BACK TO IT

Greetings,

One of the strangest things happened this morning: I woke up feeling creatively energized for the first time in almost a month. I felt writers block for the last two weeks; the whole concept of creative blockages is pretty annoying to anyone who’s trying to constantly produce content at an incredibly fast pace. My busy schedule the last month has been draining, that’s for sure.

I think part of it is, obviously, having nothing left in the tank. 2006 has been a crazy-busy year for me so far so some down time with sleep, exercising and video games has re-awakened my natural curiosities and zest for knowledge.

Still, this is good news. I feel excited about the world, current affairs and news again.

EHUD OLMERT: Kadima’s victory last night in the Israeli elections is great news for the peace process in Israel, although I’m very skeptical he’ll be able to manage a coalition of parties long enough to establish the process of disengagement. This is the problem with Israeli politics; any movement towards progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations seems beset by the fractured nature of Israeli society. There’s no clear-cut ability to build consensus in Israeli politics. Kadima’s probably the first real chance for a party to build bridges between incoherent, identity-politics driven groups in Israel for years.

So cautiously optimistic, but once again, no clear mandate and no strong message from Israelis to move forward on peace.

FRENCH PROTESTS: Man, do the French know how to riot or what? Maclean’s had a great article on this conflict that neatly sums up the issues in the upcoming issue. Essentially, this isn’t about ideology, socialism or what-have-you – it’s really about competing generations and the highly centralized French bureaucracy controlling the mechanisms that make economic growth in the country unsustainable.

As my brother says, “there’s only way for such a socialized country to work – the whole world has to be that way.”

He’s absolutely right. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

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DIGITAL RADIO AND GAMING

Greetings,

One of the great things about the web is how music is evolving in a more organic fashion in the digital age. It’s also given new life to old fashioned ideas about community, music and culture. As it’s a foregone conclusion that virtual communities are starting to catch up to geographical, “real world” communities in terms of their social relevancy, sites like these are demonstrating what collaborative sites can actually accomplish in bringing people together.

LAST.FM: This is a social networking concept site that involves you creating your own music profile that you can fill up with music you like with MP3s, AAC, WMA, it’s up to you. You’re essentially creating an online radio station for yourself – which isn’t terribly new, I admit – but man is it cool. Take a gander, you’ll like this one.

LALA.com: With absolutely no relation to the horrid Ashlee Simpson track (sorry, if that counts as “edgy” in modern music, we’re in more trouble musically than we thought), this is a really neat service that just debuted. Basically, you go online and sell and trade CDs you no longer want for $1 a CD. The service says they will offer new full length albums and will sell digital album downloads. This could just be the reinvention of the record store we’ve been looking for. After all, when companies like these only stock their stores with bands albums by Ashlee Simpson and Theory of a Deadman (is this what CanCon Rock has come to? Nickelback 2.0?), no wonder their bottom lines suck.

GAMECODE: One of my former professors at Queen’s is now at Concordia. He’s heading up a group called GameCode, which, as the web site says, We specifically encourage the analysis of digital games and gaming in relation to the social, cultural and political conditions of living, working and playing in contemporary information societies.”

Great idea and a very interesting area of study that will only grow in importance for years to come.

Incidently, a potentially amazing new title is coming called Too Human, which could be the game title to finally break new ground for Narrativist game theory: Narrativists argue that video games create what’s called “cyberdrama,” in that thay represent a kind of storytelling that immerses the “participant” in characters and story. Too Human is supposedly going to reach this plateau; it’s video game trilogy (!) and has been in production for – wait for it – more than 10 years. I can’t wait to try this one.

Here’s a screen shot.

– IGN.com

The Godfather: The Game comes out very soon as well, which should be equally fascinating and fun to play.

CBC PODCASTING: It’s coming soon enough, but CBC Radio shows – a whole whack of them, potentially the entire CBC Radio One main network – are expected to be available as podcasts very soon.

V FOR VENDETTA, CHUCK KLOSTERMAN, NEW ARTICLE AND WEB 2.0

Greetings,

Well I saw V for Vendetta on the weekend – it was, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year. It was absolutely exhilarating from beginning to end. Sure, there were some parts that dragged here and there, but it was a tight, fascinating film. I really enjoyed it.

