28 February 2007

Presentations and other sad things

I have not yet written about the conference I attended last week. It was a conference run by graduate students and meant as a forum for biology students at prairie universities to present and share their research. There were also a number of undergrads at the conference, more so than there were last year. I will say that the quality of talks given by undergrad students was sub par. There are some things you just don’t do when you give a talk, and these undergrads managed to do them all. I was aghast at the number of people who took up, and read off of, notes. One girl was reading paragraphs verbatim, and others seemed to have written everything on cue cards and read directly from those. You don’t do that for a scientific presentation! You. Just. Don’t.

My talk went well. I was able to talk at normal human speeds, which – if you haven’t heard me present - is a monumental achievement for me. I’m glad that I went, and I hope I do as well when I present in San Francisco at my next conference.

I also haven’t yet written about the book I just finished called What is the What by Dave Eggers. It’s a fictionalized account of the real life of Valentino Deng, who was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudanese civil war. It was an incredibly sad book, right from the start, and more than once I was struck by the futility of the lives of refugees. They flee their own country and try to rebuild and they’re just torn down, over and over again. Even after he moves to the United States his life is still torn down. I don’t know how people can survive that kind of constant disappointment and turmoil. I believe that everything in this book actually happened. Even if it didn’t happen (in real life) to Deng, I have no doubt that it happened to another Lost Boy or refugee. Believing that, however, doesn’t make it any easier. Some of the scenes were so horrific that I couldn’t begin to picture them. Imagine walking with hundreds of other boys through the desert. You’ve had no food or water for days, some of you have no clothes. Everyday some of you die, and all along the road you walk are the bodies of those who have walked before you and perished on the way. I can’t imagine seeing the bodies of dead women, children, and babies just lying on the side of the road. But that was the reality. It was a good book, despite the sadness of it; it was full of hope. The main character was strong and never felt as sorry for himself as I did for him.

On a completely unrelated note, Winter and I have broken up again. This time it’s permanent. We’re dividing up the books and furniture and my friends should decide whose side they’re on.

27 February 2007

Things Our Mothers Told Us

This should elicit some comments from you people. I was thinking the other day about the insane things our mothers tell us. Things that are both above and way, way beyond the usual, “eat your vegetables” or, “don’t talk to strangers.” I have three examples and hopefully some of you will add your own in the comments section.

1.As a child, my mother used to tell me if someone grabbed me in a public place that I was to scream, as loud as I could, all the swear words I knew. She thought that a child yelling for help wouldn’t attract attention, but a child yelling profanities would.

2. As a child, my aunt used to tell my cousin that if anyone ever grabbed her and tried to get her into a vehicle that she should fight for her life. Because once she was in the vehicle, my aunt would say, she was dead anyway.

3. My sister-in-law’s mother used to tell her that if she fell while ice skating, that she should bring her hands in right away, or someone could skate over her hand and take off her fingers.

26 February 2007

The Loser is...

I thought I’d give a commentary of the Oscars for the benefit of the people who a) didn’t watch it or b) didn’t watch it with me. I probably won’t stay up for all of it, and I haven’t had supper yet so there might be some gaps in my comments, but here we go.

6:40pm – Steve Carell! Yeah!

6:45pm – James Bond struts on stage. Nicole Kidman is presenting with him, and I think she just mispronounced “girls.” That reminds me, during a practice run of the talk I recently presented at a conference in Regina, I was trying to say “Alberta Sustainable” and instead I said “Albertable.”

6:59pm – Two kids come out to present an award. The scripted banter is not funny, which is disappointing but not surprising. Hmm, I think the person who won Best Animated Short is a Canadian. How cute that they had two short people present the awards for Best Short Films. I don’t think the Oscar writers are trying very hard this year.

7:11pm – A “sounds effects” choir. Very, very, very odd. And they all look kind of….ridiculous.

7:13pm - Steve Carell! Again! Yeah!

7:17pm – I don’t know who this presenter is, but I love his accent. I really wish they would present an award I cared even a little about.

