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I've been uncomfortably aware for a while that people who visit my livejournal without being logged in are subjected to garish, obtrusive banner ads all up and down the right side. Recently, even when I am logged in, livejournal is sometimes trying to make me view ads when I try to visit other people's content. I find both of these things unpleasant and embarrassing. I've also been aware, peripherally, of another blogging service using the same engine with no ads and an excellent reputation, so I'm now writing primarily at ; I'm still mirroring on livejournal, but you may want to update links or what-have-you.

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
...which was about 200 pages and took me a month and a half to get through. The person who lent it to me swears it was not a deliberate attempt at sabotage.

The main difficulty is that it's written almost completely in a barely penetrable visual dialect, or actually rather an imaginary post-apocalyptic offshoot of English. Here's an example paragraph from early in the book:

"Dad and me we jus come off forage rota and back on jobbing that day. The hoal we ben working we ben on it 24 days. Which Ive never liket 12 its a judgd men number innit and this ben 2 of them. Wed pernear cleart out down to the chalk and hevvy mucking it ben. Nothing lef in the hoal only sortit thru muck and the smel of it and some girt big rottin iron thing some kynd of machine it wer you cudnt tel what it wer."

I've never even finished Huckleberry Finn; this didn't at any point stop being hard work for me to translate, and irritating, like somebody singing deliberately off-key. (Joanne, who is dyslexic, looked over the first page and reported that she hardly noticed the difference.) I would have probably stopped early except that it had been recommended by Karen, whose judgement I respect, and I have a bit of a weakness for stories about post-apocalyptic attempts at community. The story itself was odd but kind of compelling, brutal and thoughtful and wry, and it was interesting the tension between the narrator, who seems to be trying to present himself philosophically but straightforwardly, and the fog of language keeping his story obscure and treacherous.

I've been slacking off a bit teaching my class, because it turns out that I can -- if I come in with not a great deal prepared there will still be a lot of interesting conversation. This is awesome, but I'm trying to prepare more anyway. We weathered Heinlein with a general enthusiastic political horror, received a guest presentation that transformed a lot of our theoretical thinking about genre and gender (I remain vague because I believe the presenter intends to publish), and wrote our first papers, worked out and instituted what seems promising to be a successful marking scheme. My impression is that most of the short papers are about LeGuin; the longer, I suspect, will be dominated by Tiptree and Delany (the former of whom people have been vocally very impressed by, the latter of whose fiction we're just now embarking on), which is an outcome I'd be very pleased with.

It's November. Maybe I'll have a birthday party.
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At the Cambie B-line stop today there was a man shouting in to the new skytrain station, probably, I thought, at the transit cops checking people's fare there. "There is no law in December!" he shouted. Was it a prophecy? It's not December yet, but I'll post my novels anyway.
CJ Cherryh, Precursor
CJ Cherryh, Defender
Elizabeth Bear, All the Windwracked Stars
CJ Cherryh, Explorer
I like the way that the focal and heroic action of the Foreigner series is diplomatic negotiation rather than violent conflict.

There was a talkative, raspy-voiced homeless woman on another of my buses to whom the other passengers seemed more hostile than is normal in that situation. That character is usually male in my experience, so I wonder if it was a gender thing? (Another hypothesis: the Olympics are exacerbating class tension. (Is it still legal to say that on the internet? TOPICAL HUMOUR.) But that's been going on for a while.) At any rate, I felt bad for her. There were these three teenagers in particular (though it wasn't just them) who started loudly making jokes about her presumed drug habit; they also spent a while imitating a broad Indian accent, which I think was unrelated. Stay classy, male teenagers.

Those Koodo gingerbread person ads progressed really quickly to autocannibalism! It's kind of the obvious place to go, but I wasn't really sure they would.

I got distracted while I was composing this, so then it became December after all.

P.S. I turned 26! A while ago, I mean. Now I must continue writing one million papers.
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Look out! It's April. I always forget which trees are cherry blossom trees, and then when each of them bloom I am surprised.

Through March, apace:
Liz Williams, Snake Agent
Diana Wynne Jones, The Game
Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist
C.J. Cherryh, The Paladin
I liked them.

In Charles Stross' Accelerando (which I read the very first month I kept track), there's a scene where one of the protagonists is walking through an airport that's been decorated with an unsettling motif of Santa Claus-es hung in effigy. The artificially intelligent corporations, the reader is told, are doing their best to appeal to human consumers; they understand that we like Christmas and that we're obsessed with our mortality, but they haven't quite figured out how those preoccupations behave in practise.I think of this throwaway paragraph probably more often than anything else in that book, because a lot of advertising makes me feel like this sort of thing is, on some less dramatic scale, already happening: whomever is writing these things has cobbled together a syntax -- mostly from pop culture catchphrases, and recognizable deliveries for jokes, and, especially, other advertisements -- but they don't have a semantics.

