January 4, 2016

Terribleness 2.0

I am not quite sure why, precisely, but I decided to sell my 3G-enabled 64GB iPad (which I actually stopped using in the last year or so) and my 64GB iPhone 5s...and got a OnePlus 2, with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. The main reason for such a radical switch was that I now was a married man with many responsibilities and the 128GB iPhone 6s Plus was simply out of reach. However, I also wanted to fully experience "how the other side lives." Welcome to my nightmare.

Not only is the phone utter garbage (despite its sleek look-and-feel), but Android is the spawn of Satan himself. In fact, the more I use this total piece of shit of a device, the more I am confirmed in my total faith in the design and functionality of the iPhone.

Let us begin at the beginning: the phone drops calls like crazy—and this is really easy to gauge because I usually make calls at one of two places: my office at home and at my desk at work...and the OnePlus 2 just drops calls like there is no tomorrow. Oh, sure, it is dual-SIM enabled, but what bloody good is it if the SIM itself works only half of the time? The true test of this was when my wife and I vacationed in ______: the service was so spotty that it was like I was trying to connect to wayward WiFi hotspots: in short, nada.

Another thing that really pissed me off right away was the fact that I cannot use a web browser while making a call. This has become such a basic staple of everyday life that I stopped noticing the usefulness. Alas, going online while speaking simply disconnects the call every single time.

Now, if you thought that a phone that could not make phone calls was bad, how about a phone camera that cannot take photos? First of all, what the hell is up with Android asking me what app to use when I gesture on the locked screen for the camera to appear? Open the goddamn default camera app! The fact that there is also no easy way to call up the camera while you're doing something in another app is another goddamn disgrace. I thought this sort of multitasking issues were solved a decade ago!

At any rate, when the photos are taken, the AE lock and exposure settings are not intuitive in the least and the photos turn out with blurry edges and white faces. 12MP my ass! This is shit, not a phone camera.

Now, if you're still not sold on this incredible turd after the phone and camera fiasco, how about the fact that, when I plugged the phone into the Mazda 2 that we rented in ______, the car refused to play music? Or the fact that the phone dumbly plays all gapless tracks with blatantly annoying gaps? Or the fact that it cannot read the metadata of my music consistently? Or the fact that it cannot consume .M4A files without conversion? Or the fact that when I connect it via Bluetooth to my own car's stereo, I can no longer control the music from the car? 'Nuff said.

Do not let the low price or the specs of this phone fool you: Yes, it does have dual SIM, but this turned out to be a completely useless feature, since I do not have a secret lover and I am not a secret agent and hence there is no need whatsoever to have both SIMs active at the same time. No, it does not have expandable storage, so I'm stuck with a mere 64GB like in the dark ages of five years ago. Yes, it has a 13MP back camera and a 5MP front cameras but both seem to only work in Hall-of-Mirrors mode.

Above all, I am utterly horrified and disgusted by the design "aesthetics" and usability decisions behind Android OS 5.1.x. This in itself merits a separate post, but suffice it to say that this poor OS was enough to put me off mobile devices forever, so horrid it is.

What will I do in the meanwhile? Collect more scathing facts about the horrors of Android life and save money for the iPhone 7s Plus. Mahalo.

October 25, 2013

Life's Little Tragedies

Well, I guess now, for the first time in my life, I actually may know how a parent really feels.

A student of mine, who has very tearfully written to me more than once about how her depression is having a debilitating effect on her life, did not show up to our appointment today. Any other time I would say fuckit, whatever, but this time I had a terrible, sinking feeling in my stomach that reminded me about my first girlfriend who used to cut herself and all my friends on celexapaxilprozaczoloftritalinadderall-dexedrineelavil and my own past battles with depression and my brother's suicide.

By the time I got home, I was completely paralyzed by the idea, so I got the student's phone number from the class roster and called her. Even as she picked up the phone, she was crying and her voice was trembling. I calmly and gently told her that I was worried about her, but that I was also not qualified to help. I asked her if she had someone to talk to. She said yes. I told her to forget about the class for a day or two and to try to get things together first. Then, I sent her an email trying to cheer her up. I wrote to her that, "just in case," she could call ___________ (who works with ____ students and who can be reached at ____________) or the 24/7 distress line (____________).

