press article wholesale. Global, c'mon now. Honestly.

What's the deal? The deal is this: Statistics Canada grouped the areas studied by population, listing the cities larger than 500,000 people as one category and the cities between 100,000 and 500,000 as another. StatsCan gives no instructions or reasons to treat the categories as purposefully distinguished from one another out of any higher reason than organization, but members of our local media have apparently decided to run with the idea that the larger cities are the only ones worthy of being titled the Murder Capital.

So, "Winnipeg named 2008 murder capital", the Free Press (and Global) headline announces. Does this seem like a strange decision to anybody else? First, arbitrarily limiting the title of Murder Capital to "the country's 10 largest centres" not only discounts a lot of potential Murder Capitals, but discounts the majority of the nation's actual capitals. Second, it seems rather suspect to be announcing a city as the Murder Capital when it neither has the most murders by actual volume or by adjusted ratio. (If everyone starts rearranging the rules of the game to suit their own needs, it ultimately becomes another sales-dollars-versus-cups-sold kind of problem.) And, third, this seems like a lot of hoop-jumping to go through to declare Winnipeg the Murder Capital of Canada -- so why is it only our media outlets that are doing it? If everybody else in the country is content to give Abbotsford-Mission its time in the sun, why are we as a city trying to argue our way back to the top of a statistic that's not actually supposed to be considered a good thing?

So I can't say that I'm one-hundred per cent behind the reasoning applied here to declare us the Murder Capital. You know what, though? I'm still keeping it! I'm in total agreement with the outcome, but not with the way they arrived at it.

You see, Winnipeg is the Murder Capital of Canada; not because of any highfalutin' finagling with the relative population sizes, but because Abbotsford-Mission is two entirely different places and that is totally cheating. Abbotsford and Mission are two separate municipal entities with two separate governments, so treating them as a single statistical city is like talking about "Kitchener-Waterloo" or "Minneapolis-St. Paul" as individual places. It doesn't work like that, son! This ain't no handicap match! If somebody were compiling a list of places that "It's Worth The Trip To", do you think we'd get away with trying to sneak ourselves in as "Steinbach-Winnipeg"? Hell no we wouldn't!

So don't listen to any British Columbian con artists and their attempts to pull a fast one with regional mergers, folks; Winnipeg is once again the proud Murder Capital of Canada, and still the proud Slurpee Capital of the World, because that is just how we roll. Slurpees and Murder! Whoo! Good work, team!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On On7

Winnipeg Free Press, you know that I love you and I think that you're the best paper in town (for whatever that's worth), but sometimes you guys really do just make the dumbest decisions possible.

And Free Press subscribers, today was a special day: the very last day that a Sunday paper, one of the seven days in your seven-day subscription (or one of the two weekend days in your weekend subscription), was delivered directly to your home at the price you'd already paid for it. I hope you enjoyed it appropriately!

Next Saturday will mark the launch of the Free Press' combined "Weekend Edition", because I know everybody in the city has been clamoring and champing at the bit to read the Faith section on a Saturday. Then, the Sunday immediately following that will see the launch of an entirely different product -- "On7", the Free Press' new branded tabloid that can only be procured by going out and purchasing it for an extra dollar (or dollar-fifty; apparently they still haven't decided) somewhere else.

Now, follow this logic. According to the official reasoning posted above, the reason that the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday Edition has to be cancelled now is because twenty-four years ago Sunday shopping didn't take off like they thought it would. (No, seriously.) So now as a result they're cancelling the Sunday edition entirely, instead replacing it with a new paper that you can only acquire during your... Sunday shopping... that you don't actually do... because if you did go out shopping on Sundays in the first place, they would still be publishing a Sunday Free Press.

If this train of reasoning doesn't make sense to you, you obviously don't run a newspaper.

Similarly, it makes complete sense to them but not to you or I when the publisher of the paper announces that daily subscribers "will not have any price increase". (At least, not this year.) Really, Bob? Because I could have sworn that paying a flat rate for seven of a given item, and then paying that same flat rate for six of that same item, means that the price for each item increases. I mean, I don't run a newspaper or anything, so I can see how the math might be open to interpretation, but I'm pretty confident that I've crunched the numbers properly here.

