George Donner vs. Modular curve

George Donner

Alright, George Donner and the tragic fate of his expedition to California are not actually a good thing. So what are we doing here? The story of the Donner party (you all know it, right? On their way to California in the mid 1800s, Donner and his family were delayed by a broken axle and got caught in an unexpected snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada, ran out of provisions, ate all their animals, and may or may not have resorted to cannibalism) is haunting even 164 years after their ill-fated expedition. The story has inspired many works of fiction, including this short story by one of my favourite living writers (full disclosure: I am always, always looking for an excuse to talk about Kelly Link, which is the main reason I traded subjects with Justin this morning).

Obviously, my argument is not “freezing to death! Possible cannibalization! AWESOME!” No. The Donner party was brave and did what they needed to to survive. Attempting that pioneer trail to California in the first place indicates a strength of character that I’m not sure we can relate to in our modern world of airplanes and internet. And it’s stories like that which inspire great literature, isn’t it?


Modular Curve

Mmmmmmm...modular curves...

It’s one of those days where we do a Tournament trade. Alison was so excited that I got George Donner that I really didn’t feel like I could do it enough justice. Plus, it’s early Wednesday morning. I don’t really want to talk about cannibalism. While it’s true that one can marvel at the hardships that the Donner family had to endure, I’ll say it’s also pretty mind-blowing to know that some people can actually understand what the fuck a modular curve is. This, for instance, seems to be a detailed description of the answer to a problem involving the modular curve. Of course, I don’t even understand the question. I’ll admit, I’m totally lost here. But for someone to be able to decipher this stuff is pretty awesome. I just hope they use it towards good things and not evil. OK, me headache now. Go rest, eat.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 9:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Reynaert vs. Lotus Challenge


As you already know, I love the Eurovision Song Contest, although I am generally baffled by it. However, insofar as “best thing ever” can be interpreted a “most awesomely ridiculous thing ever”, anything having to do with Eurovision is a strong contender in the Tournament of Everything. Even Reynaert.

There are a few routes you can take when entering Eurovision. There’s the totally batshit insane route, there’s the lame satire that is incomprehensible to anyone outside your country route, and then there’s the heartfelt (if overwrought) plea to save the world route, which is where our man Reynaert comes in. Reynaert is a Belgian singer who is known only for his 1988 Eurovision entry, Laissez briller le soleil, an extremely depressing song whose English lyrics include a line about mutilated toddlers. It tied for last. Only the French judges liked it. But at least he tried! At least he was in Eurovision. He wasn’t home playing video games, he was out trying to change the world in his weird, mulleted way.


Lotus Challenge

A better way to vent your road rage.

Happy Monday everyone. Chances are, it’s not such a happy Monday as you’re making your way through morning traffic. Especially if you’re someone like me who just really fucking hates cars. So I shouldn’t really be a fan of the Lotus series of video games. But I appreciate what the series did for, um, gaming. Two-player simultaneous play is a good thing. And I have fond memories of going to the arcade with friends and racing against each other. Keeping in mind, that was at an arcade not on an actual road like some idiots do.

That’s really the reason games like Lotus Challenge should exist, right? Sure, vent your frustration at the world by driving a computer animated car way past the speed limit so that you don’t have to do so in real life. Just like how I enjoy video games where you blow up everything on the screen, doesn’t mean I’m going to proceed to actually blow things up. At least it’s not like some Belgian pop star who’s going to scare you off music for life.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Ivan Rabuzin vs. Lars Mikael Akerfeldt

Ivan Rabuzin

Don't be so naive!

Digging back into my memories of art class, I’m struggling to remember if we actually studied naive art (which is apparently an offensive term for “vernacular art”), but I feel like we must have because I remember studying (and loving) Henri Rousseau. “Naive Art” also reminds me of Outsider Art, and I’m not exactly sure how it’s different.

Anyway, Ivan Rabuzin is such an artist, and his work, like Rousseau’s, looks like it’s been pulled straight out of a particularly charming children’s book. Born in Croatia in 1921, Rabuzin was a furniture-maker in a small Croatian village who drew and painted in his spare time.
His paintings are lovely and whimsical, and he was reputedly just as nice as you’d think the man who created such charming imagery.


