Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cool new travel tool from Google

From The Guardian:

have made tentative steps into the world of travel with the launch of Google City Tours. The site generates suggested itineraries for thousands of destinations around the world, and allows users to customise their schedules according to how many days they are visiting, and what they want to see.

"Perhaps the coolest part of the new product is the way it uses Google Maps to figure out which locations are closest to each other. Rather than simply present a list of places Google thinks you might want to check out, the site will logically order them according to where they're located, minimising the travel time between each."

Cool indeed. Matt McGee of searchengineland looks a little further into the distance;

"Imagine Google pulling in the public transit information that it already has for many cities. Imagine it pulling in event listings like concerts and sports. Imagine local businesses being able to write their own suggested city tours that include a stop at the business's own location, and being able to embed those tour maps on their web sites. This seems like an interesting experiment to watch."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Will Mad Men inspire a return to "simpler" times?

Here's a VW ad from 1964 currently making the viral rounds.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Hip Project - The Elite Eight at last

Killer matchups this past round. There were definitely some match-ups that would have been worthy of a final.

1. In the battle of two of the most reliable live Hip songs, Blow At High Dough defeated Grace, Too. This one was surprisingly easy. If you'd asked me before this project I probably would have said Grace would be the favourite. However, I've listened to so many stellar live versions of Grace that the studio version isn't as great as it once was - particularly the long end to the song where Gordie freestyles in concert. In this battle B@HD grabbed me from the outset and didn't release its hold until it had put Grace to the sword.

"Don't blow at high dough" is an expression Gord Downie's grandmother would use. A bit of wise matriarchal advice which suggests that you shouldn't get ahead of yourself or attempt to walk before you've crawled. (source: Hip Museum)

2. The Dire Wolf takes down Fully's Locked In The Trunk Of A Car scoring a victory for post-millennial Hip. Locked has sort of been the lost, great Hip track. For some reason it has faded from regular radio play compared to other Hip songs from the early days. And for Wolf, I've liked it from the first time I heard it and think it would be an all-time fave if it had been released in the band's heyday.

The dire wolf was one of the most common predators of the North American Pleistocene Epoch. Much larger but slower than a modern wolf, this canine possessed powerful jaws and massive teeth that helped it crush the bones of its prey. Dire wolves lived in packs and often preyed on young and weak mastodons and mammoths. They became extinct about 8,000 years ago, perhaps because the large plant-eaters on which they depended also died out. Text from the St. Louis Science Center via archives.

3. In the second Up To Here v. Day For Night slobberknocker of this round Nautical Disaster took down sentimental favourite Another Midnight. Midnight has long been one of those Hip songs that you don't hear that often but really enjoy hearing when you do. The Nautical juggernaut rolls on despite facing quality opposition in each round: Highway Girl, Scared, Another Midnight.

From Hip Museum: As the Bismarck sank, many sailors dove headfirst over the rails, breaking their necks on the lower decks or the frigid, unforgiving Atlantic itself. While the song references the crew being “picked, in order” as part of a disciplined scuttling, this is pure poetic license. In reality, chaos reigned on the Bismarck as she sank. Some Luftwaffe pilots, armed with military issue pistols, shot themselves in mid-jump rather than face the icy waters below. Other soldiers saluted the flag and sang the national anthem before leaping from the hulking wreck.

Once in the ocean, the Bismarck’s men found themselves immersed not in salt water, but in gallons of oil which had been spewing from the ship for over an hour. Some choked; others expended too much energy trying to find open water and simply drowned. At 48o ’09 north, 16o ’07 west, Captain Lindemann, thousands of his loyal seamen, technicians and soldiers, all fell into the Atlantic on board their ship. It took thirty secretaries, three full days to notify all the next of kin.

It’s at this point where Nautical Disaster begins. Our dreamer finds himself among the few sailors who managed to successfully commandeer one of the Bismarck’s lifeboats. He remarks: “I relished the fray/and the screaming filled my head all day.”

