Archives for the month of: January, 2013

I had a dark room and a camera.  What to do other than take another shot at light painting and what better subject than my other pair of boots!  I took a lot of shots this time and, as before, I was blown away by the amazing quality of light.  All of these effects are achieved only with the LED light on my mobile phone and all 5 second exposures at F 3.5.  Because you can move your light source around during the exposure, you can get the look of a light studio with many lights.  Here’s a few of the cool looks you can get with one LED.IMG_1254This is the look you can get when you only light an object from above.  There’s enough bounce off the boot and the table to light the wall behind a little to give you a nice silhouette with enough detail to see the colour and the style.IMG_1257On this one I attempted to light the boot from all sides.  The white flash is the LED light shining directly into the lens.  It’s also important to remember that when light painting you can put your hands and arms in the frame.  If the exposure is long and you don’t stay still too long they won’t show up.  IMG_1253This one was my favourite.  It really has the look of a ring-light.  You can see where the light was coming from because you can see the blue glow of my phone’s LCD screen.

If you’re a penniless photo enthusiast, I challenge you to find a faster, cheaper, and more visually stunning way to do still photography.  There are endless ways to modify the technique, different type of light, mixing lights, double exposures, the only limit is your imagination.

Next I plan to try light painting portraiture.  I just have to find someone really good at sitting still.

Yesterday I watched two little girls, sisters around the ages of three and five, each playing with a balloon.  They had suckers in their mouths.  The older had some command over her balloon as it was only maybe a third of her size.  She had the coordination and arm-span to catch it and hold it if she wished.  The smaller was barely larger than the balloon and would walk up to it, arms extended, and bend at the waist.  She would squeeze her little arms and the balloon would pop up into the air and away.

On one attempt, she bent over and squeezed violently, as if squeezing the balloon harder would make it easier to capture.  The balloon flew into the air and the impact knocked her green sucker out of her mouth and onto the dusty floor.  Her big sister noticed this, walked over, picked it up, sucked the dirt and dust off, and thrust it into her sister’s mouth.  They both seemed quite happy with this exchange.

I for one think this is delightful.  As a kid who ate a lot of dirt, and an adult who still eats dirt from time to time, it’s good sometimes to look at kids for what people do before we are taught to be neurotic and obsessive.  I’ve heard that dirt, clinging to the skin of root vegetables, is an important part of our diet that we civilized veggie-washers are missing.

Whether that’s true or not, I don’t care.  The point is that getting stressed out about dirt will definitely kill you early.  Don’t worry about a little dirt.  My dad says “you gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die”.  If I knew what a peck was I could work on that.  I know it’s less than a bushel.  It’s also been said that “God made dirt so dirt don’t hurt.”  This is charming, though logically flawed (Didn’t God also make scorpions, turds, and rat poison?).  Enough spitballing.

Bottom line: eating dirt is not important enough to justify anyones attention.

I recently read a post called “Teaching White Privilege in Education: Is it Important?” on whitemomblog.com that has really had me thinking.  She discusses a case from a Wisconsin school where a parent accused a teacher of teaching that minorities are disadvantaged by white oppressors and white people have special privileges.  On an interview on fox news she said “They’re teaching white guilt”.

The article on whitemomblog.com took the side of the school saying:

“I did feel burdened. I felt guilty. I felt angry. I felt a lot of bad feelings about what it meant for me to be white. But then I got fired up. I read books I would have never read before, I watched documentaries, joined anti-racist organizations, and started asking more questions.”

This seems like a pretty innocuous testimony claiming simply that education leads to understanding and social justice, I have to disagree with the conclusion she reaches.  This time I have to take the side of the parent.

While I suspect this mother’s motives were misplaced, I agree completely with the sentiment.  Academia is not about teaching people to feel a certain way.  Specifically in the field of history, my own field of study, right and wrong serves only to pollute argument, evidence, and truth.  If a class chooses to teach all the ways in which white Americans mistreated black Americans through history that’s fine as long as it’s factual.  If you want to study the social and economic inequalities of people of different races I take no issue.  When you introduce guilt, shame, and responsibility into the curriculum you cross the line.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that  would be a particularly helpful or comprehensive way of understanding history and culture.  If you read a book like David Northrop’s Africa’s Discovery of Europe, you get a much more race neutral view of world history and the slave trade.  Black warlords and imperialists captured enemy combatants as POWs and sold them to European and North American slave traders.  African warlords also enslaved people of every race.  Only when slavery arrives in the Americas is it a strictly black-and-white issue.  This view of history, based on power and authority, leaves no room for white guilt, it demonstrates simply that people in positions of power will exert that power over others.

