Almost settled

We're almost done decorating the new apartment. I've been here two months now -- Manda and our stuff arrived a bit after I did. 99% of the boxes are unpacked and most of the stuff is in its proper place, aside from the room I'm in now.

I was going to do a full before-and-after tour using pictures from the BigAssSuperGallery, but I don't have the patience to make it look pretty through the Blogger interface. So, swing over to my flickr site and see for yourself. Compared to my old solo apartment, it's a huge improvement. If you've been there, you know. Manda's the hero for hanging pictures, making many decorative decisions, and possessing enough furniture to fill the place. Last big hurdle is the computer/guest room, which most resembles my old apartment. May make some progress on that today. Maybe. Perhaps. Sure.

Also on flickr, snaps of last night's tree lighting ceremony at Grand Parade. We went to see the new movie version of Rent last night (tear-jerker), then had a nice walk ending at the big festivities.

Magic 8 Ball update:
I hope to soon begin post-production on a CD of the BigAssSuperstar, John Bowles and Rick Hart farewell gig/party from Toronto. I'm mulling over a few titles, and I'd love any feedback in the comments section. Up for consideration: "Magic 8 Ball: One Night Only" ... "Magic 8 Ball: Live at the Spotted Dick" ... "Magic 8 Ball: Decidedly So" ... and possibly something else that I'm forgetting. Album will include all tracks from that evening, and bonus stuff on a CD-ROM portion or perhaps a separate DVD, including all the gathered photo and video footage from the night, and maybe even some unreleased material from the Jams At Rick's sessions.

Anyone with additional advice for mastering the MiniDisc audio to sound like an ass-kicking complete and seamless live album would be appreciated. I know how to make it sound good -- but I'd like this one to sound great....and huge. Big Ass Audio, dearies.

What, me worry?

Stats Can released a report yesterday indicating that my new home has more violent crime per capita than any other metropolitan centre in Canada. CBC reports:

Statistics Canada surveyed 24,000 people in 2004 to find out if they had been victims of robbery, sexual or physical assault, breaking and entering, and other offences within a 12-month period. The data, released Thursday, shows residents of Nova Scotia reported the second highest rate of victimization, at 157 incidents per 1,000 population. Only Alberta was higher, at a rate of 160.

Just a note to tell the folks back home not to freak out. It feels safer here, even if the numbers argue otherwise. There's plenty of domestic violence, and drug- and drunk-related violence, but not a huge amount of stranger-on-stranger violence. And they haven't reached the point of settling beefs with gunfire in public places yet, so I feel fairly secure walking around. If 50 Cent feels safe coming here (playing the Metro Centre, across the street, December 14), how bad can it be?

As long as they spell my name right...

Alex J. Walling at wrote up a huge (seven-page) review of the new radio station's performance after the first month. Generally positive, including a brief mention of the PM show:

The afternoon drive home is a pleasant one on the new News-station as Erica Munn and Scott Simpson deliver the news very well. In fact I think Munn has an exceptional read. The only better female that I've heard on reading radio news is Martha Cody who did the gig for Q104 many moons ago before she went over to MITV/Global. First impression count and I like the fact that this News station seems genuinely interested in delivering it.

Still hoping to get access to the loggers or something so I can get audio samples to the folks back home. Perhaps I'll just record an hour or two and burn it to CD for everybody.

If people from the past had the technology we have today

A photoshop contest over at included this image:

(Originally pictured: John Travolta.)

BONUS: TV station KRQE News 13 has a look at the Scientology compound built into the side of a mountain in New Mexico, including a shot of what some have referred to as the "mothership recognition symbol":

The story is about a compound hidden deep in a remote part of New Mexico. Among other interesting features are markings in the landscape that can only be seen from the air and a vault built into a mountain side. In the meantime, the Church of Spiritual Technology is doing all it can to stop this story from hitting the airwaves. They and their attorney sat down with News 13 to try to convince us this story should stay private. (story) (video)

Barenaked on a stick

Toronto band Barenaked Ladies is releasing content on a USB memory stick later this month. Their official web site reports:

the 128mg USB flash memory drive (about the size of your pinky finger) is a fast and easy way to share music, videos, pictures and other data. It is PC/Mac compatible, re-usable and incredibly low priced at $29.98 (close to the same cost of the device on its own with no special content).