Lars Mikael Akerfeldt

Happy Friday everybody. For a change, take that trendy indie record off and get your weekend started with the shredding guitar work of Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt. Singer and lead guitarist of the Swedish death metal band Opeth, Åkerfeldt also sings for the band Bloodbath. And you know, they’re kinda cool, too.

I’ll confess that while I love a lot of metal, I never really picked up on death metal much. In a lot of ways, it all kinda sounds the same to me. But I imagine that for a death metal fan, all these indie hipster bands wearing ties all sounds like the same shit, too. Anyways, everybody knows that Europe is where it’s at when it comes to metal. Without the New Wave of British Metal, you wouldn’t have your Metallicas and all that. Guys like Åkerfeldt push the boundaries of metal a little more, and for people who love their techie music, that’s a good thing. And he seems like a pretty funny guy to boot. You know, for a death metal dude.

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Nissen Osterneck vs. Felt (hip hop group)

Nissen Osterneck

Putting the "Jew" in Jiu-jitsu

Well, here’s a documentary waiting to happen. A Hawaiian, Jewish mixed martial artist? I had no idea there were Jews in Hawaii. Anyway, every Jewish girl I know just had a heart palpitation that a nice Jewish boy is also (a) Hawaiian and (b) a kick-ass UFC fighter. Ok, maybe not so much about that last part. (I went out on the boringest date one time with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Boys, never tell a girl how 2001: A Space Odyssey like, totally, changed how you view cinema. Especially not on a first date. Oy.)

Anyway, Nissen Osterneck looks like he doesn’t have time to be pretentious about Kubrick movies. He is clearly way too busy getting pumped up and punching other dudes in the head. Look, I’m not into this sort of commercialization of violence – I find it depressing. But I recognize that there is a large percentage of the population for whom this is a relatively harmless way to channel burning inner aggression. I can’t argue that our boy Nissen is the best thing EVER, but he surely better than this annoying hip hop group that Justin is making me listen to right now. Oy.

(Plus he’s kinda dreamy).



Well, I was in the process of listening to the Wedding Present’s Bizarro this morning in anticipation of that band’s concert tonight at the Horseshoe, where they’ll be playing that album in its entirety. But, this post isn’t about Wedding Present (although they are pretty awesome, do check them out). Anyway, I think the best thing I can say about hip hop act Felt (not to be confused with the ’80s British band. Um, nor the non-woven cloth material), is that despite wanting to listen to Wedding Present at full blast right now and not being the biggest hip hop fan, they actually sound really good.

And they’re kinda intriguing, too. A kind of supergroup, the members are Slug (from Atmosphere) and MURS (of Living Legends). All of their albums are named after actresses (Christina Ricci, Rosie Perez and Lisa Bonet) and each album contains two songs named after celebrities (Suzanne Vega, Rick James, Morris Day, Marvin Gaye, Kevin Spacey and Paul Reubens). I’m intrigued, although I’m not sure I fully understand their ode to Reubens. But I do understand it more than mixed martial arts for sure.

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Less (band) vs. Flora Redoumi


More Less?

Listen, alternative rock is not really my thing, so I can’t really comment on Less’ musical contributions. (You can listen to them here, if you feel so inclined.) Their Wikipedia page compares them Soundgarden, Tool, and Led Zeppelin, and their albums were praised in magazines like Sorted and Skratch, and who am I to argue with those wise publications?

According to a quick Google search, there are two other bands parading around under the name of Less. The Less appear to be some sort of overwrought boy band out of Atlanta, while Less the Band seems to be some twee hipster outfit that describes themselves as “vaguely supernatural”. No thank you. (They do have a nice website, though.) Even to my alternative-resistant ears, Less is the best Less out there!


Flora Redoumi

Go Greece! Oh, is that a Canadian in the other lane? I'm so torn.... Nah, go Flora!

