Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thrill as We Careen Wildly Between Segments (Plus: Help a Brother Out!)

"Tomorrow or the next day", right, my eye. Curse my eternal but unfounded optimism.

It's been a while since I've done a good ol'-fashioned content aggregation megapost, so let's kick this oldschool and start recapping what manners of chicanery I've been up to as late. No time like the present, after all! Especially since It's... It's Manitoba... hee hee... It's Manitoba Tihaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha oh man, I'm sorry, I can't do this yet. Every time I start to deliberate on how a group of highly paid and creative-minded specialists decided that this was the best option for a tourism slogan, the whole thing cracks me up like Bobby Heenan thinking of Jim Duggan and I have to start over.


Congratulations, KC and Kim

I'm an uncle again! Well, half-uncle again, but it's still very exciting. Lookit him! He's adorable.

My relatives far and wide are commonly known for very tall stock, so the arrival of a son into either side of the family always brings, not only celebration to all, but also a great deal of commiseration for the mother. Because, eight-and-a-half pounds? Twenty inches? My goodness.

So many congratulations to the happy couple, and fair warning: once Solomon grows up a bit, it will be my uncle-ly (uncle-ish?) duty to rib the kid a little about his birth announcement card. By no means do I claim to be an expert on birthing procedures, so I have no idea when this policy decision came in, but back when I was born I know I sure as hell didn't face the indignity of my introductory font being Comic Sans MS. Ha! You poor kid!

Ahh, family. Good times. And speaking of good times (Bam! Segue):

Two Weeks of WIPs

You know it! Winnipeg Internet Pundits rolls on, the third episode coming this Wednesday! The program now features a dedicated Tumblr page, searchable for the topic of your choice, as well as an accompanying Twitter feed and Facebook page and my goodness but we live in the future now, don't we just. (I had pitched for us to add a Myspace page next April Fool's Day, but I was rightfully ignored on that one.)

I had also discovered from browsing the station's show descriptions that Winnipeg Internet Pundits is also replayed on Saturdays at 9:00 AM, a fine listening choice if you missed the initial broadcast and happen to be up unreasonably early on a weekend. (Note that I define "unreasonably early on a weekend" as, well, daylight. I'm very set in my ways about weekends.)

And being that this is the future, all of our shows to date -- which is to say "both of them", but humour me here -- can be found, available for download or for stream, on the UMFM Podcasts page. Man, technology! That site will also serve as a continuing archive of all our shows, as episodes continue to emerge; our aforementioned Tumblr feed will also direct you to the episodes in question. Why, if'n it please you, you can click the following links for the direct files right now:

Episode 1: Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Episode 2: Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Pretty sweet, right? I know! Mister Big-Shot Radio Personality Guy, right here, impressin' the ladies. All the ladies. "Pardon me, mademoiselle--were you aware, I am on the campus radio?" THEY SWOON I TELL YOU


Naw, f'real, though, I'm having a blast so far. The format is still congealing around us, and we're all totally stoked about looking forward to using the newly renovated UMFM studio space (which will be complete and in use either this week or next; wait until you see pictures of the new studio, it's looking totally sweet), but there are also the individualized aspects of being on the radio that I'm still working on.

As an example, it was about halfway through the first episode that I realized I completely overuse the word "interesting" in conversation, so if you listen carefully you can hear me actively trying to come up with synonyms and completely failing at it.

"This is a very--"
(--don't say "interesting" again you idiot think of any other word OF COURSE IT IS INTERESTING YOU ARE DISCUSSING IT ON THE RADIO, THINK OF SOMETH--)
"--interesting topic, because--"
(--that's it, I'm out of here. Footstep noises, door slamming, more footstep noises.)

Then I promptly discovered another major weakness in my personal promotional hustlin', when it was time for everybody to introduce themselves and sum up their blog output and I had no idea how to describe what I even do. Everybody else on the show -- and certainly everybody of merit in the local blogging scene -- seems capable of boiling the thrust of their output down to key words and phrases that represent and express their interests, and then I'm the idiot going "yeah uh so I guess I write some words on a picture of my cat, and then sometimes people are like 'whoa look at the words a guy wrote on this cat'." God damn. I need some buzzwords, or talking points, or a catchphrase, or something. This can not stand.

But, humour me my navelgazer nitpicks. It's a really good show! You should totally check it out, this and every Wednesday from 5:00 to 6:00 PM, at 101.5 on your friendly neighbourhood FM dial.

Hey, you know what else I've been up to?

Uptown Columns Three

Uptown Magazine! A little dab'll do you!

Like I'd said, it's been a while since I laid some recap science on you folks. Long enough, in fact, that I've got a backlog of columns ready for anyone who doesn't already keep up with the magazine -- so let's tackle these suckers together, in reverse chronological order.

Let us consider, first, mandatory winter tires. This issue was also discussed in the second episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits, above; taste that? Mmm! That's synergy. So we panelists discussed the matter on the radio on Wednesday, my column fully endorsing the implementation of mandatory winter tires in Manitoba dropped on Thursday, and then on Friday the roads were icy and treacherous enough that somebody hit our Mayor. And I thought, man. If only there were some sort of measures we could put in place that would limit the accident risk of slippery winter driving conditions. If only!

