Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confessions of a Personal Nature

I bought rain boots. This is worth mentioning because if you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I would never do that. Even now, I'm extremely self conscious about owning them and even wearing them. Let me explain.

Rain boots have become a popular trend among the females of Kingston (particularly among students) and it's not uncommon to go through a day seeing a dozen or more pairs even when it's clearly not raining. I don't really know how this started but I first noticed it in first year. It seems kind of ridiculous to me that you would wear rubber boots in minus 15 but to each their own.

They're very practical though, and their sudden popularity means that there are lots of cool looking rain boots around. At some point I thought I should get a pair. But I hesitated for a very long time and though carefully about which pair I would buy. Why? I asked myself this question.

Because I didn't want to be ridiculed for wearing "girl clothes". That's right, I'm 21 years old and I still haven't graduated from elementary school. I am so concerned about being ridiculed that it still affects my decision making. This case is a little more sensitive than most because this particular topic has some further history for me but this is something I think about.

So the question remains, when do you stop caring about what other people will say enough to make totally independent decisions? Hopefully soon. But in the meantime, I've at least resolved this enough to enjoy my rain boots.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Monday Morning Post (03/28/11)

Good morning friends, welcome to a very brief Monday Morning post. I have lots to do this week so let me tell you about it.

Somewhere along the way I missed a note that there was a lab writeup due on Friday that I didn't plan for and seeing as it's the 2nd last week of class, this means that I will be doing mostly school for the rest of this week and next week. This is ok, but it means I will have to work extra hard this week and my social life will probably suffer the consequences.
There's also only two weeks of classes left. What the heck? When did that happen? I'm excited about this because when school is over I'm off to California but man, where did the time go.

Short I know but I have a million things to do now. I'll report back next week.

EDIT: I got a question last week

Question: What is "Ritual"?

Answer: "Ritual" is a tradition started by engineers as a way to unwind from a stressful week. What happens is at 1:30 PM on Friday, Clark Hall Pub opens for a couple of hours and anyone is welcome to come sit down, have a few drinks, request some music, and generally relax. There's a lot of traditions surrounding it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dear Department

Queen's Biology, we need to have a talk. It's been a really long time since we've met and I've let a lot of things slide in that time but now it's time to deal with them.

Why are you so big? My smallest 3rd year class has 80 people in it. I know the Ontario government keeps putting pressure on you to churn out more graduates but it's getting me down when I'm talking to people in other departments who drop class sizes by second year. This isn't just a class size problem either. You actually aren't big enough to fit everyone. You don't have enough spots to run seminars and thesis projects for all interested 4th years.

Which leads to my next point. Who thought the current system for 4th year was a good idea? The way it's supposed to works is Student's talk to professors about working with them, then everyone submits an application and Professors choose based on applicants. In reality, it seems a lot of professors just ignore this protocol and have all of their honours thesis students picked out before applications even come in. Instead of being a fair system, it gives a very poor illusion of being fair, and rewards only the top cut of students while leaving everyone else out to dry.

There's currently a big round of academic planning going on which gives me hope that some of these things can be fixed, but in the meantime Biology, consider our relationship to be on rocky ground.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Helping People is Hard

Somewhere in my upbringing I got the idea into my head that helping people is easy, and can only lead to good things for you and those around you. As soon as you provide assistance for people, they get their lives back together and become better people. In return you get a nice pat on the back and escape with nothing but good feelings. Sometime in first year I started to realize that this was a pretty stupid assumption to operate on, and I developed a new way of thinking about things.

Helping people takes a long time. People usually end up in situations where things are bad because of some kind of longstanding issue. It might be a bad habit they have, or some past experience that's shaped their actions. These kinds of things take a very long time to tease out. There's an ad campaign going around that says it takes and average of 5 times before someone actually quits smoking, and that's for a habit that has a huge mound of evidence that says its bad. Imagine how much more difficult it would be if you had to first determine that the situation you were in was actually bad for you and others. It could take a longer time before you even start to get out of the situation. To assume that you can help people deal with their problems on any kind of short time scale (>1 yr) is very naive thinking.

