feature image Photo Credit: James McCullough

Writings

November 01, 2014

Run The Jewels


Throw your hands in the air

And wave ‘em like you just don't care

Keep ‘em there

Run the jewels, run the jewels, run the jewels.

LL Cool J, Cheesy Rat Blues

Rap is one of the few music genres that I don’t really care for.

When I heard that a group called Run The Jewels had released a new album that was available for free, and that people were raving about it, I had to check out just to hear for myself whether it was that good or not.

Aggressive lyrics. Arrogant. Obscenities galore. Cockiest artists I have ever heard.

But I liked the music.

Personally, I think rap music has to be born of rebellion. It has to, because no one ever gave shit to rap music. Rap music deserves truth and it deserves spontaneity. For rap music to continue to live, it needs a burst of rebellion and that can come in many, many different forms. It depends on what's going on around you. There's no right or wrong way to do that.

— EL-P, Doubling Down with Run The Jewels | The Interview

The duo, EL-P and Killer Mike, came together a year ago to create Run The Jewels to critical success and have released a new album, the simply named Run the Jewels 2.

Listening to it the first time through, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think. The music is unlike anything I regularly listen to. If it had popped up on Spotify, my first reaction would have been to hit the Skip button. The violent language strikes you quick and hard, the beats underneath capture your body, and suddenly you are trapped. Your mind wants to refuse the music, but your body allows you to enjoy it.

Hypnotic. When you reach the third track, Blockbuster Night Part 1, you are done. Run With Jewels has you ensnared into their music and you will find yourself listening to this album more than once.

This Run The Jewels is, murder, mayhem, melodic music

Psychotics use it then lose it, junkies simply abuse it

That's word to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I'm pushin coffin

I probably smell like a pound when they put me in a coffin

The gates of hell are pugnaciously pacing waitin'

I give a fuck if I'm late, tell Satan be patient

But I ain't here for durations, I'm just taking vacations

And tell 'em fuck 'em, I never loved 'em and salutations

Listening to the lyrics on the album, you can see the influences coming from everywhere. References to other rappers, lyrical references to lines from classic hip hop songs, cultural references from actors to old school WWF, and life in New York City, where Run The Jewels are from. The rebellious language that EL-P aims for is spread throughout, attacking other rappers for the lack of musical value they provide or provoking other African-Americans to finally rise up to the police.

Their music is definitely not for everyone. If you despise rap music, you will not enjoy this. But if you approach it with an open mind and enjoy taking apart the lyrics to understand what is happening, you likely will appreciate it, if not enjoy it.

Best of all, Run The Jewels has released the album for free on their site. Download, listen and allow yourselves to be swallowed up by the lyrical power of Run The Jewels.

October 30, 2014

Tim Cook Is Gay


When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook announced that he was gay today in Business Week. He laid a pretty large brick paving the way for others as the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world today.

Everytime a step forward like this happens, whether it is a celebrity coming out or marriage equality spreading through the world, I can’t help but think back to junior high when a teenaged boy was brutally attacked for being gay in my hometown, or to a few girls I knew who were outcast from social groups for being bisexual or lesbian in high school. The world has definitely come a long way since those events happened over 15 years ago.

When I entered University, gay culture was still tucked away and not truly out there. There were LGTB organizations and a newspaper (if I remember correctly), but I don’t recall seeing a lot of same-gender couples holding hands in the hallways and such. The one exception was in the Theatre Department that I essentially lived in for six years. That mini-world allowed an openess I have never encountered again. Sexuality was present and accepted in every form.

I am happy that the walls of hate are coming down swiftly when it comes to sexuality. There is still a ways to go, however. By the time my daughter reaches University, I can only hope that the world is far more accepting of different genders and sexuality than it is today.

We can only get there by building upon the bricks laid before us.

October 29, 2014

Chris Hadfield


Egypt and Jerusalem

It occurred to me last year, ‘What is going to become of that treasure trove of self-awareness?’ It would be a waste if nobody ever saw it. So I went through all 45,000 and chose a few thousand. But I can’t publish a book with 3,000 photos, so I took this this as my precept: ‘If somebody who wanted to buy this book were at the window next to me, what would I show them if we were floating around the world once?'

Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut who took the world by storm last year. He went viral on social media with his pictures, experiments, and his cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ becoming the world’s most famous astronaut. He is now taking that fame to share his experiences with everyone for a good cause.

You Are Here: Around the World in 82 Minutes is a book of 192 full colour photographs taken from the International Space Station last year. Every continent is covered, except Anarctica, and includes captions explaining what we are seeing.

