Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Major Study

The Double-Dip Study

From the Times:

The study, to be published later this year in the Journal of Food Safety, is the only one I’ve ever seen to proclaim that it was inspired by an episode of “Seinfeld.” It was conducted as part of a Clemson University program designed to get undergraduate students involved in scientific research. Prof. Paul L. Dawson, a food microbiologist, proposed it after he saw a rerun of a 1993 “Seinfeld” show in which George Costanza is confronted at a funeral reception by Timmy, his girlfriend’s brother, after dipping the same chip twice.

“Did, did you just double dip that chip?” Timmy asks incredulously, later objecting, “That’s like putting your whole mouth right in the dip!” Finally George retorts, “You dip the way you want to dip, I’ll dip the way I want to dip,” and aims another used chip at the bowl. Timmy tries to take it away, and the scene ends as they wrestle for it.
The study's result:

Professor Dawson said that Timmy was essentially correct. “The way I would put it is, before you have some dip at a party, look around and ask yourself, would I be willing to kiss everyone here? Because you don’t know who might be double dipping, and those who do are sharing their saliva with you.”
This finding, which I would say is common sense if you understand anything about germs, could save your life.

Maybe not, but it's possible.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On Desire


For a decade now, maybe longer, I've known what I want. I've had an ultimate goal, and despite knowing this for certain, I haven't done much to achieve this goal, desire, this want that has been part of me for so long it may as well be a basic necessity at this point. I need to do this. And yet, I don't.

Some people need to travel to find themselves, to experience Thing A through Thing Y (why not Z?), but I don't. I know for certain what I want to achieve in life. I don't say it out loud. Nor do I write it. If you asked me, I may not even whisper it. Perhaps I'm superstitious that it won't happen if I say it out loud. Or perhaps I'm terrified that someone will laugh at the idea. Or discount it. Or discount me.

It's January 29, 2008. How about I say it's February 1, 2008, to give us a clear break? How about I say this: Six months to work to this goal, to actually get something done. Then I'll report back here with the result. Did I succeed? Did I fail? Or will I write again about jumping into the deep end, to risk humiliation only within my own conscience.

Maybe if I say it out loud enough, it will come true. Or maybe someone will say it for me.

Six months. That's Tuesday July 29, 2008. I'll report on this project then.


Science Fiction

Some Ramblings

An interesting post at Gawker today (via the blog io9) about science fiction in the New Yorker magazine. Turns out there hasn't been much.

I'm not surprised. In fact, I'm surprised there have been any sci-fi short fiction published in the New Yorker. "The magazine has only published one SF story over the past decade, when the genre has supposedly been amassing tons of literary prestige," blogger Charlie Anders writes.

Below Anders's post is a notable reader comment: "Science fiction novels have gained more prestige, as long as we all pretend they're not science fiction, or else treat the author like a daring genius for dabbling in the cesspool and drawing out an Oprah Book Club Pick." The reader referring to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," a fantastic novel that enjoys an audience of elitist readers who wouldn't dare call it science fiction.

I don't read many science fiction or fantasy novels, and I'm not sure why. I know of strong ones that I plan to read. But I'm not opposed to science fiction, nor am I afraid of embracing it as a genre. The fact is I watch television and movies that is considered science fiction. And maybe doing that is more palatable for some.

Along these lines, one show that is clearly science fiction that doesn't suffer from any of its stigmas is "Lost," which returns this Thursday. I hope this season picks up the momentum the show had in last season's final episodes. I never gave up on the show, even during its trying episodes.

I'll be watching, even it's called sci-fi.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oxygen Wars

The Air (Dis)Advantage

Because the air quality in Beijing is so poor, U.S. Olympics team has been preparing to combat the pollution problem through various methods, the Times reported today. The Canadian team suggested they are planning for the smog, too, but declined to elaborate:

Jon Kolb, an environmental physiologist with the Canadian Olympic Committee, bristled when asked about Canada’s plan, saying, “We would prefer to keep our strategies to ourselves.” He did say, however, that Canadian athletes would not wear masks (like the U.S. team).
First, this air quality problem never crossed my mind; perhaps I take for granted the relatively clean air around these parts.

Second, if Toronto's bid had been successful, these upcoming summer Olympics would be played here. The air quality issue in Toronto is not particularly fantastic, but I don't believe the U.S. team would have to consider wearing masks.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hit 'Refresh'

Wasting The Night Away

Since the news Heath Ledger died broke, I've spent most of my night interrupting whatever I've been doing to reload TMZ's homepage for the latest gossip. It's obscene how I've become hooked to this website, which I've barely visited before today. And now I can understand how TMZ has as many readers as it does; it's addictive to receive these short, gossipy updates about celebrities.

