Monday, June 30, 2008

Oh, monkey trumpets!

Even though I had it marked on my calendar, I missed my court date on Friday afternoon. I fell asleep. I chose the wrong week to stop sniffing glue - er, the wrong month to stop drinking coffee.

And I was going to get out of that parking ticket, too....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

That went well

Day One recaffeinated: no sluggish afternoon.

Now, if I could only deal so easily with the neighbour who choose 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. as the time to rev up the woodchipper and get through the two hours of chipping he had to do today.

This went less well: the worst Web site I've ever seen. Even if everything worked the way it was supposed to, it would still be crap.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Giving up giving up

About three weeks ago, I gave up caffeine, mostly. Really what I gave up was regular coffee. I still down Coke Zero, about one a day.

I'd drink a cup of coffee a day, sometimes two or three if I I iced it or I'm teaching. I need something to lubricate my throat when I teach or I go hoarse after 15 minutes and coffee with cream does the trick better than something purely water-based, and it's sugar-free, which is important because my body turns carbohydrates into blood triglycerides and that's not healthy.

The caffeine never seemed to have much effect on me. I never needed a coffee in the morning to get going. I mostly drink coffee for the taste and as often as not, it's in the afternoon. Juices are out because of sugar content and I get tired of diet soft drinks. I do drink a lot of tea as well. My metabolism handles caffeine, I suppose, like it handles opiates, which also don't have much effect on me. I can take enough painkillers during a migraine to knock out a mule, but all they do is make me chatty and make the inside of my nose itch.

Why then did I give up caffeine? While the presence of caffeine didn't seem to propel me, when I did miss the fix because I was too lazy to try to learn how to make a decent pot (Elvi is the coffee master at home) and too involved in work to take a break to go get some at a cafe, I would get a caffeine headache. I can always tell it's a caffeine headache by its location on the occipital region of my head (low back of the head). I was getting tired of the headaches, which seemed to be coming more and more often.

I've stopped drinking regular coffee about once a year over the last few years and after a few days reliance on ibuprofen, I've shaken the habit easily. These last few weeks, however, have been terrible.

I've been feeling like crap. I've been going to bed at a reasonable hour - midnight or so - and waking up after seven and a half to eight hours of sleep. I'd still be tired, though, and in a bit of a daze and come 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., I'd go lie down and sleep for three or more hours. It's ridiculous how much time I've spent asleep.

Now, I have nothing but a hunch to show that this is due to a lack of coffee. I have not gone completely caffeine free, because I still drink the Coke Zero, but maybe that can a day is just enough caffeine to keep my physiology craving the amount I used to feed it. Maybe it has something to do with my allergy to whatever sort of grass pollenates in June, although I only take non-drowsy allergy pills and then only about three days a week.

Regardless, it has to stop. Between meetings at the kids' schools, teaching, faculty meetings, and four evenings filled with sports, I just haven't been able to write more than one slug line in two weeks. It's amazing how your time disappears when you sleep 13 hours a day.

I'm going to head downstairs and make myself a tall glass of iced coffee. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another swing at NSD

I find all these nifty Web sites that are too good not to share, and my old creative juices boil, and I have to let them out. That's what blogs are for, no?

Cracked was once Mad Magazine's drug-addled younger brother, but the magazine has really spread its wings since moving online. "The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses", an article at the, analyzes nine passages from the Old Testament and rates them for sexual and violent content - mostly violent. The sequence starts at the ninth most badass passage (these are not all limited to one verse, strictly speaking), and the best action-hero line in the whole article - "looks like someone bit off more than he could Jew" - but keep reading, all the way to number one, in which David proves how much he really wants to marry Michal. Our favourite? Number eight.

Are you a freelance writer? Want to be one? Freelance Folder offers a list of 20 must-read blogs for freelancers. A successful freelance career is as much business as it is writing, and these suggested readings don't overlook that. Freelance Folder is itself a blog, and is 20th on the list, so I suppose this is really a list of 19 must-reads. Best of all, this gives you someplace to pretend to work while you procrastinate.

A few Web sites out there let you build your own fonts, but not all of them let you share your fonts in a gallery or tutor you on creating fonts, and even fewer still do it all as elegantly as FontStruct. Creating the fonts is easy. It's like drawing on a sheet of graph paper, but with many differently tipped pencils. It's a bit overwhelming at first, but if you watch a video that FontStruct creator Rob Meeks put together, you'll at least grasp how to use the tools at your disposal and you can concentrate on design.

Hmmm. Those seem short, even for NSD. Well, at least it clears three URLs off my desktop.

Bonus accolades:

IPMS/USA (the American division of the International Plastic Modelgeek Society) has a positive review of the Avia S-199 book. I wonder how much they'd offer a copy editor?