Who, if anybody, actually believes that this additional paper at an additional cost with no option for home delivery is a good idea? General readers and subscribers reacted strongly in opposition to the move, forcing a rash of comment deletions on the Free Press website, and the expected cutbacks of worker shifts have the unions complaining as well. But didn't they hear about Bob Cox's anecdotal evidence that carriers are looking forward to the day off? You guys don't want to work on Sundays! Who are you going to believe, yourselves or him?

Honestly, I can see where FP Newspapers Income Fund is coming from here, but I really do think that they've completely bungled this situation. If they had just said "times are tough, we're scaling back to six days" and left it at that, they would have had everybody's sympathy. Times are tough! It's a rough time for journalism. And if they'd said "we're altering the Sunday paper to try and readjust for the future, so please enjoy our newly retooled 'On7' each week at no additional cost", they may have seen small pockets of criticism but most folks would still have been willing to put up with it. Heck, they might even have come to like it! But cancelling the subscriber copy of the Sunday paper and immediately replacing it with some light-and-fluffy rag that A) you have to pay additional money for and B) you have to go find for yourself -- well. Maybe not owning a newspaper means that I don't understand marketing, either.

And just as I don't understand the thought processes behind their strategy, I really, really don't understand what this Sunday tabloid is supposed to accomplish in the current market. The promise is for "breaking news, sports and entertainment", which I could have sworn already appeared in the Free Press as is. Is On7 supposed to provide more local content, like the Canstar community papers? You guys own the Canstar community papers. Is it supposed to appeal to younger audiences with local entertainment and alternative news coverage, like Uptown? You guys own Uptown! What are you worried about, the Winnipeg Sun? Ha! The Sun doesn't even have enough people to generate local content the rest of the week, let alone focus any of their efforts on Sundays. What are they going to do, tell the Canadian Press wire to step up their game for the weekends?

But, you know what they say -- when life gives you shit, you make shit-ade. The Free Press' promotional department has been trying valiantly to drum up excitement for this oncoming new paper, which is no mean task when the paper was only admitting to "considering" the change two weeks ago. So if you were leafing through Uptown or The Tab this past Thursday, I'm sure you ran into this full-page spot:

Yeah, uh. Thrilling.

My favourite part is that they attached the new product's opening promotional efforts to a Winnipeg entity that's suffering from unpopular management decisions, struggling to produce any worthwhile results, and facing record lows of audience support. Sounds like an apt connection to me!

There's also a Manitoba Moose-themed advertisement now floating around on city buses, with the same general template motif (translucent black bar, two-word phrase -- in this case "PUCK DROPS" -- and underwhelming orange seven logo) superimposed over the hockey player. I saw it on Friday on my way home from work, but didn't happen to get a picture because that darn bus seemed to have somewhere to be. It did get me thinking about the marketing campaign, though; they may have felt that its simplicity is core to its appeal, or they may have just thrown it together because they had like zero time to prepare it, but what I noticed first and foremost about its simple layout is how easily it could lend itself to mischief and tomfoolery. And I am a man who loves, loves his mischief and tomfoolery.

So I thought, if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the local example they went with, what other ideas must they have rejected during the initial phases? I've taken the liberty of slapping a few examples together.

All the best, Winnipeg Free Press On7! Good luck competing with the internet!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swanton for a Million, or James Howard Thinks Too Hard About Music Sometimes

Okay. Here's a little test that I want you guys to follow me on, just as a little conceptual exercise.

Are you familiar with production music? The canned background music that media types purchase to save time and money on actual musicians, the musical equivalent of stock footage? I see some of you nodding. Okay, good. Now, there have to be -- what? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Let's wager conservatively and say there are billions and billions of possible songs available for license as production music, because there is money to be made in it and all of the major labels have at least one music library dedicated to the stuff.

How hard is it to come across one particular track by accident or searching? Here's where the exercise comes in. Sony ATV owns a production music library named Extreme Music, which I would like you (if you feel you have the time) to poke around in with these instructions:

1) Visit the company's website. (And wait for it to load. Ugh, Flash-based websites. Ugh ugh ugh.)
2) Click on the 'SEARCH' tab, bypassing the default and wholly unhelpful BROWSE section entirely.
3) Type "zach tempest", the name of one of their composers, into the search bar. Note that this brings up seventy-one songs across three pages.
4) Locate the song "Loaded" on this list of results. It should be the tenth item, or at least it is on my screen; if it isn't, see how long it takes for you to find it.
5) Hit the green Play arrow beside the song title. See if you recognize the song. (It's okay if you don't. We'll be talking about it in a second.)