Helping people does not always result in good things for you as the helper either. You might think that people will immediately realize the good things you are doing for them and pour out their graditude, but this is not always the case. Sometimes people think you're not doing them any good, and sometimes people fall prey to their problems which hurt you. To put it simply, if you help someone there's a good chance you might get burned somewhere during the course of helping them. This often causes people to stop helping, but like I've already talked about helping people is something that happens on a very long timeline and if you give up when you get burned, they might not ever be able to get out of their situation.

Helping people is not simple. It's difficult work that requires a lot of personal sacrifice. But if you earnestly dedicate yourself to helping someone, you can really make a difference.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Monday Morning Post

It's that time again. This Monday Morning Post brought to you at this ungodly hour by insomnia and the lovely Jenn Grant. It has been an eventful week in my life. Most of these events happened from Friday onwards but I thought all of them would be cool to tell you about.

I managed to survive the insane week of school work relatively unscathed. I wrote both midterms, handed in the assignment, and did the seminar without missing all my classes and without pulling out all of my hair. To top it all off I managed to do "cool things" this week.

I took my bike to be reparied at last. This is the bike that I got in a trade involving a PS3 in the parking lot of an apartment building so it's in need of a little bit of work but I'm hoping it looks good once I get it back.

I also went skateboarding a number of times this week. I recieved a skateboard from my girlfriend as a present and I am gradually getting over my inhibitions about riding it around. It makes me pay attention to things like hill grade and pavement quality so I guess that's good. It's also a lot of fun and great exercise.

Probably the most exciting day this week was Friday. After jumping head first into "The Journal issue", I was invited to attend "Ritual" by a person I met through twitter which means I can cross two items off my Queen's bucket list (meet a person over twitter, and attend Ritual).

Saturday involved a thorough goodbye for my housemate who has moved to Etobicoke to participate in an internship for college. We sent him off with best wishes even though he'll be back this weekend.

I feel this is getting a little long so I'll stop here with a final note. If you have questions that you'd like me to answer but feel to shy to ask them personally, send them to me through this link and I can answer them for you in the next Monday Morning Post. If you forget the link, I'll leave it in the sidebar under "Ask Me A Question".

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Journal Issue

Background: Today an editorial was posted in The Queen's Journal by the Journal staff. You can read it here.

I wanted to take a second to explain my position on the journal issue since it seems to be the thing to talk about today. I support the motion passed on March 10th that reads “That AMS Assembly directs the Media Services Director to conduct an analysis of the content of The Queen’s Journal during the current academic year and to subsequently report on the percentage of content that directly addresses student activities and events."

I wasn't able to make it to the AMS assembly due to a huge pile up of work around that time but I watched most of it online thanks to a live feed provided by Queen's TV . I watched the whole proces surrounding the motion, and listened to both sides and came to a conclusion. I agree with Victoria Pleavin (Former EngSoc President) Eril Berkok (Outgoing/Former COMPSA president) and a number of others when they said that this kind of information could be useful. We are not the only ones who think this would be useful because the motion passed 21 to 7 with 4 abstentions which makes for 2/3 of the assembly voters. At the very least, this report would tell us that The Journal is doing an excellent job, and we affirm their work as a collective undergraduate body. At the most it provides us with information on what our major news source is reporting on if it's not student activities and events.

Some people have said that this motion is trying to remove the editorial autonomy of The Journal. However, according to the bylaws governing The Journal, The Journal is granted editorial autonomy over it's content.
The editorial autonomy of The Journal is guaranteed by the AMS Constitution and Corporate By-laws. Opinions expressed shall not necessarily be those of the AMSAMS, the University, or any body or officer thereof. The Journal shall regularly bear notice to this on the editorials page. - Journal Bylaw 1.03
So unless this bylaw is repealed, the AMS has no say over what stories The Journal writes or doesn't write.