Makes ripping the music to your computer a lot easier, and you don't have to put sticky tape over holes on the device to record new stuff on it.

BigAssSuperstar meets Scott Simpson and Dr. Love

Its one thing to know there are other people with the same name as's something else to meet them.

That happened this week when Manda and I went to Bearly's House of Blues and Ribs on Barrington St for dinner ahead of a planned karaoke night with some of the newsies. First to arrive (as usual), we met up with reporter Laura and her boyfriend, local film director Scott Simpson. We chatted about what it is to be one Scott Simpson among many Scott Simpsons (most notably a golfer who pollutes my google searches about myself), speculations on family lineage, and thoughts on the differences between pizza in Halifax, Toronto and New York City. (And pizzas made by Lebanese, Italians and conglomerates.) I've had phone calls for other Scott Simpsons before, but IIRC, this is the first time I've met one.

After dinner, Manda and Scott-two bowed out for sleep and the rest of the karaoke crowd filled in. The place got busy in a hurry. Reporter Laura kicked off the action with the Eric Carmen (not Eric Cartman) hit "Make Me Lose Control." Business picked up when BigAssSuperstar hit the stage with a new song, Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket." Traffic reporter Natalie brought me up soon after for a dance-floor-filling duet on "Love Shack." Reporter Tim took me back to my days as a Newmarket Era newspaper carrier with a rendition of Glass Tiger's "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" before Laura's turn came around again to do a Britney Spears hit with backup vocals from Natalie.

BigAssSuperstar returned to floor the karaoke host with a spot-on version of "One Week." Next round, the Karaoke Jockey (the KJ, don'tchaknow) called up Doctor Love, and I worried for a second that he was talking about me, and perhaps he was a transplanted Ontarian who I'd seen at a venue years ago. Nope, it was some dude who seemed to channel Joe Cocker as he "sang" Lou Reed. I follwed up with my traditional shout-out to Doctor Love during the classic "Baby Got Back." ("So ladies, if your butt is round, and you want a triple-x throwdown, call 1-900-Doctor-Love, and kick them nasty thoughts.... Baby got back!")

Good times, good times. And the souvlaki at Bearly's wasn't bad. There's talk of another newsies' karaoke night, perhaps at The Oasis, which, despite its college-age crowd, has a kick-ass setup with a fantastic guitar-playing host and the best karaoke songbook I've ever seen.

Still, Bearly's was The Coast's 2005 and 2004 winner for Best Karaoke Night:

Although singing sensations Jack Shit, Big Caddy Daddy and Dr. Love aren't household names yet -- well, they'll probably never be -- they're superstars every Wednesday at Bearly's. Host Dimitri "Mimi" Andriopoulis assigns stage names to all the regular performers. It's part of the family vibe that makes Bearly's karaoke so popular. Bearly's squeaks past last year's winner, the Oasis, to take home the Best Karaoke plaque. The Oasis gets honourable mention for also placing second in Best Thursday Night (their karaoke night). Only one way to settle this: a "More Than a Feeling" battle. Winner takes all.

My G-string is misadjusted

Michael pointed me to this fancy new guitar tuner:

All you do is hold the String Master robotic guitar tuner on each tuning peg and pluck the string. String Master listens to the sound and its powerful gear motor actually turns the peg for you until that string is tuned to perfect pitch.

Nice idea, especially if you're in a hurry. Probably just a matter of time 'til a company like Line6 starts building them into guitars, since they've already put a ton of other electronic doo-dads in their axes.

BigAssSuperstar got stuck a few months ago with a mistuned guitar. I went up on stage for a quick song, and in my rush to get set up, told my PodXT that "A" was not 440Hz, and proceeded to tune a string to that wrong information. Panicked, all I could do in a hurry was tune the rest of the guitar to the mistuned string by ear, as the audience looked on. Doh. I think I'd look just as foolish bringing something like a mechanized ratchet on stage to auto-tune the thing for me.

