Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Blogger is deeper than she appears

I was joking the other day with Jean about my blogging persona. “I’m kind of jealous of her,” I said. “Nice life! Seeing all those art movies, going to concerts, eating at nice restaurants (while showing too much cleavage), traveling around, watching TV, drinking wine… Does she even work? Does she watch the news?…”

Now, clearly, I have never consciously tried to cultivate a brand for this blog as I’m not trying to monetize it nor achieve a particular readership level. Because to do that I would need to cultivate a niche and really focus on that one that area, rather than what do I do, which is just write about whatever I feel like.

Edie Brickell

But the fact is, I’ve realized, a quasi-brand has emerged anyway, and it’s one largely focused on the shallow side of life. It does not, or does not very often, touch on the following:

1. Big, weighty world issues

The world is kind of a mess. It’s not that I don’t care about this, nor that I’m uninterested in it. I read a lot of news. I fret, I fume, and I worry about it. I donate to causes. I sign petition. I tweet and retweet about certain outrages in the world.

But—although there have been exceptions, and may be again—I don’t blog that much about the issues I care deeply about, like climate change and other environmental problems; the erosion of democracy; and human rights infractions.

Because honestly, these things are just too depressing. I usually don’t feel that anything I say can really make a difference, and I generally don’t feel I have any new solutions to offer up.

I blog as an escape from all that, rather than to delve into it further.

2. My job

This one has been really conscious choice: to not blog about my employer (I certainly hope there haven’t been exceptions), and therefore not go on too much about my job, or my profession, even.

It’s partly that I don’t want to inadvertently get myself into trouble. But it’s mainly because that part of my life already consumes the majority of my waking hours. I like my job fine, but that’s enough. When I’m blogging, on my own time, it’s going to be on other subjects that interest me.

3. Personal problems

I have these, sometimes. If they’re minor enough, I may even rant about them here. But when something big is going on, when something’s really troubling me, I somehow don’t feel that telling everyone on the Internet about it is going to help in any way. Indeed, there is an inverse relationship: The more something is bothering me, the fewer the number of people I’m willing to share it with.

This is probably unhealthy, and I probably should learn to open up to people more, or more quickly. Not sure that will ever take blog form, however.

Shove me in the shallow water before I get too deep

Don’t let me get too deep

— “What I Am” by Edie Brickell

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Non-virtual spam (and I don’t mean the lunch meat)

It was an unusual enough in itself that my mailbox—and by that I mean my non-virtual mailbox, the one that Canada Post delivers items to—apparently contained no junk mail this day. No flyers, nothing unaddressed. Just real mail! It seemed. Airs of bygones days, when mail was still mostly nice to receive. I got:

  • A real-life thank you card, with hand-written note.
  • The latest issue of a paper magazine that I subscribe to
  • A rental DVD! (From, still in business, though I don’t know how long.)

The final item was a bit of a puzzle. An international letter, addressed to me. I was most curious about this one.

This was the opening paragraph.

Firstly, I must solicit your confidence in this transaction; this is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential and top secret. Though I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make anyone apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that all will be well at the end of the day.

Utterly confidential and top secret! Both! With assurances that all would be well, “at the end of the day”. I was mesmerized.

Somebody in Spain had composed a full, legal-ish sounding letter, largely correctly spelled, outlining an inheritance scheme. But instead of just emailing it more or less for free to every virtual address they could get their hands on, they printed it on paper, folded it and put it in an envelope, added international postage (a stamp celebrating Unesco), and put in a real mailbox.

Is this sort of brilliant, or especially moronic? Either way, I must appreciate the effort. At least this person is working for their ill-gotten gain.


All he requires is my honest cooperation, if it doesn’t offend my moral ethics. This transaction is entirely risk free. 🙂



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Don’t worry; you’re in the right place

Just trying out a new theme for this blog. I was tired of the narrow column limiting the width of image I could use.

This one should be more readable on a variety of devices. May do a bit more tweaking in the coming weeks (not sure about that header image), but I think it basically work.

