Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Longest Election Ever

Predicting the future is usually a fool's game:

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (IBM, 1943)
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" (Warner Bros, 1927)
"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..." (General John Sedgwick, 1864)

...yet the outcome of the November 2008 U.S. election is already being predicted. Some have such certainty that they are betting huge sums of money on the result. Intrade is a site which mediates the political futures market, where people wager against a future event. This graph shows how much a $100 contract costs; that is, if I buy a 10¢ contract today on Newt Gingrich, and he wins the presidency in November 2008, I get $100. (It seems like a long shot.) This kind of trading was a very accurate predictor of the 2004 election, both nationally and state-by-state.
There have also been dozens of polls taken across America to determine who is popular, with particular attention on a number of key states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and California topping the list. The averages of these polls, aggregated here (each dot is a poll result) show Hilary Clinton as the clear favourite.
The reason that Iowa and New Hampshire are important is because they are among the first to vote. The outcomes in one state alone can hugely effect the overall result: Bill Clinton was polling as the sixth-place Democratic candidate before New Hampshire (he came second there behind Tsongas... who?).
The Democratic and Republican parties select a single Presidential candidate each, beginning in January 2008, going state by state in this way. It takes months. By June there is a clear winner, and the nominee selects a running mate who will be Vice-President if they win (e.g. Bush/Cheney 2004).
America is so vast and varied as to appear schizophrenic to other countries. Bush was reviled well before Iraq by millions; Hilary Clinton is likewise despised in the South, the Midwest, and large chunks of solid Democrat states. While her approval rate is high, her disapproval rate is almost as high. This is easy to explain on one level. She is a woman, a liberal, and an intellectual in a male-centric, conservative, and anti-intellectual country. But her policy positions are almost identical to second-place Democrat, Barack Obama, who despite being another outlier (first black Senator, first serious black presidential candidate-- sorry, Jesse Jackson) is hardly reviled. Websites have been established to discuss the mysterious anathema against Clinton. It may simply come down to the fact that, while she'd be a great President, she doesn't seem to have the greatness of bearing, firmness of jaw or easy confidence that Americans like in their leaders. It's more like firmness of bearing and greatness of jaw, with confidence that makes people feel uneasy.
Rudy Giuliani (AKA New York's 9/11 mayor), is leading the Republican fray. His pro-abortion, anti-gun positions make him an unlikely candidate, though given that the second-place guy is Ronald Reagan II and the third-place guy is a Mormon, it's not a strong field. Widespread disillusionment around Bush is casting a long shadow over the Republican camp, and the Democrats are widely tipped to win in 2008 regardless of the candidate. Which will be Hilary.
The first significant event is the Iowa primary elections on January 3, when Americans registered as Democrats vote for their candidate, and Republicans for their's. It is generally clear by February who is going to win the nomination, and pundits begin writing about who the running mates will be.
Whoever wins the November '08 election, it will be unlikely to change the situation in Iraq. One-third of the Senate and Congress are elected at that time, too, so the majority of Republicans or Democrats there are uncertain. Any bills initiated by the White House must pass through those houses before becoming law. Clinton and Obama want troops to return home, gradually. They also want universal health care, a ban on assault weapons, and little green pixies to appear from thin air, all of which are equally likely to occur by 2012. What they may achieve is a reversal of Bush's tax cuts for millionaires and a cooling of the hatred simmering in all the countries where U.S. troops are currently stationed.
Under a Republican White House the status quo will continue.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Let it snow

It has begun to snow.

This is where I live now.

It snows there too.

These are my flatmates.
There are a couple of guys as well.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


I had an interview today. I had, and still have, no idea what the job is.
It went well.

The Craigslist ad talked about the hockey season, and said they needed help.
The interview took place at an ad agency in a middling part of the city.
Everyone was very friendly, but didn't dress as though they were paid ad agency salaries.
The product is related to hockey, but this wasn't explained.
It may be free. It may be purchased. I'm still not sure.
The position pairs me up with another person, or persons, at this time unknown.
I receive a callback on Thursday. If there's a callback.

To prepare for a lifetime of living halfway between the gutter and the stars, I watched,"Glengarry Glen Ross."

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...

I was looking in the mirror today, as I am wont to do, and I wondered:
Why do mirrors reflect right-to-left, but not up and down?
Pinhole cameras flip things vertically; so do some funhouse mirrors. One side of a spoon reflects upside-down, the other right-side-up. How do mirrors work?
I asked a neurologist.
The answer surprised me. He said that mirrors don't reflect right-to-left at all, they act on the distance dimension.
After thinking about this for a while, I came up with an example which helped me understand it.
Imagine you are putting on a mask. You see the inside (concave) surface, shown here on the left:

What you see in a mirror is yourself, but ahead of you. It is as if you pulled the mask inside-out: the right side of your face (in green) is still on the same side, but further ahead.
If you looked at someone else wearing the mask instead of your reflection, you would see the facade on the right.
The illusion of rotation is seductive because our faces are symmetrical. If our heads lay flat instead of vertical, we'd see much more clearly.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Correction: Stealable Bicycle

I spoke, it seems, too soon.