Lerxt's nose worth "tens of millions"

UPI reports that the members of Rush (greatest Canadian power trio of all time, natch) are seeking standing in guitarist Alex Lifeson's (nee Zivojinovich) lawsuit against police in Naples, Florida:
Zivojinovich's suit sought damages in excess of $75,000 while the amended complaint could result in damages reaching "tens of millions of dollars," the guitarist's attorney said. The musicians claim injuries the guitarist suffered at the hands of deputies caused a break in the band's touring and recording schedules, costing them millions of dollars.
Er -- when the heck were they supposed to have been touring and/or recording? Last album I can recall was the EP of covers from a coupla summers ago.

Alex always seemed to me to be the most mellow, cool guitarist around. 'Til I saw him on Trailer Park Boys, swearing up a storm. Rock on, Alex. But please give up the leather pants. Maybe the silk kimonos will come back in style.

Country drive to urban hell

There's no Sunday Shopping in Nova Scotia, so the week's worth of errands have to be crammed in to a Saturday. Last week, we endured a trip to Bayers Lake Business Park to pick up some necessary bargains at Wal-Mart and do the week's grocery shopping at the Atlantic Superstore next door. This place is like any other car-dominated big-box retail strip anywhere you can think of, 'cept instead of being surrounded by low-density subdivisions, it's surrounded by trees. It's familiar and weird but aggravating nonetheless. If you've been to Wal-Mart on a Saturday, you know. Imagine going to Wal-Mart on a Saturday when there's no Sunday. You dig? Parking was insane. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The inspiration for this post is the Armdale Rotary. Now, I'm not much of a driver. Straight lines are good. Right turns, I can handle. Left turns aren't too bad if there's a light. But Halifax has this thing called the Rotary. It's not like a traditional European roundabout like the ones we saw in France during the Big Spring Trip. Those were actually kind of cool, especially the big one in Paris. They made sense, and actually made me think Toronto should have some. Well, somewhere along the line, someone must've misinterpreted the logic behind a roundabout and in 1955 built the Armdale Rotary. I've been through it a few times as a passenger and still have no idea how it's supposed to work, except that there's a lot of yielding, some stopping, and white-knuckled cutting across multiple lanes of spinning traffic. Another mind ponders the tao of "Yield and Proceed" with pictures and poetry. But they're not done with it yet. Last year, the CBC reported a provincial committee was set up to look at changing the rules for the Rotary. With my luck, by the time I finally understand the rules, they'll change 'em. Which reminds me ... I gotta get a Nova Scotia driver's license. And health card. Been here a month and a half and I'm still just crawlin' through the days!

Anyway, back to Wal-Mart to return an under-the-sink trashcan solution that solved nothing. Customer Service was mercifully quick in handing over the loot. Bought new trashcans, bins for my socks 'n undies, new dishwasher-safe saucepans and a more sensible map book. By the time we got to the checkout, our will to live was fading like the daylight outside. Nice checkout lady asks "And how are you today?" so I respond, "Entirely sick of being here, thank you." "Me too," she says, "I've been here since 10am and haven't had a lunch break yet." By now it was nearing 4, I think, so I reponded, "Oh my. Did I hear someone say 'unionize'? Or do sirens go off if that happens?" She looked kinda grim.

We got outta there and hit the Atlantic Superstore. They're like the Real Canadian Superstores in Ontario, 'cept they're Atlantic, dontchaknow. Hrm. No major complaints aside from it being crowded to the point of traffic jams in the aisles, and little rugrats were running through the isles just beggingto be run over by my cart. Highlight of the trip, though, making a list of stuff-we're-not-buying-today-but-I-wanna-try. Love the BlackBerry.

The trip also included a visit to Future Shop. I hate Future Shop. Maybe "hate" is too strong a word -- I don't hate it like I hate my arch-nemesis Smokey Robinson, or Nickelback, or Brussels' Sprouts. But as retailers go, I don't like shopping there. I feel dirty when I do, but sometimes the deals are too good to pass up. But much like when I order KFC and feel remorseful upon finishing the final drumstick, I ask myself -- why the hell did I come here? They had Maxell CDR 100-packs on sale for $34.99. Good deal. If they had them. They didn't have them. I managed to find the shelf tag, where there would've been room for about four spindles if they had any. The bad-breathed staff guy who someone from another department tracked down for me wanted to help, but they stock no other 100-stacks of CDRs, so he couldn't make a substitution. The only other thing I wanted to buy isn't available 'cuz I neglected to read that it doesn't come out 'til later this week, so, my bad. I rejoined Amanda as she shopped for clothes.