Someone stop me.


Ledger Dead

Heath Ledger, April 4, 1979 - January 22, 2008

Few things shock me, but Heath Ledger's death is one.

I typically brush of celebrity "news" but this is a story that I would have never predicted. I don't have anything else to add.


JFJ Fired

The Sensible is Confirmed

At last, the Toronto Maple Leafs have fired John Ferguson Jr. this morning.

This decision was long overdue. Considering how poorly the Leafs have performed under Ferguson, it's a wonder he kept his job as long as he did. And while Ferguson failed as the Leafs GM, I don't think he's a bad person or an unintelligent hockey executive. I think the culture of the Leafs, the one Ferguson stepped into, is not one designed for success.

The talk at the press conference from Richard Peddie, the President of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, suggests that culture is changing. For the next GM to have a chance in this city, then I hope all the 'right things' said today do come true.


Nash's Goal

A Bit Old But Still Great


Friday, January 18, 2008

Leafs Win!

Celebrate the Two-Game Winning Streak!

Now that the Leafs have turned their season around with a two-game winning streak, it's time to forget the talk of firing John Ferguson Jr., forget the talk of bringing Cliff Fletcher to the club, forget the talk of trading Mats Sundin, and forget the talk that the Leafs, despite winning two games in a row, are still out of the playoffs.

I'm going to backtrack. Not long ago I wrote it was time for the Leafs to deal Sundin. Wrong. Keep him, and ride into an early summer. In fact, don't trade any player. Keep 'em all. The Leafs don't need to start rebuilding until next season. The Leafs need to play poorly - the worst in the league preferably - in the 2008/2009 season to give the club its best chance to draw the first overall pick in the 2009 draft to grab John Tavares.

Then the Leafs can begin to rebuild. Why start now when the future still needs to be ugly at least for one more year?


Directors Sign

One Strike Avoided, The Other Continues

The directors union agreed to a tentative deal yesterday, avoiding a possible strike later this year, but settling for less in terms of Internet payments than the striker writers union wants.

This tentative deal may spur the writers union to settle with the studios. I hope they do settle soon, but I'd like to see the writers get a reasonable cut of Internet revenues.

While I haven't missed the writers terribly, there's little doubt Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's shows would benefit greatly from a return of their writing staffs. Also the "reality" programming is sinking to unbearable levels. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to put up with the softball questions/cliché answer segments on "American Gladiators"; "American Idol"'s premier Tuesday was wretched, derivative, and best seen by pressing fast-forward for two hours. The ratings of "AI" bear that out.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hitting Links

These Have Been Accumulating

I need to get these off my chest:
  • Fortune cookies originate, apparently, from Japan.
  • Jonny Greenwood is great. (O.K., that's a pathetic way to throw to a link, but I have so many.)
That's it.
Actually, there was more.
No, there wasn't.
Fine. Yes, there were more, but who'll click anyways?
Leafs suck.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Pause

I Haven't Abandoned You Yet

It's been a busy few days, and there are few more busy ones ahead. Until then, I won't be here. This means that when I do come back, probably mid-week next week, there'll be a backlog of things to get to.

Just awful, but it happens.

Return in a few...


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mats Sundin

The One Question Left About the Leafs This Season

Should the Toronto Maple Leafs trade captain Mats Sundin?

A slew of stories about this can be found (at least at this moment) here, here, here, and here:

The furor over a possible trade of Mats Sundin persisted for a third day yesterday, with the Toronto Maple Leafs' captain patiently explaining — yet again — why he would rather finish his NHL career with the Leafs than accept a trade to a Stanley Cup contender.

First, he considers himself a loyal Maple Leaf and wants to stay with the team. Second, he still thinks the Leafs have a good chance to make the playoffs, despite their struggles. Third, he considers Toronto his home and wants to stay there. Fourth, and this may be the most significant reason, even at 36 with his hockey career winding down, Sundin would not feel comfortable going to another team for a couple of months, even if the payoff would be his first Stanley Cup.

Sundin, like always, has said the right things to his teammates, his fans and this city. But he needs to do act the right way and that is to accept a trade.

The Leafs will not make the playoffs this season. And the team might not make the playoffs next season with or without Sundin. The team needs to stop pretending it doesn't have to rebuild.

Since the lockout, the Leafs' previous formula for success has been to buy free agents to band aid the team. That doesn't work anymore.