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I had an odd dream last night, one that starred three of my current students and possibly a man I play hockey with (possibly, because I think he was a composite character).

I met them in a Metro station, one that doesn't exist. I drove them around downtown Montreal in a car, but it wasn't really downtown Montreal and it certainly wasn't my car.

The weird part came after that. You know those dreams when you have to take a test and realize you're naked? I had what must be the other side of that coin. I had a date with one of the students. I think I parked at the top of McTavish, and as we walked toward the McGill ghetto, I realized I was only in my burgundy boxers (those are real). We returned to the car so I could put my clothes on, but the student said it was fine and got down to her underwear. Then we got a parking ticket.

I spent most of Friday looking for more paying work. The most immediate dividend was an interview for a Web community position on Wednesday. Friday, I go to court to resolve this. That must be where the dream's parking ticket came in.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Indy that could have been

While I teach, correct, teach, correct, and hand out story advice in exchange for $5 worth of overpriced mediocre coffee, I don't have much to relate to both you readers out there.

The wife, Child Two, and I did manage to go see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" Saturday night and we walked out unimpressed. The logic of the thing stretched our belief to the breaking point.

If I were as energetically eloquent as Mystery Man, I could post 50 ways the movie could have been improved, but he's already done that - in particular, with a comparison to the Frank Darabont take on the story that George Lucas rejected. Looky here.

Bonus fantasy baseball update:

Second place, baby. Go, Russ Branyan, go!

.284 batting average (1st)
112 HR (4th)
444 RBI (1st)
64 SB (4th)
4.17 ERA (4th)
1.34 WHIP (3rd)
30 wins (10th)
19 saves (8th)

I'm so low in wins because my two keeper starters, John Smoltz and Chris Young, have been out most of the year. I'm trying to trade my surplus shortstops for pitching, but all deals offered instead focus on stealing Beltran from me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

New hockey anthem

Jim Henshaw has found the perfect song for the next Hockey Night in Canada theme song: "Stick Boy" by the Hanson Brothers (named after the movie trio but not them - and not the pretty-boy American kids, either). The song may even top the recently discarded standby.

It's Canadian, it's about hockey, and it's hoppy Ramones-y punk. Let's get this going on Facebook.

Here's a live version, in the punk tradition of live performances that suck and approach in no way the refinement of the recorded version.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Back in... - January was it? - I wrote an e-mail to Heritage Minister Josee Verner concerning the impending introduction of a new Canadian copyright bill. I received a form letter back, and I was hardly the only Canadian to complain. The rumored introduction of the bill never happened and one of my professional tenets is that I don't discuss rumour. That goes for this blog, too.

This past week, however, that bill, called C-61, did finally make it to the floor of Parliament. My address must have been placed on some sort of mailing list because I found this in my inbox on Thursday:

The Government of Canada has introduced Bill C-61, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act. The proposed legislation is a made-in-Canada approach that balances the needs of Canadian consumers and copyright owners, promoting culture, innovation and competition in the digital age.

What does Bill C-61 mean to Canadians?

Specifically, it includes measures that would:

• expressly allow you to record TV shows for later viewing; copy legally purchased music onto other devices, such as MP3 players or cell phones; make back-up copies of legally purchased books, newspapers, videocassettes and photographs onto devices you own; and limit the "statutory damages" a court could award for all private use copyright infringements;

• implement new rights and protections for copyright holders, tailored to the Internet, to encourage participation in the online economy, as well as stronger legal remedies to address Internet piracy;

• clarify the roles and responsibilities of Internet Service Providers related to the copyright content flowing over their network facilities; and

• provide photographers with the same rights as other creators.

What Bill C-61 does not do:

• it would not empower border agents to seize your iPod or laptop at border crossings, contrary to recent public speculation

What this Bill is not:

• it is not a mirror image of U.S. copyright laws. Our Bill is made-in-Canada with different exceptions for educators, consumers and others and brings us into line with more than 60 countries including Japan, France, Germany and Australia

Bill C-61 was introduced in the Commons on June 12, 2008 by Industry Minister Jim Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner.

For more information, please visit the Copyright Reform Process website at

Thank you for sharing your views on this important matter.

The Honourable Jim Prentice, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Industry

The Honourable Josée Verner, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women
and Official Languages and Minister for
La Francophonie

You can read the bill a few links in at the Web site linked above.

This bill is a direct descendant of a ruling the Copyright Board made in 2003 and the subsequent legal rulings that upheld it.

Since the 1970s, consumers in Canada have paid an extra levy built into the price of all blank media. When blank cassette tapes and videocassettes became common, the associations representing the music and entertainment industry cried foul to the government, claiming that they would lose business to people who'd copy music and movies rather than buy them. To compensate them, Canada instituted a fee to be imposed on all blank media, which would be collected and forwarded to the film distributors and music labels.

