31 January 2007

Ronald Wright 2

I haven’t written yet about Ronald Wright. His talk was more well-attended than I would have predicted. We didn’t get there early enough to get “good” seats, but we weren’t up in the balcony. He started his talk with a little movie clip that showed a map of the world and a white dot on the map for every 1 million people. The movie started in early in AD and continued to the 2020s (if I recall correctly; I didn’t take notes or anything). It started slowly and for a long time nothing changed on the screen. You could tell a lot of the audience were making WTF?-faces at each other and rethinking their decision to come. Then the dots came alive and you could clearly see the effects of wars, plagues, and modern medicine on the earth. It was surreal to see the dots take over continents like Africa. Canada, however, remained practically untouched north of, say, Toronto. We were a vast, dot-less landscape. Yea for us.

He talked a lot about things from his book, A Short History of Progress. He also talked a bit about utopian and dystopian fiction. He mentioned some specific books, many of which I’ve read, but he mentioned others that I haven’t heard of and I wish I’d brought something to write with because I’ve forgotten them now. He said that authors of dystopias run the risk of having their fantastic imaginings come true. How awful that must be, to write a book about what you consider to be an impossibly bad fate for humanity to suffer, only to see it realized 20 years later.

The thing I love about Ronald Wright, the thing that attracted me to his writing, is what an obviously intelligent man he is. He’s so well-read and remembers the things he’s read. He takes ideas from different people, different cultures and times and synthesizes them. He doesn’t necessarily have new ideas, but he’s got a great way of looking at the old ones from a new angle.

He signed books afterwards. I got my copy of A Short History of Progress signed. He didn’t really remember me, but he remembered my mom, or at least he was polite and said he did. What a nice man.

30 January 2007

My mind is revolting

Last night I had an invertebrate nightmare. The invertebrates were part of a larger dream in which I was a member of an underwater forensics team working in a flooded house. The only thing I remember about that gig was that in the submerged living room there was a dead rottweiler floating in the corner of a living room ceiling. The whole house was underwater, but the dog was floating there, like it tried to rise to the surface and the ceiling stopped it.

Later on, I was playing with a large scab that covered my entire left palm. It wasn’t painful, but it was large, crusty and hard. As I worked away part of it, I saw tiny, shiny, white balls and I thought (with revulsion even now) that they were eggs. Frantically I pulled the rest of the scab off and revealed a palm-full of tiny, tiny amphipods. There were far more than there should have been. I had apparently been brooding them in my palm. I can’t explain how gross this is. The more I think about it, the sicker I get. In the dream I wiped them all off my hand and they left behind a series of burrow tracks just below the skin of my palm. As if they had been crawling around under my skin and left little tunnels. I’m shuddering now, this is so disgusting. Freshwater amphipods aren’t parasitic, but in my dream I had become infected with them and they had laid their young in my hand and I had unwittingly raised them. Ew. Oh, ew. Damn, that is so awful.

23 January 2007

Movies and Books

I hate to talk about TV so much. But it’s not as if I’m successfully fooling people into thinking that I’m not a TV junkie. I caught the second (of four) part of a Masterpiece Theatre production of Jane Eyre. (Jane Eyre is a great book, by the way. If you haven’t read it you really should – it’s got all the darkness of Wuthering Heights but with sympathetic characters. Now that I think of it, I should reread it, I think it’s been about four years since I last read it). This will be the 3rd adaptation of Jane Eyre that I’ve seen and even though I’ve only seen half of the miniseries, I think it may be the best. For some reason this seems to be a hard book to adapt. I wonder what makes it like that. I’ve been thinking a lot about adaptations recently. While I do my lab work I’ve been listening to Gone with the Wind on tape (36 cassettes!). I’ve read that book twice, and now hearing it for the third time I’m struck by how hollow the movie is when compared to the book. And I love the movie, it might even be my favourite movie (and I am aware of all the problems with this book, but it’s not meant to be a historically accurate depiction of slavery in the South) but it’s like someone filmed the CliffsNotes of the novel. The movie is the salient points but there is so much more to the book. It’s a shame someone like Peter Jackson hasn’t come along, resurrected Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh, and made a 9-hour adaptation of Mitchell’s work. I’d totally watch the Making-Of featurettes on that DVD.

22 January 2007

Ronald Wright

My school email account gets a lot of emails. I don’t keep track, but I would hazard a guess that I get at least 10 emails a day that are completely meaningless to me. Sometimes, out of boredom, I’ll actually read them. Sometimes I delete them right off. Last Friday I got one about U of A’s International Week and I opened it up because what else am I going to do at 3:30 in the afternoon? Anyway, I scrolled down, not actually reading it, and two words leaped out at me in bold:

Ronald Wright.

I was alone in my office, so luckily there are no witness to my girly squee and hand fluttering. But I told everyone I saw after that and no one had heard of Ronald Wright or his books, so I had to explain that he’s the author of many great books, including what just may be my favourite book: A Scientific Romance. He writes primarily non fiction, though, and his most recent work was A Short History of Progress. I met him once in 2002. I wrote about it in my blog at the time, but I’m going to reproduce that entry here, rather than give you a link to the original posting.

At the time Ronald Wright lived in Port Hope, a town close to the hamlet where my parents live. I was home for Christmas and my mom was trying to reach him (she did a phone interview with him once) to get him to sign a book for me. He called the house on Christmas Eve and mom wasn't there, so my brother Mike took a message. When we got home that day, the following exchange took place:

Mike: Mom, Ronald Wright called, he left a number for you to call.
Me: Ronald Wright?!
Mike: [nod]
Me: [high pitched, slightly hysterical] Ronald Wright! Ronald Wright called here??
Mike: No. Mom, Donald White called.

