Nelson Mandela

Many of those expressing grief forget, or ignore, or don’t realize, that Mandela was different in at least one important way from Gandhi, to whom he seems at least this week superficially and inevitably compared. Madiba refused to renounce the use of violence. Good for him. Partly as a result, he was able to achieve what he did, without resorting to violence.

Gandhi, too, has been misrepresented and misunderstood. Reading the excellent Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, I realized for the first time the mixed results he achieved: among many other things, he failed at what was arguably his most important mission, keeping India united.

My father now regards Mandela as one of his heroes. And yet, I recall my dad telling me while Mandela was still at Robben Island that he would have taken the same action that the white South African government had, as Mandela had threatened them. And we have a Canadian MP who called Mandela a “terrorist,” and apparently still considers him as such.

It’s quite easy with hindsight, when so much has been achieved, to join the throngs of praise and believe that we were all and always on the side of justice. But the really important thing is to recognize when change has not yet occurred, and to have the courage to back those who are sacrificing for it in advance. Who deserves our attention and support right now?

iOS Weather Apps for Vancouver

I was nipping across Carrall Street for a guilty pleasure the other night and ran into the fellow who’s helped out at Glory Food Market since years before I moved into the neighbourhood. I suppose we were both feeling unimaginitive, as Oscar Wilde may or may not have thought, or at least said, but he said he doubted he’d be able to go for a cycle that evening, as he had the night before when he had been caught in rain. I said I thought he was safe in that respect, and he replied, you never know. Actually, you do, I said.

Well, almost. Thanks to a nifty weather service called Forecast, one can, on their iPhone or other device, get a very specific prediction of precipitation for the next hour :

forecast

I have found this aspect of the service to be fairly accurate. Overall, however, my experience with Forecast, and iOS weather apps in general, has been fraught. As a result I’ve turned into something of a weather app junkie. It seems a lot of others have as well, and the field is crowded. But it seems particularly difficult for most of them to get things right. For me, at the simplest level this means the ability to tell me accurately whether or not I need to carry an umbrella for the day. This is an important question in Vancouver for much of the year, and it is surprising how often most of the apps get it wrong, in my experience—and entirely anecdotally, but consistently enough over the course of a couple of years to be quite noticeable.

It is also surprising how tempting it is to try to live with the apps that sport a nifty user experience, or at least a beautiful data display. Weather apps are not usually “deep,” or I’m normally only interested in the initial display which purports to answer my basic question above; so interaction design—behaviour—is usually not bad, or not central. (I have quickly discarded those apps where it has been.) I have always been particular about the design of software, down to their icons: I am even loathe to ugly up my Springboard (or Dock) with anything but the best-finessed set of pixels. Luckily, I’ve found that there is generally a good correlation between the quality of  app design and  functionality.

Except for weather apps, or the predictions they provide for Vancouver. There are some nicely designed entrants, like Yahoo! Weather (although it has a lousy icon):

yahooweather

Unfortunately this app, along with almost all the others, cannot seem reliably to predict rain, and it doesn’t really matter how lovely an app looks if it doesn’t work. There is the Apple Weather app: it is easy to look at and I think it has been unfairly maligned, as it in my experience no less accurate than most of the others:

iosweatherapp

The Weather Network app seems to be among the most popular with people I’ve surveyed informally; unfortunately, along with suffering from the same general inaccuracy as the others, it looks a bit cartoonish:

weathernetwork

There have been others, many others, with which I’ve experienced more or less the same results: being caught without an umbrella; or strolling through sunshine with one that has been reduced to functioning as a cane.

So I was excited when Forecast became available in Canada. It doesn’t look half bad, and it is easy to pick up and use its gesture-based interface (I like the little bouncy hint that’s displayed when it is first opened):

forecastfullscreen

Forecast is “backed by a wide range of data sources, which are aggregated together statistically to provide the most accurate forecast possible for a given location.” (There are other apps, like Weathertron, which use the same consolidated data.)

forecastchart

Unfortunately, I’ve found that an average of wrong tends to be wrong. (It’s interesting to ponder why the inaccuracy. I have a colleague who told me a few years back he had a meteorologist friend who claimed that many of the weather services use computer modelling, rather than a meteorologist, to predict the Vancouver weather. Whether or why this would be the case, I don’t know.)