To ask whether or not teaching white privilege is a good thing is to make a methodological mistake.  To find the truth, you begin with a question then try to answer it.  Instead, both those who want to teach white guilt and to suppress it are starting with an emotional, cultural objective and then looking for a way to influence students to believe it.  Canadian history is plagued with this kind of historical activism.  We spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about women’s history, native history, black history, japanese history to appease political interest groups and create the kinds of people that we want to see.  I say save it for the pulpit.  Schools are for learning not for promoting the western, liberal-democratic, judeo-christian values of love for one’s neighbor.

I feel strongly about this methodology because I think that it doesn’t mean anything to be white.  I think that to suggest that whiteness somehow led white cultures to oppress other ethnicities is as racist as it is to suggest that blackness made Africans predisposed to oppression.  It’s a repulsive thought.  Whites should no more feel guilt for the deeds of their forefathers than blacks should for selling their brother and sister Africans to european slave traders.  You’re only responsible for your own actions.

But what do you think?  I’m sure you’ve got opinions on this!

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A couple nights ago, Nike Running held their Defeat Winter event.  It wasn’t a race, it was what Nike called a collective movement.  There were about 200 people divided into nine groups.  Everyone ran around a track continuously as the groups were called in order to do challenges in an military-style obstacle course in the middle.  In the end we ran for about an hour and made two passes through the obstacle course (once wearing sunglasses).  Afterward, we were served hot food and cold drinks.

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The event happened to fall on the coldest week of the years.  We missed the coldest day of the year by a day.  The temperature, according to my phone, reached -16 celsius.  Sound’s horrible, no?  But something awesome happened.  Somewhere between the freezing parking lot, and the snowy obstacle course, winter disappeared.  We were out in the deepest darkest part of winter without coats or appropriate footwear and none of us were the least bit cold.  I for one overheated and had to start taking clothes off.  And worst of all, when we stopped running it instantly returned and we remembered how crazy the whole thing was.

 

So when people ask me why I run outside in the winter, when they say “It’s too cold to run outside!” I can now tell them that running is one of the only things that makes sense outside in the winter.  The colder it gets the more sense it makes.

Why aren’t you running?  Are you crazy?  You’re going to freeze!

Lance AmstrongI was glad when I heard that Lance Armstrong was finally going to admit to doping all these years.  I was also glad when I learned that Gandhi was a racist, fighting for the status of indians in South Africa to be elevated to that of white colonizers and far above that of black Africans.  I was thrilled when I learned about Mozart’s drinking, philandering, and self obsession.  When I learned the ugly truth about Mother Theresa I dug furiously for more dirt and I was not disappointed.  I was giddy when I learned that Isaac Newton was an alchemist and that Albert Einstein had no fashion sense.  I enjoy pointing out to people that in Matthew 10:34 the prince of peace says “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.”

I love to watch heroes fall.

But not because I am sadistic, I don’t enjoy defamation because I want people to be unhappy.  It’s because no person deserves to be worshipped.  Good things deserve praise and bad things deserve scorn.  Just because Jesus was a warmonger in Matthew 10:34 doesn’t devalue the golden rule as he taught it.  Just because Newton tried to make gold from lower elements doesn’t disprove the calculus he invented.  Mozart’s bad behavior doesn’t detract in any way from the genius of his music.  Gandhi’s Indian patriotism came in handy when he went back to India.  Mother theresa…nope.  I’ve got nothing.

But the fact that Lance Armstrong cheated to win the Tour de France doesn’t detract at all from the fact that Livestrong has raised $470 000 000 and most of it has gone to programs to support programs and services for cancer survivors.  Now people are asking for their money back?  Because the celebrity that started Livestrong turned out to be a cheater you have decided that cancer is not a worthwhile cause?  I can think of nothing more despicable.