Now it's my second drink and my hands are still shaking, and suddenly I'm terrified, terrified, terrified of the idea of this girl doing someone to herself. I wanted so much to tell her that mental health is a thing, that working on it actually makes a difference, that it helped me, that, in the depths of my own darkness I had called hotlines—in _________, in _____, in ________, in _______—and I screamed and cried and negotiated and sobbed and explained—and was better and remained among the living. But I did not tell her any of this. I just made sure that she was alive and I gave her some phone numbers. It's time for another drink.

October 18, 2013

"What do nine out of ten people like?"

"A gangbang!"

Tonight's reading by Chuck Palahniuk was, quite literally, the single best literary event I have ever attended. The evening began with everyone being handed a signed copy of his latest book, Doomed, an inflatable beach ball, a Sharpie, and some glow sticks. As the crowd filed into the auditorium, everyone blew up their beach balls and pushed glow sticks into the balls' "butts," so that the auditorium was soon full of white balls glowing with different colours. Then, everyone wrote questions or drew pictures on the balls.


Click to Enlarge

After some anxious anticipation, Chuck came onto the stage, barefoot, wearing a red satin robe over a pair of pyjamas, a large pendant completing the outfit. The first thing he did was walk the aisles to make sure that all the balls were blown up and lit. That was my chance to hand Chuck my letter. "I hope it's not anthrax!" he said to me. (I reassured him that it was not.) Then, Chuck began to throw candy to the audience—bags and bags of candy.

When the auditorium had calmed down, Chuck read "something old"—"Guts," his masterpiece from Haunted—which is as brilliant as it was well-performed. After that, Chuck asked for the lights to be turned off and the music to be turned on. We threw around the five hundred glowing balls he had brought for us—all around the auditorium. Once the questions were all mixed up, he chose two and answered them, holding us all in thrall as he talked about his sources and process. At one point, never failing to surprise, Chuck asked us: "What is one thing Margaret Atwood would never ask you?" His answer: "Who wants some pussy?!" Then, his "little helpers" threw hundreds of stuffed pussycats into the auditorium.

There was lots more candy and then Chuck read "something new"—"Zombies"—an incredible story set to be published in Playboy next month. It was an amazing piece of satire, heart-rending drama, and theatrical performance that left us all hanging onto the edges of our seats. Here truly was a master storyteller. When Chuck was done, we mixed up the ball-questions a few more times and he told two more thoughtful and hilarious anecdotes. Finally, after a standing ovation, the show was over. I simply cannot believe I paid a mere forty dollars for this privilege. I hope Chuck will write back.

March 5, 2013

World Health

I am not afraid of many things, but right now I'm sitting in the entryway of the gym where I want to sign up, and I have butterflies in my stomach. Various people pass by me in various states of fitness, each carrying a duffel bag, or a water bottle, or a power shake, or all three, each doing a little shuffle dance on the mat as they get off the stairs. They say hello to each other, laugh, exchange stories. A mere glance into the open exercise area throws me into cold sweat, as memories of high school gym come flooding in: so many activities I walked my way through, so many missed classes... Ladies and gentlemen, if ever there was an unholy terror struck into the heart of me, it is that of public exercise and communal fitness. I have never been cut out for this shameless exposure of the body's contortions under the perfect, unforgiving lighting reflected off the gleaming weights and machines. I remember suddenly those horrific excursions to the ______ Community Centre in _________ with my father and brother, and then only with my brother, and then only alone, and then not at all. There was a youngish guy who worked at the gym. He had a hearing aid and always looked a little retarded.

January 1, 2013

Dispatches from Japan: Day 11

The day was supposed to go according to plan.

After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, took a cab to Naha Airport, and flew to Narita. There, I spent the remainder of my yen on food, double-fisted some Asahi, and sat at the gate for what seemed like an interminable amount of time until it was time for the equally interminable flight to Vancouver. I don't know what it is about air travel these days, but it truly stinks: I can barely breathe in the stuffy, cramped cabin, and I always get terrible headaches by the time I reach my destination after spending eight or nine hours in the air. This is why I am considering flying in business class from now on. I'll give Air ______ one thing, though: their food is not so bad, after all, and their entertainment system is half-decent (they really should improve the touchscreen interface and stop formatting films in 4:3 aspect ratio—the screens are 16:9).