I'd mentioned this study, and it bears repeating: the national average of winter tire use among drivers is 48%, highest obviously in Quebec where winter tires have been mandatory since 2008. (And winter driving accidents in Quebec have decreased by almost one-fifth since then. Mysterious!) Winter tire use in Manitoba? 17%, the lowest in the country by a crazy wide margin. Not a typo; seventeen per cent. We have a higher percentage of teenagers smoking than we have of drivers using winter tires. You can sort of tell that ours is not a province known for good decisions.

Look on the bright side, though: at least we'll all be dead soon! This column is a cheerful little reminder that a significant segment of our national understanding of retirement was predicated on a vicious untruth, and with the promises of olden days now evaporated we are all of us wrapped in a desperate struggle that threatens to tear financial reservoirs and longstanding governmental institutions to shreds. So, you know, one of my more upbeat pieces.

I wouldn't declare myself an expert, but I do like to partake in a bit of Media Studies from time to time. Twenty years ago in commercials, people were shown acting excited about hearing "You'll get to retire at 55!"; nowadays in commercials, people are shown acting excited about hearing "You'll get to retire!". How long do we get before the excitement is "You will die still working, but not completely penniless!"?

As a bit of an aside, if you're really big into the macabre, you have the year 2016 to look forward to; that's the year that the first Baby Boomer turns 70, ushering in what Doug Smith refers to as "the Golden Age of Death". And then holy shit, all bets are off.

At the first news story (or, well, who are we kidding, they won't hear it until it hits CJOB) about the Baby Boom now beginning to die off, there's going to be a madcap silver stampede to withdraw whatever pension money is available -- because I'm worth it, they'll tell themselves, insisting on enjoying their money before they die like the radio says they're going to and they miss the opportunity to spend their accumulated wealth on boner pills and Eagles albums. So if we the nation haven't come up with some sort of reformation strategy by then, well, I dare say there are going to be some lean times a'coming for the ol' pension plan system.

Let's see, how can I keep this carefree train of whimsy and jocularity running along the saccharine tracks of neverending cheer? Okay, uhh -- writing is a worthless skill, and pursuing it will only make you miserable and hateful. Yes! Bam! Three for three!

That part about the minimum threshold of 5,000 copies constituting a Canadian bestseller? Completely legit. If you are an author in Canada, selling five thousand copies is considered living the dream. And, barring some sort of miracle, you are absolutely not going to sell five thousand copies -- which is why it's the dream, you see.

And who are you or I to think we can dent the smothering cult of celebrity that ruthlessly devours what little budget the nation allots itself for reading materials? At the time that column was published, the top five authors in the Globe and Mail hardcover non-fiction bestsellers list were -- and I falsify none of these -- Keith Richards, Justin Bieber, George W. Bush, Bob Probert, and Don Cherry.

As a result of that order, Bieber sat alone atop the separate (but equal) "Canadian non-fiction" list, set aside exclusively for our struggling homegrown talent. Justin Bieber was the best-selling, most recognized Canadian writer. Sixteen-year-old popular-music sensation Justin Bieber. This kid.

All of this also means that the column was written a full month and a half before Snooki's book was acknowledged as a New York Times Bestseller. If you read that sentence and thought "maybe he is referring to a different Snooki", no. No, I am not.

So it's all quite dismal, really, the longer you think about this sort of thing sober. Let's put the matter aside for another time, perhaps, and move on to other considerations on the docket for discussion.

For example, let me ask you:

A Rhetorical Question

Have you ever tried to explain minus thirty-five Celsius to a dog?

Because it doesn't work. I can tell you right now, the dog won't get it.

I am currently writing this from a cottage up yonder in the Interlake, where I have been since last Thursday on the assignment of keeping the water pipes from exploding at minus forty every night and trying to catch a mischievous squirrel that's been skittering in the attic and, when left unchecked, gnawing holes in the ceiling.

And I thought to myself, "Hey! I know! Let's take the golden retriever, she loves being up there! No downsides to this plan!"

Golden retrievers really, really like exercise.

They are also gifted with a lush coat of fur, including a naturally occurring winter undercoat that insulates them against the coldest of temperatures and ensures their hardy, steadfast survival in less than optimal seasonal conditions.

So what this ultimately means, as a breed, is that they do not listen to reason. Not even a little. Come on, dog, you can't seriously still want to be outside, it is minus thirty, we are under a major blowing-snow warning, there is windchill--

(Dogs don't understand windchill.)

I've got one of those hilarious plastic chuckers, too, the ones you can fire a tennis ball an easy hundred feet with. This is an awesome accessory when you can see where the damn thing landed, but nervewracking and quietly expensive when you send a ball off into the wilderness and watch your dog peel off in the wrong direction ten feet away from where you are pretty sure you last saw the ball.

Oh, yeah, no, this'll be easy. Let me just get my, get the friggin', the rubber detector sure ought to make this tennis ball easy to find. We are definitely going to see that ball again. By no means are we just cultivating a mass tennis-ball graveyard with every third throw right now.