I understand how you feel.  You thought he was an honest, down-to-earth guy who also happened to be one of the most gifted athletes ever born.  Now your bubble is burst.  No one is perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.  Heroes are Figments!  Like puffs of hot air from the lips of a ghost in the shadow of a unicorn’s dream.  (Thanks Dean Pelton)  Only when you stop worshipping people can you learn to look at the good things people do as good and the bad things as bad.  That’s all that matters.

So stop wailing about Lance Armstrong and betrayal and dishonesty.  He didn’t owe you anything.  He did a selfish thing, lied about it, came clean and faced the consequences.  That has to be the most universally understandable and just thing ever to happen to every person ever born.  He also raised a butt-load, a heaping dollop, a elephant-sized steaming mound of money for a good cause.  If you want your donation back, you’re worse than he is.

And on a linguistic note, “meteoric rise” is an oxymoron.  Meteors are pieces of space debris that fall into the earth’s atmosphere.  All meteors hurdle through the atmosphere until they either burn up or collide with a planet.  There is no rising involved.  I’ll let you extend the new metaphor as far as you see fit.

Mens style and womens style are different in one very important way: we get a lot more credit for looking like we don’t care what we look like.  This, you may notice, is something of a dilemma.  Doesn’t trying to look like you don’t care what you look like mean you care?  Wouldn’t caring a little actually mean you care less than caring enough to look like you don’t care?  Doesn’t the very act of reading this mean I’m not stylish?  In a word: yes.  The goal, the pinnacle of cool, is to look like a haggardly rock-star because you live a rock-star life, to wear a perfectly tailored italian suit because if you didn’t the other old italian men would laugh at you, or, if you’re a young person in Toronto like me, to dress like a thrifting, downtown bum because you really are penniless and have bad taste.

That’s what makes Hank Moody, the tragic protagonist in Showtime’s Californication, a style icon for the ages, a man for all men to look up to.  When he wakes up, dirty, depressed, and hung over, he pulls on his dark jeans and a black t-shirt, has a coffee, throws on his boots, leather jacket and sunglasses and steps out the door without care, pretension, or deodorant. Hank-Moody-hank-moody-12267592-2048-1365hank-moody-black-boots-californication-season-3-e1348522903734Why is this so cool and so stylish?  Because Hank Moody only owns dark jeans and black t-shirts so he never puts together an outfit or picks out a pair of shoes.  This is fashion nirvana, the kind of cool that only cartoon characters can achieve.  I should note that it also helps to be really good looking,  fit, wealthy, and drive a Porsch.

Sometimes Hank has to dress up a little.  When that’s the case he either wears a casual jacket or a button-up shirt, and they’re always either black or the kind of gray that looks like it used to be black.  When Hank dresses up, he wears his black suit, the only suit he owns, even when it’s somewhat inappropriate.  It’s a sort of anti-sprezzatura looking like a smart, opinionated, stylish (but not thoughtfully so), well off trainwreck.

Most importantly, he combines some of the things that have have come in and out of fashion but will always be cool for men: boots, jeans, the leather jacket, sunglasses, bedhead, the two-day-beard, swaggar, and not giving a damn.  Perhaps only on television can looking this good and caring this little come together.  If I can ever care so little that I look that good, I’ll be a happy man.hank-MoodySee what I mean?  Irresistible!

Fruits-Vegetables

I’ve never really believed in the “don’t knock it till you try it” mentality.  I myself am partial to a more theoretical discovery of good and bad, or as they say: smart people learn from their mistakes, wise people learn from the mistakes of others.  Unfortunately, not all questions regarding how to live the good life are easy to answer from observation.

I know that eating animals is bad for the world’s climate.  I know that the conditions that animals have to live in while being grown for meat are despicable.  I know that most of the people who have studied animal cognition believe that many animals should be treated with dignity and some even deserve the same rights afforded to humans (read more).  These things are not particularly controversial, or at least not to those who care to read up on them.  What I don’t know is whether or not the vegan diet is actually better for your health.

It’s recently been brought to my attention that the consumption of animal products, primarily meat and dairy, may be closely related to rising rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and nearly every other disease that plagues western civilization.  Compelling evidence, that appeals both to my common sense and to my academics sensibility, has been placed before me and I can find no evidence to the contrary.  It seems I have no more excuses but to at least try to eat in a way that I know is more ethical and may have great health benefits.