I was rather depressed when I arrived in Vancouver. The airport is really rudimentary and poorly designed, and all the lip service to First Nations culture sickens me. Besides, I could not see a single thing out the window. The airport was cold and foggy. However, I was somewhat amused by the little incident with the customs agent. As always, one of these subnormal creatures tried to take me off guard by asking me random questions about what, in particular, I have seen and done in Japan. I answered every question rather snappily, but there was a brief, awkward silence in the queue when I mentioned visiting castles and the agent blurted out, half-suspiciously, half-incredulously: "There are castles in Japan?!" Touché.

After another depressing wait, I finally made the one-hour flight to _______. Surprisingly, I was able to locate my car rather quickly, and I drove home without incident (although I was a little nonplussed by the $207.90 I had to fork over for twelve days' worth of parking at the airport). Utterly exhausted, I fell into bed at about 4 PM...and then the unbelievable happened.

I woke up at around 10 PM to the sound of voices in my apartment. When I opened my bedroom door, I found three police officers idiots milling about just inside, trampling on my carpet with their wet boots. My first instinct was to ask what I'd done. It soon turned out that my father actually called the police to check up on me (as he put it)—apparently because I did not report in immediately after I landed in _______ (despite the fact that he actually knew my itinerary, and that I tried calling him when I was in Vancouver). Bloody hell. I was at a loss for words.

My brother killed himself thirteen years ago, but that has nothing to do with me. So it goes. I deserve a life without constant invasion of privacy.

December 31, 2012

Dispatches from Japan: Day 10

Today was a deceptively simple day. I woke up, and immediately headed for another CoCo Ichibanya that I had researched in the morning. Indeed, this time Google Maps have steered me right towards this veritable palace of piquant delicacies. I immediately ordered my favourite—sausage salad—and, just as I devoured the last of those delightful meatsticks, my korokke (with a healthy helping of medium-spicy curry, and rice) had arrived. I savoured every bite of this delightful meal, and, when I was finished, I was satisfied.

Next, I headed to Makishi to get some video of walking people for a new short film project I had hatched throughout these past few days. The Heiwa-dōri intersection was too narrow for my purposes, but, a few blocks down, I found a very handy pylon that served as my tripod, overlooking the all-way intersection from just the right height. Not only was I able to track any individual person as he or she crossed the street with the 70-300mm, but I also could easily maintain manual focus on him or her from my little perch.

It was a little annoying that the sun kept coming out and then hiding behind clouds, over and over. Eventually, I became a little bored, too. Thus, I decided to go back to the hotel, sleep for about six hours, and the meet the new year at one of the jazz bars (Jazz Kam's or Jazz Village) that I had researched earlier in the morning. My plan was spot-on.

I had arrived at Jazz Kam's just after 8 PM, together with with the elderly gentleman who turned out to be the pianist. This lovely place is no bigger than my living room (and certainly much narrower). The back wall is occupied by a bar that blinks at me with its soft, little Christmas lights. No more than five people can sit there, and no more than ten others can fit at the small, round tables at the opposite wall. One must squeeze past someone or something to go to the bar or to the toilet, but the narrow room does not feel claustrophobic. I cannot stand cigarette smoke, but the faint tinge of former tobacco that permeates the room excites me. On the far right, in front of the curved window overlooking Kokusai-dōri, there is a grand piano weighed down with thick, dusty songbooks and sheet music. To the right stands a drum set; to the left—a covered keyboard and a microphone.

When I arrive, there is no one but the pianist and barkeep. The bar owner—an elderly lady—brings me a menu handwritten on the surface of a former drum. I order a double Maker's Mark. I watch the pianist check the piano. A girl at the bar (who later turns out to be a singer) shuffles sheet music. The drummer arrives. After a shy overture, he sits down at my table, drumming his sticks softly on his legs. We talk. I tell him about my adventures in Okinawa. He is surprised and excited about my stories. He was born on the island and has travelled only to Taiwan. He tells me that he wore his best suit jacket for the countdown. I take his picture.