The caption for the photo above of Egypt and Jerusalem is:

All we know of our civilisation and history, everything from the Sphinx to what’s going on right now in Gaza, that’s all right there in one glance out of the window, brought to life by the lights of dusk. A fascinating part of the world to look at.

Here can read more about the project and see more pictures at Quartz or you can buy the book on Amazon. All proceeds are to go to the Red Cross.

October 22, 2014

Inbox For Gmail


Google released a new app called Inbox today, but only with a limited number of users. It was designed by the creator of Sparrow (iOS app and Mac app), which was purchased by Google. Those apps still remain, not being updated, however. The Mac app is still quite useful.

Inbox is joining a long list of email clients for the phone, the most well known being Dispatch and Mailbox. Inbox is more like Mailbox, but more tightly integrated with Google mail. Dispatch is a power-users dream with full support for snippets and IMAP.

When I first read the introductory post about Inbox, several users were giving away invites. Acting quickly, I managed to snag one. I have spent the afternoon looking around, exploring how it would fit into my mobile life. Lately, I have been using Apple’s Mail app more than anything else, mainly because it works with Yosemite’s Handoff (abiliity to pick up a draft email that I have been working on my phone with and vice versa.) It’s a very cool feature, and works well, but Mail is not a great app for using Gmail.

Inbox doesn’t support IMAP or the aliases you can setup in Gmail to send from different accounts. That will be a limiting factor in how useful this app is for people, but there are some other great features which will be helpful.

Bundles

Bundles are groups of messages that are related to eachother. The default bundles are Travel, Purchases, Social, etc. The nice thing is you can create bundles out of your labels, or create bundles on the fly using the various rules (from, subject line contains, etc.) It will be a nice way to keep organized without being overwhelmed with messages.

When you tap on a Bundle, it opens up a new window, allowing you to focus on only those messages. Just like in the standard mailbox, you have the option to snooze messages, say you’re done with them, and so forth. A great way to stay focused on certain messages.

Search

Search has always been Google’s strong point, and it is no different in Inbox. The search bar allows for all the filters you can use in Gmail (i.e. from:, in:, date:). I tested it out on messages from a few years ago, and it brought up the results almost instantly. This is a feature I know I will take advantage of, because search with the iOS Mail app can be rather tedious.

Reminders

Reminders are built into Inbox, similar to iOS's native Reminders app. You can choose a specific time, or location (saved or do a quick search), or you can be more general about it (7pm, tomorrow, next week or some day.) You can set these reminders with mail messages, too. They call it the snooze function.

Two main differences:

  1. It resides in the Inbox app
  2. Predictive type

The first one could be a big deal for people. No more switching apps to create a reminder to do a task. The Plus button to create a new email or reminder is always at the bottom of the app when viewing a list of messages. When viewing a message, you have to make that jump out but it's very fast.

The predictive type is quite helpful. As soon as you start typing, it brings up suggestions of tasks to do. If you start typing in “Call,” it brings up your most frequent contacts. A little time saver for us all.

Final Thoughts

Google Inbox looks like a powerful and useful app that I am looking forward to using on a regular basis. I have already put it into my main dock on my phone to take advantage of its feature set. I will be curious to see if I end up taking advantage of Reminders within Inbox more than I do the native Reminders app.

To learn more and to sign up, check out Inbox.

October 22, 2014

Asimov On Creativity


My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

-- Isaac Asimov

A fascinating piece about creativity, written by Isaac Asimov in 1959. Previously unpublished, and only recently re-discovered by Arthur Obermayer. Not only is it about creativity, but also about where good ideas come from and how to foster them within groups.

The last line of the quote above reminded me of the infamous Apple ad about Saying No, 54 years after Asimov’s words.

October 20, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Four


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project.

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

— Cicero

Talking with the dead is much a fantasy for me as time travel. The number of people I would love the opportunity to talk with are endless and could go in many different directions. Do I speak with my ancestors to learn about family history? Favourite authors of mine to learn more about their processes and inspirations? Or I do reach further back into history to talk with people I only know through the history books?

Talking with ancestors would likely be more emotional than informative if I pick up on character traits of family members I know now. As much as I would like to talk with my grandpa, it would be painful to say goodbye when that meeting was over. With other historical influencers, my problem would be language. How do I communicate with Leonardo da Vinci? Molière? Marcus Aurelius?

I recently finished The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, a documentary series by Ken Burns, profiling the Roosevelts: Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin. I have been quite interested in FDR and his rise to power for quite a while, but watching the series made me more drawn to Teddy. His adventures stretched from the wild west to Cuba, Africa, and the Amazon. To hear stories about his life in the wild parts of the world would be incredible.