I suppose what's actually going on is that they're not trying to use language to communicate meaning. Some advertising (mostly on the amateur small business end of the scale) is trying to do that, to make a persuasive argument to a skeptical audience, and some (mostly on the more professional and corporate) is using language, if it uses it at all, in service of some less direct or more visceral appeal, some attempted colonization of the backbrain, but executes it well enough that it still sounds smooth. In the middle are these confused AI ads, which are trying to accomplish something like what the latter group does, but aren't deft enough to get the surface to make sense, and end up coming across as a complete and distracting misunderstanding of what sort of things it is that real people say when they talk.

My favourite example of this, because it's such a specialized case, is the Telus ad on the wall near Granville and Georgia, about the fish who is friends with a sea horse. It's written in rhyming couplets, but they rhyme badly, have no consistent line-length or metre, and provide information that is not anywhere near charming enough to make up for this. Telus, or whomever is comprised by its human-populated advertising department, wanted to get people's attention with poetry, without having to really care about poetry; but because they had no understanding of what sort of thing a rhyming poem actually is, and how it functions when it does, the ad doesn't work.
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I voted (via the handy web service) in the UBC AMS elections yesterday; I might probably have not organized myself to do so, except that an acquaintance of mine is running to be a senator, so I had to actively decide whether or not to vote for him, which required looking up his platform and his online rhetoric and those of his opponents, and once I'd done that, I was interested, and there are online profiles with links to campaign sites for all the races right there by the place where you vote, so it wasn't at all out of my way to vote for the other offices, too. Since doing that, I've been wondering about the campaign posters up on bulletin boards all around the school. Mostly they all say, "Vote for Tony Glunton!" or what-have-you, without any reference to Mr. Glunton's positions on the issues*, so I'm not sure what good they're supposed to be doing. The candidates may have the idea of making their names stick in our heads when we come to the polls, but I keep hearing reports to the effect that there's woefully little participation in the elections, and so I rather suspect that most people who vote are either doing so because they're already affiliated with one of the candidates or else because they are a nerd about democratic participation (or in my case, both) -- and under the first circumstance, they're already decided, and under the second, they'll poke around enough for those subliminal impressions to be swamped by others more relevant.

(* With the exception, I should acknowledge, of the girl whose campaign for student president is based around the argument that students should stand up for ourselves against the deplorable "war on fun" being conducted by the university, where 'fun' is apparently synonymous with 'alcohol'.)

Another possibility, since it's a first-past-the-post election, is that they want to be seen to be advertising because then those of us who might be inclined to vote for them will feel as though they stand a chance of having sufficiently many other people vote for them as well. But this seems to fall over for similar reasons: since just about everybody running has information right there on the voting site, it's not like being low profile elsewhere means that nobody will consider you, and -- perhaps again because so many people apparently don't vote -- I certainly haven't got any sense of the zeitgeist favouring or ignoring any particular candidate so as to influence me tactically either way. So I guess that either I or they must be confused about the realities of this election; since I only just started paying attention, I admit that it's probably me.

Meanwhile, I want to complain about the candidate (for 'VP External') who has the phrase "Put A Free Man In Office" all over all his promotional materials, because I think that that slogan is really stupid. It doesn't mean anything. I mean, okay, it's a play on his given name -- 'Freeman' -- but it seems to me that a pun really ought to have at least two meanings, at least if it's going to be released repeatedly into the public with a job in marketing, and actually there are no slaves running this year that I'm aware of. (His opponent, whom I voted for based on her interesting pitch rather than on the fact that this dude annoys me, is not a 'free man' only by an accident of modern english grammar.)
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Have you noticed the tendency of advertising campaigns to go senile? I'm speaking particularly of static ads like on billboards and buses. It seems to happen a lot that the first couple of ads in a certain theme will be clever and elegantly conceived, and then as the theme continues they'll get less and less clever, and make less and less sense. Lotto 649 does this a lot; see their present 'always be nice to people who play' campaign (which went from things like "Of course I'll help you move your piano" to "It's not you, it's me") and also their previous 'I am not rich' series.

