Astronomers released a new high-resolution 3-D view of supernova 1987A this week, which film critics are describing as “visually stunning, but lacking in storyline.”

R.A. 05h 35m 28.03s, Dec. -69° 16′ 11.79″ as the supernova in 1987A

“The effects were breathtaking, with many genuine ‘wow’ moments,” reported Dana Stevens of Slate. “But ultimately, 1987A was a total rehash of SN 1054, with a little Cassiopeia A for good measure. I mean, really, was anyone surprised when the light curve plateaued in the third act?” Other critics pointed out similarities to director Werner Herzog’s obscure 1981 supernova, O Star of Bethlehem, Wherefore Have Ye Shattered: Galaxy of Origin Andromeda.

The New York Post’s Kyle Smith viewed 1987A in a harsh light. “It was completely racist,” he wrote. “The supernova appears in the sky above the southern hemisphere, but not one native astronomer notices it’s there until some visiting Canadian spots it in a photograph? Give me a break.”

There was much buzz about the supernova’s visuals, though some critics, including the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell, singled out the 3-D effects in the gravitational collapse scene—in which the collapsing supernova rebounds upon itself—as “gimmicky.” Others found fault with the projection technology itself.

“It’s well known that 3-D supernovae suffer from brightness problems,” wrote venerable Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. “But is it just me, or did 1987A only get dimmer as time went on? I gave myself a headache trying to make out the silicon absorption spectra within the expanding cloud of superheated gas.”

There is strong consensus, however, on the stellar lead performance. “Newcomer R.A. 05h 35m 28.03s, Dec. -69° 16′ 11.79″ shines in one of the most brilliant interpretations committed to film this year,” exclaimed Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, who went on to describe the actor as “one of those rare stars that simply explodes.”

5 August 2010 — 2:40 am

After the latest attempt to stanch the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico was plagued by “unfortunate setbacks,” BP intends to try a new method, a company spokesman said today.

According to BP, the spill makes Earth look “badass.”

“Unfortunately, the ‘side punt’ method was not successful,” BP spokesman Pete Roleum explained. “However, we are hoping that our next initiative, the ‘refrigerator bucket,’ will succeed.”

The ‘refrigerator bucket’ method involves using an underwater robot to lower a container full of refrigerators, known as a refrigerator bucket, to the depth of the spill. Once the refrigerators are in place, they will be simultaneously opened, releasing several tonnes of lightly seasoned chicken breasts into the area surrounding the well, which is currently hemorrhaging like a severed limb in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

It is hoped that the gushing oil will divert itself from the surface of the Gulf and go after the chicken instead, at which point another robot will lasso the spill in an attempt to contain it.

“We don’t expect that the spill will stop completely, but this method should result in a significant flow reduction, perhaps up to 4 percent,” said Roleum. He then added that the technique has been successful before, but it has not yet been tried at this depth, or with oil, or outside the extended Star Wars universe.

BP spokesman Pete Roleum.

Meanwhile, debate continues over exactly how much oil is being released into the Gulf. Independent scientists claim that it may be as much as 100,000 barrels per day, but Roleum contests this figure, saying that the amount of oil being released is “not that much, when you consider the size of your mom.”

“Whoooooa, burn!” he added.

Morgan U. Canhandle, BP Vice President of Environmental Policy, elaborated: “It’s like if I told you that last night I got really depressed and drank 10 litres of whisky. That sounds like a lot. But if I then told you that I mixed it like half and half with Dr. Pepper, plus I started drinking in the early afternoon and was up until at least 4 in the morning, and also I ate three or four Baconators to soak up some of the alcohol, suddenly it seems a lot more manageable.”

“If the refrigerator bucket method fails, several other methods are available to contain the spill,” said Roleum. “Among our options are ‘ocean drain,’ ‘sponge monkey,’ ‘flibble flabble,’ and ‘fuck it, let’s all just live on the Moon.’

—Associated Press

3 June 2010 — 6:23 pm

OK, so that took much less time than I thought it would.

1 June 2010 — 7:54 pm

Comments have been broken now for some time—I suspect since the site was moved to another server by my hosting company a few months back. It seems as though an entire PHP file was deleted from my root directory, which doesn’t really make sense to me.

At first I thought I may have accidentally deleted it myself, but the missing file is not in my “trash” folder, though a bunch of other files from over the years are.

I will try to fix it as soon as possible, but I didn’t have a backup, and it’s been so long since I initially coded it, I don’t really remember how it worked. Basically I have to reverse engineer my own web site.