The team needs to simply accept the fact that the current roster will not win the Stanley Cup any time soon, and it's time to trade assets. And other than Tomas Kaberle and perhaps Nik Antropov, the Leafs have one asset that can bring more than one average prospect back to the club: Sundin.

It hurts because Sundin is my favourite Leaf. But now is the time to make the deal.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

For Resolutions

It's Time to Change Our Lives

Perhaps there is no more popular an activity post-Winter holiday then to make a list of resolutions that will eventually all be ignored and broken by mid-February. Or, if we are vigilant, mid-March.

How to we stop this cycle of making and breaking resolutions? One option is to do what I do: don't make any resolutions. Another option is to turn to inspirational phrases, words on their own that mean nothing, but together, stringed together half-coherently, mean even les-- er, mean so much.

But where can I find these motivational phrases? I found some at a local gym. Each of the trainers at this gym have a biography posted that boasts of irrelevant certificates. At the bottom, each offered an inspirational phrase or two. I present them here, unedited and filled with hope-making spirit:

  • "Nothing worth doing is easy."
  • "Don't think, just do."
  • "Life is only as good as you make it." (x2)
  • "It's only heavy."
  • "Our body and health are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves."
  • "Never regret anything you had to work hard for."
  • "Common [sic] you can do it."

Fuck, I'm inspired.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Violence: Good!

The Perfect Excuse to Watch Pornographically Violent Movies

From the Times:

A paper presented by two researchers over the weekend to the annual meeting of the American Economic Association here challenges the conventional wisdom, concluding that violent films prevent violent crime by attracting would-be assailants and keeping them cloistered in darkened, alcohol-free environs.

This is fantastic news. To think, all the violent films I've watched have been more beneficial than being only examples for my future acts of revenge.


Geoff Pevere

The Star's Best Movie Critic Moves On

This weekend marked the end of Geoff Pevere's movie critic assignment at the Star. A bit more than a week ago, Pevere wrote about his years as a movie critic, and now he'll be the Star's book columnist.

Pevere has always been the most trusted opinion of film in the Star's pages and I'd say this would be a huge loss for the paper if Pevere wasn't taking up the book columnist spot.

A couple years ago I had the chance to interview Pevere for a short profile. I remember that week because he had to reschedule our original interview date. Hunter S. Thompson had committed suicide and Pevere had to write an appreciation piece. He banged one out in four hours and it still stands as my favourite piece of his. I don't have a copy of that story handy, which sucks, but I do have my profile. In it's short, 500-word entirety, here's my previously unpublished Pevere profile:

Getting into the Interior
by Michael Czobit
Feb. 28, 2005

Start with an exterior shot: we’re outside the Second Cup across from the Bloor Cinema in Toronto; it’s cold. Next, an interior one: we see the coffee shop’s brown furnishings; I’m sitting with Geoff Pevere, the Toronto Star’s movie critic. Take a close-up of Pevere, and we see that his photo in the Star doesn’t resemble the critic in front of me: longish, black hair combed back, two earrings, a nose ring, and black-rimmed glasses; he’s a rebel with sensible tastes.

We talk over coffee less than a week before this year’s Oscars, and I want to know Pevere’s picks. But he won’t be watching and he doesn’t care: “To me it’s a social event, it’s a TV event. It’s really not about movies.” So, what is it about? He gives me an example from the 1981 Oscars:
Martin Scorsese had made "Raging Bull," one of the great American films, and that film did not win an Oscar. But Robert Redford won one for "Ordinary People." "Ordinary People" is an okay movie. Does anybody watch "Ordinary People" anymore?”
Never even heard of it.
Exactly. Exactly.

Just like the Oscars aren’t for Pevere, neither was the journalism program he entered at Carleton in Ottawa in the 1970s. He dropped the program after a year and entered Film Studies at the same school and started writing movie reviews. After freelancing, stints on radio and TV, and teaching, Pevere, who’s 47, was hired in 1998 as a full-time critic at the Star. Even when he’s not reviewing movies, Pevere watches from his collection (but only the good stuff). During a regular week, he’ll watch about eight movies. “Usually I’ll try to develop excuses to use the stuff from (my) collection,” Pevere says. “So I’m watching something all the time.”

Depending on screening times, Pevere gets from two weeks to two days to watch a film and review it. The questions he asks are always the same. Is the movie engaging? What makes it engaging? If not, why? He constantly cross-references the film with others. And he thinks about how he’ll convey his response to his readers.