And the adventure at Bayers Lake began with attempting to satisfy our hunger with our first meal at McDonald's in nearly two months. I've had Wendy's and Burger King since moving, but this place isn't crawling with McDondaldses. This one looked new and different -- it's a movie-themed, shoebox-shaped/sized McDo's. Marquee out front, and "movie" lights and filmstrip-themed decor inside. Big screens showing YTV. Clearly not for adults. Big line-ups, too. Giant ad for Rolo Triple-Thick Shakes on the menu board, but they insisted they don't have shakes. I believe 'em, 'cuz they don't show up on the menu anywhere else. Nice environmental effort, though -- three garbage bins, for paper products, organic (compostable) and plain ol' trash. Not that the patrons followed, but, whatever.

By the time we got home, it was dark. And we really miss Sunday Shopping. I'm glad these big box stores are here, but I really hope we don't have to go back to them very often.

Remembrance Day, Year of the Veteran

I grew up not having much interest in war or Remembrance Day. This was in the Reagan 80s, the days of 99 Red Balloons and Culture Club's The War Song -- when "war" meant only World War III, global nuclear annihilation. I sort of understood the "never again" message, but since that was the extent of my understanding of war, the whole November 11 thing got misunderstood as some sort of celebration of war. I didn't really feel compelled to investigate further. It kinda turned me off. I wasn't interested in learning more than I knew, which wasn't much.

Then I got assigned a story for Remembrance Day in 2004. I was asked to do three reports summing up Canada's military contribution. Well, that ended up being a crash course in history. I forget who I interviewed, but I learned a lot in a short time. I started learning more as I learned about my girlfriend Amanda's family tradition of marking November 11. Her dad was dying, so she was heavily emotionally involved in the event on that particular occasion.

Some months later, I got another assignment. A Second World War vet's Victoria Cross was going to be auctioned off. The school he attended in Toronto decided to help raise funds to prevent that from happening. Jan DeVries, President of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Association, addressed the kids at the school and helped them -- and me -- understand why this was a big deal. Eventually they got the money.

Talk got around to a long-dreamed-of trip to Europe timed to coincide with two other couples' trips, to meet up and have a great time. Amanda said it'd be neat to visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy if we could. I figured, sure, that'd be interesting. After all, there was a really touching cell phone commercial a while back in which a guy called his grandfather from Dieppe and thanked him for everything. That always made me a little teary, so I figured we might as well, if it could be done.

So the Europe trip approached, and I started watching documentaries. There were plenty on, since this year has been the Year of the Veteran. I watched Saving Private Ryan. Those frightening hours playing the video game Medal of Honor were put into context. I came to appreciate even more that this war wasn't just war for war's sake, or war to make a point, or war for oil or money or destiny or ego or whose president had the biggest dick. This was serious business.

It became even clearer when we went to the Musee de L'armee in Paris, and learned more about how close the Nazis came to winning. This wasn't a matter of Good easily stomping out Evil. Evil had a pretty good chance at taking over. Evil had its shit together. The good guys were idiots at points. Good needs to smarten the hell up sometimes. The same week, we went to the big parade down the Champs-Elysees to mark the 60th anniversary of VE day. It made everything seem a lot more serious.

My folks graciously fronted some money to rent a car, so we drove to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches. The Juno Beach Centre laid it all out in Canadian historical terms -- what the country was up to while Hitler and his gang were stomping around, why it took so long to get involved, and what Canada put up to do its part. It became more than just words on a page, or facts from long before my time, or the sad stories of old people. It all gelled, and became deadly serious.

We stepped out of the Juno Beach Centre and onto ... Juno Beach. There we were. There's where it happened. There's where all the documentaries and movies and books and lectures came to be real, real, really real. German machine gun bunkers, still there. Rocks and stones and shoreline and water as far as I could see. The same water that was full of ships and shrapnel sixty years earlier. The same sky that was full of planes and airships. Calm and beautiful now, but the scene of some nasty stuff, and a place that changed history.

We moved on after gathering stones for some friends. We quickly got lost on the narrow roads of Normandy, and pulled a right turn in search of restroom facilities and a place to reorient the map. But there were Canadian flags off in the distance, so we moved ahead, and found the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. We spent a good long time there quietly looking at the graves. So many dead people. And we'd stumbled upon it by accident. Another serious moment.