The plan is to go vegan for two weeks starting tomorrow and monitor my own health, my sleep habits, my digestion, my levels of energy and cheer, my weight, my blood pressure, and anything else that I think of tomorrow morning.  To be honest it won’t be a big change.  Already I eat meat with no more than one meal a day and I don’t eat dairy.  About 50% of my diet is raw fruits and vegetables.  For two weeks I’m going to push that number closer to 100%.

Best of all, this plan fits in with my whole philosophy of health: eat lots of good stuff, be active and avoid convenience, sleep eight hours a night, and try not to worry so much. In my life, it’s the eating part that needs the most improvement.  The rest I’m pretty good at.

Thanks to my dad and his wife and partner Robin for inspiration and wisdom.  It’s not easy to eat vegan if you love all food as much as I do, so it helps if there’s someone around who knows how to cook.  Maybe in the end I can learn from others, get off the gravy train before the damage is done, and hoof it to Plantsville, capital city of the land of good health and long, happy lives.  I’ll keep you updated.

My question to you: if you’re aware of the ethical and health benefits of eating an all-plants diet, what’s stopping you from giving it a try? (…and if you’re not, google it.  That’s not so much a question as it is a suggestion.  How about “Why haven’t you googled it?”)

Sometimes cats walk on the sidewalk.  It’s almost like they think they’re people.  City cats in particular are pretty much fearless.  They walk on past as if the sidewalks were as much made for four-legged mammals as for two.  I noticed something else as well.  When I’m walking on the right side of the sidewalk, where I should be, cats coming my way always yield and go to my left, to their right, as they should do.

On the other hand, people often cling to the left side of the sidewalk as if walking on a dangerous mountain precipice.  (It seems like my previous post on pedestrian etiquette didn’t sink in.) As you get closer they simply squeeze themselves more and more into the margin.  Occasionally I stop at that point, pull out my mobile as if I’ve received a message, and get so far to my right that this stubborn idiot will have to go around me on my left as they should.  They may not get the message right away, but hopefully the people behind me will push past on the right and force the reckless pedestrian into the proper lane.

Another strategy that I sometimes use while navigating the sidewalks is to simply stop.  If a group of people is walking and taking up the whole sidewalk then I’m happy to yield most of my lane but I do expect them to grant me at least a shoulders-width between me and a wall, puddle, or the street.  Usually they don’t bother.  Rather than bashing shoulders with these sidewalk hogs, I prefer to stand completely still.  They notice me and either walk around or bash into me.  Then, after bashing into a guy standing totally still in the sidewalk, they always apologize.

But what does it all mean?  Are cats smarter than humans?  No, they just aren’t stubborn.  But I’m more stubborn than anyone.  So the moral of the story is: it’s okay to be stubborn if you’re right.  Yes, this feels right.

Canadians love to talk about weather.  Most Canadians like to complain about weather.  Almost all Canadians like to complain about winter.  This is a message to you, the winter-haters.

Do you know how lucky we are to live in a place with four spectacular seasons?  Do you know what it’s like to live in a place where the seasons never change or change very little?  It’s bloody boring!

Winter is beautiful.  Ice is an amazing display of the complexity of nature.  You can literally watch crystals form on every surface of every object.  Everyday things like puddles and stop signs and your windowpanes become crystal collectors.  Then crystals fall from the sky and everything turns bright white!  It’s almost too incredible to believe!!!  And you want to complain about it?!

Boo-hoo, you have to drive a little slower because the roads are slippery.  Your feet get wet because the sidewalks are slushy, you poor thing.  Your nose gets chilly when you’re walking to work, woe is you!  You have to scrape your car in the morning, IS THERE NO END TO THE TORTURE YOU MUST ENDURE??!?!??!?

I say quit your whining and enjoy the spectacle.  If minor inconvenience are enough to spoil the awe-inspiring spectacle of icy magic, then I don’t want to hear about it.  Go on living your miserable life alone and in silence.  And if you do it just because it seems like the thing to do, stop, think, and adjust your behavior accordingly.

     first guy: Hey how are yah?

     second guy: I’m good. . . it sure is a cold one out there.

     first guy: Yes sir.  Ten below I heard.

     second guy: I heard twelve.

     first guy: Yup, mighty cold.

     second guy: Yup.