Firstly, I can’t stand the Olympics. Secondly, I can’t stand that during last night’s Jays game Rogers Sportsnet decided to interview three of the members of Canada’s women’s hockey team in the middle of a tie game. Thirdly, I was always terrible at athletics in high school. So that doesn’t make for a very positive start in defence of Greek hurdler Flora Redoumi.

But with a personal best time of 12.86 seconds in the 100 metre hurdles, she’s the second fastest in the history of Greece. Even for crotchety people like me, you have to respect that. And I respect that she’s not a superstar athlete with lots of product endorsements and all that nonsense. She’s someone you can root for. I can’t seem to find too many moments of glory, but here’s a video of her finishing fourth. And here’s the date she was born. Thanks internet! Go Flora!

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Red Lake County Courthouse vs. The Three Little Birds

Red Lake County Courthouse

I was a bit obsessed with fairy tales and folk tales when I was younger, so I’m pretty jealous of Justin this morning. But not too jealous, because I get to reminisce about a time when city planners and bureaucrats had respect for aesthetics, and pride was taken in designing municipal buildings.

The Red Lake County Courthouse was designed by the marvelously named architect Fremont D. Orff, who also designed this lovely old building in the Exchange District on one of my favourite streets in Winnipeg (there’s a funky coffee shop across the street where you can buy anarchist books). It’s a lovely Beaux Arts building from 1911, the likes of which you never see being built anymore because our municipal planners are jerks who care more about penny-pinching than city beautification. At least we have buildings like the Red Lake County Courthouse to remind us that justice can be aesthetically pleasing.


The Three Little Birds

Quality storytellers, the Brothers Grimm

I know that I’ve argued for reality over fantastical before, but that’s when it didn’t involve going against a county courthouse. I mean, that shit is way too boring. Plus, The Three Little Birds is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. You know you’re getting a quality piece of work right there. How can you be so sure? Oh, I don’t know, they just happen to be two of the best-know storytellers of all time, having penned Snow White, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel among many others. (Plenty of info out there on them, but I kinda liked this page.)

But what is Three Little Birds? Are you sure that’s not mean to be pigs? Or bears? Apparently, they’ve published over 700 tales so it’s fair to suggest that at tale No. 96, The Three Little Birds may’ve gotten a bit neglected in the mix. I can’t quite make out what the hell it’s all about from the summary, but I’m hoping that I’ll have a chance to read the whole thing at work. We need these intelligent fairy tales to escape from our mundane, county courthouse lives from time to time, you know?

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 9:28 am  Comments (1)  

García López de Cárdenas vs. Replication (optical media)

García López de Cárdenas

If Europeans hadn't discovered it, how would we know it was there? Think about it.

Here we are, living our overprivileged colonialist lives full of glorious freedom and excess in North America. And do you know why? Because intrepid European conquistadors like García López de Cárdenas left their humdrum lives in Spain to cross the ocean and bring smallpox to the indigenous peoples of North America and name rivers after themselves.

Cárdenas is credited with being the first European to set eyes on the Grand Canyon, though he certainly wasn’t the last, considering the Grand Canyon gets millions of tourists every year, and at least a couple of those have got to be European tourists.

Expeditions by guys like Cárdenas shaped society as we know it. If it weren’t for him and his fellow conquistadors, who knows what kind of world we’d be living in now?


Replication (optical media)

More impressive than the Grand Canyon?

Firstly, apologies are overdue on our absence earlier this week. Got just a bit too comfortable with the long weekend there. Also, frustration has started to creep in on occasion on this quest to find the best thing ever. While we’re set out to stumble upon this thing randomly, I’m starting to become convinced that Wikipedia’s random article function is rigged. Obviously, that’s total bullshit but it doesn’t cease to amaze me how out of all the stuff on there, I always seem to end up with a small village, an military base or some Swedish track and field dude who finished sixth in the long jump competition at the 1920 Olympics.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s all great shit. But when you’re up against the dude who discovered the Grand Canyon, that’s just not going to cut it. So, nine clicks later we have a worthy opponent: the replication of optical media. And this isn’t to be confused with burning, which is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against burning per se, I’m listening to a burnt CD right now (I did actually pay for it, I bought the vinyl version which comes with a free download of the album and then I burned it to CD because I fucking hate listening to music off of my computer … just so you know). And I have no problem with how burning is responsible for the music (and even film) industries getting their tits in a bind about how it’s robbing the artists ability to create. Of course, this is a cover up for how senior management who don’t have a creative bone in their body are no longer getting billion dollar bonuses. I do believe in buying and supporting music.