As part of that legislation, the government protected the right of Canadians to copy music. It has since been legal for canadians to record songs off the radio or copy an album borrowed from a friend.

This fee also applied to blank CDs and DVDs when these media became commonplace. As part of the 2003 ruling, the Copyright Board also slapped that fee on portable media players (but not hard drives).

I bet you thought I'd start slagging Bill C-61 in this paragraph. Let's instead admire some aspects of it. Firstly, C-61 enshrines some rights Canadians have taken for granted. Time-shifting television, that is recording it for later viewing, has always been taken for granted but C-61 explicitly legalizes the practice. It also affirms the rights of Canadians to make copies of media for personal use, one copy per device. If I own a CD, two computers, and an iPod, I can legally make and use four copies of every song on that CD. I can scan books for use on my computer, too.

Another excellent aspect of C-61 is that it removes ISPs from the chain of copyright responsibility. In the US, ISPs are in essence liable for the content of their customers, in the sense that they must immediately shut down a customer's content if a complaint is made under the provisions of the DMCA. That has become a point of abuse as companies and individuals make DMCA claims against content they find objectionable whether or not it violates the DMCA - and the ISPs are obligated to block the content without any sort of hearing.

C-61 Encodes a "notice and notice" approach to this problem. Complainants may notify the ISP of suspected infringement, but the ISP is only required to pass that notice on to the content owner. The ISP has no obligation to control the content or access to it in any way. It's less totalitarian and I like it that way.

Here's the bad part: if any content is protected against copying in any way, Canadians may not break that copy-protection in order to copy the content. This provision overrides any right to make personal copies, thus rendering those rights moot.

This provision is renders the rest of the bill stillborn. All a company has to do to prevent you or I from copying a CD is to put some cheap outdated copy protection scheme on it, say CSS encryption. It invalidates 30 odd years of paying fees on blank media in order to ensure that right. On top of that, any new encryption will be broken. I promise you that. All this bill does is make throw up obstacles in the path of consumers who will break laws to enjoy what they've purchased the way they want to. I promise you that, too.

I suspect C-61 will not change anyone's practices. Downloaders will keep on downloading, which, while perfectly legal, has always been dubious morally, extra fees or no. Strict followers of the rules will continue to do their thing, too. But what C-61 does is move that line so that more of the people occupying the gray area between those extremes become liable for penalties. It's a bad act.

For more discussion, see Michael Geist and this article from the CBC.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slow week

I don't have a whole lot to write. Elvi returned Saturday afternoon and we braved the F1 crowds on Crescent with some WarBirds buddies in town from B.C. We worked our way down Crescent to Hurley's, then moved up Bishop to Le Social where we partook of some surprisingly delicious shrimp and played swizzle-stick Shakespeare.

The stifling heat has moved on with the thunderstorm winds that overturned trucks and brought trees down on cars.

I've been spending most of my time reading and giving notes for Robert the director. He has a script that structurally reminds me of "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

My hair has reached thistle-head length. Thank goodness for Paul Mitchell.

Elvi has applied to be an astronaut.

I need to write more coherent blog posts.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nope, not at all

This in no way resembles any part of my life.

(Fast forward to the three-minute mark, when the show actually starts.)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A little screenwriting

One problem I wrestled with in this script that I haven't worked on in five days was the depiction of the passage of time.

In my treatment, I have one paragraph ending with "In his apartment, he writes. And writes. And writes. And drinks."

The next paragraph in its entirety is: "Tom tries to sell plays (in a montage) and gets nowhere. Every contact has a reason his writing doesn't work for them."

A kudo to moi for recognizing that that second bit is a montage, but take that kudo away for failing to recognize that the first bit is also a montage, or should be one.

Two montages in a row just isn't going to cut it. Yet these scenes only exist to point out how hard and how futilely Tom works on plays. My solution? To intercut the two montages, which become greater than the sum of their parts.