My bicycle is stealable, and was stolen.

There will be a candlelight vigil held at the Family of Man park (pictured, background) at midnight to commemorate the Unstealable Bicycle: the cycle that became an icon, an icon that became a legend, a legend that become stolen.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Unstealable Bicycle

Today I went outside and, to my amazement, the bicycle I had left there a week ago was... still there.
I should not have been amazed, though you will be when you discover what Logans have known for about two and a half weeks:

I own the Unstealable Bicycle.

It is the ultimate expression of risk vs. reward. No-one is tempted, in his heart of hearts, to possess this bumbling bucket of bolts, this tarnished tintinnabulation, this cantankerous contraption of concomitant cacophony.

As this close-up shows, the most rudimentary review reveals a rig overwrought with rust. Only the thickest thief would think, therefore, of threatening this, though the thrill or the thought of thrift, though theoretical, throws theft as theory through the thistling throngs.

The orange road works sign has changed position since last week, yet the Unstealable Bicycle (U.B.) remains. Who knows what future archaeologists may make of this device, millennia hence, when the city is reduced to rubble and only the U.B. is left, chained to nothing?

These were not things I pondered as I took the $3 lock off my $5 bike and rode down to 17th Ave. My thoughts were more on the lines of:
"There's a lot of road works going on."
"Too fat for the revolution. So fat."
"I don't think anything has been built in this town since Calgary '88."
"If I change lanes, will I avoid this staggering vagrant?"
"That bear's gonna need a bigger boat."
"I need to start braking three seconds before I see something worth braking for, or I will be a grease spot."
"If a mirror reverses left and right, how come it doesn't reverse up and down?"
"I can still feel seven... no, six... of my fingers."
"Drink this. I made it just for you."

Thursday, 18 October 2007

I'm an Idiot; I'm Surrounded By Idiots

I had an interview today at 11am with one of Calgary's larger design firms (i.e. works for oil companies). This triggered a string of idiotic mistakes.

1. Last night, I realised that I had no printed portfolio. Looked at old portfolio. Scratched chin. Walked around. Scratched chin again. Realised must shave chin; interview imminent. Considered: might as well wash my hair too. Do both. Midnight passes. Organise desktop. Update software. Try to scratch chin, but it's not the same. Do the damn portfolio.
2. Wandered around in the morning, trying to find a print shop to print my portfolio. Walk around the same block twice.
3. Find print shop; discover document is in A4 format, and not Letter size, as used In The Real World.
4. Rush back to laptop. It's 9.30am. Change all pages to Letter format. Move everything around. Save. Export. Double-check.
5. Back to print shop. Get discount because girl feels sorry for me, and probably because I remind her of a 'Four Weddings'-era Hugh Grant.
6. Get a few blocks before I realise I've left my debit card on the counter. Return, grimace, exit. All class, and yet no class.
7. Get near where I'm going before I realise I didn't write down the address of where I'm going. I had the gist of the address. Area unyeilding to my general sense of gist.
8. Trace a path resembling, from above, a drunken toddler's attempt at an '&' symbol (toddler drunk on power, heard pen mightier than sword).
9. Notice huge sign bearing name of company on major street corner.
10. Wander around lobby, peering at building listing. Ask security guy where '100 Lower' is. He indicates huge sign bearing name of company by stairs going Lower.
11. Wait in lobby, as am half-hour early.

French Canadians do not breathe; they gasp.
French Canadians initiate phone calls while at their toilette, even really quite odiferous ones.
French Canadians are never without facial hair; what cannot be grown on the central plateau is encouraged to spread from the sides.
French Canadians sniff. Those who do not sniff, snort. Those who do not sniff or snort, snuffle. When not sniffling, snorting, or snuffling, they speak French Canadian, which sounds very similar to all three, but with more melody and less rhythm.
French Canadians love sports, particularly if it is on TV. They also love music at the same time. They also love talking at the same time.
I do not love French Canadians.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The Calgary Labour Pool

There are two huge industries in Alberta: oil and construction. The two requirements for these fields are:
(1) showing up in the morning
not wedded to the idea of keeping all of your fingers.
The gravitational pull of these two skilless areas has left customer service with a dearth of applicants; everywhere are signs reading,
"Hiring Now All Positions", "Apply For Careers At Sears", "Signing Bonus Staff Discount".
Standards are dropping. Consider this ad on Craigslist:

Looking for part time work? Like to work evenings and weekends? Want some extra hours with a second job? Value Village is looking for enthusiastic, energetic individuals to join our team at our Chinook and Midnapore stores!!!!
What you offer:
Hand-eye coordination to sort, grasp, and staple.
Pushing and pulling.
Ability to distinguish colors and clothing sizes.
Be able to stand, bend and crouch for long periods of time.
Ability to perform basic math calculations.
Pushing and pulling Up to 100 lbs depending on department.
Ability to read and write.
Repetitive use of hands and grasping items.