But I can also see how after being overpriced for the last few decades has given consumers a sense of entitlement. CD replication has made music accessible to all, and that’s usually the mission statement of any true artist: to have their work heard or seen. But some burning and consumption of music is just ridiculous. How much music can you actually listen to? And at such poor quality as well?

But anyways, back onto the actual replication of optical media and why it wins: It gave us the compact disc and the DVD. I think that’s enough right there. I know, I know, the Grand Canyon is really frickin’ beautiful. Truly a remarkable discovery and a wonder of nature. I’m not going to disagree with any of that. But don’t pretend go all pro nature on me and just admit the chances of you making a trip without any filmic or musical distraction wouldn’t be a tough one. You would’ve been there to visit already if it was more important to you. And if you have visited there already, well, I’ll just shut my big jerk mouth.

Published in: on April 8, 2010 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Flying car (fiction) vs. Mike Mareen

Flying Car

Now that the President of the United States is a black man for real and the iPad means swiping stuff around on a computer screen is turning into the norm, the main way movies have to let us know it’s the future is by featuring flying cars. Since The Jetsons (actually, much earlier), the flying car has been a beloved futuristic trope, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the DeLorean that doesn’t need roads where it’s going. Even non-science fiction movies try to get in on the flying car action (well, possibly only Grease, but still).

And no wonder! Short of being able to fly ourselves, possession of a flying car must be one of the top fantasies ever. How often have you been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and wished your car could just rise above the 401 and zoom over the city skyline straight to your house? You’re not alone, and here in 2010, which certainly sounds a lot like the future, we are still lamenting our lack of flying cars. Ok, there are obviously a million reasons flying cars would be a terrible idea in real life, but we’re not talking about real life. We’re talking about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


Mike Mareen

He can't fly, but he played Hamburg Star Club!

After the Beatles rocked Hamburg, someone had to take their place, right? OK, so maybe Mike Mareen’s gigs at the Star Club weren’t likely to have been as epic. But with his band Cemetery Institution, he still played there. As a matter of fact! Sure, if we had the advantage of Alison’s fictitious leeway in this tournament we could just say he not only played Hamburg’s Star Club but his performances there rendered the Beatles’ music completely obsolete. On top of that, in order to avoid the mad stampede of fans he ended up building a flying car in his dressing room to escape. But no, this is real life, and while Mareen’s bio might pale in comparison to the achievements that exist in science-fiction writers’ heads, it’s pretty impressive for those of us back on planet Earth.

Just take a look at his official website. The first thing that strikes you is, is Mareen both the proprietor of awesome ’80s music as well as fine leather fashion? (That link is still under construction.) Going to his “star page” bio we find out that “Mike Mareen was born in Berlin and grew up in Lüneburg, Germany … stayed for several years in America as a vocalist for various American groups. Returned home, he took acting and piano lessons in order to enlarge his artistic skill. Through his extravagant live show he became overnight one of the most wanted live show acts in Europe … In 1982 he founded Night ‘n’ Day Records, his own record label. The major goal was – and is – to help young artists gain a foothold in the music business. … In 1984/85 Mike realized Dance Control publish 1985 a co-production with Chris Evans-Ironside called Dancing In The Dark, which became a No. 1 hit in 27 countries around the world. Sold out show events, e.g. in Mexico City in front of an audience of 50.000 are a evidence for this.”

Not bad for a non-fictional person. And if you’re still not impressed, get ready to have your mind fucking blown by Mareen’s performance of his ultimate club hit Love Spy. Forget flying cars, that is some intense shit (what is that dance? And those glasses? Awesome!).