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Wish I’d known sooner there was an app for that

I have a pretty basic Samsung smartphone that I thought I was happy with. So far, though, I’ve mostly been using it to make actual phone calls. I haven’t really taken to texting in a big way, and I don’t email from it much, because I hate typing on the damn thing. The keyboard seems too small and I keep making mistakes. It takes forever for even a short message. It’s just frustrating.

Or it was. Because thanks to Google+, of all things, I became aware that I can install an alternative on-screen keyboard on my phone. Specifically, the SwiftKey 3 keyboard. Between its very good auto-suggest and its touch-responsive design, I’m just so much faster and more accurate now. I can actually type on my phone without swearing.

I should have installed this months ago. Best $4 I’ve spent in a while (first month free).

(No compensation received for this endorsement. Sadly.)

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So many screens and not much to watch

We did all our Boxing Day shopping online. We wanted a new big-screen TV for the downstairs TV room; many were on sale for Boxing Day; and you can get the same prices online as at the store. And you can often put in your order even before December 26. And they’ll bring it to you! Talking about this, though, I learned:

  1. A number of people remain nervous about purchasing big-ticket items online.
  2. Said nervousness is now completely foreign to me, as “online” has become my main “store” of choice for so many things.

There is a downside to it, though, in the lack of complete instant gratification. Delivery is fast, but not instantaneous. And with the TV, there was some confusion over the credit card to use, and it took a little longer than usual to arrive. Meantime, the other pieces we realized we needed to make the new TV “go” showed up: The new receiver with its six HDMI ports (versus the zero HDMI on the old one); the HDMI cables themselves; the TV mounting rack. All sitting around rather useless without a TV to pull it all together.

But hey, now they’re one big happy family. And that HDMI thing really does simplify the connections: the receiver, TV, PVR, recordable DVD, international DVD, and computer, all linked to one another in pretty short order. Where the old way, it always seemed to turn into a full-day project. Now we just have to consolidate remotes, because we’re currently juggling six of them!

Our downstairs rooms is pretty big, so we went with a 55′ screen, and I think it looks gorgeous. I thought my old receiver was actually pretty good, lack of HDMI notwithstanding, but this new one is definitely bringing out the bass in a way I hadn’t heard before (from the exact same speakers). Both DVDs can now properly render DTS and other high-quality sound streams. (Neither is BluRay—we had to leave our BluRay upstairs, where it doubles as the receiver for that TV—but that’s minor.)

And finally, finally, it’s easy to project anything from the computer onto a TV screen.

So the only issue is—there just isn’t a lot of good stuff to watch, is there? Admittedly, on TV, there was the Christmas rerun break, and now things are starting again—Big Bang, Daily Show, The Mentalist, etc And I recently discovered I have FX Canada (when did Rogers give me that?), and Louis is a pretty good show. But I haven’t been passionate about a television program in quite some time. It seems like everything really good is on HBO, which I’m just not paying for. The only new network series we really got into, The Last Resort, has been cancelled (though does seem to have a new episode tonight, but not sure how many more).

And web viewing? It’s a bit of an exercise in frustration if you’re Canadian, isn’t it? The networks have stuff, but it’s pretty limited. The American and UK stuff is blocked in Canada, unless you do some VPN shenanigans. iTunes has stuff, but it’s kind of expensive. You can actually find a surprising amount of stuff on YouTube (whole movies and shows), but the picture quality is often not that great, and you get the period “freezing”. We will be trying Netflix, finally, but we all know the Canadian selection and picture quality is more limited.

And I also know I have some sort of data cap with Rogers. That hasn’t been issue up to now, but how much web content can I watch until it is?

I may just have to turn to my (if I do say so myself) excellent collection of personal DVDs. Buffy marathon, anyone?

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These are a few of my favorite tweets

I didn’t get Twitter for a long time. I’d go there and not really see the point. In practical terms, I didn’t really understand how anything of value could be provided in 140 characters. And there was all that talk of people just tweeting about what they had for breakfast.