The film really does push the limits in terms of the debate over the usefulness of violence in forcing political change, as well as the broader implications of fear as a political tool. Amazing stuff, very much worth seeing.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: I picked up the columnist’s book Sex, Drugs and Coca Puffs on the weekend. I’ve really started getting into Klosterman’s writing in the past few months since my Esquire subscription started. He’s a really interesting pop culture theorist, worth checking out.

NEW ARTICLE: I’m sure a few people have seen this blog based on a link, but my new article for Beer.com came out last Friday. Here’s a link to it.

My journalistic output is quite low these days. I must be at the tail end of my energy cycle. I’m trying to wrap my head around some new business pieces, although I suspect I’ll probably find the creative energy soon.

WEB 2.0: I’m going to be doing a talk at a national conference in early May (only a month and a bit! Yikes) on web 2.0 and the relationship between the new collaborative nature of online technology and business management. I think this is a very exciting time to be using the web, as we’re finally starting to really see the true integrated elements of digital products.

Here’s the first product I’d like to show you, thanks to Beer.com: Fold, which is a great all-in-one web app.

Here’s another app: Joga, which integrates Google, Nike and soccer into one social networking site. It’s the world’s most popular sport and bringing Google into the mix will ensure people will meet others of like minds when it comes to soccer in a very cool way.

Finally, Business 2.0 has a great issue this month on the Next Net 25: the next best 25 Web 2.0 technologies. Mash-ups, blog augmentation, it’s all a great set of links.

MY MEA CULPA

Greetings,

After yesterday’s rant about pop music and Queen’s, I’m taking another tack here.

I must admit, I’m now far enough away from Queen’s and my life there to reflect on it with a steadier hand. When you’re at Queen’s, you tend to spend much of your early years there trying to fit in. In this case, it’s not unlike high school.

I’m a firm believer that most people are not good at listening to advice. Most people don’t really change unless they’re forced to through stuff happening to them. That whole “learning through experience” motif is very true.

Of all the experiences at Queen’s I had, two stand out in particular for me, one good and one very bad.

First, the good. Diatribe – I don’t need to go into length about it again, but needless to say it left me with a great sense of accomplishment. Without it, I don’t know if I’d have found the inner strength to become the journalist I am now.

Strangely though, that very positive experience emerged out of a very bad one.

I won’t go too much into details here, but in 2000 I got into arguably the worst conflict I’d ever set myself up for.

Long story short, I wrote a nasty, vitriolic article that came across as bitter,
sour grapes-infested venom. I had been passed over for a position at a campus organization and didn’t take it well at all. I had been at that organization the year previous and I, along with two other people, were passed over. This was unprecedented. And it stung badly. Instead of shrugging it off and moving on, I was mad. I was hurt.

It was a terrible moment of personal weakness of mine because I let it all get way too personal. I regret the article still and can vividly remember some of the words I wrote, mostly because I was taking misguided, vengeful pleasure at writing it.

The fallout was awful. I made some enemies and it permanently soured my relationship with some folks. I had let something that, while very important to me at the time, not important at all in the real world affect my judgment. Maybe it was because I’d spent so many years at Queen’s feeling different, weird even, and I was so completely fed up with being treated that way. Or maybe it was my bruised ego. I don’t know.

I learned my lesson greatly from that experience. I decided to never do such a thing again and to always keep things like that in their proper perspective. I would never allow personal slights to affect my work. I would always let my work speak for itself.

But most importantly, I learned that life is sometimes unfair, but things do even out in the end. And if anyone who was affected by my words then reads this, I’m truly sorry.

POP, POP… POP MUSIC

Greetings,

So I’m on the bus this week and hit the random option on the MP3 player. I have
Jamie Cullum’s Twentysomething on it. I can tell by the soothing, inoffensive piano and casual melodies that strike fear into the hearts of hipsters everywhere. After all, if it is getting air time on this station, trust me, it ain’t cool. Playing Jamie Cullum on this station is like putting a whole bunch of tequila shots in front of 19-year-olds – it’s there for the taking.

Song plays. The lines are straight out of a second-year undergraduate’s journal – wondering about the world, where they’re going, the temporary joy of numbing one’s self through booze. So of course it’s gonna resonate with most folks. It’s simple, unchallenging and easy music that says everything and nothing at the same time.