Even more important to me would be to learn about how he overcame his great losses in life. The death of his mother and his first wife happened within twelve hours of each other, in the same house. This happened when he was only 26 years old. He went on to become a large rancher in the west, lead the Rough Riders in Cuba, and became the youngest President at that time. His determination to overcome huge losses and set backs is incredible.

I would love to participate in a seance and have him join us for a lively discussion. I would imagine it could be quite violent and frightening, depending on which direction the conversation led. A scene out of Penny Dreadful, perhaps.

Regardless of whether it was peaceful or not, it will be one unforgettable experience.

October 18, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Three


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

-- Marcus Aurelius

No one wants to think about what happens when they die.

How will it feel? What happens to you? What will the people around you feel? The questions are endless if you allow yourself to think a lot about death.

The strange thing about living life is that you never truly think about death until you watch another person be born. You bring them into the world, marvel at how magical life is, and wonder about how much of their life you will be around for. Death is the one topic you want to avoid talking to them about as they grow older. My daughter is not even five yet, and I have had already had to help explain it to her with the death of a family dog and a baby (a distant relative) who died within their first six months.

It’s never easy, regardless of how old someone is.

Talking to her about death makes me start to think more about my own mortality and what happens when I will die.

I have no control over how people will cope, especially my daughter. The only thing I can really prepare them for is to describe what I want done with my possesions, my material wealth, and, a real First World Problem, my digital goods.

After hearing about the process of deciding what to do with what when my grandfather passed away and then when my grandmother decided to move into a condo, made me appreciate what happens after death. Living in a house for around 30 years, they had quite a collection. Not junk, either. They were worldly travellers, living in southeast Asia for a good portion, travelling throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and so forth. There was precious Chinese artwork purchased during the Cultural Revolution, shadow puppets from Indonesia, furniture from their parents or grandparents, and, of course, books. Lots and lots of books.

I am not a minimalist. I would describe myself as a non-materialist. I do own stuff, but I don’t stress about how much stuff I have and what would happen if I lost it. I make a conscious effort not to have an attachment to said stuff. My condo could burn down tonight, I would be upset, but I would not be heartbroken over losing x, y, and z.

My most valuable possessions are all digital: my writing, my photos, and home videos. As hard drive space has exploded and online storage has become more accessible, I am creating more and more digital stuff. Over 12 gigabytes of photos and home videos, over 300 digital pieces on my blog, previous University papers, and digital eBooks. When I look through all that stuff, I start to think about how long of a process this would be. It will only be worse if I end up living another 40-50 some years and digital media is as prevalent as it is now.

I question whether anyone else will look at it, know what is valuable, what has personal meaning, and what is worthless. My immediate family would be able to piece a good portion of it together, with assistance from Facebook commentary.

The remainder will then get stored onto an USB flash drive (or the equivalent in the future), and carried around for as long as the data is readable.

Which is how I would like it. Let my body perish into the sands of the world, but allow my digital life to carry on for another hundred years or longer past my mortal life.

October 17, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Two


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project

35 years is both a long time to live and a short amount of time. It is relative those surrounding you. Whether I am looking at my daughter (nearly 5 years old) or my grandma (90) who lives in Kelowna, I think about how much that has happened or will happen for me. I consider myself lucky enough to be able to say those words. Death is always a possibility these days, robbing life way too young or prolonging it for an excoriating amount of time.

And here I am. Alive, healthy, with many years to go if genetic history can be counted on.

Being alive is one thing; encountering death and surviving is quite another. I have yet to really face death head on or put myself into a position where death was a very likely thing to occur. I am not a big risk taker and never put myself into those questionable positions. I have never been deeply depressed and suicidal. I have never faced any serious health concerns that hospitalized me. I have lived a rather boring life to some, but hopefully a long life if things go to plan.

The one time where death was a strong possibility occurred when I was fresh out of high school. 18 years old, working for a production company setting up stages for performances in various venues across Whitehorse. For the majority of it, I was working on the ground or on small ladders, nothing to be scared of. The worst that could happen is maybe some broken bones and bruises from a short fall or equipment falling into you.

A haunting memory for me happened towards the end of that summer of work. It was an outdoor venue, a large circus tent in a half-shell. Inside the tent, at the back, was the stage. The crowd was half inside, half outside, with a gazebo acting as the command central for the sound and lighting operators. With the huge amount of people crowding around the stage, having cables run on the ground towards the stage was unfeasible. The solution: run the cables to the top of the tent from the top of the gazebo and down towards the stage.