The old pianist gives an invisible sign to the younger drummer. Soon, the two are playing together, as effortlessly as if they had just picked up an interrupted conversation. The old pianist runs his fingers over the old piano, registering the clicks and snaps of the old mechanism. He is a master, and I think to myself that he must be doing this for love—For who could be saved by the ¥1,000 cover charge levied from me earlier?—and he does it masterfully. I am intoxicated with sound.

The duo plays a song, then another, and another. The shy girl from the bar goes up to a microphone and sings a jazz standard in a practiced American accent, and then a familiar bossa nova song, in Portuguese. Later, I compliment her, but she says that she sang too fast.

I listen to the first set, then the second. In the breaks, I make small talk with the musicians, show my photos, and order more bourbon. A regular comes in, and then a young man with a toy keyboard (he turns out to be another singer). A bedraggled, old gaijin in a face mask clinks my glass (he turns out to be a forty-seven-year-old Calgarian—another "English teacher" who could not leave Japan in time).

Hours and minutes pass. A rotund lady comes in. The barkeep gets out the champagne and party favours. She pops the bottle. We pop the confetti and wish each other a happy new year. Then, I talk to the gaijin who sidles over to my table. The musicians play another set. I order another bourbon. I accidentally break the champagne glass that the hurried "teacher" leaves on the side of my table (I later insist on paying the barkeep ¥1,000 for it). When a local drunken lout swings in, I decide to head back to the hotel.

I settle the bill and navigate the dark streets by the light of my phone and teenage shrieks. When I get back to the hotel, I pack and fall asleep for four hours, unseasonably happy. In the morning, beautiful gypsies wake me up. After breakfast, I head to the airport.

December 30, 2012

Dispatches from Japan: Day 9

Today was supposed to be a decidedly shitty day. The temperature dropped to 16°C and then to 13°C throughout the day. The most annoying thing, however, was the wind that exacerbated the light drizzle that fell over the city. However, I was determined: Today was supposed to be a video day, and I was going to shoot some footage for a new short video I've been contemplating—the weather be damned.

My first stop was supposed to be my beloved CoCo Ichibanya, where I was hoping to get some superb Japanese curry. Unfortunately, Google Maps misled me, and the place was simply not there. Although I was disappointed, I shot some footage off a pedestrian overpass and headed for the monorail. I decided to buy a ¥600 day pass and travel the rail line end to end. This turned out to be a really good idea, because the weather was getting really crazy. Once I got to the airport station, I stayed in the car and proceeded towards the Shuri station, shooting video of the various landscapes and cityscapes that had presented themselves.

When I got to the other end of the line, I decided to go to the Naha Comic Shop Warehouse, expecting to find the usual fare of manga and lascivious little figurines of animé heroines. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the place was literally a warehouse of the most fun things. Aside from the aforementioned otaku products, there was an arcade, a book section, a video section, a game section, a high-quality used clothing section, a musical instrument area, and—my stars—a used vinyl area. I think I blew about $50 in the place—and how could I resist? Stuff that could easily go for $15-20 in Canada went for ¥400 to ¥600! I have acquired some Styx, Bowie, Wings, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, Huey Lewis and The News, Culture Club, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Keep this in mind: not only are these Japanese (read: really good) pressings, but when you buy used products in Japan, you know that you are buying something that has been carefully handled, checked and repackaged. It's hard to describe the cornucopia of wonderful things that this place offered, but, rest assured, the place would tremendously excite the hipster and techno-geek alike.

The weather wasn't getting any better, so I headed to the Starbucks on Kokusai-dori. After consuming my venti caramel macchiato, and watching the colourful, wind-swept street, I decided to splurge a little. I headed across the street to Sam's Sailor Inn, where for about $50 I got a drink in a delightful Shisa-shaped mug and my own chef who (while performing juggling tricks) cooked a mouth-watering steak and two side-dishes right in front of me to my exact specifications, as cute girls besuited in diminutive sailor uniforms scurried to and fro. After multiple mouthgasms, I went to pay the bill and was pleasantly surprised when the cashier presented me with my own Shisa mug.

The rain outside was threatening to turn torrential, but I was extremely satisfied, and so, after a little night filming from another pedestrian overpass, I headed back to the hotel.