I ask Pevere about Hollywood movies; you know those big-budget, blockbuster, escapist flicks with teenage wizards and web-slinging heroes and slow-motion bullets and—
“I think a little blockbuster fatigue has set in,” Pevere says. “I need escape from escapism.” Pevere likes to look at the larger cultural and societal context of a film, which is hard to do if a movie doesn’t have either—a problem Hollywood movies suffer from as they move away from reality.

His alternative to Hollywood is the documentary film. “They engage with the real world,” Pevere says. “A really skilled documentary filmmaker could make an interesting film about anything. He could make an interesting documentary film out of this conversation. Out of what you’re doing.”

Out of what I’m doing? Taking notes and drinking bad coffee? That might be hard to believe but right about now, the credits roll.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Vitamin B12

Clemens Admits Injections -- Just Not the Illegal Variety

From the Times:

In a “60 Minutes” interview that will be shown on CBS on Sunday night, the former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens admits that he received injections from his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee. But he says that the injections were of the painkiller lidocaine and vitamin B12 — not steroids or human growth hormone, as McNamee alleged in the Mitchell report released last month.

This is a real surprise. Yeah.

Doctor and New Yorker contributor Jerome Groopman talked about the injections Clemens claims he received:

In a telephone interview Thursday, Dr. Jerome Groopman, a hematologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, described lidocaine as a common local anesthetic whose injectable form would probably require a prescription. Groopman said that vitamin B12, which does not require a prescription, is administered to patients with a serious deficiency of the vitamin, usually the elderly, and that its value as an energy enhancer was “an urban legend.”

“For someone like Roger Clemens, who certainly looks robust, the likelihood that he would be deficient in vitamin B12 is a stretch,” Groopman said, noting that he had not seen Clemens’s medical records. “It would have no physiological effect. It would only have a placebo effect.”

With athletes like Clemens espousing vitamin B12 supplementation, I should look into buying stock in this wonder drug.


"L&O" London?

An English-Speaking "Law & Order" Outside of New York

From the Times:

Britain could soon hear the sound, familiar to “Law & Order” fans, of “dun-dun.” NBC Universal is close to signing a pact with a British production company to create a version of the long-running New York drama that would be set in London. Kudos Film and Television intends to produce the series for the British network ITV. Stephen Garrett, a managing director of Kudos, said he was in advanced talks to license the rights to the series. Variations of “Law & Order” are already produced in Russia and France, but the British show would be the first foreign English-language version of the NBC original. If a deal is signed, Kudos will start production in the summer, Mr. Garrett said.

If that show does happen, and the episodes are shown in North America, it might breath new life into the franchise.

Coincidentally, I managed to watch Wednesday the first two episodes of the new season of the original "Law & Order," which did well in ratings in the U.S. (considering its competition, "L & O" should hope to win during the writers strike). This new season is supposed to rejuvenate the series with a new D.A., and a new detective played by Jeremy Sisto of "Six Feet Under."

I write "of 'Six Feet Under'" because I can't get the character he played on that show out of my head; Sisto is better as a villain or at least as a creepy figure than a good detective. In the first episode Wednesday Sisto appeared incomfortable in the role. He was better in the second episode but I'm not convinced he'll last beyond a season.

Overall, "Law & Order" is tame in comparison to its cable competitors, "The Wire" and "The Shield." "L & O" is a decent way to waste an hour, but missing it is not a big deal.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wolfe Moves

A Switch in Publishers

Tom Wolfe's new novel, "Back to Blood," won't be published until next year, but the book is already making news as Wolfe

has severed his 42-year relationship with Farrar, Straus & Giroux and agreed to sell the rights to publish his next novel, to be set in Miami, to Little, Brown & Company. People involved in the negotiations said on Wednesday that Mr. Wolfe’s advance for the new book was close to $7 million.

If I remember correctly, Wolfe said after publishing "I Am Charlotte Simmons" his next book would be non-fiction, but that's changed. Apparently it was the "Simmons" novel's failure to sell like Wolfe's earlier novels that precipitated the end of the publishing relationship.

Speaking of books that I have waiting on my shelf, Wolfe's "Simmons" is one of them. I believe I bought the hardcover at the bargain price of $10 -- always a sign expectations have not been met. I'll get to it sometime...


Hockey Ratings

The Winter Classic Brings Them In

From the Star:

According to Nielsen overnight ratings, the game scored a 2.6 rating, meaning it was viewed in almost 3 million households.

That's the highest rating in the U.S. since Fox scored a 3.0 rating in 1996. It's also more than double the average regular-season rating on NBC last season.