1 June 2010 — 7:20 pm

People are always like, Angela, it must be nice to travel through time. But it’s not all roses.

For example, the other day I’m in ancient Mesopotamia, when Cain comes in from the fields. He was dark, brooding, athletic—a total hunk! So I say to this sheep, if that’s Cain, then I’m able!

But the sheep just says, look, stupid. Even if I did understand language, which I don’t, why would I speak English? Get out of town, you dummy! Then it turns away and smokes a cigarette.

So time travel can be frustrating. But overall it’s pretty great.

29 May 2010 — 3:25 pm

I fucking hate this movie.

15 May 2010 — 5:42 pm

(A Drabble)

Jedediah Gale, professional repairman, knew he was not the first to speculate, after midnight and too many indulgences, that his body might be host to, even riddled with, clandestinely implanted government-operated surveillance instruments.

But how to know for sure? Machines that could detect such bugs were found only in hospitals, where the results might well be doctored, if one can forgive the play on words.

Jedediah needed an improvised body scanner of his own design, plus enough distance from any disguised government agents to assemble and operate it before being discovered. Thus was founded Microwave Oven Technicians Without Borders.

19 March 2010 — 7:50 pm

I was getting a little tired of all the spam in my comments, so I added a spam filter which seems to work fairly well. (By which I mean I tested it by reposting a viagra link which got through my original unfiltered comment system, and it rejected the spam. Nice!)

For the curious, I used Akismet through the PHP5 Akismet library. If you try to post spam, you get a nice message asking you to make your comment less like spam. Fairly simple.

In case anyone is wondering why there have not been any posts in a while, I’m busy working on a different website. Once things settle down there, I should have more time to blog. I’ll keep you posted.

7 June 2009 — 10:26 pm

(Caution: minor spoilers in the next paragraph.)

I am going to tell you a story. A headstrong farmboy with father issues gets into a brawl at a bar frequented by aliens, joins a space fleet, and gets pulled into a war against a bad guy with a planet-destroying weapon. Farmboy gets stranded on an ice planet with a giant predator that attacks him in a cave, then a wise old man from a different time tells him what to do next. His love interest falls for his Rival, who is equally headstrong but has a different belief system, but it’s OK because Farmboy and Rival become best friends and stop the bad guy together. This is, of course, the plot of J. J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie.

In condensing the plot of Star Trek I may have exaggerated the importance of a few details, but where it really apes Star Wars is not in plot details, but in feel: an action-packed, romantic romp through the galaxy, with few pauses for thought.

I love Star Wars, and the approach adopted by the makers of Star Trek worked to create an enjoyable movie. But it had none of the best part of Star Trek, the reason why I’ll take an hour out to watch an episode of The Next Generation when it’s on—the little bits of sci-fi speculation that make you think about some problem in ethics or science. Case in point: the TNG episode “Cause and Effect” which I fired up after seeing Star Trek in theatre to console myself. Sure the production values were lower than I had just seen in the big-budget blockbuster movie, but the conceit was much more interesting. Rather than the usual bad guy blowing up a planet routine, there was a neat little presentation of a problem in causality and free will. Not bad for 45 minutes of my time.

Star Trek, on the other hand, was not interested in raising questions. This surprised me, especially given J. J. Abrams’ history with Lost of doing nothing but raising questions. Usually asinine ones, whose answers are typically either irrelevant or nonsensical. (Sorry, I don’t like Lost.)

So I would say Star Trek was fun, good maybe, but not great. Not everyone seems to agree with me: it currently holds a 95% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I can see why: it’s difficult to really dislike the movie, but I would hardly rank this movie in the same class as other movies that have lower scores—like Fargo (93%) or even Raiders of the Lost Ark (94%). Unsurprisingly, the “Average Rating” for Star Trek is lower, but not as much as one might think, than that of both of these superior movies.

Speaking of critical reception, this most recent Star Trek film seems to have cemented the reversal of the so-called “odd-numbered curse”—that even-numbered ST films are generally much better than the odd-numbered ones. I made a little graph to demonstrate this:

I have time on my hands.

I guess the Insurrection-Nemesis double-whammy was bad enough to mess up the whole even-odd system. Of course, two points don’t make a trend, so we’ll have to wait for the upcoming sequels to tell for sure. Like Star Trek itself, I have hope for the future.

The production team has gotten rebooting the franchise out of the way. Now, instead of banking on favourable reactions engendered by the pleasant surprise that this beloved franchise was not totally ruined by a new movie adaptation, I’m sure they can come up with something more interesting the second time around.