Now, that's five steps to reach a single song, and that's while knowing specifically which song we're looking for and where specifically to look for it. And those five steps do not include the necessary steps of actually being able to use the song -- licensing, purchasing, downloading, so on and so forth. And this is just the one library out of, oh man, who even knows how many production music libraries there are out there.

Given this information and this exercise, then, how likely would you say it is that that two entirely different companies at entirely different times would stumble upon and purchase one out of seventy-one songs, by some nobody you've never heard of, in one out of who knows how many libraries, that cumulatively hold hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of pieces of music each? What I am about to say may sound like a brave stance, but I am going to take the position that the probability of this is reasonably low.

Now, some of you may have actually recognized (or got a faint vibe of recognition from) the song that I'd just meticulously directed you to, and I have two theories about where you may have heard it.

Theory one is that you like professional wrestling, because years ago that very chart served as as the entrance theme for the Hardy Boyz, a pair of professional wrestlers who -- surprisingly, given the nature of pro wrestling -- are actual brothers who actually are named Hardy. (The 'z' in 'Boyz' was so the company could trademark the name. Welcome to pro wrestling!) And theory two? Theory two is that, at any time in the past couple weeks, you have come into contact with TSN, the cleverly-named Canadian specialty channel The Sports Network.

TSN is having its annual cross-promotional event with the Canadian Football League and the fast-food chain Wendy's, the Kick for a Million contest where average schmucks enter to kick a series of field goals for cash and prizes. You may recall that back in 2005 a guy actually did hit the million-dollar kick, and Wendy's instead tried to pay him in fourty annual installments of $25,000; the resulting audience backlash was so intense that the company switched it to a lump sum the next year. That's sort of a sidenote, though; I'm bringing it up more because of the seemingly inescapable commercials on TSN for the ongoing series of kicks at various games throughout the season.

So guess what music they are playing in the background of each and every one of these commercials. Guess.

(If you're wondering, I sat down in front of the hockey game and grabbed this myself with my li'l digital camera. Have you ever tried to capture a widescreen image with a fullscreen camera? Man, I don't know how those movie theatre pirates have the patience for it.)

So somebody at TSN, obviously, is being a major-league goof and sneaking wrestling themes into their promotional material for giggles. I would call this 'brazen', but I think it actually shoots right beyond brazen. I don't think TSN even knows the meaning of the word 'brazen', they think that's the extra brand name for those Dairy Queens that sell hot dogs and shit.

My guess as to the culprit? Jay Onrait. This sounds like something he would do! I distinctly remember him showing up as the anchor for the SportsCenter previews, back when RAW was still on TSN, and busting out lines like "We'll get you back to RVD's unbelievably fake looking kicks in a minute" and "I liked Carlito better the first time, when he was Razor Ramon". I'm on to you, Onrait!

Why, yes, I do routinely write multiple pages of text about a single musical coincidence. Look, I don't question what you do in your spare time.

Anyway. Exciting times ahead! Tomorrow afternoon, as soon as I get off work, I'll be logging in half an hour late and -- of all things -- watching the online stream of my own Master's graduation ceremony, in absentia, from fourteen hundred kilometres away because I can't afford to skip work or to fly back out there. Then, to celebrate in my own little way, tomorrow evening I'm going out to the Pyramid Cabaret for the Grady concert.

Blog-wise, after all that, I intend to compose a doozy of a post about this whole On7 business -- and I think it's going to be a pretty good one! So hold tight, true believers, and I'll see you around in a couple days or so.

Monday, October 19, 2009

James Howard Just Does Everything at Once

Man, time flies around here! I had a whole bunch of stuff to talk about a few days ago, but then I was working full eight-hour days and helping people move and going to bonfires and trying out this video game where you punch people in the face -- and then here I am and all of a sudden it's Monday, which must be the fault of that dadgum Daylight Savings Time I've heard about.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

James Howard Liveblogs the TSN Feed of the Lions/Bombers Game

D'aww, nuts. So much for that plan.

Well, that's fine! I've been super busy the last couple of days anyway, so I haven't been able to get out the posts I've wanted to write; this will give me the time I need to catch up and spit out a great big honkin' megapost tonight.