My other prime example for this right now is the 'Natural Attraction' campaign, which is for butter or possibly some sort of butter substitute. The basic format is a blob of butter with some food that you might put butter on arranged so that it looks like some animal predator hunting the butter. Early examples included a shark made of french bread and an octopus or something made I think of long green vegetables. Recently, though, they have clearly forgotten that there was anything to the concept aside from making animals out of food, and have trended increasingly toward animals that are not at all menacing; the most recent one is a carrot that looks like a peacock.

Then, of course, there are advertisements that never made any sense to begin with. Here is a reproduction of an amazing ad which TransLink has put on its buses to emphasize the benevolence of the transit police:


I find amazing both the very existence of the clarification and the fact that they apparently thought it deserved to be treated like a punchline. Whenever I see it I just want to gape and stare in a sort of horrified trance, which I guess possibly makes the ad some sort of success. Andrew's theory is that the second comma actually isn't supposed to exist.

<cola> No, I'm pretty sure the comma is just the visible sign of someone's brain melting.
<cola> "My God, it's 110 degrees in this office. I'm leaving bloody fingerprints on everything I touch. What? Yeah, I think there should be a comma there."

I think it says a lot about the ad in question that this is the sanest explanation any of us have thought of.

(Andrew, while I'm on the subject of his theories, also has a theory that some advertisers come up with things that are stupid and inexplicable on purpose, so that people will complain about them to their friends and it will be a kind of viral marketing. This made me feel paranoid for a little while whenever I felt like pointing out some ludicrous advertising that I was playing right into the hands of the Man -- it's actually possible that he just came up with the theory in order to shut me up -- but in the end I have to believe that there really is such a thing as bad publicity.)

I saw a wonderful graffito the other day. There is another one of those TransLink ads, this one promoting not the police attached to the transit system but the bus drivers themselves. It goes,


Underneath one particular instance of this, somebody had scrawled: "I don't get it."
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(I wanted a longer and more meandering subject, but apparently that's after a certain point discouraged.)

Last night, I went to a free advance screening of Brick, which I enjoyed so much that I'm afraid to talk about it here at any length. I don't think I could give a rational description.

It is now only slightly over a month until I am going to Japan. (!) For those readers who don't yet know, I'm leaving the 7th of May, returning on the 27th ("That's twenty... One"). Before then, I need to

  • Apply for and receive my new passport. I've left this ridiculously late, but still not late enough that I'm particularly worried.

  • Figure out what it makes sense for me to take along, and particularly whether that category includes my laptop (also, regardless of the answer to that, whether I'll have the regular opportunity for weblog posts or e-mails).

  • Go in early tomorrow morning to give a travel agent a cheque for a fair deal of money.

  • Finish up the current school term by writing a couple of final exams and an essay.

Probably it's this last that will absorb most of my attention for the next week or two.

Those 'Isaac Mizrahi' bus stop ads (which I guess are for clothing?) have a really successful model; whenever I see them, I want to stop and look at her. It's not exactly physical attraction - at least, not in the traditional variation - but there's something arresting about her face, and its expressions. She looks... Clever.

Cherry blossoms!

I have a painful pimple, right now, on the edge of one of my earlobes, and of course I keep touching it. In addition to the usual irrational impulse to keep poking at things like that, there's the fact that I've discovered that, though the pimple itself is on the front of my ear, I can feel it at the back, through the skin. It feels really weird.

I conceived of most of this entry early in my bus ride home from school, but I had to wait until I'd arrived before I could write it; no doubt it mutated, some, in that time (in addition to the certain mutations that are inevitable in the setting down of any narrative, given the brain's ability to fill in or skip over gaps or awkward places so thoroughly that it doesn't even recognize them until it comes time to lay a thing out, in order). It seems like livejournal's newfangled 'current location' field can't be very interesting* until I'm able to make an entry from any arbitrary place it occurs to me, rather than having to seek out these sorts of weblog 'save points': home, schools, libraries. Probably some people, with their cell phones, already have this. This reminds me of cola's idea of the 'blog fight', where two people would stand in some public place, with spectators, and post furiously at one another, until some victory condition was achieved (the other duelist's hands getting tired?).

(* Though it may serve me well in Japan.)


Mar. 8th, 2006 08:27 pm
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Ever since I started taking Japanese, my Gmail spam folder has been filled with hiragana. How do they know?
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The Globe and Mail (I think) is running a bizarre series of ads. They say, "It's not just Vancouver," and then a picture of someone's face, and then, depending on the name of the person photographed, "It's Tony Glunton's Vancouver," or what have you. I've seen two, so far. When I encountered the first, I imagined that she had seized control of the city in a violent coup; when the second was indicated to me, it became clear that they headed rival gangs, vying for power. An enterprising samurai could really clean up.


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Andy H.

February 2013

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