My brother said to me, quite rightly, that he’s annoyed sometimes at my musical taste. He’s right. I listen to a lot of different stuff, but some of my musical taste is unchallenging and boring. Smooth jazz for example. It’s the bane of my brother’s musical experience. Or pop music – not all pop music, but the stuff that screams mainstream pap and can only be truly experienced as a bar tune or something a whole bunch of drunken students can dance to at the same time. One doesn’t listen to pop music exclusively, and if you only listen to pop music, you really, really need to get out more.

This being said, my brother is one of the most culturally interesting people I know. His tastes in music are amazing, his movie tastes resoundingly interesting and he reads a lot (one thing we have in common is the simple fact we’re both very cultured guys, just in different ways).

I like some mainstream stuff like Kanye West, don’t get me wrong. But once you’re out of university and into the “real world” your chances to keep your musical tastes fresh and interesting are surprisingly hard. If you’re not surrounded by folks who challenge you to be culturally different (not aggressively but simply through being exposed to different stuff) your tastes will narrow.

At Queen’s, one thing I resented about the place was the Mutual Validation Society of Music. This was no formal alliance. It was merely the viral/meme/whatever aspects of a certain band who’d become so accepted within certain circles in the “hipster” realm of Queen’s (if that’s really possible) that posers would quickly adopt the band as part of their lifestyle/party/walking theme music. In other words, it was the post-secondary version of getting your first piercing or getting drunk for the first time: once cool kids did it, it was safe for you to do it too. Don’t think, just do.

In the late 1990’s, being as Queen’s students love to position themselves as on-the-cutting-edge and above populism, there were two musicians who dominated the place: Dave Matthews and Ben Harper.

Dave Matthews. What can be said about this guy? His band’s biggest record, Crash, was basically an audio manual for How To Get Laid (at least, if you’re male). This record was opium for Queen’s students everywhere. Almost everyone I knew had a copy of it. It was par for the course at a party and had verbal “gems” like “hike up your skirt a little more… and show your world to me.”

Uh, yeah. Of course, nobody minded the fact the album was a drunken frat boy’s Ode to College Life and all the detritus surrounding it. sure, have fun with your music, but don’t buy an album just because someone else played it at a party. Lame ass.

Or Ben Harper, same deal. I can recall hearing the same song of his being played three times on the same street one night as I was walking home. In one house, there were a whole bunch of people dancing near the window to his music.

Gradually this gave way to Bedouin Soundclash, yet another band that “everybody” liked (their only saving grace is them being Queen’s born-and-bred).

Anyway, the point of this rant? I don’t think it is always bad to like popular music. But don’t listen to music simply because some folks in the hipster realm like it first. Listen to what you want because you like it, not because someone else says what you should listen to.

What is, not What Should Be.

GOOGLE MARS AND COMMONWEALTH GAMES

Greetings,

Google has done it again. They’ve now left the planet with the introduction of Google Mars. It’s pretty damn cool (although it serves absolutely no discernible purpose other than for simple curiosity).

Here’s a screenshot of the Mars cartography.

Now here comes the interesting part. If you increase magnification, you can see a series of dried out deltas and river networks. These can’t be anything but abandoned rivers, as the rock decay is close to what we’d see in normal river circulation here on Earth. Big deal, but now average people can see what many scientists have seen for years: there’s a strong likelihood water was on Mars, which means there’s an ever stronger possibility of life existing outside of Earth but within the solar system.

Here’s a look:

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: This most odd of odd sporting events starts Wednesday in Melbourne. All these old British territories, former colonies and even ex-Commonwealth nations all come together for the most peculiar of sporting events. For me, I’ll be rooting for such sporting regions as the Isle of Man, Jersey (?) and Belize! (I’ve got nothing against these territories, just to be clear).

And, as my friend Neate says, you can actually win a medal in lawn bowling! Of course, Australia is the closest thing there is at these Games to being an international athletic powerhouse (read: Athens Olympics – 50+ medals for the Aussies in a country smaller than Canada), so it may not be the most entertaining affair. I can see it now: “gold, Australia, silver, Australia, bronze…”

You get the idea.