From there, it was off to search for Arromanches to see the Mulberry Harbours. More massive and spectacular reminders of what went down. We stayed a few minutes and headed off to Omaha Beach, known as "Bloody Omaha" -- where the nasty stuff in Saving Private Ryan happened. Well, that wasn't quite as impressive, as it's sort of touristy now. And the American war cemetery was closed. And it was getting dark. We had to head back to Paris. That's a whole other story, but I'm sure having absorbed so much history and gravity didn't make that leg of the journey any more fun.

So, to the present. I've been here in Halifax since late September. We're not even unpacked and settled completely. I haven't quite found my groove yet, and I don't know enough about the city and its history. I do know that this is a military town and always has been. There are men and women in uniform everywhere. There are ships in the harbour. There are bases around the city. There's a cannon that fires every day at noon from the old fort at the top of the hill outside our apartment window. It's Remembrance Day in the Year of the Veteran, and Amanda lives here with me. Her dad died early this year. She wanted to go to the ceremonies, and I wanted to go with her. Luckily, we both had the day off.

It was my first time at one of these ceremonies, as far as I can recall. It was a cool breezy morning with some cloud but much sun. Lots of people showed up. But there weren't a lot of wrinkly old veterans there. Sure, hundreds of them left on a special Via train for Ottawa two days ago, but there just aren't as many of them around any more. They aren't here to tell their stories. They aren't around to tell people that their battles weren't necessarily like the battles we hear about in the news today. Their fight wasn't to prop up the profits of Halliburton, or to show the world who's boss, or to keep the homeland in fear in an effort to keep them from realizing there's nothing in government to inspire them. Their fight was to keep badasses with evil intentions from taking over the world -- something those badasses actually had a good chance at doing.

It was good to see so many people show up to pay their respects. I'm glad I was there. And I'm glad I could be there not just to be there, but with more appreciation than ever before of why I was there.

For a photographic retrospective, check my Flickr pages, over on the right-hand side.


Leak soup

Heavy rainfall warning today for Halifax. About 80mm expected in some places. Got up this morning and heard a drip, drip, drip in the living room.

Found water dripping in from the lip above the window. I've got the big soup pot below the dripping and have called the office to have the super come have a look.

I can't figure out where the water's coming in from. Nothing got wrecked, just a little wet. So much for going to get a haircut before work!

Gotta scram and get a taxi so I can get in on time and find some grub!

Treats 'n tricks

I'm having even more fun doing the news now that the powers-that-be have generously upgraded the microphone on my side of the booth. We've gone from having an Apex 185 (sold in pairs, a helluva bargain) to a brand new Electrovoice RE27 (which costs about ten times as much). No more popping, no more "I can hear the air conditioner behind me" ambience, no more having to hang back so I don't distort. I can get up close and intimate with this big beast of a microphone and sound as sweet and thick and rich as a melted Dairy Milk bar. I'm diggin' it.

Another random Halifax observation: gas prices. They don't fly up and down all over the place from hour to hour. The Esso at the corner of Young and Robie sat at 98.9ΓΈ/litre for nearly a week before dropping today to 96.9. I don't know whether that's a good price or a bad one, but bad stable is somehow more comforting than good unstable.

Taking the bus costs $2 cash, or $32 for 20 tickets, or $60 for a Metropass. Sure, I miss the subway, and the Halifax transit map is a bit of a brain-scratcher, but that's not a bad deal.

How was your Halloween? Better than this, reported by Broadcast News?

RCMP are checking complaints that small bags of feces were handed out to young Halloween trick-or-treaters in a Calgary-area community last night. Mounties in Strathmore received three reports of feces being given to kids -- some under the age of five.

Almost as bad as this bit from Texas yesterday:

The American Tract Society's Donna Skell suggests Christians should wrap candy bars in gospel tracts that grab children's attention with cartoons and games. Skell says it's a way to help combat -- quote -- ``all this evil that is around this holiday and use it for good to help others find God.''

Now go out to Shoppers and get some half-priced chocolate!

Today was my last day at work, and I'm okay with that

Today marks a weird spot on the calendar for me. It’s one of those landmarks that really doesn’t mean anything, other than to illustrate the...