4. Lake Fever is, to me, the great Hip song that never was. It was relatively popular but Music@Work tanked as an album and Lake never really had a chance to catch on like some of the earlier songs. That said, its run ends here at the hand of Long Time Running. Dead to rights and wide awake.

5. An all-Road Apples battle pitted two very different songs in a difficult match-up: Little Bones v. Fiddler's Green. I was really leaning toward Fiddler's, but in the end it is hard to argue with Bones. The Hip are first and foremost a rock band and Bones is a fantastic rock song. You just need to crank it up and go with it. Baby, eat this chicken slow.

6. I like that two of the Hip's prettiest songs were drawn together. Ahead By A Century claims another scalp taking down World Container's title track. Adolesence, in essence, is all about trust.

7. Fifty Mission Cap v. Bobcaygeon. Is this the final?? What a match-up! Fifty Mission is tough to beat given all the history and experiences with this song - e.g. At Clark Hall Pub in '92 watching the Jays go for their first World Series win against the Braves. We asked the DJ to play Fifty Mission if they won it that night. He complied. - It might have been the Willie Nelson, it might have been the wine, but while hard to beat it was not impossible to beat and BobC claimed a major win.

8. The final matchup of this round featured Last American Exit against Emperor Penguin. For the first half of Exit I thought it would cruise. However it dragged a bit and Gord fills up every inch of that song. Penguin, with its unusual beginnig and oddball lyrics was in the end more compelling and cruised to a surprisingly easy victory. Don't sound so detached this is you and me. "The Emperor Penguin is arguably the hardiest of all Earth's dwellers." Gord Downie from the album's liner notes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Early morning, can't sleep

Excerpted from The Supastar Collective archives

… I was in a strange place for a few months. I can remember lying there on any number of occasions and wondering what the hell I was doing? Where I was going? Was there a plan, an exit strategy, forward momentum? It may well be a composite of a number of different nights, but in my mind I can remember this night with picture perfect clarity.

For a brief moment I knew how the ancients felt. Our air conditioning unit coughed and wheezed its last gasp, the familiar raspy noise ceasing and the room filling with silence. I was awake, but not because of the noisy air conditioner. I could now clearly hear the summer storm raging outside. The wind howled, rattling the windows, shaking the trees and causing our old house to creak. The sounds echoed like a low growl, punctuated by the occasional roar: Smaug the dragon flying over the Victorian rooftops, lighting houses on fire and terrorizing the neighbourhood.

What do you do when the sound that keeps you awake is actually the sound of you not sleeping? The mind wanders, invents puzzles, games and ponders questions heretofore unasked or ignored, all the while replaying old sitcoms and hockey games. Suddenly you have Jerry Seinfeld, Homer Simpson and Job from Arrested Development battling for your attention with Crosby and Ovechkin. And its 4:05 AM. You’re the protagonist and an observer. You can’t really see it so much as you can sense it. It would be easier to grasp if it was playing out on TV. There’s more space than there should be, then there used to be. Is it a matter of losing the plot, reading the wrong book, selfishness or something else altogether? What if you don’t want to know?

Frustrated and ever farther from getting back to sleep, I pushed myself up slowly, the blood draining from my head felt like water dripping off your face after a swim. I arose cautiously and shuffled to the bathroom, kicking aside jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of red, Converse Chuck Taylors. The starkness of it caught me by surprise. It seemed empty, desolate and deserted. The bathroom could have been anywhere, and it left me with the feeling of being in a rundown motel somewhere in the vastness of the western United States. Perhaps the starkness was a precursor of times to come? Maybe it represented the light that had just departed and the darkness had not yet been filled with a new light that burned just as bright, but in a different colour?