Simple enough in an environment that owned a Genie lift to get up to that height safely. In this outdoor location, however, no such lift existed. The only way up to that height was to climb up the sides of the tent along the supports. At its peak height, the tent was roughly 40’ above the ground.

The height was something I never considered until I was at the top. I also didn’t factor in how much the tent would be swaying in the wind while working at the top.

The climb upwards started off fine, following a coworkers’ lead. The way to climb up was to grip onto an extra flap of canvas from the tent, being careful to step on the rungs of the tent and not put your foot through a hole. Once at the top, you felt a little safer laying across the supports at the top and not feeling the wind striking your body. Of course, laying across the tent meant I could feel the swaying of the tent in the wind even more than when I was climbing up.

It is at those moments when you make the mistake of looking down. You calculate in your head roughly how high up you are and the potential damage you could receive. One wrong move could send you into the hospital. Or worse.

I learned rather quickly to work as fast as I possibly could, and always verify whether I could return to the ground. The last thing you wanted was to have to make that climb more than you needed to.

I stupidly made that climb up and down several times during that summer. Reaching the top, I always questioned what I was doing up this high without any safety gear. Each time, I finished the job, and climbed back down.

I held my breath.

Waiting for that next order to go back up and face my potential death.

October 16, 2014

Bury Yourself Day One


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

Revelation 14:13

Death has not been a common experience for me through my lifetime. There have been many family pets that have passed on. There has also been people in the community that I was aware of that have died, but none of them I knew personally. Unlike most people I have crossed paths with in my 30-some years, I have known only one person to pass away: my grandfather, Karl Stange.

The day I was notified of his death, I was in Grade 11. I remember that night, I was to perform in a production of Grease. I can also remember being more distraught over my mom missing that opening night performance than I was over the death of my grandfather. A very selfish reaction when I look back at it now. Merely a 17 year-old kid, instead of a man approaching 35.

His death, ultimately, wasn’t much of a surprise. My grandfather had survived a heart attack in his 40s, heart complications later on, and a bunch of dramatic surgical procedures in the final years of his life. Death was inevitable.

At the time, I was rather unemotional about it. I had believed that moving on from hardships quickly was better than letting thoughts linger in the mind. I still believe this now. You do need to allow some period of mourning to release the built up tensions and axieties inside, but the important thing is keeping that period short.

I really never mourned over his passing. I regret it to this day. This project is both inspired by and devoted to my grandfather.

His death never really sunk in for me until just over a year after his passing. I had moved in with my recently widowed grandmother, acting as a father-figure in the house for two years. Through conversations with my grandma, the many other family friends, or relatives who visited, I learned a great deal about his life and personality. I spent a lot of time learning even more by looking through the numerous books in his office, in the basement, in boxes in storage, not to mention all the albums of photographs.

Surrounded by his history brought back my own memories of him, more than any personal meditation could. This had a profound effect on me, without fully realizing it until later.

Now, as I sit here writing, I am aware of what I am leaving my daughter (possibly grandchildren 20+ years away.) I have thought of this since I entered University. Do good work for future generations to discover.

My grandfather left a lasting legacy through his work in life. Working with the Y.M.C.A in southeast Asia, a minister of a small church, and as a professor at the University of Regina. The majority of his writing can be found in the archives of the Y.M.C.A or at the University of Regina. A collection of his sermons given in southeast Asia are still in the family’s possession. This is all accessible for our family members and any who may be interested in learning more about this man in the future. He laid the foundations for other projects in the cities he lived in, as well as, a foundation within the people he connected with to foster spiritual or academic growth.

His death and the rediscovery of his life, taught me how valuable the human existence truly is. Life may be finite, and we may believe that history only belongs to well-known authors and celebrities, but that is wrong. Our existence extends well beyond our mortal life and can touch people we will never meet.

It is only a matter of doing the work, leaving something behind for others to discover, or leaving a piece of your experience with others directly. Death is not the end of life. It can and should be the beginning of a whole new life, the birth of a legacy of who we were to the people we touched.

My grandfather has been the best example of this in my personal life. His legacy began on that solemn day in June, nearly 18 years ago.

October 15, 2014

Being Mortal Atul Gawande


The two unfixables in life are: aging and dying. You can’t fix those.

— Atul Gawande

The day before I start publishing the Bury Yourself project, PBS Frontline has released the trailer for a new episode airing in the new year. It’s based upon the book by Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Atul Gawande is a practicing doctor, which makes the book and the Frontline episode that much more appealing to me. Here is the book blurb and the trailer for the episode below:

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.


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