7:21pm – Okay, a major award. I hope Alan Arkin wins… yeah! He actually won! Man, my dinner sucked. I haven’t gone grocery shopping (oh, crap! interpretive dance!) in almost two weeks, so you can imagine that the only things I have left in my house are either old or freeze dried.

7:33pm – An Inconvenient Truth has a theme song? Sung by Melissa Ethridge? How do you write a theme song for a movie about climate change? Is that the lead singer from Nickelback? What is going on?! The guy playing back-up guitar looks like the blonde guy from Nickleback. Poor, poor Al Gore. He can’t be funny, I think it’s a genetic defect, like people who can’t smell, or cry. Apparently, the Oscars have gone green; that’s cool, I admit. It’s pretty amazing how much good his movie has done, but still he can’t be funny.

7:44pm – Woohoo! Happy Feet won! That movie rocks!

7:45pm – A clip montage based on the portrayal of writers in film. They have to have a clip from Misery in here, and Sunset Boulevard! Well, they got Misery, but barely. And meanwhile they have ninety clips from Shakespeare in Love and even a bunch from The Shining. And they only showed the end of Sunset Boulevard. I really think they’re dropping the ball this year.

7:51pm – I hope Children of Men wins Best Adapted Screenplay. It was such a great movie. Boo! It lost.

8:05pm – Tom Cruise. Creepy. He’s presenting some kind of lifetime achievement award or something, so I can pretty much just tune out for a while.

8:25pm – Another montage. I missed the introduction, but I think it’s all foreign films.

8:33pm – Ahh, George Clooney.

8:34pm - It’s Abigail Brelin’s category! Wow, the chick from American Idol looks nervous. Holy crap, the girl from American Idol won. And now she’s crying; she can barely talk, I can’t understand what she’s saying. Ha! She’s like me right before I give a talk! I’ll bet Beyonce is really pissed.

8:54pm – Another montage, but I had the TV muted so again, I have no clue as to the theme. I think its movie music, or movie musicals. Or maybe it’s one composer in particular.

8:57pm – Sweet holy mother! Celine Deion?! I can’t reach mute fast enough.

9:09pm – I just had a brilliant idea! It came to me while watching Wolverine (or, as he insists on calling himself, “Hugh Jackman”) present an award. This is the key to making long, long awards shows more interesting: make sure all the awards presenters are hot guys with accents. Hollywood is full of men with accents, let them speak! Give them tuxes and stick them on stage!

9:13pm – I hope Little Miss Sunshine wins Best Screenplay. Woohoo! It won!

9:27pm – Songs from Dreamgirls. I have to give kudos to the other female star of Dreamgirls that no one ever talks about. Her dress is gorgeous, and she looks way better than Beyonce and that girl from American Idol. I swear, one of the people nominated for Best Song plays a medical examiner on CSI:NY.

9:36pm - "A Look at America" though it’s movies. I can’t place this music, is it from Edward Scissorhands? And what’s a clip from Superman doing here?

9:45pm – It’s the annual Montage of Dead People! I recognized a surprising number. Oh, this is a horrible way to find out people are dead! Peter Boyle ? Darren McGavin ? I didn’t know they were dead!

9:51pm – I think I was wrong about that guy from CSI:NY, the guy at the Oscars just looks like him. (Unrelated aside: I really dislike IMDB’s new format).

9:52pm – Whoa, Philip Seymour Hoffman looks awful. Like, really, truly, terrible.

9:57pm – I don’t think I like the interpretive dance segments. They are mercifully short, but I don’t know if I can ever like interpretive dance. This has to end soon, right? Right? I should really just give up and post this now so Kimmy has something to read when she gets to work tomorrow morning.

10:01pm - A real award! I hope the Canadian wins. But he didn’t. Too bad. Forrest Whittaker looks pretty happy, though.

10:13pm – Hey, this looks like the end! This is the big award. The winner is…..The Departed. Okay, I can go to bed. One good thing about living in the west is that even when the Oscars runs long, it’s not even 11pm yet.

21 February 2007

Nasmiths on Ice

I have discovered the secret to peaceful, enjoyable, family gatherings: open bar.