Now, though, I’m addicted.

I initially signed on based on a friend’s advice to do so just to get a good Twitter-name, even if I didn’t do much with it right away. Turned out she had a point; most variations of my name and my most commonly used web pseudonyms were already in use by others. But I did find an available combination.

Twitter has a bit of learning curve to it. I started by just following a small number of people and trying to figure it out from there. I soon learned that a lot of power is in the link; sure, you can’t say that much in 140 characters, but you can link to those details. (And to photos. And to videos.)

But when I’m say addicted, it’s not to tweeting itself, which I remain a little gun-shy about. (Apparently I have tweeted 28 times in total.) In fact, I’m still not completely clear on who sees what when it comes replies, direct replies, direct messages, retweets, private message… ? All in all, it’s easier to just listen, most of the time.

Currently I follow 59 accounts, some of whom haven’t tweeted in two years, some of whom tweet so frequently, I don’t know how they stay employed.

Among my favorites are the following.

@Elizabeth May:  A lot of the politicians I follow tweet mostly dull platitudes, toeing the party line. Elizabeth May (federal leader of the Green Party, but you knew that) tweets more like a real person would. I particularly enjoy her tweets from Parliament Hill, which give insight into things that wouldn’t necessarily make the media:

I had planned to make a statement marking Remembrance Day. I am shocked the CPC has blocked my chance to speak.

They didn’t like the point I was making. 40 years 1913-1956 closure used 10x; in last 40 days, 7x

Conservatives keep limiting debate. They have the votes. Not sure why everything has to be forced thru.

Ban asbestos motion. First vote to keep asbestos trade, our PM.

John McCallum asked Tony Clement about an answer by tweet! Twitter seems to be Clement’s only forum 4 G8 $ Q’s. Baird takes all Qs in QP.

Though must say it’s not exactly improving my opinion of the Conservative Party of Canada.

@simont400000: He being Simon Townshend, the much younger brother of one Pete Townshend, and who also tours with Roger Daltrey. Been kind of fun “following” him on tour:

Great show in Vancouver. Smokin’ crowd! Two shows left on tour and the TCT charity gig in LA. Come along… 2.5k a ticket. Rock n’ Roll!

And his random tweets are also kind of funny:

@Kimmittable: I’m a real fan of your earlier work.” I said that to Joni Mitchell once and she told me to Fuck off. True!

And if you’re wondering what it’s like to not be famous yourself (though he is himself quite a talented composer and musician), but hanging with the very famous:

Getting home from tour is strange… no daily sheet, no room service, no living from suitcase or doing laundry – no gigs. Not being a pop star

@dizzyfeet: This being the moniker of Nigel Lithgow, producer of American Idol and judge on So You Think You Can Dance. It’s in the latter capacity that I’m interested, but I don’t follow anyone else connected with that show. Nigel’s feed is just hilarious as he so frequently engages in public battles with those who reply to this tweets. There’s a whole “Moron” meme running through his feed that you’d have to read back on to completely understand.

RT @Clamanity: @izzyfeet Emmy voters are morons. [I KNOW. I’VE BEEN HANDING OUT #MORON NUMBERS ALL NIGHT. HA, HA!]

He’s also satisfyingly blunt (not mean) in posting his opinion. He’s recently been listed on “Recommend people to follow on Twitter”, so I’m not the only one to notice the fun to be had here. His response:

Welcome to all my new followers. Thank you#NewYorkPost I felt truly proud. Bring on the#Morons.

Of course!

@karenscian: Who? Right! She makes Simon Townshend seem famous. She’s my city councillor. Who has actually gotten in trouble for tweeting during council meetings.

But her feed covers a great deal more than the goings-on at Waterloo City Hall. She comments on Waterloo news in general, federal and provincial politics, food, family… An eclectic mix that very often seems to jibe with my own interests.

And I’ll leave the last tweet to her.