So I’ve been coming back again and again to the one app that seems to be able to answer my umbrella question most consistently. It is called Atmosphérique Pro, and while it and its icon are not the best of the lot, it is as far as I can tell the only weather app that uses, or uses exclusively, Environment Canada as its data source.

atmospheriquepro

As another Vancouver “winter” approaches, I’ll keep Atmosphérique Pro on the first page of my Springboard, and continue to cast around for alternatives. If there’s a weather app you depend on, please leave a comment.

Marijuana tickets and peculiar Canadians

What a peculiar bunch of people we have in power here in Canada.

Peter MacKay says the government is “protecting families” from marijuana. What does he mean by this, exactly? Are stoned hordes gathering on the suburban streets to bash down white picket fences? Are “families” some sort of incubator of pretend 1950s-type, perfectly behaved (read: boring) people? Does he have a clue that there are “more one-person households (3,673,305) than couple households with children (3,524,915)” in this country (Stats Canada)? Does this mean that he thinks the majority of Canadians are weed-smoking violent criminals from whom the rest need protection? Or that the majority of households don’t need “protection” from the rampaging stoners?

Then Jim Chu, Vancouver Police Chief and the President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, claims he had “not seen” the stories on Justin Trudeau’s “admission” (big fucking deal) of pot use. What planet is he living on? Does he read the news?

And what’s with The Globe and Mail? They report this shit with a straight face. No questions asked, apparently.

Gastown Buskers

The city seems to be pretty strict in enforcing the requirement for a busking license—I’ve known pretty good musicians who have been shut down—except, it seems, in Gastown, where I moved in early 2010. The “musicians” who play outside my building are enough to induce a trance, or the development of OCD.

In 2010-11, there was a rhythmless saxophone player who repeated a couple of be-bop riffs ad nauseam. His utter lack of meter was admittedly sort of fascinating: way, way beyond rubato, the beat seemed truly random, arguably unreproducible by anyone who can count.

In 2011-12, we had an accordion player—he seems to have graduated to other areas of the downtown; I’ve passed him on Granville and near Waterfront Station recently—who played the same couple of tunes over and over and over.

In summer 2013, there have been two regulars.

First is a fellow on clarinet who plays short phrases from “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” (What would the Duke think of that?) He seems also to have a vague recollection of some Gershwin. I think. It’s hard to tell. “Noodling” is a good word for it. And again, if there is a meter, I cannot detect it.

onlyjustbegun

Worse, if that is even possible (and oh yes, it is), there a guy with a recorder who repeats the same five-note figure for hours. Hours. Five notes. I am not kidding. The busking conditions and guidelines state that there is a one-hour maximum: “After 60 minutes, you must move to a different location at least one full block away.” They should add a maximum for the number of identical phrases played within a two-minute span.

Obviously at least some of these people are mentally challenged; I’ve approached the recorder player, with plans to offer him twenty dollars if he will pack up for the night, and have received nonsensical responses. His loss. But having to close my windows or play Nine Inch Nails in order to drown out this sanity-challenging stuff is not  fun, and has become less so. Maybe these characters do have licenses; but I doubt it, and they don’t seem to be on display, as is required by the city.

I don’t think I’ve once heard anyone decent play on the street here. I’m not sure there’s anything to be done other than try to enjoy what might eventually be remembered as one of the last quirky things about the neighbourhood. At least we don’t have to listen to aspiring beat-boxers, I guess.

Tongli Rocks, the best desktop picture ever

I’m particular about the appearance of my computer, and a good desktop picture (also known as “wallpaper”) is essential not only for aesthetics, but for contrast and readability. Over the years I’ve searched a fair bit for pictures that fit my criteria. I think a good image must:

  • be generally dark in tone, no only to aid in readability of the textual labels of  desktop items, but also to provide contrast and framing for application windows;
  • look good at the edges, which is usually all I can see of the picture;
  • be beautiful in and of itself.