I returned to my room, hopped back into bed, closed my eyes and tried to shut off my mind. What do you do when you close your eyes and its Niagara Falls? It’s an invisible path; a long road and how you got there you haven’t really got a clue. You’ve veered off the main roads, drifted and gotten lost. Everything was not okay when you went to bed, but your suit was pressed, shoes polished and you’d even bought new cuff links, so how bad could things really be? And yet, here you are: Niagara Falls.

It’s not just the majesty and might of the Falls of which I speak. Nor is it the tacky wax museums, which dominate the downtown core; or even the hypnotic, lava lamp-like, rushing of water over the falls, complete with the requisite evil urges. Undoubtedly they all play a role, somehow, but I guess what I’m really talking about is a sense of “other”. And I don’t mean in the “there’s no place like Paris” sense. If you’ve ever emerged from a cab at night in downtown Niagara Falls you’ll know exactly what I mean. Its like you’ve stepped out into an alternate universe of bright colours and garish design, but all done on a sufficiently small scale that its vulgarity could never be mistaken for the grandeur of Vegas.

The wax museums and waterfalls are too easy a clichĂ© for being locked in a time and place with life passing you by, but there’s also a sense of unfulfilled promise, of misguided ambition and a general malaise which has allowed the rot to seep in to a point where its accepted as the way things are. There’s still beauty, still poetry, still wonder and therefore, still a spark. Or perhaps there is kindling awaiting a spark? And that gives me cold comfort in the grey recesses of my mind. Oh yeah, being drawn along, rushing forward while trapped in place, towards certain doom, with perhaps, maybe, if the planets are aligned, tea leaves encouraging and you’ve got a giant horseshoe up your butt, maybe, just maybe, you come out of the turbulent waters smiling, enlightened, energized and renewed: Bobbing along, floating above the fray. A survivor, a winner, someone who’s risked it all, been to hell and back and is now ready to reap his just rewards. Oh yeah, mustn’t forget that.

Some time between slipping back into bed, Niagara Falls and the early morning alarm I managed to fall asleep. Foolishly, I had planned on an early morning. I could feel summer slipping away and I had plenty to accomplish. Carpe Diem? Latin profanity as far as I was concerned, but today I was making an exception. My hand fumbled ever so briefly with the alarm before silencing it. I slowly eased my left arm from under where her head would have been, taking time to imagine letting her smooth, blond hair trickle through my fingers. I slipped my body from the sheets and out of the bed. The sunlight was slowly making its advance into the room and had already captured the corner.

I stole downstairs, the sun now climbing the horizon and illuminating my path, the floor cool on my feet. I fixed myself some coffee, pushed open the French doors and eased my way onto the back deck. The air felt cool and fresh. I pulled one of the Muskoka chairs into the sunlight, dragged over the side table with my foot, placed my coffee on it and sat down.

It was quiet and still and the sun felt warm on my face and bare feet. I was a cat in a corner sunbeam and I mentally stretched my back to the sky, its snap, crackle and pop explosive in the relative morning quiet. The cacophony of the usual rush hour crowd was mercifully absent on this holiday Monday. The young mothers and nannies had yet to begin their rounds and, most importantly, the renovating/home improvement faction had yet to leap into action. The sadists wielding power tools and hammers would toil away later, during the heat of the day, filling the air with the summer’s answer to white noise. Low flying planes, passing trains and children playing kick the can and soccer would all add to the mix of summer sounds, but for now there was just the birds and the wind blowing the leaves in the trees. My thoughts wandered, as they are wont to do, and the serenity had me briefly pondering digging out my never used yoga mat.

I sat silently, content in the morning sun, the nighttime bout with insomnia forgotten. No baggage, no obligations, no pressing engagements -- ever so briefly on island time in the city. I double-sipped my coffee, still quite hot, and turned my chin up to the sky. I closed my eyes, settled more deeply into my chair and waited for the caffeine to kick in.

My thoughts meandered in an early morning, disorganized fashion, like an eclectic DJ set on a quiet night at the bar. A great catch two weeks ago at ultimate, an amusing story at the pub, a cold Corona with lime and U2 on the stereo that time at the beach in Chile.