They appear to be extending their eligibility to the higher apes.

Alberta fails to grasp a simple economic principle: the Law of Supply and Demand.
MANAGER: I can't find employees! Wanna work here?
MAN ON STREET: Well, how much does it pay?
MANAGER: Nine dollars before tax. Same as always.
MAN ON STREET: Screw you. I can get twice that swinging a crowbar.
MANAGER: Oooohhh, go on.
MANAGER: Pleeeeaaase. Look, I made a sign and everything.
MANAGER: Well, I'm fresh out of ideas.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Speaking English

Almost everyone I speak with is a complete stranger. I ask people at bus stops for directions, store clerks for information, homeless people for change, employed people for jobs, and handsome people for advice. One thing that can be guaranteed in any interaction is that they will need a moment to acclimatise themselves to a foreign accent.

ME: Hay, hizzit gong.
THEY: What?
ME: Hi. Hiwayah.
THEY: Oh, hi.
ME: Whaer cud iffine tha toilet?
THEY: The washrooms?
ME: Ah... yih.
THEY: Right at the back, on the left. Where are you from originally?
ME: Nyih Zilliun.
THEY: Oh, that's... nice.
ME: Thingk.

This is even worse with French Canadians, a people who brook all the disadvantages of being French, but with no sign whatsoever of higher culture. Many bear a striking resemblance to Sebastian Chabal. There is no place in the cultural pantheon for French Canadians. They refuse to hearken back to Europe; they establish political parties to undermine national politics; their state steadfastly refuses to make money, and they are responsible every single time I can't understand one side of a grocery item:

English side: Bread
French side: Pain

English side: Trojan Ultra-Thin
French side: Trojan Ultra-Mince

One thing that they could not trip me up on was that great icon of North American culture: the Big Gulp.
I grew weary of a mere can; the Big Gulp in its standard size was not for men; even the Super Big Gulp fell short of my beverage-consumption requirements. No, only the Double Gulp, at 1.8 litres, was enough for me.
My next outing will be to the GreatBigStuff store. I need a straw for this baby.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

10 Facts About Pimps

1. Pimps struggle with equitable gender relations.
2. Pimps will not let you drive the Pimpmobile.
3. Pimps are mammals.
4. When a pimp says,"It's my way or the highway," he is presenting two literal options.
5. Pimps always be recruitin'.
6. Pimps are awful drivers.
7. But try telling them that.
8. Pimps live outside the law: of fashion, of gravity, of mortal men.
9. Prostitution is a harsh mistress.
10. It's all about the Benjamins.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Road Trip

Here is a map of my current Thanksgiving weekend jaunt through Banff national park.
Click on this picture to see the area snapped from Google Maps' satellite imagery. The general route is Calgary > Banff > northwards > east to Edmonton > south to Calgary.
To get a sense of scale, Calgary to Edmonton is about 300km; Taupo to Auckland.

At a lookout south of Jasper; northeast-ish on the map. Elevation: 3,174 metres above sea level.

Most of the time, the scenery looks like this.

This raven was mad. And big. About the size of a duck.

Banff street view.

Being daytime, all antipodeans currently in bed with cold compresses on their foreheads.

Keep Your Pimp Hand Strong

Banff is a tourist trap.
Every street is jam-packed with Olde Worlde stores selling junk with BANFF stamped/sewn/burned/urinated-by-moose on it. Australian accents scrape the air. Japanese pensioners trail along, guided by flags and whistles. American and Canadian grey-hairs amble the flagstones, occasionally drifting into a gentle spin.

I'm touring with a midget Indian pimp, a midget Indian (standard issue), a mild-mannered German (standard issue) and an unemployed investigative journalist with almost entirely red hair.

Our ride: pimped out.

The town is like Queenstown, but more established. The local megahotels, unable to hire locally, recruit Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, zer Englishers, Scots and young Canadians from rural areas with honking accents. They are paid $8 hourly instead of the $15-20 locals are getting elsewhere in staff-starved Alberta. It's a pleasant symbiosis: the town gets cheap labour, and the indentured servants get to shout and throw up in the streets without being arrested.