On new beginnings

In 1986, in his very first episode of “Saturday Night Live,” Dana Carvey played a British rock star with writer’s block who is called in by his record company who want a progress report on the new album.

Flustered by the surprise visit, the musician quickly improvises a song about a woman chopping broccoli. The song, later known as “Choppin’ Broccoli,” became an early hit of the season and a favourite among my friends at Saint John High School.

He also improvises a song that he says is about new beginnings called, “New Beginnings,” which simply contains the repeated lyrics, “new beginnings.” It goes nowhere but he promises “once they layer in the synthesizers,” they’ll really have something.

So, for those of us who spend a lot of time (too much time?) on various apps, lots of us are considering the new beginnings of a Twitter-sized hole through the internet. Elon Musk overpaid for the site and everyday, he figures out a way to make it worse. So now many of us search of a new home to make jokes and generally offer colour commentary on the news of the day.

For all its faults, and there are many, there isn’t anything like Twitter for breaking news, organizing marginalized communities, and snarking on the main character of the day. I fear all that will be lost as Musk pushes the site further to the right.

The problem is that there is no consensus on where the new home should be. Mastodon has been an early favourite and has seen a rise in new arrivals over the past two weeks, but people are struggling with its decentralized “instances.” From my own observations, it seems a lot of people are using it as a Twitter clone. Still, some high-profile users have embraced it like George Takei.

There are others, of course. Tumblr is still around. And Hive seems to combine the best features of Tumblr and Twitter and also seems to skew young which perhaps reflects its 22-year-old founder.

And then there are those who are embracing longform writing at the various newsletter services like Substack. I tried it out by setting up a account and even wrote a post. But email is not the best way to communicate. How often does it go to the spam folder?

Two options seem absent from the post-Twitter discussion: Facebook and blogs.

Facebook, despite its attempts to rebrand as Meta and set up shop in the Metaverse (something nobody I know wants), has become the platform of choice of the 50+ crowd. It’s just not a growing company. But it is a good source of six month old memes from your local hit radio station.

Blogs, to me, should be where services like Substack are now. There’s always been an email subscription option and there really isn’t anything happening in terms of functionality with the newsletters that didn’t already exist.

But I suppose when Google pulled the plug on Google Reader, that was it for getting your news and views from an RSS feed. I still hold out hope RSS will make a comeback.

It seems we’re in a period of transition where we’ll have to see how people are going to communicate with each other online.

So I guess we’re all waiting for the synthesizers to layer in.

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One Year Later

It’s been a year since I last updated this thing but I imagine most of those who still read this thing get my news from social media.

Just the same, I thought I’d take a shot at regularly updating the old blog, just to have a place to put a few thoughts down as they occur to me. It may not be daily, as Twitter pal Scmutzie is doing but it should still be a productive exercise for me, just to get back into the habit of writing.

So, when I last wrote, I was about to start a new job in advance of the big move to Saint John (I started it a year ago tomorrow, in fact). So we did the move and it worked out ok, more or less, but the actual financial transaction of selling and buying a house is a little complex if you are, as we were, with a virtual bank. A lot of things were done at the last minute, including learning that the movers were set to show up on July 1st, not a few days later as I asked, and getting the bank draft to pay the lawyer at the very last minute.

The house needs a lot of work still but we did manage to replace the original 1967 asbestos siding with new vinyl siding and the original windows with new ones, as well as adding a heat pump. Not as exciting as a kitchen reno or bathroom or basement reno (we need all of these things) but saving money on heat bills is also sexy in its own right.

The new job was ok but my boss had some other ideas about what I should be doing and I left after five months for a new job in the legal industry that would see me doing remotely much of the same work I had been doing for four years. To be honest, I enjoyed the job but the remote aspect of it left me feeling a bit directionless. Perhaps that was evident to my boss, because after three months, I was let go due to undefined performance expectations.

That was in February. I have had a few interviews since then but it’s been tough to be frank. You get to a certain age (I’m north of 50) and you begin to wonder if you’re past your sell by date. I even got shot down by Costco. In any event, I have an interview on Wednesday with an IT company in Montreal for a remote proposal specialist job. Maybe this will be the one.

Blog Round-Up: Things I Saw This Week

Tanya from Dharmage points out the very real and very frustrating problem of HR simply neglecting to follow up with you even after you’ve been in for interviews.

I have a hypothesis as to why this happens: After the final interviews are done, a decision is made within about a week or two. Then, the offer is made to the successful candidate. There is a period between the time the offer is accepted and when the candidate actually starts the job, which can be anywhere from immediately to a month, depending when their current job can release them. Until that new hire can start, HR cannot inform the unsuccessful candidates in the event the new hire is somehow unable to take the job. They may want to keep the runners-up in reserve. But by the time the new hire actually begins, they simply let the other candidates drop. Hence, the “ghosting.”