My cousin’s wedding was this past weekend. It was an elaborate affair beginning on Friday with a Wine & Cheese and ending Sunday with Brunch. They reserved the entire Delta Sherwood Inn near Bala, Muskoka, Ontario. There were over 120 people there for the wedding. Our room was posh, with a gas fireplace and Jacuzzi tub (so sweet). The facilities were classy, the grounds extensive, and everything was surrounded by show-draped woods and Canadian Shield outcroppings.

After the Wine and Cheese (open bar) on Friday night was a hockey game. The actual tournament was scheduled for Saturday, so Friday night was just rotating teams of whoever wanted to play. For those not wanting to play hockey, there was a bonfire next to the rink where we could roast marshmallows, drink hot chocolate and Baileys (brought from the main building by a guy in pressed pants and white vest, very incongruent with an outdoor hockey shinney). My cousin and her entire family (60+ year-old mother included) all play hockey so they were constantly on the ice. My family… not so much.

Both my brothers played hockey when they were young. I was put into figure skating because I was a girl. Mike (the youngest of my older brothers), after drinking for about 6 hours straight, decides to play. Unfortunately, being both drunk and almost a decade away from his last experience in skates, his trouble began before he even got on the ice. He couldn’t get his skates on. He got one on and tied, but it took an extraordinary amount of time. After much heckling from, well, me mostly, he allowed me to tie the other one for him. Otherwise he’d have spent the entire night complaining about the length of the skate laces and never make it onto the ice. Once on the ice he surprised us all by being able to stand up. Mark (the oldest of my older brothers) described it as “spaghetti on skates.” It was so much fun to watch, and Mark and I didn’t miss an opportunity to yell and laugh when he fell. My sister-in-law was much nicer than we were and she kept insisting that he wasn’t doing so badly. She’s right, of course. Relative to more-sober people he did poorly, but I doubt anyone as drunk as he was would have done better. Not to be outdone, Mark took to the ice in skates so small his toes hurt the next day. Mark didn’t fall, and wasn’t nearly as much fun to watch as Mike.

After breakfast on Saturday was the official hockey tournament. The guests that wanted to play were divided into teams. I was sick and slept through Mike’s sober return to the ice. I wish I had seen it. After lunch there was free time and a lot of people went snow shoeing or x cross country skiing. I chose the latter. I haven’t skied in at least seven, but probably more, years. It’s not a hard skill to recover. My mom and I did about 4 km in the trails on the hotel grounds. Mom fell on every down-hill part.

The wedding was Saturday afternoon at 5:30. It was a lovely service that Karen and Paul created, and I almost started crying when her brother did, but I managed to compose myself. Dinner was long, with many speeches and a slide show. However, the wine, champagne and beer flowed freely, so a lot of people probably didn’t care. After dinner was the dance. Mark made fun of the old people dancing, but jokes on him because that’ll be him at his daughter’s wedding in 30 years (I say 30 because we Nasmiths marry old). Everyone danced eventually, Mark and my mom included. Mike danced more than anyone else, but he always does. I threw my hat in around 2am, but I found out later that my brothers were up until at least 4am. Neither of them made it to brunch the next day.

It was an incredibly detailed wedding. Everything was tailored to reflect the personalities and interests of the bride and groom. There were decorations incorporating hiking boots and snow shoes, and family heirlooms. The tables for the dinner were named after the many Inuit names for snow, the event was powered by green energy, and the bride and groom wanted donations to go towards saving the Don River rather than wedding presents. My mind reels when I think about how much it cost. Open bar all weekend for over 100 people, all meals provided to the guests, the only thing we paid for was the room, and even that was at a cost less than the cost listed in their brochure. Not that it would have been less enjoyable if these things hadn’t been free to the guests, it’s just surprising that they took care of everything. So, now it’s the wedding to top in my family. However, looking at those who have yet to marry, I don’t see any of us rising to the challenge.

15 February 2007

Well played, Winter. Well played indeed.