But, first things first; I haven't cracked open today's paper, so I guess I'll get on that before I do any more writing. And since my household subscribes faithfully to the Winnipeg Free Press, I know that I can count on the best coverage in town showing up right at my doorstep every Sunday morning to keep me informed! Boy, customer loyalty is great, isn't it?

In fact, I've recently procured a super-special secret look at the upcoming November 1st subscription edition of the Free Press, so let me just open her up here and have a lo--


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You Can't Both Be Right

CBC News: Bathhouse owner 'sick' over fatal fire

"However, Pengpharsuks said he doesn't believe the business was targeted as a hate crime."

Winnipeg Free Press: Burned bathhouse's owner sees possible hate crime

"Police said Tuesday the fire is still under investigation and did not label the incident as a hate crime.
'I can't really say,' said Pengpharsuks.
'It's still under investigation.'

How do two local news outlets cover the exact same story -- by interviewing the same person -- and still end up that far apart from each other? How do you end up with the headline "possible hate crime" when the owner's closest statement to that effect is "I can't really say" and "It's still under investigation"?

And how far has CTV News fallen in this city if they were the only ones asked not to use his full name? Or did he ask this of everybody, and all the other news outlets just ignored his request?

None of this makes a lick of sense. Journalism in this town sometimes, man, I tell you what.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let Your Pictures Do the Talking

You'll note on the right-hand side of the site that I've done some alterations and additions -- most notably updating the links list, a task I had successfully managed to put off for a good couple of years. I dare say it looks a bit more robust now.

But enough administrative talk! None of that is nearly as important as what I am about to share with you, because I am here tonight to tell you guys about my lunch-hour trip to the Goodwill Store in the Exchange District earlier today.

I can feel your excitement from here. Humour me, at least!

This week is half-off all red-tagged items in that particular store, so I took the opportunity to poke around and grab a few ties. (I've found that I have to actually dress like a grown-up these days, now that I have a grown-up degree and a grown-up job, so it makes sense to build up as wide an array of neckwear as fiscally possible.) Then I skimmed the book section for a couple of minutes, headed along the store's main corridor towards the cash tier, and came by chance across the relics of a long forgotten age.

Oh! Snap! (See what I did there? I used the--ah, never mind.) All aboard the express train for Nostalgiaville! You can click those images for a better view of them, if you'd like, just so you can get the full experience of such snappy banter and highbrow wit as "I TOT I TAW A PUDDYTAT", "DA AGONY OF DA FEET!", and "REAL CATS DON'T EAT LASAGNA". Copyright was a distinctly greyer area in those days, I guess.

There is absolutely no information available about these things online, so I don't even remember for sure which era these are even from, but these sticker sets definitely hearken back to simpler times. Have you read that Telegraph article on 50 things that are being killed by the internet from a month or so ago? If we were to add a fifty-first entry to that list, I think "monkeying around with photographs by hand" would definitely be a strong candidate for eligibility.

Just think! Back in the day, if you wanted to add some o' the ol' belly-laughs and knee-slaps to a freshly-dried Polaroid, you 'n' yer best buds'd need to fork over the bread for a crisp new set o' stickers every time y'wanted to "get the goat" of yer buddy 'n' his stodgy still-lifes! All that fuss, that muss, the effort it took to get that sticker in just the right spot! Funny how that worked. No, when the fine folks at Sooter's (is Sooter's even still a chain any more, oh my god) printed these sheets of stickers out way, way, way back when, they couldn't possibly have foreseen the world that lay ahead -- because now, having bought two of the sets for a quarter each, I can use the magic of digital manipulation to generate a theoretically infinite supply of "amusing" stickers for a theoretically infinite supply of pictures. And I didn't even open the plastic wrap.

So I think it's safe to say that this medium of comedy is pretty brazenly obsolete. But is the message still viable? How well can born-analog funny-word-balloons survive in this crazy, madcap digital new world?

If you pointed at your computer screen upon reading that and blurted out "LET'S FIND OUT!", then you are my kind of people. Let's put these suckers to the test! I put them through the grueling rigour of trying to make our provincial politics any more entertaining, so view these sample cases and draw your own conclusions. We distort, you decide!

And one bonus round, because I inevitably laugh at this picture every time I look at the front page of CJOB's website:

And there you have it! Vigorous intellectual scholarship for our modern times. In conclusion, REAL CATS DON'T EAT LASAGNA