At least I hope so, for J. J. Abrams’ sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

20 May 2009 — 9:50 pm

It was always part of the plan to allow reader comments on this blog. After being nudged today by my friend Siva, I relented.

I handcoded this blog, so it involved more than flipping a switch. But all in all, it only seems to have taken me about six hours; not bad for an amateur, I think.

I don’t have a challenge-response system in place prevent robots from posting spam, but I imagine I will have to add one eventually. Let’s conduct an experiment to see how long it takes, shall we?

10 May 2009 — 3:01 am

I have spent the past week in my hometown, visiting with family after my last-ever exams at McMaster University. The university life may be more exciting, but sometimes, you just can’t beat rest and relaxation at home. And Sault Ste. Marie has many worthwhile attractions: beautiful northern landscapes, historic landmarks, and small-town simplicity.

Needless to say, I have been watching a lot of movies on my computer.

Last night I saw JCVD, an action movie that apparently garnered critical acclaim in independent film circles upon its 2008 release. Personally, I’m just a sucker for explosions, so that didn’t matter. All I needed was to check Rotten Tomatoes to ensure the movie was not too terrible. With the venerable film-review aggregator’s seal of approval, and expecting a feast of pyrotechnics, I fired up the 96-minute French-language film, but what I witnessed were explosions of a completely different kind: Jean-Claude Van Damme dropping acting bombs. The man has chops.

JCVD seems to have a fairly conventional storyline for its genre: a muscly hero caught up in a bank heist is mistaken for the evildoing mastermind, and must find a way to save his fellow hostages. Nothing out of the ordinary. All right, there’s a small twist: the man is Jean-Claude Van Damme playing himself. This is unusual, but not too far from, say, Schwartzenegger’s self-parody in Last Action Hero. Yet the twists continue: Jean-Claude Van Damme is shown losing custody of his daughter in flashbacks, paralleling the real-life court battle for his son; he complains bitterly about being snubbed for a movie role in favour of Steven Seagal, among other symptoms of his conceded washed-upness; and at the climax of the movie, he delivers an emotional six-minute, single-take confessional-style monologue dwelling on his past drug abuse, his failed loves, and the human condition. Now we’re in unusual territory.

The movie features a performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme with surprising emotional heft.

JCVD is not a great movie, but it makes up for it by being an interesting one. It’s not quite as action-packed as Jean-Claude’s typical fare, with most of the action taking place in the first scene, an extended take from the set of a fictional upcoming flick which ends with Van Damme butting heads with an insouciant upstart filmmaker (sadly, not literally). Director Mabrouk El Mechri gets a lot of emotional flexing out of the Muscles from Brussels, especially in the previously-mentioned soliloquy, but sub-par acting from some of the supporting cast hurts the overall package. And there are a few odd quirks: some of the English-language dialogue, for example, is oddly ungrammatical, especially in JCVD’s flashbacks, but that could just be a subtle parody of the actor’s own loose grasp on what is probably at least his third language.

The movie also features sweet roundhouse kicks.

Despite its weak points, this movie is worth watching, if not just to see a totally unexpected side of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Kickbox—don’t regular box—your way to the video store: JCVD has my strong recommendation.

8 May 2009 — 3:11 am

Crime and Punishment, it has been said, has a misleading title, since the book is about neither the crime nor the punishment. By the first page of the novel, the crime has already been committed: Raskalnikov’s intention is set, and he executes his murderous plan mechanistically, as though he had no other choice. At the end of the epilogue, we quit Raskalnikov just as he accepts his guilt and prepares to move on, ready to serve another seven years in Siberia and pay for his eventual freedom with “great and heroic struggles yet to come.” The book is really about everything between the crime and the punishment.

So, as the argument goes, the title is a misnomer. I disagree. It is not that I think the title accurately reflects the content of the book; it is that “Crime and Punishment” is brilliantly evocative of the novel’s thesis, precisely because of what it omits. In his short story The Marquise of O—, Heinrich von Kleist managed to squeeze an act of sexual violence into a dash. Fyodor Dostoevsky does him one better. In “Crime and Punishment”, three months of a man’s psychological self-torture are compressed into a space. It’s right there between “Crime” and “and Punishment”. Now when I imagine the name of the work in my mind, I cannot but imagine a little gap there, a bump, a pause. Crime (bup!) and Punishment. The whole subject of the book, the entire 530-page treatise, is squeezed into that interstice.