I’ve made a number of my own over the years; NASA’s high resolution pictures of Mars and Saturn in particular can make great desktop pictures. But there is one image that, in my opinion, tops them all. It is called Tongli Rocks. Here it is:

tonglirocks

The description says simply, “A completely unedited photo taken of rocks in a garden in Tongli, China.”

I believe I first found this image at InterfaceLIFT, which at the time was called Xicons. I keep coming back to it. Unfortunately, its useful life is about to come to an end, at least for me: this year I expect to replace my display, which is 1920×1200, with something quite a bit larger. 1920x1200is the highest resolution of this image I’ve been able to find.

InterfaceLIFT lists “Amaus Design,” as the creator of the picture, and links to amausdesign.com, which no longer exists. Looking at archive.org, there’s a copy of amausdesign.com from September 16, 2008 and it’s apparent from the few pages in the archive that the owner of the site was a David Ward in Melbourne. I’ve done a couple of quick searches but have not been able to find a Mr. Ward who is obviously the right person.

So my search resumes. Perhaps one day I’ll travel to Tongli and try to find the gardens. More likely I’ll go out to the Nitobe (Japanese) Garden at UBC and see if I can get a similar effect.

Oregon July 2013

Back from a week driving mostly through Oregon; I’ve long put off exploring Highway 101 and visiting Portland. I really love our part of the world and believe it’s unfairly dismissed; I would honestly rather be on our cool, wet coast than sweating it out in the tropics.

After a two-hour border wait, left I5 and drove Route 12 to the coast. Bypassed Aberdeen via Route 107, a quiet wooded drive that reaches 101 which eventually hits the coast. It was a muted foggy evening and crossing the Columbia was beautiful in early twilight. Eventually got to Cannon Beach—longest drive of the trip, even excluding the border boredom. It was dark but the outline of Haystack Rock was visible and the rush of ocean a welcome sound.

Next day started overcast but beautiful.

haystack

The sky cleared and I rode Waffle, a gentle old Belgian (get it? <groan>) from Sea Ranch Stables, north on the beach.

waffle

After some sleuthing, found Newmans at 988, a well-hidden contrast to the greasy spoons on the main drag (the shops were nice, though; Cannon Beach is what Sechelt could have been rather than a crass big-box centre, sigh). Besides great service—sat outside and had wine and bread forty-five minutes before opening—they prepared a great vegan meal for me. Excellent food, and a nice little room.

In the evening, rented a tricycle and cycled many miles south on the beach. It was magical: a beautiful evening, birds, sand, waves, and a few people, including a photographer and his dog taking pictures of gulls circling over their sea stack.

trike

southcannonpanorama

cannonbeach

cannonsunset

It’s difficult to convey how beautiful this place is; the photos only jog the memory. It’s worth the trip.

On to Newport the next day, with some beautiful sights along the coast.

devilscauldron

oswaldwestpanorama

Newport was a nice little town; not as beautiful as Cannon Beach, but the dunes at the beach were something I’d never seen before.

newportdunes

Drove down the coast a bit further the next day to Devils Churn and Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua. (It’s interesting, isn’t it, how in such an insanely religious country the most beautiful natural features are named after “the devil” while destructive forces such as hurricanes are “acts of ‘god'”.) Actually got right up close to this fascinating feature—a little nerve-wracking as the tide was coming in, but worth the risk.

thorswell

Left the coast and drove the quiet and beautiful Route 20 and up through Willamette Valley wine country—unfortunately a little too late in the day for many tastings, but Firesteed kindly re-opened and I bought some nice Pinot Noir and a good Riesling from them.