It is an HR practice that really needs to stop.

Hey, speaking of HR, I’ve had a few interviews in the past few weeks, both in person and over the phone. They’ve all gone well but I believe I’m in that zone between waiting to hear back and being ghosted myself.

I have another tomorrow that came together at the last minute. It would be in an industry that I’ve never worked before and doing a few things I’ve never, ever done like matter budgets. But they want to interview me anyway. It was one of those “invisible job market” things where someone I met at a networking group got on with this firm and suggested my name to them. So who knows? I’d be working downtown so there’s that.

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deadder

Cartoon by Michael de Adder.

I am terrible at predicting political outcomes but here goes nothing: If reality TV star Kevin O’Leary becomes leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, I think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can breathe easier in 2019, despite my own misgivings about his leadership. My family back in the Maritimes, who are generally Tories, are perplexed by O’Leary’s popularity. He’s done none of the work one would normally expect a successful leader to do: win a seat, become Opposition Leader, serve in a government, read the Constitution. Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong, Deepak Obhrai, Erin O’Toole, Maxime Bernier, and Steven Blaney have all done, in most regards, have done that work. Even Kellie Leitch has done that work and she’s a nutty racist. What O’Leary doesn’t know about government would fill a book that he would never read.

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Former fellow YULblogger Frank went and lost a truckload of weight. That’s no small feat because for dudes in their forties, when that fat is on, it will fight every inch of the way to get off.

As I mentioned last time, I’m on a bit of weight-lifting kick so it’s harder for me to lose weight when putting on muscle at the same time. Still, as I’ve gotten better at the exercise part of it, I’m now seriously monitoring my food intake with my trainer. Apparently, you can’t just go lift 300 pounds and then go to Five Guys for lunch and expect your waist to shrink. And there’s nothing like doing a deep squat and seeing all that fat pool around your midsection.

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Finally, here’s “Once They Banned Imagine” by Drive-By Truckers. A song I’ve been listening to since, oh, about November.

Are you now or have you ever been in cahoots with the notion that people can change
When history happens again if you do or you did you’ll be blamed
From baseless inquiry
To no knocking entry
Becoming the law of the land
To half cocked excuses for bullet abuse regarding anything browner than tan

Cause once they banned Imagine it became the same old war its always been
Once they banned Imagine it became the war it was when we were kids

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Speaking of America in crisis, I finally started watching The Americans on FX, in which a pair of KGB spies go deep undercover in Reagan-era America. It’s so good, I have to put my phone down while watching it!

The_Americans

December Catch-Up

I’ve often been told by my homeowner friends that the first few years of owning a house is a bit of a strain on the finances, unless they’re my loaded homeowner friends who are simply allowing their lives to unfold as they expect them to. So we’re broke and facing a much more modest Christmas than years past. So far, presents have included a new hot water tank as a gift to each other.

In general, for every birthday, anniversary, and now Christmas, we’ve just been saying to each, “Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Christmas! I bought you a house!”

Still, we do see a light at the end of the tunnel when cash will be flowing a little more freely and we’ll just need to be frugal until that time comes.

In the meantime, renovations on a budget have begun. The downstairs powder room has been repainted Tardis blue. Our winter project is to tear up the carpet in the rec room, paint the walls, and put down a new floating floor and moulding. Further down the line, more rooms will be painted and the kitchen will be spruced up (without actually replacing the cabinets until a later date).

Now repeating kindergarten, James is now getting help for his dyspraxia from the Mackay Centre on Friday afternoons. But there is some concern from his teachers about his ability to handle a mainstream school. This a big worry of mine because I want him to manage his developmental delay enough to do regular schools with his friends. He has gross motor skill issues, some emotional issues, and an almost violent obsession with screens. But he loves books and our nightly reading of The Hobbit. But all of this will be discussed with his doctor in terms of options for the future. It’s a source of a bit of stress but we’re managing.

akta

On a happier note, we are now obsessed with a TV show call Real Humans that just finished its first season on Space. Broadcast in Sweden as Äkta människor, Real Humans takes place in an alternate present in which humanoid robots (or Hubots, as they’re called) are integrated in society as a servants and workers. This leads to a number of issues with regards to labour, friendship, politics, discrimination, and sexuality. Some Hubots, thanks to an obsessed scientist, have become free and wish to free other robots. These Hubots are lead by a Chrissie Hynde lookalike.