The game was a success all around. And maybe that's the key to hockey in the U.S.: make it a super-hyped spectacle and deliver a decent game.

I'm still waiting for the game to go up on iTunes, so I can watch it as most people saw it (and that will likely be the only time I ever buy an old NHL game off iTunes.)


Bye Flashman

George MacDonald Fraser, R.I.P.

The creator of the popular Flashman series of novels died yesterday:

Over nearly four decades, Mr. Fraser produced a dozen rollicking picaresques centering on Flashman. The novels purport to be installments in a multivolume “memoir,” known collectively as the Flashman Papers, in which the hero details his prodigious exploits in battle, with the bottle and in bed. In the process, Mr. Fraser cheerfully punctured the enduring ideal of a long-vanished era in which men were men, tea was strong and the sun never set on the British Empire.

When I worked at a book store a couple of years ago, the Flashman series was a favourite of a friend of mine. I haven't read any of Fraser's books, but I have the first Flashman novel on my shelf. Should get to it.


Comics Good

The Times's Editorial Board Gives Its O.K.

I wasn't sure if it was O.K. to read comics, but thankfully the editorial board at the New York Times cleared this up today. Not only are they O.K., they're even better in the classroom:

Comics are now gaining a new respectability at school. That is thanks to an increasingly popular and creative program, often aimed at struggling readers, that encourages children to plot, write and draw comic books, in many cases using themes from their own lives.

The editorial adds:

No one is suggesting that comic books should substitute for traditional books or for standard reading and composition lessons. Teachers who would once have dismissed comics out of hand are learning to exploit a genre that clearly has a powerful hold on young minds. They are using what works.

Oh, scary: The thought of kids reading only comics. The editorial has allayed my fears.

The condescending editorial wouldn't be complete without a signal that the Times's editorial board really has little clue as to what they are endorsing: "Teachers who would once have dismissed comics out of hand are learning to exploit a genre that clearly has a powerful hold on young minds" (emphasis added). Comics are not a genre; sure mainstream books are monopolized around superheroes, but comics touch upon many genres. The comic book is a medium, like novels and movies.

That's one wrong word in an editorial that is particularly pointless.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Virgin Galactic

I Just Saw an Ad for This

I'm sure this was reported ad infinitum when it was announced, but I must have missed the press releases and the press releases cleverly disguised as "newspaper articles" when Virgin said it would offer commercial sub-orbital flights; a spaceline as its called.

I checked the website for the only thing that actually interested me about this: the cost.

Tickets are starting at US$200,000.

Dreaming is still less expensive.


Nixng 2007

The Best of Lists That Will Never Be

Call me lazy or call me bright, but I've decided against summarizing 2007's books, films and music in handy to read (and ignore) best of lists. I can't find the energy or the needed time to make any list and since it's the second day of the new year, I don't see any list about 2007 having any relevance.

I'm leaving 2007 behind.


On Consumption

Jared Diamond Talks About No. 32

TO mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it’s 2 raised to the fifth power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first world and the developing world. The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.

Diamond, the author of “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel,” then goes on to list 32 consequences of the west's consumption...

O.K., not quite; that's a cheap gimmick that Diamond doesn't resort to, but he does describe how increasing consumption is not sustainable (to use that over-used word):

We often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

While you think about that, I'm off to pour some extra gasoline I have down the sewer drain.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Winter Classic

Thoughts About the Game

I just came back from Buffalo (or more accurately, Orchard Park, N.Y.) after I attended the so-called Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres.

The game had an exciting and appropriate finish with Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning shootout goal -- appropriate because the entire event was another showcase for the NHL's biggest superstar.

While the finish was good, the majority of the play during regulation time lacked intensity, hits and excitement and resembled an all-star game. Reasons for the wanting play range from the ice conditions to the weather conditions to the two teams playing not being particularly strong.

Also the game was interrupted at every period's half-way mark to bring out a Zamboni to treat the ice. This interruption took away from the game some of the players' energy and momentum. The reason for this repeated intrusion was the concern that these two teams would be at a disadvantage because of the ice condition and would cause lose crucial regular season points.

My suggestion to avoid this repeated intrusion in future installments of the Winter Classic and to actually make this event worthy of its of name is to simply fold the real all-star game into the Winter Classic format. This way no team participating could complain about the conditions and how they effect its regular season record. Also the best players would be showcased in the most dramatic setting (outside among 70,000 fans).

Making the Winter Classic the NHL's all-star game would make the all-star game worth watching. So why not make the change?