On to Portland and the Ace Hotel. This is hands down the coolest place I’ve ever stayed. Amazing atmosphere, inventive hip old-timey décor, and good service.

meace1

ace

Reading The Dog Stars, a great book, in 207, a “standard back room“:

meace2

Visited the Portland Japanese Garden, which was lovely. I love Japanese Maples.

portlandjapanesegarden

mounthood

Bought some wine at Vinopolis: all Pinot Noir, all Willamette Valley, recommended by the helpful staff:

See my CellarTracker account, where I’ll post tasting notes as I work through these.

Second great meal of the trip was at Portobello Vegan Trattoria. I had Beet Tartare (roasted beets, carrot aioli, and capers with cashew cheese and baguette) and Portobello Roast (portobello roast, creamed kale, polenta, sundries tomato jam, roasted garlic cashew cream), accompanied by 2009 Cana’s Feast Pinot Noir. Lemon-Thyme Cheesecake for dessert (pistachio crust, lemon thyme cashew-coconut cheesecake, raspberry coulis). An excellent dinner.

But Powell’s Books was the highlight of this visit. I posted to Facebook, “There are approximately a trillion books here. All interesting. I am never leaving.” The place really requires days to appreciate. Bought a few: Dave Eggers’s A Hologram for the King; Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat; David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (I guess I’m in a comic mood); and How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti, which I’d not heard of but looks interesting.

That was pretty much it: spent a night in Seattle on the way home, and ate—twice!—at Plum Bistro, my favourite. Vegan grilled peach pancakes, yum!

plumpancakes

And of course an obligatory trip to The Elliott Bay Book Company, which while not nearly as massive as Powell’s is certainly no less inspiring. I picked up Neal Stephenson’s Some Remarks on sale.

The only sour note of the trip was upon returning: the [email protected]#$ Canadian Border Services Agency levied a “provincial liquor mark-up fee” and other miscellaneous bullshit charges which amounted to over 88% (!!!) of the value of seven of the nine bottles I brought back—they allowed me to claim the two most expensive. I knew I’d pay something, but this is ridiculous. I am even more steamed now about the antiquated, Prohibition-era alcohol policies in BC, that results in our having probably the most expensive wine prices anywhere. A couple of years ago I wrote Jenny Kwan, my MLA, about the issue and received a non-answer. I generally agree with the NDP, but I expect the BC “Liberals” will be more likely to show progress here. I’ll write the Minister of Justice, who appears to be responsible for the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. I am left-leaning, and I really don’t mind paying taxes, but I feel that drinkers, and wine enthusiasts in particular, are being penalized for reasons I can’t fathom—probably history and inertia. See Free the Wine in BC for some good information.

At any rate, it was a great trip. I really was able to leave work behind completely for the first time in probably a year. Now, with Monday morning looming, I have to try to remember what it is I do for a living.

Movies 2012

Here’s a list of the movies I saw this past year, sorted by rating (and within each rating, the chronological order in which I saw them).

★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year

Piña (trailer): Stunning. See it. See it. I’m not even a casual dance fan–well, maybe I am now. Human motion and music and meaning. Absolutely lovely. Perhaps the best application of 3D I’ve seen, though that’s not saying much in terms of quality (Avatar, ugh) or quantity. It worked here some of the time: though i realized that its otherworldliness may come from all objects, foreground and background, being in focus. I’m not a stickler for realism, though; this is just another medium. Anyway, would be interesting to see it flat. But overall, highly recommended. I got lost in its worlds and stories and sounds and beauty.I want to see it again, and that’s very rare for me.

pina

Amour (trailer): So many movies just won’t take the time necessary to portray a life. This one does. Sad and harrowing, it gives the sense of gradual loss and all the space—and yes, loneliness—of growing old. I saw this at VIFF.

amour

The Hunt (trailer): I thought this was brilliant because it could be seen from both sides: Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas seemed at times an ambiguous figure even though we knew the real story—indeed how we might all doubt him. It really centres around his performance, and it’s a great one. Another VIFF film.

thehunt

The Master (trailer): The brilliant acting almost overshadowed everything else. I could not stop simply watching Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think there will be a lot to pick up on second watching. I think that the general acquiescence to a mad and cultish figure was riveting and believable.