How utterly boring.  If you’re one of the people who compulsively complains about winter, shut your mouth, open your eyes, look around, and start marveling.  It’s beautiful and we should all enjoy it or at the very least we should be able to deal with the inconvenience and discomfort in silence in order to admire the immense beauty in conference.snowy dayskating at vicky parkice crystalsbyron snow storm 2010

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So the time has come for your trusty Blundstones to prove their worth, to forge on when other boots fall short, to take you places others would only go with Sorels or Kamiks.  Leather boots will take you anywhere but you have to take care of them properly.  Here’s how you can winterize your Blundstones (or other, lesser boots).

DUBBIN

There are a lot of products out there for waterproofing.  Mink oil is a popular choice and gives leather a nice shiny finish but I find it doesn’t repel water as well as dubbin.  This is because mink oil is 100% natural oil while dubbin is a combination of natural oil and silicone.  On the other end of the spectrum is Sno-seal which is a bees-wax product.  It is by far the best waterproofing product I’ve used but it made my feet sweat more than the oil products.  Dubbin is great for waterproofing, it stops salt stains, it breathes well, it’s easy to apply, it’s cheap, and it makes your blunnies look brand new.

The instructions will tell you to use a cloth but you needn’t bother with that.  Just use your fingers.  You’ll have better luck getting it into all the seams and creases that way.  It’ll also tell you to wipe of the excess.  Don’t bother with that either.  the excess will soak in or evaporate overnight.  I dubbin about once a week, just quickly, to make sure I don’t have any problems with salt stains, which is my next topic.old dubbin

DEALING WITH SALT

For anyone who doesn’t take care of their boots as well as I do, salt stains are a reality.  In Canada we deal with winter like we deal with bland food: cover it with salt.  That salt dissolves in water, we walk through the water, our boots get wet, the water evaporates, and the salt is left behind.  The best solution, as with most things, is prevention.  If you keep your boots waterproof then they won’t get wet and all salt stains will remain on the surface and easy to wipe off.  If you don’t dubbin every week then the salt will get in.  The best way to get it out is with a solution of vinegar and water in about 1 to 3 parts.  Splash it on, rub it with your fingers or a rag, soak it as much as you need to, and the stains should dissolve.  And, of course, when you’re done apply another coat of dubbin.

Good boots should last you for many years.  If you let salt stains build up, your boots won’t last you through the winter.  Five minutes once a week is all it takes to never worry about salt stains again.salt stains

INSULATING AGAINST CONDUCTION

There are two ways heat can leave your feet: conduction, and radiation.  Conduction is heat transfer by way of physical contact.  Blundstone already has provided us with a polyurethane sole which is less conductive than latex or rubber.  But there’s more that you can do.  Wear wool socks.  I love SmartWool or Lorpen ski socks.  They create a layer of air between your feet and the leather boot to keep heat from escaping.  Also try Blundstone’s sheepskin insoles.  They’re wooly and prevent conduction through the soles and into the ground.

INSULATING AGAINST RADIATION

It’s not as bad as it sounds.  We lose heat through electro-magnetic radiation.  Just like wrapping a potato in tinfoil will make it bake faster, wrapping your foot in something shiny will keep it warmer.  The only available method that I’ve seen is thermal insoles.  They are usually felt with a reflective mylar layer to stop heat from radiating away from your foot.  You could wrap your whole foot in mylar but then it wouldn’t breathe, it would get wet, and you’d be cold.  You can get thermal insoles at Dollarama or, if you like your insoles, you can just cut tinfoil to the shape of your boots and put it underneath.

thermal insolesUsing these tricks, I have worn my Blundstones out in weather as cold as -20 celsius with very comfortable feet.  Admittedly, sometimes it gets colder than that.  Sometimes you need more coverage than Blundstones can offer.  It hurts me to say so, but sometimes you need bigger, warmer boots, like your Sorels or Kamiks.  They’re rubber, knee high, and rated for -40 celsius.  But you probably aren’t going to encounter those conditions often, if at all so I say save a cow, or a rubber plant.  Make your one and only pair of boots go farther.

My question to you: what do you do to keep your toes warm on cold winter days?