[Aside: I like the word interstice (OED: an intervening space, especially a very small one) because its pronunciation suggests its own meaning. At in- the tongue presses against the teeth; the -t- sets off an explosive charge inter tongue and teeth and sends the tongue back; the -er- draws the tongue further back, all the way to the soft palette; the -s- glides the tongue forward from its erstwhile position to hit another explosive -t- which sends the tongue flying off the roof of the mouth to slide to a stop on the ice of -ice. The two -t- sounds bookend the tongue-withdrawal of the -ers- sound. If you were to graph the position of the tongue while saying “interstice”, it would look like a flat wall with a little recession, an intervening space, right between int- and -tice.]

Why does this squeezing relate to the novel’s thesis? For one thing, Raskalnikov is all about the interstice. He is a man who lives outside society: between human relationships, but only rarely within one. His morality is between good and evil, and indifferent to both. He is named for the Russian word meaning schism, a split.

Interstitial imagery is everywhere in the novel. Raskalnikov lives in a cramped space between two other rooms. Svidrigaylov, during a delirious night in a hotel room, looks through the spaces between the wooden slats which comprise one of the walls to spy on other guests and feels a draught coming through the spaces around his window. The characters wander through narrow streets, alleys, and hallways. But it is more than that.

If you were to describe the events of Crime and Punishment—the murders, the dramatic encounters, the final confession—you would be leaving out the most important part of the book. Everything that happens between events, everything interstitial, is what makes it so valuable. Dostoevsky meticulously chronicles the little run-ins between people on the street, the random coincidences, the inner monologues, and the slightly bizarre experiences that contribute so much to our daily existence and to our psychology, but which are almost never talked about.

Take, for example, the usual answer to the question “how was your day?” The questioned person will typically reply with adjective so general it borders on a lie, and maybe recount a few events to illustrate. Not that we blame him. Usually it seems there is not enough time to say anything meaningful.

But what do we leave out when we give such an answer? For me, the big events of each day certainly constitute, in broad strokes, what happens; but they can hardly account for the experience of living through what happens. It is the tiny unexpected surprises, the hundreds of small plans made and unmade, the promises to self and others kept or not kept, the pangs of anxiety or regret, the thrills of unexpected joy and the sudden beautiful sights, the delight of inquisitiveness rewarded, the random encounters with old friends (and sometimes, the struggle to remember their names!) that form the real reality, for me.

The interstices of my life are where the big things happen. That is why I enjoyed reading Crime and Punishment: because it dealt so directly with the paradoxical importance of unimportant things.

23 April 2009 — 6:45 pm

Gathered around the Ultimeats.

This story begins, like so many others, with a late night at the pub. We are sitting around the table, slumped in our chairs, sated with laughter, hands folded over our stomachs or lazily grasping a half-finished pint. Cliff leans forward with a mischievous smile and a conspiratorial look. “Have I ever told you guys about the Ultimeat Pizza?”

He feeds us the details. The Ultimeat Pizza was devised by Cliff, his brother Colin, and two million years of hunter-gatherer instinct. An extra-large pizza, thick crust, extra sauce, and every meat topping that Pizza Pizza offers.

“Except for anchovies, of course. They’re not a real meat.”

The night he and his brother first ordered the zoo on a ‘za, Cliff could barely finish four slices. That night, he was so stuffed that the discomfort woke him up. “We’ve been talking about doing it again. You guys up for it?”

Eight of us made a pact that night to tackle the ten-topping titan. The date was set: two Sundays thence. Because there were so many of us, we would order two pizzas, each paying ten dollars and receiving three slices. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into.


The big day came, and I had completely forgotten about our agreement. A lot had happened since that night: Easter weekend with my grandparents in Niagara Falls, a huge exam for my Literature course, a piano recital canceled under unfortunate circumstances, the completion and submission of my undergraduate thesis. I had other things to think about. Lucky for me, as Rick stepped out the door that afternoon, I asked him where he was going. “To a meeting, then to Cliff’s house for the Ultimeat. You’re still in, right?”

Suddenly all the details of our agreement came back to me. “Yeah, still in. I’m heading to campus soon for a meeting myself, but send me a text message when you’re finished and we’ll head to Cliff’s house together.”

The meeting I referred to was of the newly-elected Student Representative Assembly, the governing council of our student union. I had served on the SRA for three terms, but my impending graduation meant that I had not run for a fourth. It was time for the election of my successor as Bylaws and Procedures Commissioner, and I wanted to be there to arrange for a transition meeting. A few minutes after Rick left, I got a text message: they were just finishing the business item directly preceding the election. I dashed off to campus.