themaster

Celebration Day (trailer): I don’t listen to “classic rock.” But I grew up on Led Zeppelin; a friend and I were talking about seeing their 1980 tour, which was scuttled on John Bonham‘s death (his son Jason fills in on drums here). The band regrouped for one night five years ago, and that concert is documented in this film. While I thought the performances were generally brilliant—Kashmir in particular—I was particularly struck by a couple of other things. First, the film proves that musicianship, even rock musicianship, does not or need not decline with age: these guys were about sixty here and they’re sounding better than ever. Second, I now agree with Plant’s decision not to have extended this performance into a tour. These felt like last performances to  me: while I don’t enjoy listening to this music regularly, as it’s so overplayed, I cannot imagine what it would be like to sing it. A time and place, nicely visited here but that can now be lovingly put away.

celebrationday

Holy Motors (trailer): Another film I want to re-watch. There’s been a lot of discussion about what it all means, and my knowledge of film history isn’t strong enough to pick up the references. But it was purely entertaining and intriguing. Give me this over superheroes any day.

holymotors

★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing

  • Shame (trailer): Depicts well something I’m tempted to say would be very difficult to do: the declination of pleasure to obsession to compulsion. No joy, but no particular sadness either, until it has consequences, which here may be set up a little too obviously. Still, recommended.
  • Monseir Lazhar (trailer): Surprisingly less than the sum of its parts. On paper a lovely, human story; but it didn’t deliver quite the impact that might have been expectedâ??or at least that I did. Kudos for not going over the top, but it didn’t quite reach the  top, either: a delicate balance between subtle and slight. Worth seeing, though, for several excellent performances.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin (trailer): Immediately bought the book and read through to fill in some blanks and inconsistencies that I suspect we’re lost in the translation from novel to screen–unless I was having an off night. The usual objections to the rich American family that doesn’t seem ever to go to work, but overall an effective, harrowing story of parental bewilderment: those who have not been through it (parenthood, that is) may be scared off; those who have, like me, will recognize and perhaps shudder despite the degree of strife. Very engaging and full of effective tension; Tilda Swinton is great as usual.
  • A Separation (trailer): Interesting cultural limitations and twists on a Western–or is that just human contemporary–situation and setting. Some loose ends: the wife’s story wasn’t fully developed, I didn’t think. But a minor qualm. Just the right developing ambiguity and the central figure of the daughter Termeh was brilliantly written and played. Recommended.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (trailer): Not as good as the original Swedish movie of 2009, though it probably had better music. Probably should get an award for best trailer, though. Watched this on my iPad.
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (trailer): Perhaps not the most obvious movie for a vegan, but the care and artistry of this guy are inspiring. I would eat his food if I had the chance.
  • Moonrise Kingdom (trailer): Wes Anderson nuttiness. A tonne of fun.
  • Monsters (trailer): Surprisingly affecting sci-fi, proving you just don’t need big-budget special effects to succeed.
  • Coast Modern (site): alternately inspiring—West Coast architecture is home—and depressing: I won’t ever have a home anything like these. Very nicely done.
  • Pearl Jam 20 (trailer): I stopped listening a few years ago, though one of their recent Vancouver concerts was a lot of fun. I took a look at this partly out of curiosity after reading Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. It’s tempting to see Pearl Jam as a salvage job for the Seattle scene. Workmanlike and dependable; though not really “grunge,” if that even means anything. Watched on iPad.
  • Take This Waltz (trailer): Rising and falling of lust and love. I like Sarah Polley‘s films. Watched on iPad.
  • Life of Pi (trailer): I haven’t read the book. The movie was visually stunning, but was screwed up by nonsensical (is there any other kind?) religious mumbo-jumbo; and the current-day scenes were really weak.
  • Sleepwalk with Me (trailer): Mike Birbiglia is a funny guy. But this movie is mostly a rehash of material you will have heard if you’re a This American Life fan. Given that these were old jokes to me—perhaps I should have known from the title—it’s hard for me to judge how well they work in this medium. Given also that many of the stories seem to have arisen from Birbiglia’s actual experience, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here, unless he’s continued to have more crazy experiences. Still, worth seeing if you haven’t heard his routines. Watched on iPad.
  • Argo (trailer): As good as Hollywood gets, probably. Docked half a star for offending Canadians (not to mention Iranians, probably) and for the writers failing to take thirty seconds to Google the take-off speed of a 747: it’s about 160-180 miles per hour, so police cars couldn’t keep up.
  • Django Unchained: (trailer): Like Inglourious Basterds, a mixed bag. A lot of what Tarantino does seems just to be to use violence to string together scenes in support of some admittedly good writing (not to mention great acting). I wish he’d try a different kind of film. I actually thought that Django had the weakest Tarantino scene ever—the prattle about the pre-KKK masks. Not funny: just really dim. I was surprised.