I drained the rest of my coffee in one long gulp, laughing quietly as I spilled some out of my mouth, over my lips and onto my left cheek. I cursed under my breath and wiped the coffee away with the shoulder of my tee shirt.

With my insides warm from the coffee, I allowed the sun’s rays to envelope me, letting my mind go and slipped into a semi-conscious state – like the last few minutes before you drift off to sleep. Stretching my legs out before me I sank deeper into my chair and closed my eyes. Sometimes I lose myself in thought. Where does rational thought end and the subconscious begin? Hopefully I can sleep.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Hip Project - Round 2 (partial results)

Here are the results from the Heroincredible bracket (see below for bracket - click for larger version):
  • Emperor Penguin strolls into the Sweet 16 as does 50 Mission Cap and Bobcaygeon.
  • In a feature second round match-up old timer Last American Exit takes down warhorse At The 100th Meridian - this was a match-up for the old school purists.
  • With three of the four songs getting into the 3rd round with ease it begs the question if the Heroincredible bracket is a strong or a weak bracket? Are the big boys really that strong or did they benefit from a favourable draw? Debate.
  • Regardless, titanic match-ups await in the next round!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Today's something or other #24

"I didn't think I played the greatest tennis of my life throughout this tournament. But I definitely played the right way: I was smart. I was strong. I had to show fighting spirit and all those things," Federer said Monday. "It's different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody."

Federer always has some great quotes, and yet it never seems boastful because he is normally so gracious in victory and defeat (as he might say, "I'm not sure what to say? I'm not used to losing."

Impressive victory to cap an impressive run at the French. Finishing off the career grand slam and tying Pete Sampras' record 14 grand slams. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday in Paris. FĂ©licitations, Roger.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Hip Project - Round 1 Results

Round 1 has finally been completed. The bracket has been updated below (click for larger version). A few Round 1 observations / comments:
  • In a marquee Round 1 matchup The Depression Suite announced its arrival on the big stage with a trophy win over Gift Shop
  • The Blow at High Dough match was over almost before it started
  • Time of day played a big role in some of the matches - e.g. Trickle Down taking down 38 Years Old and Love Is A First defeating It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken. If these matches were held in the morning the results could have been much different
  • Boots Or Hearts had sleeper appeal but it couldn't overcome Another Midnight in an all-Up To Here battle
  • In a nice, gentle battle Flamenco turned breezed into rivulets against The New Maybe (which put in a decent show of itself)
  • In Between Evolution had a rough round with even their top seed, Vaccination Scar, crashing out against At the 100th Meridian

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Hip Project - The Playoff Bracket

The rankings* for the playoff bracket are as follows. These rankings were used to derive the song seedings:
1. Up To Here
2. Phantom Power
3. Fully Completely
4. Day For Night
5. Road Apples
6. We Are The Same
7. Trouble At The Henhouse
8. In Violet Light
9. The Tragically Hip (EP)
10. World Container
11. In Between Evolution 
12. Music@Work
*These seedings are completely subjective.

One quick note about the playoffs:  Instead of giving two wildcard entries a bye into the second round, as previously stated, I've entered four wildcards into the tournament seeded 15, 30, 45 and 60. 

My methodology: To determine match-up winners I will listen to the songs at high volume while drinking.

Feature Round 1 match-ups include Vaccination Scar v. At the 100th Meridian, The Depression Suite v. Gift Shop, Nautical Disaster v. Highway Girl and 38 Years Old v. Trickle Down in an old school cage match. Things could really heat up in Round 2 with potential match-ups of Nautical Disaster v.Scared; Grace, Too v. Wheat Kings and Fully Completely v. Long Time Running amongst others.

The bracket (click to open larger version - if printing, change your print settings to landscape):

What the heck is the Hip Project? Click here for more info.