I was thanking the PTB the other day that cold isn’t a cumulative property. Can you imagine if it was? Imagine on Monday it’s -22 and on Tuesday it’s -23, but it would feel like -45. The horror.

I must say that the cold has been getting to me. I love winter, and I like the cold. I don’t like the freezing cold. I don’t like when my skin aches from the wind and when I shiver convulsively in my basement apartment watching TV at night. I was getting so disgruntled I think if we’d had one more day with a wind chill below -30 I just wasn’t going to leave my bed. Then Winter made amends and raised the temperature all the way to 0. What a sweetheart, eh? Just when you’re ready to give up on Winter altogether it goes and does something sweet and thoughtful like that and you run right back into it’s arms. It’s like….Battered Canadian Syndrome or something. It won’t be long before Winter will be back to it’s old -30 ways, hitting us with blizzards and dropping temperatures. But until that day I will love it with all my heart.

Before I go, I want to send a shout out to Cricket in honour of the miraculous event of the anniversary of her birth. Twenty-six years ago she flew from her mother and the world has never been the same, and will likely never recover. Like, in a good way.

12 February 2007

Ah, family

The following is an email I sent to my [eldest] brother telling him about a dream I had.

You were in my dream the other night, and I thought I'd tell you about it. We were living in a slum apartment. We were each sitting on a couch, they were brown and covered in a corduroy-like material (like the couch mom and dad have). I was sitting on the arm of my couch because I was afraid there was rats under the cushions. I had good reason to be scared because there were rats all over the floor. I was cooking chicken in a little microwave, but it was too close to a hotplate and the side of the microwave melted away. You took my chicken and threw it out the window. I got mad, because that was my dinner. You offered to slaughter our goat so I could eat that, but I said we had already killed two ungulates that day and we should leave the goat alone.

His reply:

You've always been soft on the ungulates, if you ask me.

09 February 2007


A majority of the residents in my little part of the endless, sprawling metropolis of Edmonton see snow removal as an optional activity. As a result, the sections of sidewalk that are cleared are few, and connecting them is paths a foot-wide, big enough for people to walk over single-file. I was walking to school this morning, off in my own world, listening to music, when I heard a noise from behind me. I turned around and saw a girl on a bike persistently ringing her bike-bell. It’s no surprise that I didn’t hear her, with the music and two layers over my ears. Apparently, she expected me to stop off the sidewalk into the snow to let her by. Two things bother me about this encounter.
1) The bell-ringing, which I often find rude and annoying. Whenever a person on foot comes up against a person on wheels, the person on foot has right of way because we’re most vulnerable. I shouldn’t have to move for you, you’re supposed to make allowances for me. I dislike the people who ride their bikes around busy campus walkways ringing their bells at everyone to get out of the way. There’s a place for people like you, and this brings me to my next point.
2) Your place is on the road! It’s not as if I was walking along a busy city street with cars jetting by at 65 km/h. It was a quiet side street with nary a car to be seen. There was no reason this girl couldn’t ride her bike on the street. In fact, there might even be a law to this effect. It’s bad enough that the sidewalks are slick ice-rinks but now I have to dodge bike traffic too? I could put in a whole rant, but I think Dave Foley summed it up best on Kids in the Hall with his Letter to a Guy in the Hospital. Enjoy!

Sleep is the goal

I am a colon!
Find your own pose!

06 February 2007

72 hours

This morning my local weather forecast was brought to me by the Government of Canada’s 72 hours campaign. You know, the one that says you need to be able to care for yourself and your family for at least 72 hours in the event of a major disaster. Apparently, it will take the military and other emergency teams 3 days to respond to whatever calamity may befall us. I wonder if the US’s incompetent handling of the Katrina disaster is the Government’s impetus for this campaign. Now, if Vancouver is wiped out by a tsunami the people of BC will be able to take care of themselves long enough to be airlifted out, thus saving the Government from international scrutiny and criticism.

04 February 2007

Window in the Skies

I had to share this. Even if you don't like U2, you should watch it because it's an interesting video. The synching is pretty amazing. I don't know how long the video will be up, so watch now and watch often:)