So, mom called back "Ron," as she called him, and he invited us to his house so he could sign my book. On Boxing Day, mom and I drove out to Port Hope and were invited into the beautiful kitchen of the beautiful home of the perfectly amiable and non-pretentious Ronald Wright.

I didn't know what he'd be like, but he was very nice, and he signed my copy of Henderson's Spear and a copy of Cut Stones and Crossroads, which I had gotten Mike for Christmas (as he was about to travel to Peru). The edition I bought had a mistake in it, and he corrected it! After the books were signed, he and mom talked local politics for about ten minutes.

That is my Ronald Wright story. He has since left Port Hope and moved to BC. And now there’s only one week left until his talk!

17 January 2007


I’m not entirely convinced I woke up this morning. That, however, is beside the point. I’m really starting this year off in a bad way. I’ve done few entries so far in January. This is due to a lack of things to write about. I don’t really have much to muse on, or rant about, so I tend to not be motivated to write.

I recently read the book Areas of My Expertise by John Hodge. It’s a book of fake knowledge by a guy who contributes to The Daily Show, among other things. I was really looking forward to this book, I thought it would be clever and interesting. It was boring! It wasn’t hilarious, funny, clever, or even amusing. It was a waste of paper and time. I hate when books are disappointing.

Last week I watched this movie with my UofA peeps. It was about legless reptiles on an aircraft. It did nothing to cure me of my dislike for animals lacking appendages. There’s something inherently creepy and worthy of distrust in their smugly effective mobility. All the other animals need legs, wings, fins. What makes snakes and the like so damn special? The movie was graphic and caused me to peek through my fingers for a lot of it. I think the primary take-home message in this movie was, when traveling by air, avoid women who wear high heels. I mean, the snakes? Pretty much unavoidable. But the heels? Just stay away from them (or at the very least make sure you’re behind them in the frantic charge to escape the snakes).

I watched all four hours of the 24 two-night season premiere. 24 is one of those shows that I like when I watch, but if I miss it I don’t care. I think it’s probably the most daring show on TV, in that no one is safe. I know a lot of shows claim that any character could die at any time (and Lost has certainly killed a lot of people) but I think 24 is the most ruthless, and depressing. I’d rather live on the Lost island(s) than in 24’s America. And Jack Bauer’s character! The poor bastard! I mean, just “today” in the course of four hours he was released (after almost 2 years) from a Chinese prison, tortured by terrorists, and forced to kill what was probably the closest thing he had to a best friend. No wonder he was crying. (Sorry if I gave anything away). Another cool thing about 24 is the above average number of Canadians it employs. I loved that they cast Shaun Majumder (a comedian from Newfoundland) as a nuclear physicist.

Before I go, I would like to offer some advice to my friends and readers out there. You should all belatedly resolve to post more comments on this page. The comments are fun! I doesn’t matter to me if they’re on topic or non-sequitorial. Just make the effort, you’ll feel better about yourself.

05 January 2007

Celebrating Ourselves

Last night CBC had a countdown of Canada’s Greatest Inventions. There was nation-wide voting for this last fall (which I missed) and they counted down the Top 50 on the show. For each invention there was a little graphic-heavy history of the item in question. I think their definition of “invention” was fairly relaxed. Does poutine count as an invention? And a Bloody Caesar? They’re recipes, sure, but inventions? They were also admittedly relaxed with their definition of “Canadian.” Apparently the person who invented it could have been born here, moved here, or just visiting at the time of the discovery. Of course Alexander Graham Bell was on the list, even though he’s arguably Scottish and American as well as Canadian. Some things on the list that I didn’t know were Canadian: light bulb, pacemaker, electronic music synthesizer (where would the 80s have been without that?), 5-pin bowling, and you can just check out the list for yourself.

The show also had a seemingly random panel of commentators ranging from Margaret Atwood to Buck 65 to some kid from Degrassi. The best commentator was Ronald Wright (wee!), one of my favourite authors. I’m not clear if all the commentators were Canadians (Debbie Travis? Steve Nash?), but going by the show’s lax definition of Canadian, they probably fit in somewhere. Insulin won out as the Greatest Canadian Invention. It’s worth noting that 5-pin bowling ranked higher than basketball which is just so….Canadian.

02 January 2007

2007: International Heliophysical Year

Happy New Year to everyone. I got back from Nova Scotia yesterday: I had an awesome two weeks with my niece and other family members. There were lots of presents and, for a Nasmith family gathering, surprisingly little fighting.

Now, being back in my office, it’s like I never left. I don’t really want to go into the whole thing too much. I hate to dwell on Holidays after they’re over, especially since I’m currently trying to psyche myself up for extensive lab work. I will say that the highlight was my niece, with seeing my friends from Dal a close second. My only regret is not staying in town longer so I could see Joel Plaskett play at the Marquee (though I could have gone to the New Year’s Eve Eve show if I’d known about it). It was wonderful getting back to Halifax. It is still my favourite city, and even though I love it, I somehow forgot some things while I was away that I thought I’d share.

Things I forgot about Halifax after being away for 20 months:

  • The smell. You get off the bus on Spring Garden and it hits you: salt water, grease, and car exhaust. It’s not unpleasant as much as it is distinct.

  • How awesome J.W. Doull and The Freak Lunchbox are. They may be my two favourite stores in all of creation.

  • The sound of the toilets in the Life Science Center on Dal campus: it sounds like someone torturing a cow.

  • How claustrophobically small the hallways in the Market are, and how long the Mary’s Breadbasket line can get. I had to go without a cinnamon bun.

  • The Dawg Father on campus. I didn’t see him this trip, but I had managed to forget him.
The thing I forgot about Edmonton after being away for 14 days:

  • When I wake up at 7:30am, the sun is still over 80 minutes away from rising.