Bless her heart, the dog does eventually tire out if I keep at it long enough, so perhaps one day we can strike a serviceable middle ground in this arrangement and--

Well, now where the hell are you going? Are you--

--oh, I see, we are lying down. It is lying down time. Good! Fine. It is not cold at all out here.


And then eventually we go back inside and I return to my routine of checking a trap in the rafters, seeing nothing in the trap in the rafters, and running every tap in the building for a bit. I am glad that the weather has finally warmed back up to minus twenty, I guess that is what I am getting at.

So! I shall be returning to the city this afternoon, the threat of catastrophic pipe failure having temporarily ceased, and tomorrow I will return to the radio airwaves where everybody else will make tremendous points on the development of the city and I will blurt out the word "interesting" like an idiot. Join us, won't you? I'm sure it will be a pleasant experience for all involved.

There is one more thing I want to bring up, though, while I think of it. You see, every so often, I like to solicit advice from my wise and charming readership when I run into something that I have no experience with. But this is the first time I'm giving it a title, so please welcome the debut of a segment I'd like to call:

Help a Brother Out!

Here's the deal: I'm unemployed, again, which I believe I've mentioned before around here. My previous term of Library employment ran out at the end of the year previous, and with the local prospects looking -- I am going to be diplomatic and say "somewhat dim" -- looking somewhat dim for the immediate future, I figure I should level up the ol' skillset a bit while I wait for something, anything, to open up.

Now, the employment part isn't what I'm asking about, although I certainly wouldn't be adverse to a heads-up if you happen to hear of anything. Rather, since I have a very specific goal in mind for the interim, I would appreciate the guidance of folks who have pursued similar avenues and speak from the benefit of experience.

And what do I have in mind? Why, French classes, of course!

As anybody who has heard me attempt the language will readily tell you, I am awful at French. Super terrible. Caveman bad. Dropping it in high school made sense to me at the time, because I hated it and I was never ever any good at it, but then I grew up to be the doofus with degrees in four different disciplines that are all vastly more marketable if you have both official languages backing them up. I know I've said this before, but seriously, kids, don't grow up to be me.

No question, one of the ongoing impediments in my (teeth-gratingly long-term) plan to land a permanent full-time career is my longstanding monolingualism. (The main impediment is having only one combined year of post-MLIS work experience when postings mandate at least two or five, the old recursive trap of not getting hired for the experience necessary to get hired. But... let's not start that discussion right now.) But I don't know where the best place to take French classes is, how long learning the language takes, how much it costs, when the classes start, or really where to even begin with the whole thing.

The Alliance Francaise looks as good a bet as any, thus far, though the next intake is still three months away yet. But, as I'd said, I would appreciate any input from folks who have their own experiences with trying to learn French as adults -- so if you have any recommendations for programs in the city, or general ruminations about how your learning the language went, I'd look forward to hearing them. Help a Brother Out!

Should I throw anything else into this post, or--no, no, this is probably plenty. Until next time, readers fair!


The View from Seven said...

Taking three levels of French classes at U of W Continuing Education was worthwhile. Classes were relaxed and social. The cost was about $200/course at that time (2004-06).

But since learning a language is really about pattern recognition, I found it handy to download a program called ReadPlease, which reads text out loud. The process works likes this:

a.) Copy the first few paragraphs from an article on a French news site (e.g., lemonde.fr)

b.) Translate it into English using Google Translate in order to get a good understanding of what it means.

c.) Paste the French text into ReadPlease and listen to it being read aloud.

d.) Listen to the same text being read aloud at least 2-3 times later in the week.

e.) Once you can understand what's being read aloud without having to look at the text, go back to step a.) and find some new text to get familiar with.

BTW, dropping high school French is completely understandable. From my recollection, it was mostly taught in English (go figure) and involved mind-numbing memorization and repetition exercises.

In fact, anytime I hear anyone speak of high school French, I get these flashbacks of sitting in French class, circa 1987, in the midst of 20 zombie-like students repeating after the teacher: "Je suis ici... Tu es ici... Il est ici... Elle est ici..."

mrchristian said...

Won't help you find a job but an interesting article for library types :


mrchristian said...

Your mic was off ?! Oh dear....

H said...

I minored in French at the U of M and now take continuing ed courses at CUSB to keep it up and further progress. The instructors are great and you meet a wide variety of interesting people. There are 3-4 sessions a year depending on the type of course.

If you have the time and energy to use an audio program where you not only repeat words but create a response, it could help you progress a lot faster. A few summers ago, I listened to about 15-20 Pimsleur Spanish lessons on my ipod, and to this day I still understand simple text/speech.

Anonymous said...

FYI, you are not a certified librarian- no one is. You are a graduate from an ALA accredited library school. Librarians will pick that mistake up if you have that on your resume/cover letter.

PS I love your blog and your writing style and think you have potential for a very successful career as few librarians can write to your level.

James Hope Howard said...

Ah, true, well noted. Consider it changed.