However, there are guidelines in the bylaws about what The Journal is supposed to talk about.
"The Journal shall strive to give an accurate account of news and events relevant to the University, including elections, AMS Assembly, the Corporation and referenda, and to discuss questions of current interest." - AMS Bylaws 13.01.01
It seems reasonable to me that the AMS conduct a review to ensure that The Journal is complying with it's requirements as stated in the bylaws. As long as the AMS does not try to intervene in any way, then the AMS can conduct an entirely legal audit of Journal content.

I believe that nothing could be better than more accountability, especially for an organization that myself and the rest of the student body are funding. If The Journal really feels that they are doing an exemplary job of publishing relevant content, then an audit should show just that and we can all be done with this issue.

The Journal's response to this motion has been extremely inappropriate for a campus newspaper. The immediate reaction was a lot of anger from members of The Journal over Twitter, and the formation of a campaign called #teamjournal. This was followed by today's copy of The Journal which contained a 1/2 page editorial on the situation and a full page print ad.

The Journal has yet to report on this issue in its news section which is contrary to "good practice" as defined by The Journal's own bylaws "It is usually good practice to refrain from editorializing on a given topic until the details have been reported in the news section"- Journal bylaw 4.03 ,but the editorial is still within its rights as mandated by their bylaws. However, the full page print ad is totally uncalled for. It features a picture of former EngSoc President Victoria Pleavin prominently, and goes on to claim that she wants The Journal to "only write about what Victoria Pleavin wants us to" .

The motion makes no mention about any action on this report, it only claims to be involved in the collection of data relating to The Journal. If it gets to the point where the AMS was trying to interfere with the "Editorial Autonomy" of The Journal then they'd have grounds for these kinds of comments but right now they're making an argument that's a few motions ahead of this one and they're singling out a former EngSoc president. This is just wrong and it's not fair for the main news source in campus to go out of its way to try and defame someone who's no longer in power.

I think it's important that The Journal not be a propaganda machine of the AMS, but I don't think that gives them immunity from having their content examined and I don't think it's appropriate for them to respond with personal attacks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the Outside

I did everything wrong when it came to making friends in University. I started school a year later, I didn't live in residence, I went to school in my hometown, and I went to a school that I had no particular attachment to. By the time the high of frosh week had ended and everyone had returned to normal, I found myself repeatedly on the outside of just about every social group I could find. Frosh leaders and frosh group members often acted like they didn't know me in school situations, and I found it extremely difficult to meet any new people. I tried participating in some campus activities. I joined an intramural team and tried to get involved in a campus newspaper, but it just got so awkward that I just gave up on it and figured I'd focus on school instead.

Things have gotten better in the last year, but not because of anything institutional that's going on. I started meeting people in labs and went on a couple of field trips with school this year so I'm meeting more people. However, I still get the impression that I'm not engaging as much in Queen's as the rest of students are. Maybe this whole thing is just my fault or is due to my inherent awkwardness, but there have to be ways to help prevent situations like the one I'm in now. There's got to be an easier way to help new students to feel like they're welcome to join in and start working with clubs and groups, and there's got to be a way to run an oritentation week that's not completely different from the rest of the year. I just hope someone's thinking about this kind of stuff.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Labels (The Record Kind)

Record Labels: A concept that is rapidly becoming as outdated as the term used to describe it. I realize I'm probably a couple of years to late for this to be a timely group of thoughts but let me spell it out for you.

Making music used to be really frigging expensive. It still can be, but in the old days the amount of money required to record, produce, manufacture, and promote a piece of must was incredible. This led to the need for a larger group to back artists financially and lay out the initial cost so that music could be produced. This means that record labels are basically investors who invest in you as a musician and say "we believe this person will sell a lot of product". You would provide music for them to record, they would make you a record, sell it and promote it, and compensate you with a small royalty (maybe 10% of the actual sales of the record). You made most of your money by performing, which the record company organized as part of its promotion to sell the record. It worked for a long time because it was the only way to do things.