★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these

Reading 2012

I read a few more books in 2012 than the year before, and started posting more consistently to Goodreads; you can follow me there if you like. Most of these books are fairly current; where they’re not, I’ve indicated year of publication.

Fiction

Fiction

The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers. Almost relentlessly good writing, sometimes great, very occasionally over the top. Horror and response to horror minutely and beautifully observed and reconsidered, and again. “The details of the world in which we live are always secondary to the fact that we must live in them.” There’s a continuous passage—pages 144-146 of the Little, Brown hardcover—that is as powerful as anything I’ve recently read, and as far as I know or now feel, an accurate accounting of these Arab wars or any war; or at very least something very affecting was got into me by the author.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz. Economy and energy. Almost a novella. Brilliant stuff. Given an extra dimension for me by the reading he gave at the Vancouver Writers Festival this year: perhaps the most gracious and keenly intelligent writer I’ve heard.

Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992). Mentioned by Junot Díaz in a recent New York Times interview. Absolutely brilliant. Almost every sentence a revelation. Read it. I picked up “Train Dreams” (below) on the strength of this.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958). A ripping yarn. And yet, I kept hoping that the women, outcasts, and slaves (!) of Umuofia would rise up. Ultimately, it’s the tale of one idiotic set of beliefs replacing another. I know, it’s a story, but it’s not simply presented as such. I feel about as little sympathy for Okonkwo as I do for the missionaries who destroy the Africans’ “way of life” (not that they had any right to, of course)—which is defined and enforced by a ruthless circle of brutal men.

Lionel Asbo: State of EnglandMartin Amis. One is left wondering, “What’s the point?” A good yarn, but so what? I have to go back and read something like “Money,” I suppose. I enjoyed “House of Meetings“—completely different tone.

Ancient Light, John Banville. Some great writing—it starts strong—some middling. Someone else on Goodreads pointed out similarities to Barnes‘ “The Sense of an Ending,” but this is not quite of the same quality. Very enjoyable though, particularly around the vagueness of (all sorts of) memory. The slight twist at the end reinforces the overall message of the unreliability of not just memory, but perception—of places, events, and in particular people, those closest to us. Perhaps not as understandable to someone not yet in middle age. I may read more of him—I understand this is the third book of a trilogy.

Pulse, Julian Barnes. I loved “The Sense of an Ending” last year so picked this up. A solid collection of short stories. I liked those in “One” better than the perhaps more adventurous “Two,” but all were good. The “At Phil & Joanna’s” series was entertaining and funny.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000). A ripping yarn, compellingly told. It doesn’t quite sustain its quality to the end, but I’ve picked up “Telegraph Avenue” and am eager to read it. Saw Chabon at the Writers Festival and he was intelligent and funny.

Train Dreams, Denis Johnson (2002). Not quite of the same quality as “Jesus’ Son” (above), but well worth reading.

The Listener, David Lester. The first graphic novel I’ve read. I have nothing against the genre. But this is a bit thin, and in particular suffered I think from an adolescent tone. I’m sure we’ve all encountered the type: oh so knowing, oh so superior, oh so intellectual. The depth isn’t there, in my opinion. It has its moments, and I think the artwork is great and supports the story well. But I wanted more: depth, maturity, and even history.