  • The cell-like room contains only the bare necessities. A wooden crate sits half-filled with notebooks and stacks of paper. Tom takes a slug from his hip flask. He lights a cigarette and dangles it in his lips as he grabs a notebook.
  • He flips to the middle of the notebook and starts reading. He paces wildly and gesticulates in silence.
  • After another drink, he sits at a table. He removes a safety pen from his pocket and starts writing in the notebook.
  • A middle-aged REDHEADED WOMAN behind a desk speaks to Tom.
  • Come back next week, next week. Our reader hasn't had a chance at your play yet.
  • Tom scribbles furiously, pausing only to suck shots from his hip flask.
  • A bookish play PRODUCER, essentially a grown up version of Abrams, lectures Tom.
  • I do like it, I do. Although it needs some revision. Not rewriting, mind you, just revising, to tighten the threads that run through each scene. And can you cut the cast in half? We are not made of money, you know.
  • Tom sighs and shakes his head - he's heard that before.
  • Tom writes and finishes a notebook. He slaps it on a pile of six other notebooks, grabs a fresh one, and keeps writing.
  • The redhead again speaks with Tom.
  • How about next week?
  • Tom pauses writing to take a drink - but his flask is empty. He lays his pen down and heads for the door.
  • The 1920s' version of a HIPPY consoles Tom. ACTORS mill about in the background.
  • It's very good. But it just doesn't fit in with our program now.
  • Tom stalks the streets. He heads into a speakeasy that operates quite openly.
  • The businessman in charge here talks to Tom.
  • Perhaps you were a little too prejudiced in scene fourteen for our audience, but then again perhaps you weren't.
  • Tom writes more. He takes a slug of whisky, smiles to himself, and writes twice as quickly. The room is filled with notebooks.
  • The redhead again. And Tom.
  • TOM
  • Madame, time presses. I'm off to England come September.
  • You realize that in the theater biz speed means six months?
  • TOM
  • Then perhaps your reader ought to return my manuscript.
  • The redhead thinks a moment and remembers something. She goes to a bookshelf filled with books and manuscripts and pulls a manuscript off the bottom shelf. She blows a heavy coating of dust off it and hands it to Tom.

Works nicely, don't you think?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I will rock you

OK, so I only finished fifth out of 17 in the Second Annual Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool. But I won the supplementary Hockey Props round. To quote fading rabbit DMc, "Suck it!"

And last night I moved into a tie for second in the Irrational League. My transaction for the beginning of June was dropping Justin Germano for Russ Branyan, who has already contributed a dinger.

I'm in a bit of a rush, so I can't bore you with stats. Let me just say that it's a miracle my team is doing so well with Smoltz out and Chris Young dealing with a cracked skull. Those two were half my keepers. Long live Ludwick!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Electrical Bugaloo 1 & 2

Sunday, we ran out of hot water. Technically, we ran out Saturday night, but I only recognized the problem Sunday. We're old hands at this by now. It's the fuses for the water heater. Even though the fuses display no evidence of blowing, changing them revives the water heater. I guess they're displaying evidence of sucking. Is it hard to replace the fuse box for the water heater with a circuit breaker?

I just went of to start the rusty piece of Odyssey I call my vehicle to do carpool and the battery was dead. It worked fine yesterday and I did not leave the lights on or anything like that. My visiting father has our other minivan this week, but our kind carpool partners covered for me. He's coming over today so he can help me jump start the thing and at least get it up the driveway so both vans can fit.

I haven't been writing yet this week. Yesterday I spent most of the day at Concordia eating lunch with and briefing the new grad students. They seem keen, and younger and more international a group than normal. There are 26 or 27 of them, which is less than I deal because I teach in a lab with only 25 computers, including mine. I hope they can get their laptops online - the wireless that blankets that room is flaky.

As part of yesterday's orientation, three graduating graduate-diploma students talked to the incoming class. One of them went out of her way to praise the stats and numbers teaching I do. That warmed my heart. I teach numbers and statistics to my students who are not skilled at math. These are not unintelligent people, they just have trouble with numbers. If they were good at numbers, they'd be engineers. But I manage to teach concepts without resorting to numbers. It's important that they can read statistical analysis and reports and understand what is going on, understand how to avoid taking numeric conclusions at face value.

The student who praised that part of my course asked the graduate program director for more of that sort of thing. I felt good because this student looked like a sleeping cod in those classes. Lecturers get feedback from anonymous evaluations at the end of every course but rarely learn how the teaching carries through the long term. It's nice to feel appreciated in that way.

God-damned car.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Not much writing today

I woke up, feed the two children who grace downstairs with their presence and then polished off what they left behind with a coffee. I read the paper, then drove with Child Three to pick up a friend and bring her over. I ran the dishwasher, set a load of laundry to washing, and started to fold the three baskets of clean laundry that have been sitting in our bedroom for a week.

Then Child Two asked me to drive her to a friend, so I did that.

I'd like to get more laundry folded but I have an intro lecture to give to the Journalism Department's incoming class of graduate students tomorrow. I can talk on that stuff off the top of my head but I'd like to prepare the syllabus for my summer class, which starts Thursday, before I go in in the morning. So I'll be working on that for the next few hours.

Later today, I have to take my girls to bass/guitar lessons and go shopping, once I figure out what to do for supper. It's a bit hectic for me because Elvi is in Pittsburgh for a blacksmithing conference.

Last night, I tried to meet a friend I haven't seen in 15 years. He sublet my half of the apartment when I took off for California. We tried to connect at St. Sulpice, which has to be the worst place to try to meet someone with its 17 rooms and four terraces. Apparently we were there at the same time, but we did not see each other. Occasions like that lead me to consider getting a cell phone.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the wife spent last night lesbian-bar hopping.