A couple of things have made the arrangement less necessary though, which is part of the reason for the demise of the record label. The first thing was cheaper production costs for music. If you work hard at it, you can buy yourself a home studio and get enough training to run it competently. It won't be percfect, but you can record a halfway decent album and have a lot of control over the sound for very little money. This made the financial backing of record labels less necessary for recording music. Second was the advent of tapes and CD burners. No longer would you need to get someone else to manufacture your music, you could do it yourself with relatively cheap equipment. Third was the explosion of the internet. This made music promotion extremely cheap, because anyone could set up a myspace for free and provide information about your band to anyone in the world. You didn't need a huge promotion machine anymore for people to hear your music.

So now we've removed the need for a record label for production, manufacturing, and promotion. The only thing the labels had left was their ability to book shows, and that too disappeared with the invention of the internet. Now that everyone was self promoting, they started booking their own shows due to the relative ease of communicating with promoters and venue people. This removed the need for huge financial backing to make music. However, by this time labels had so much money and had gotten so big (you can still find stories about labels getting artists to sing their songs in a different language, because there was a market for it ) that no one really thought about doing things a different way.

Then came Napster, which carved up a nice chunk of labels revenue. No longer did people have to buy music, they could get it for free on the internet. It didn't last for long but it planted the idea in people's heads that music was worth something other than what they were paying. Now that labels started making less money, they started passing less money on to artists, and artists started leaving to make their own music with their own money, thus began the age of "indie" record labels.

So there you go, a lengthy deconstruction of record labels. In honour of their demise, let's listen to Johnny Cash sing in German.

Johnny Cash - Wo ist zuhause, Mama? - MyVideo

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Monday Morning Post

I was reading old blogs, remembered that I used to do a post every Wednesday morning and it was great. However, I don't have any time to blog on Wednesday morning so I present the Monday morning post.

Usually I just use this as an excuse to talk about what's new in my life. I won't try and catch you up on what's going on these days but I'll tell you about my week. This week is full of insanity. I've got assignment after exam after assignment due this week and not a whole lot of time to finish them all. Last night I was up til 3 due to a combination of work and not being able to sleep. Tonight I may post similar numbers depending on how late my night class goes. Its times like this that make me realize how tame the rest of the year can be by comparison.

I'm also still working on finishing up this Graven record that was supposed to be out this month. It keeps taking more time than I want it to but we're ALMOST there. I'm finishing the last two tracks next week sometime and then I can finish it up and send it off to be mastered. It will be nice to get it out the door and off to be finished. I hope people enjoy it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Progress on my summer job in California also continues this week. I'm signing paper work with the professor who hired me on Wednesday and then I'm officially hired (for real this time). We're also supposed to talk about my job description that day so I look forward to how that goes.

And that's about it. Consider yourselves all caught up thanks to the Monday Morning Post.

Album Review: Radiohead-The King of Limbs

What do you say about a Radiohead record? They are a band that has built up such a reputation around making interesting music that it's hard to make an honest assessment of what they're doing. With that in mind though, let me tell you about their latest record “The King of Limbs”.

It's strange at first listen. Opening number “Bloom” comes out of nowhere and sounds like it's falling apart or being played in two opposing tempos but somehow, they manage to stay together and it has an interesting quality to it. Listening to this album had me thinking that a lot. It's a very dense record that requires a bit of time to listen to and unpack but once you do, it catches on to you. The consensus among a few other people that I talked to was the same. They weren't really sure if they liked it but they couldn't stop listening to it. The songs have a certain addictive quality to them.

The album fits together very well as a unit and the songs seamlessly blend from one to another without many interruptions, save for my favourite song on the record “Give up the Ghost” which starts off with a very interesting rhythm pattern and flows nicely into a beautiful melody. It's a very beautiful song that manages to be mellow without being sad.

I think that despite the fact that it doesn't really match up to the quality of their more recent albums, this is a great record. Just approach cautiously if you're not an avid Radiohead fan.