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan. McEwan seems to focus so much on his “hook” of a surprise twist at the end of his books (incidentally, I wasn’t sure I believed reviewers who claimed to have figured this one out—perhaps I’m just thick) that the writing is sometimes secondary. I enjoyed this a lot more than “Solar,” but the characters seemed less involving than “Saturday“—I get it, that’s perhaps the point, but that seems like a bit of an excuse. If you like McEwan you’ll probably enjoy this. But I’m losing my enthusiasm a bit, when there’s so much great writing out there, from Michael Chabon to Denis Johnson. I think “On Chesil Beach” was his high point.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver (2003). A rare case of a movie that prompted me to go back and read the book. Having finished the book, I want to see the film again; like ‘2001: a space odyssey,’ though not written and filmed in tandem as Clarke and Kubrick did, I see them as somewhat complementary; and it seems Shriver is quite the fan of the film adaptation of her book. At any rate, I thought this was a great book. Sentences that were surprising and original; and of course the characters of the mother and son intrigue. That’s the crux: insight into the psychology of some interesting characters, and by extension of us all. To what extent Eva is an unreliable narrator may be in question, at least until the end of the book. But more interesting is the character of Kevin. I don’t know enough about such psychopaths to judge the quality of the portrayal, but for the most part it convinced me. The only two things that stuck out were Kevin’s altered behaviour during his illness; and his apparent racism. Although I can understand the “breakdown” in his carefully constructed world as he aged from sixteen to eighteen in prison, his relenting during an illness when he was younger was not really explained—not that his behaviour could really be explained, but it made me wonder. Likewise, his precise and controlled intelligence would seem to be at odds with some of the racist remarks he made when a bit older. But these are quibbles. Although having seen the movie first may have dulled somewhat the impact of the book—I won’t post spoilers here—I recommend this book. Though not in terms of style, it reminded me somewhat of Philip Roth‘s “American Pastoral.” I have seen enough of almost-over-the-edge teenage thinking to appreciate the thought that went into Kevin, if not actually being a little scared in retrospect.

The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto (2005). A slight and contrived story masquerading as profundity. Made all the worse by cringe-worthy clichés—though I suspect the translation, by Michael Emmerich, is poor—and unnecessary supernatural BS.

Incomplete

Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo. I can’t say it much better than does David Sedaris on the slip cover: “As rich and beautifully written as a novel.” Would that all non-fiction be so compelling. Depressing, yes; but the people shine. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. Not much more to say, other than “read it.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Denial Kahneman. I need to re-read this: a goldmine of information on psychology; I should have taken notes as a lot of it is applicable to my work. Anyway, fascinating, and definitely recommended.

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of GrungeMark Yarm. I was almost next door in Victoria and Vancouver during the “grunge” years in Seattle, so the whole scene seemed almost knowable. This book provides fascinating background information, but is particularly fascinating for how it traces the arc of a scene. Ultimately very sad, of course, not just thinking about Andrew WoodMia Zapata, Kurt Cobain, and Layne Staley, but the toll that addiction took. And how quickly fashion moved on and forgot about the town. I went to see a grunge/Nirvana exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle recently, and it was great but ghostly to see artefacts in glass cases from this music that was so human and alive. If you are even a casual grunge fan, you should read this book. My only criticism is that there are so many characters that I found myself having to go to the index repeatedly to remind myself who some of them were.

Vancouver Special, Charles Demers. He picks and chooses, but nothing is sacred and I got a sense of the flavour of my city, both what I already knew and some new angles. And he admits, “Drug money is the unknown variable in almost any economic equation that you can’t otherwise reconcile in Vancouver.”

This Is Not the End of the Book, Umberto Eco et al. I am going to post an expanded review of this book. Some good points, although the two men—Eco is in conversation with someone named Jean-Claude Carrière—are hopelessly clueless about technology, which is central to the argument.