The show works really well when it presents the social issues and not quite as well when it gets down to the actual plot of the series involving a government conspiracy. It felt as though the writer was more interested in Hubots like Rick, the creepy personal trainer model who is altered to become his owner’s boyfriend and then starts behaving erratically. Some plot threads get dropped (or perhaps put off until season 2) but overall, it’s an engrossing series.

I’ve also been attending a writers’ class at the local library and as a result, have been writing a bit of fiction here and there that may, one day, get sent to a publisher. Maybe. I write about 500 words here and there, when I can steal time. Over the past couple of sessions, I’ve been presenting a science fiction story as I’ve developed it. One participant kind of sniffed and suggested it wouldn’t pass muster with the Quebec Writers Federation who prefer more literary efforts.

That instantly reminded me of Tom Gauld‘s famous cartoon.

jetpack

Other than that, work is good. I.T. is a whole other world from where I was. I do conference calls with Mumbai so that’s new. I have another week and a half of In work before Christmas and then we’ll be spending the back end of the holidays in Saint John. Hopefully we’ll meet up with some friends we haven’t seen in a while.

My Information Addiction

Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. I watched this spectacle on a solar-powered TV in a small Senegalese village (so small, in fact that not even the Google car has found it yet). The sound was bad and with my high school French, I struggled to understand it. I knew in the events leading up to it, that Berliners of both side were permitted to travel back and forth and I thought this was simply more of that. I had to ask around for a few days until I confirmed that, yes, it had come down.

I was eighteen years old at the time and while I missed home, there was a weird, helpless feeling not knowing what was going on. In that village, there was no electricity and few people had radios. The TV belonged to the village and was turned on once per night. The news would be presented in the majority language of Wolof, then again in the official language of French (or maybe I have it reversed). There were no shops so I couldn’t even scan newspaper headlines.

So I spent three months seeking out radio broadcasts or finding newspapers. I particularly liked the International Herald-Tribune. Late 1989 was a time of several historic events like the fall of communism, the impending release of Nelson Mandela, and the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique. I struggled to get details on all these events.

I’m not sure why it was important that I was aware of these things as they happened. My immediate knowledge of these events wasn’t going to change them. Perhaps it was because I wanted to be a journalist in those days and would eventually go to school for that. I made that my excuse to inhale news. Whatever the reason, I hated not knowing of certain events which is a silly thing to hate, really.

Later, when I attended a community college radio journalism programme, as part of our coursework, we had to run a community radio station. The newsroom had a teletype machine that I would watch type out breaking news. I loved the idea that as soon as I pulled that off roller, I would be the first to share this news over a closed circuit PA system with a bunch of disinterested agricultural students. I guess it was like being given a secret.

I would later repeat this behaviour at an FM station in Saint John where I did a work-study thing (I also may have sabotaged my career by refusing to work as an unpaid intern when my work-study stint was over). In the end, it may have been for the best. And later, when I attended university to get a degree in English, no Drama, no just English, I did the same thing and spent more time at the campus radio station than I did in class. But I did get to interview Svend Robinson and Rage Against the Machine, though not at the same time.

On trips out of Saint John to larger centres, I would find well stocked magazine stores so I could load up on alternative magazines like the Humanist in Canada, the Progressive, This, and Might. I wasn’t just interested in getting the news, I wanted to get a specific take on the news before I got the news. I subscribed to newspapers, went straight to the opinion pages. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be informed, I wanted to make sure my opinions reflected those of writers I admired and wanted to emulate as a journalist. I realize, of course, that this is what they call cognitive bias.

So, as you may imagine, when the internet became widely available and little more user-friendly for the masses, I declared that I had been waiting my entire life for this point. In the 2000s, it became extremely easy to tailor your bias through the news you consumed by simply choosing to read websites and bloggers who leaned a certain way and then declaring yourself well-informed.

Today, I still do this. My phone gets news alerts from CTV and Huffington Post. I love Flipboard for Sunday morning reading and when news breaks, I go to Twitter.

But I’m backing off a bit these days, in baby steps. I try to get other views on events, not just the ones that conform to my biases. And it’s really ok if I miss a story here and there. The fact remains I changed careers long ago, or simply realized that my original career just wasn’t going to happen, as they say these days, because of Reasons.

With all that said, it’s worth noting that my addiction to information was generally national and international news and almost never local, which I found dull. Today, that’s changed somewhat as, while it’s easy to find sources of national and international news, local news can actually be a challenge so I’ve been seeking out that out a bit more.

I think this has been just a roundabout way of me saying that I’ve been waiting all my life for nonstop, multiplatform access to news and opinion and now I have it and now I think its finally enough.