Oh Twitter, you are such a procrastination-enabler.


Xoom, xoom, xoom

I’ve been kind of wanting a tablet since, well, how long has the iPad been out now? Because it’s been about that long. Phones are too small and come with expensive data plans; laptops are too big and have pathetic battery life. Tablets seemed just right.

But, I hate to be an early adopter—otherwise known as suckers. Those tech-hungry folks who pay too much to essentially do beta-testing on versions 1.0 of whatever, thus paving the way for the rest of us to get the better, cheaper 2.0 version.

So when iPad 2 came out to mostly rave reviews, it seemed no longer necessary to wait. Except… Now there were all these competitors as well. And, I didn’t really like what I was hearing about how Apple was treating some of the apps providers. And, I wasn’t really that crazy about having to do everything through iTunes. And not having USB. Or Flash.

But many competitors seemed to have serious failings. Very short battery life. High price. Small screen size. Finally, the Motorola Xoom was released. On size, price, storage, battery life, it was about the same as Apple. Considered more clunky and harder to use, it wasn’t exactly getting rave reviews. But it didn’t tie you to a particular application to load files. And it had Google behind it, and I do use many things Google. So it seemed worth consideration.

Motorola XoomHowever, the Xoom is very, very much at version 1.0. The list of features it supposedly has but that don’t quite work yet (updates someday, we promise) is almost comical: SD card, full USB support, full Flash support, Android 3.1 (created but not yet available in Canada). And the number of apps, particularly those designed for tablets in particular, is way behind what is available in the iTunes.

So that was the dilemma. Get the mature product that would leave me tied to the whims of Steve Jobs, or pay the same amount for a product with the potential—but not the actuality, yet—of being better.

Uncharacteristically, I voted Xoom.

For the record, it does have flaws. Most of which I was aware of before purchase:

  • The screen is an unbelievable fingerprint magnet. You’d think someone would have realized that was a bad idea for a touch device. I’ve never Windex-ed anything so much.
  • The screen is also overly reflective. When viewing darker videos, you get a great reflection of your face back. I’m not narcissistic enough to really enjoy that.
  • It can’t handle that many video formats. Actually, I haven’t been able to load any formats it will view. Though maybe some app would help with that–haven’t checked.
  • It’s not as handy with PDFs as I’d like (though again, there may be an app for that). I can always view them; I can’t always seems to load or download them, and I’m not sure why.
  • Google Books doesn’t work in Canada.
  • The wild and crazy world of apps does take some getting used to.

On the other hand…

It really is great with most things Google. Unknowingly, I’ve been preparing for this tablet by using so many Google features on the computer. After the wireless connection (quick and easy), it asks you to log into Google. And based on that, it sets everything up: Your email, your calendar, your Picassa photos, your YouTube account, your Google docs. And they all work beautifully, with a great tablet interface. The Google maps are also nice. (And I hear Google Chat is very good, but I don’t use that one.) Google Reader is just OK–but I have found an app that improves that.

And the browser experience has been pretty decent so far as well. It’s just so much better, in fact, to view long web pages with embedded video and links and images on the tablet vs. on my desktop. And like on an iPad, you can zoom the font size, change orientation, smoothly scroll around.

It’s also very customizable, which, I’m told, the iPad is not. It comes with five different home pages you can set up how you want. I’m only using two so far, but I like the possibilities.

The on-screen keyboard has also been surprisingly easy to get used to, and much better than trying to type with your thumbs. Mind, functionality that is way basic on a computer takes a little work here—does this auto-save? (Nope. Save command in menu on the bottom bar.) How do I close this? (Can’t. Unless you get an app for that.) How do I copy and paste? (Select, hold, menu will pop up with these options.) But I suppose figuring all that out is good for my brain. (Though it’s actually making me wish for more online help as well.)

Anyway. It’s only day 3, so I still have 11 days to change my mind and return it. But so far, it definitely has more items in the Keep than Return column. Pass the Windex!