Mortality, Christopher Hitchens. Exactly what you’d expect from Hitchens. And if you’ve read him, that’s pretty good. At the same time, heartbreaking.

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now: As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It, Craig Taylor. I picked up this book after returning from a week in London last summer (pre-Olympics). A great format to learn about a city: conversations with and stories from Londoners. Would that more cities had such volumes.

Who I Am, Pete Townshend. On balance probably more interesting than Keith Richards‘ “Life,” but it had even more of an absence of any talk of composing the music that is so central to the story. As if how the tunes and sounds were composed is incidental to the events and times and especially the stories, in particularly the “rock operas” Tommy and Quadrophenia. I’d have loved to have read, for instance, about how Townshend put together the synthesizer lines for some of the early ’70s material—but he seems even to have forgotten they were ARP synths.

Incomplete

Periodicals

Last year my post was titled “Books 2011” and thinking about that recently I realized that I don’t read as many books as I’d perhaps like to because I’m often reading periodicals and “newspapers.” In 2012 I expanded my iPad subscriptions. I read the New York Times and New Yorker pretty consistently. Wired is so cheap it’s a no-brainer; if I read four articles a year it’s worth the price. I subscribed to The Economist but didn’t find myself reading it as much as I should: a 2013 resolution. The Walrus finally became available on iPad; it was my last print subscription and I had really stopped reading it because I just don’t think of picking up a paper magazine. There are a couple of wine magazines (Wine Access and Snooth Buyer’s Guide) that I look at now and again. I subscribed to The Guardian/Observer partly because my daughter was living in the UK; but I cancelled it near year’s end as she’s returning and it was also probably too much given all of the above.

Special mention is due The Magazine. I find the articles sort of engaging, topical for a “geek” perhaps. Perhaps. But the interesting thing for me about this “experiment” of Marco Arment‘s is how dismissive he—and apparently much of the audience—has been of the iOS Newsstand. Well, I have to say that all of the publications I’ve listed above so far outshine the writing in The Magazine that this is pretty surprising. Maybe, despite my focus on usability, I find that the problems with, specifically, the Adobe Publishing Suite are completely overshadowed by the quality of content in something like the New Yorker. I like the Magazine app, sure, but I’m not sure it could support the volume of one of these other publications, at least not yet. Maybe it’s the app/framework that Arment should focus on.

Vancouver “Writers Fest”

I wanted to include a note about this event. It seems to me that it’s time for the organizers and announcers to pass it off to a new generation. I saw Martin Amis endure an embarrassingly awful interview by Anne Giardini. At the David Suzuki/Tim Flannery event, “The State and Fate of This Small Blue Planet,” the authors were barely introduced by Hal Wake, who was far more concerned with introducing the “rebranding” of the festival to “Writers Fest”—as he’d done ad nauseum at the other events. Who cares, and what was wrong with “Vancouver International Writers Festival”? Worse, he instructed the audience not to engage in social media during the talk. It seems to me the event needs as much publicity as it can get, especially to attract a younger audience; real-time Tweeting should be permitted. Wake was a bit better while interviewing Michael Chabon.

The best event I saw was An Intimate Interview with Junot Díaz, who was free to talk without a moderator or interviewer. Granted, he didn’t need one; he was incredibly entertaining and gracious—I’ve never seen anyone better at taking a poor or naïve question and turning it around to seem like the most insightful query he’d ever received.

Well, Vancouver is a small town. I’m thinking about going to the New Yorker Festival this year.

Talley Arroyo Grande Valley 2010 Pinot Noir

Clear, medium ruby-garnet in the glass. Appealing medium-intensity nose of cherry, wood, and smoky damp outdoors. Dry, medium acidity and tannins along with sour cherry and 14.4% alcohol provide some real bite, but this is very nicely balanced with ripe red fruit, vanilla, and some floral qualities. Medium body and a nice long finish. Overall very good, and definitely recommended. $54 at Everything Wine. See Talley Vineyards and the winemarker’s notes.

Talley Arroyo Grande Valley 2010 Pinot Noir