My haste proved unnecessary. Minutes after I arrived, the assembly voted to recess for a 45-minute dinner break. That passed, and then the candidate for my old position ran unopposed. Business continued, and I looked at the time anxiously. Surely Rick’s meeting should be done by now; he said it would take an hour, and it had already been ninety minutes. I thought to myself: I hope they haven’t forgotten about me. Although I usually avoid premature nostalgia, with my last days as an undergraduate student winnowing away, some part of me couldn’t help regarding the Ultimeat pizza as a challenge rather than a meal, a notch in my axe (and perhaps my belt) that I could look back upon with fondness as part of the happy-go-lucky days of my waning youth.

My cell phone vibrated, buzzing against the table it was resting on. I had not been forgotten. Rick was heading home; I texted back to say I would meet him there.

At home, I grabbed what I needed to document the event: pens, a notebook, and my camera. We made the 20-minute walk to Cliff’s house with a detour to the convenience store for root beer and ginger ale. We were among the first to arrive.

The living room was neat and tidy, everything having perhaps been cleared out to make way for the mammoth spread. As more contenders arrived, we learned that only seven of the original eight would be taking part in the feast: me, Rick, Cliff, Colin, Martin, Kara, and Carson. There was Andrea, too, there to watch, but unable to participate (we ordered her a small vegetarian pizza as a consolation). Cliff wrote out a list of toppings to make sure we left nothing out.


The master list of ingredients.

It was time to order. Cliff dialed. We told his housemates to pipe down in the next room. Martin and I activated the recording functions on our phones to document the call.

We had bad luck with the first attempt to order: the Pizza Pizza operator kept interrupting with offers of irrelevant three-topping specials. Feigning a bad connection, Cliff hung up on her and tried again.

The second time, we reached someone more cooperative. Cliff placed the order very meticulously. “We would like two extra-large pizzas, each with the following. Thick crust. Extra sauce. Pepperoni. New York-style pepperoni. Italian sausage. Italian ham. Bacon strips. Bacon crumble. Mesquite chicken. Barbecue steak strips. Salami. And ground beef.” There was a short pause. The operator was quick on the uptake. “Yes, that is every meat topping you offer. Except anchovies.”

Then Cliff ordered Andrea’s veggie pizza and four marinara dipping sauces. With the business complete, Cliff allowed himself a small joke with the incredulous woman on the other end of the line. “This is adequate food for three people, right?” Cliff smiled. She had burst out laughing. The order came out to just under 80 dollars.

When the delivery man came, it took him three trips to bring us our full order. The boxes were surprisingly heavy. We paid the delivery man, and set the two boxes on the table before throwing them open in unison. There was a collective gasp.

“Oh my God,” someone said. It might have been me.

We each took our first piece. The toppings that fell off as they were slid out of the box could have furnished a Meat Lover’s pizza on their own. Not quite sure what to expect, I took my first bite.

I thought the amount of meat on the pizza would be excessive, that my Herculean task would be slightly unpleasant. I was wrong. That first bite of pizza was the best I have ever eaten. Each mouthful was decadent almost beyond measure. “I feel like Louis XIV,” I exclaimed.

I never knew it was possible to be meatdrunk, but we all were. We made jokes about dying of meat poisoning, and about how many animals gave up their lives for our meal that night. After two or three slices, we each hit our “meat wall.” Some of us found a second wind and kept going.

If this were not a story about pizza, would you even know what this was?

When Rick took his fourth piece, which came with half the toppings from an adjacent piece that someone was unable to stomach whole, the tension in the room was palpable. It was as though we were being threatened by an invisible meat monster, and he was preparing to do battle with it. I imagined that a fourth piece would have been my undoing. Rick later told me that as he looked at that piece on his plate, he feared the same thing.

But he got through it. Both pizzas finished, we had met the Ultimeat challenge. That night, after a very slow walk home, I slept like a baby. A baby who had eaten his weight in meat. It is not something I would do again, at least not for a while, but I am glad we did it.

Despite what this story may suggest, I believe very strongly in the principle of moderation. The wasteful nature of our day-to-day existence is taking its toll on nature, and the Ultimeat pizza is by no means a sustainable practice, ecologically or economically. But a little excess can be instructive from time to time. Without fully experiencing the delights of living, how else would we know what it is we are trying to preserve?

20 April 2009 — 11:40 pm