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 8:56 am  Comments (1)  

Frederick Robert Cromwell vs. Frederic Collignon

Frederick Robert Cromwell

I’ll be honest – I can’t put up much of a fight today. And it’s not because Justin’s been under the weather and I want to let him win. This has nothing to do with pity. This has to do with Justin getting a FOOSBALL PLAYER and me getting some boring politician. He’s Conservative. He looks like a despised history teacher from my school. He shares a last name with the least-fun man in English history, although you can’t really hold that against him. There are several people who share my last name, and I hope no one would judge me based on their behaviour.

Really, though, all the name “Cromwell” makes me think of is this weird old song. HI HO BURIED AND DEAD!


Frederic Collignon

Finally, a real sport. Foosball! Folks, if any of you have ever played foosball you’ll know that there’s nothing better in life. A good friend of mine had a foosball table instead of a kitchen table and it served us so well. My friends and I all had great lives until our friend decided to give his foosball table to his roommate who was moving back to Montreal (just another to spite you, Frederick Robert Cromwell! Leave our foosball tables alone!). This also effectively ended our hopes of ever becoming good enough to go professional. For real, this is possible. Had I known, I would’ve spent all that time at the foosball table at our university residence instead of studying for stupid exams. Look where that got me. Frédéric “Rico” Collignon is one of the smart ones. A “Belgian professional table football player,” Collignon is “a multiple world champion and is regarded as the world’s best player this decade.” I mean, just watch this guy, he’s a god!

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Verovany vs. Noel Burke


Five years ago, I went to the Czech Republic to learn how to make a marionette. (Do you want to see him? Of course you do.) It was the best – if you have any interest in puppetry or wood carving or animation, you should get your butt over there and do a workshop with Mirek and Leah. Their workshops would make it straight to the finals in the Tournament of Everything.

I went to Prague, however, and not to any adorable small towns like Verovany (I don’t know how to make the little bowl shape over the e). But I did take the train from Prague to Vienna, and saw the Czech countryside which mostly looks like illustrations from a fairy tale, dotted with sweet little red-roofed houses and imposing churches and it’s a really enchanting train ride and I recommend it.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about Verovany itself, except that it is in the Olomouc region of Czech, which is partly in the historical region of Moravia (which sounds like a fairy tale land), and partly in the historical region of Silesia, which sounds like a fairy tale land where everyone is silly.

The point is that the Czech Republic is a great country where you can eat fried cheese on a bun for dinner and no one will judge you.


Noel Burke

Noel Burke + Echo + Bunnymen

Now way! Success! I actually got something that might be close to the best thing ever! OK, so Noel Burke isn’t the best thing ever. But he did temporarily sing for Echo & the Bunnymen. And while they might not be the best thing ever, for a while there they put together some pretty fucking amazing albums. I’d say their first four albums (Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain) released between 1980-1984 are all pretty stellar.

Getting all of these on vinyl for less $10 each at used record stores has been one of my better finds. When I’m home by myself I like to get wasted, put on Porcupine and jump around and New Wave air guitar. But make sure to make it look like I was calmly reading by the time Alison gets home. … So maybe Noel Burke didn’t play a role in those seminal albums. In fact, he only recorded the band’s Reverberation in 1990 when lead singer Ian McCulloch left the group. And maybe that album was their lowest-charting and got really bad reviews and may have led to Echo & the Bunnymen getting dropped from their label and ultimately, their first disbandment in 1993. … Wow, that is a bit of a bummer. Shit, he still got to play with them! And you try replacing McColloch on vocals. Good luck! Being thrown in from a relatively obscure band And he still plays with his old band St. Vitus Dance!, and replacing an icon, he was pretty much doomed to failure from the start. And this in-depth interview with him shows he has no grudges about it.

As it happens, time seems to have been more favourable to the album as it’s gained more respect with age. Listen to this shit, it sounds good! Well done, Noel. (He’s apparently a teacher now. Why weren’t my any of my teachers retired New Wave singers?)

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment