Monday, 31 January 2011

From my ears to yours: the yuppie's top music blogs

Friends always stare at me and laugh when we go out dancing because I almost always know the beat and lyrics of the ambiguous song that's playing yet I never know any of the radio hits. Well, I don't own a car and I rarely watch television meaning I don't listen to the radio or watch music videos and so I seek help from the interwebs to fill the gigabytes of my ipod.

To help you enhance your musical palette, I have compiled a list of blogs that I frequently visit for new music. These blogs stay up to date and feature the freshest tracks and remixes. Several music blogs have come and gone, and many of the great ones are no longer active but there's always a new one to be discovered (bless the internet). May the contents be as much use to your dancing feet as they are to mine.

Hands down, a great podcast: Pig Radio

Just like Pig Radio, Freedom Record has a bumping podcast.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

You don't need to have a lot of money to be presentable.

As someone who has experience working with non-profits and community groups, one thing that bothered me was the mentality that presentable communication materials were only possible if the organisation had a lot of money. This is not the case. I will admit, not all organisations can afford to have such strong and effective messaging like Amnesty International who works with reputable advertising agencies like TBWA and Leo Burnett to name a few, but other communication materials such as newsletters, websites and posters can have great design and content and cost very little. All it takes is to trust that you CAN have these materials and looking for the help in creating them. Most organisations completely set aside the importance of these materials and attempt to produce anything using any software on hand.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Thoughts on "Incendies"

After missing it in Gatineau back in October, I finally attended a screening of "Incendies", a film by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, based on the play by the Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, Art Director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. I had mixed feelings about the film. The story is great - it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the film is shot beautifully, but what bothered me was the location and the casting choices.

The film never refers to a specific location, all we know is that it takes place in the "Middle East" (read: Arab world). I read a story in the Globe that said all the names of the villages are made up in order for people not to associate a specific country with the film, but if you are familiar with the events of the Lebanese Civil War, you are aware the story is based on it. After all, referring to a 15 year war in the Arab region that involved people from refugee camps, Christians, Muslims, in a place where people speak an abundance of French, whose skyline is covered with destroyed buildings and make numerous references to the South is obviously Lebanon. With these facts, Villeneuve inadvertently identifies a location. By shooting in Jordan and not attempting to mask the location, he identifies another location. Anyone with knowledge about the region can identify location #2: the dialects of the actors, the street signs (Zarqa, Rainbow Street), the desert like appearance of the place, the clean streets, the random shots of Jordanian licence plates and a red, green, black and white flag with a white star, are all clues. I could not help but think of this throughout the film. For me, location plays a huge role, and its common for one city to substitute for another, but masking a location without truly masking it won't make me think I'm somewhere else.

Overall, the acting was convincing, however, the casting was odd. Belgian-Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal plays the lead role of Nawal Marwan. She has tried to convince us of her Levantine accent before (Paradise Now), but people (read: Arabs) wondered if she had a speech impediment because it didn't sound right. Lubna is a versatile and talented actress and her performance in Incendies is proof of that, however, her accent is not the least bit convincing, and leaves one hoping she speaks more French than Arabic in the film. And then there's Allan Altman in an Arabic speaking role. Allan deserves a big congratulations on learning Arabic and not butchering it too hard for the role, but it was obvious he did not speak the language. I do not understand why no Arabic speaking actor was cast in this role. Altman's character came 3/4 into the film and there isn't a lack of actors who speak French and Arabic.

Incendies is worth watching. The film is visually pleasing, the plot is strong, well scripted, and featured some great acting. For those that are not too familiar with the region and who do not speak Arabic, what I just mentioned will not bother you, but if you do, then it most likely will. I'm just giving you something to think about.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It takes two.

My suitcase is on the floor. The clothes are still inside, unpacked, except for a few things. Maybe I should unpack, I feel like I've been recycling clothes. My bookcase is still empty, save for the books and magazines I actually unpacked. But things are still up in the air, which is why I've kept everything as is. Toronto makes me unproductive, or maybe it's the fact that my desk is covered with papers and doesn't feel like my space. May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January - that's how long I've been living out of suitcases and never have I unpacked them. Boarding passes from Beirut, Bilbao, Barcelona, Amman, Orlando, Chicago, Frankfurt, Toronto, Winnipeg and Ottawa peek out of the pages of my journal. My body has forgotten the concept of time, and my phone is tired of changing time zones and sim cards. I even stopped asking if the tap water was safe and just took my chances.

It's hard to believe that it's already 2011. The length of my hair is a sign of how much time has passed since the last time I was in my own house, sitting and relaxing on my couch. 2010, in comparison to 2009, was a much better year for me, I've accomplished a lot throughout the year, although sometimes I feel like I haven't. Despite the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hover over my head, the entire journey was necessary for my mental and physical health, it was an experience I may never have again. I had the opportunity to teach for the first time, to visit more cities in a day than I could ever imagine, to interact and meet some of the most fantastic people, explore and document societies and cultures and eat copious amounts of good food. What was the biggest lesson learned? That I need to pack lighter.
I have so much I want to write, but I can't seem to piece the sentences together.

Two years of maintaining this blog today, and although I haven't posted as much as I should have (I've even forgotten to post about my adventures with the bedouins in Wadi Rum and at the Red Sea) here's to another year of yuppie activism. I hope you'll still be reading.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Florida's theme parks through the ipod touch lens.

Disney parks visited: 3

Disney tickets lost: 1
Amount of encounters with Mickey and Minnie: 1 from afar
Amount of photos with Disney characters? 1 (Pinocchio)
Amount of rides I was looking forward to and it was closed? 3 - 1 closed for maintenance, another for renovations and the last one replaced by another ride.
Amount of rides I was looking forward to riding but wait time was too long or my party was complaining? Definitely 8-10.

When I was 9, my parents took me and my older sister to Disneyland in California. I met all the Disney characters, got them to sign autographs and pose with me in photos I waited for anxiously (35mm days). I had a great time. A few years later, my parents took me, my older sister and a new addition to our family (my little sister) to Disneyworld and Universal Studios in Florida. This time I was older and taller, and therefore able to ride more rides. Again, I filled my autograph book with signatures from all the characters, and several films were processed featuring me posing with characters. We took another two consecutive trips, why we went down to Florida so often I don't know, but when you're a pre-teen, it doesn't matter.

My mother goes to Florida almost every year with my aunt, my aunt's granddaughter, and another addition to my family - my littlest sister. This year, my aunt and her two sons were also coming so it was going to be a big [sister] reunion. I tagged along for numerous reasons: it was better than spending two weeks bored and dying of cold in Winnipeg, my cousin recently moved to West Palm Beach and just gave birth to her first child, and I love rides, I'll go on anything (I like to live life dangerously).

Returning to Florida in my twenties makes for a radically different experience: I see these theme parks for what they really are, and not what I used to see them as. I observe everything around me, and decided to snap these observations with my ipod touch, as an experiment of sorts.

Disney's tag line is "Where dreams come true" but in reality it should be "Where your second mortgage will come to haunt you." Both Disney and Universal have hired the best of the best in strategy on how to get you to empty your pockets by the end of the visit. First there's the ticket prices (high season, low season), which can vary almost up to $30 depending on the day you choose to go, the food, and the exit through the gift shop. Now if your kids grew up in the Gulf, you're in for a treat (more on my solution for these bratty children in another post), you not only have to close your eyes when buying all the unnecessary items your bratty children want but you'll also have to get another bag at the airport to store the stuff they'll get bored of the moment they land back home. That's on top of their whining and complaining about long line-ups. Florida theme parks are the perfect example of America's insane love affair with stuff. A love affair that has been passed onto the world, thanks to technology and tourism.
When I compare Disney and Universal Studios, it's obvious that the one place plagued by avarice is Universal Studios. One day, the Islands of Adventure park was overcapacity and some rides had a waiting time of 200 minutes! What's more is everything from snack bars to bathrooms had a line up. If you wanted to buy a fastpass (a ticket that allows you to bypass the regular line), a single ticket sets you back $79.99 (more expensive than a one day ticket to the park), and is valid only at one park. Did I mention you can only ride the attractions once with this pass? Frustrated by the shoulder to shoulder traffic, we left the park, only to find that the area had been closed off and police was brought in to control the crowd who were lined up to get in. My mother goes over and asks if they could offer us a refund since we just entered the overcrowded park and found nothing but line ups and little room to move. They said no. Then she asked if they've offered anyone a refund. They said yes, twice: once when September 11th happened and another when Florida was hit by a hurricane. Disney knows its limits and has a much more efficient waiting time system. I've even personally witnessed an act of kindness: someone's credit card got rejected at the parking and the Disney employee gave them free parking. Disney has a promise to keep, making your dreams come true.
But what happens if you lose your Disney ticket? Well those dreams are crushed and replaced by nightmares, unless you're really into the Disney experience and book a room in one of their resorts then congratulations, something good has come out of your investment, your ticket is protected. And of course there's having a photocopy of your ticket. Otherwise, you're pretty much out of moneyluck. Both Disney and Universal scan your fingerprints in order to "personalize" tickets (that's what they told me). It's merely a mechanism that ensures no one else uses the ticket. Disney, however, only scans it the first time you enter (if you have a multi-day pass). This helped me enter the park with my aunt's ticket when I lost mine. L'avare Universal scans it every time you enter the park, even if you visit every single day.
Guess who?

Aside from that experience, I was disappointed at the way character meetings work nowadays. Back in my day, I could go up to any character randomly walking around the park, take a photo with them and get an autograph. Now, children and parents must wait in long queues for characters to show up at specific times in order to meet them. I barely saw any characters, whereas back in the late 90s, I filled my entire autograph book - at both Universal and Disney. I even met Captain Hook.

Things that need improvement:
aside from the silicon food, something needs to be done about the lighting in some places, i.e. Dr. Doom ride in Islands of Adventure. I ran into the people in front of me while in line.
Fast pass dispenser machines at Disney: Florida gets some unusual cold weather and only 2 out of 6 machines are operational. A long queue awaits. I ask the employee why the other machines are closed and why these active machines are swallowing people's tickets. He responds "it's the cold weather, the machine does not function properly." So with all the money Disney's making off of park goers and all the technology they possess, a machine does not work properly once the weather is below 7 degrees?
When I was young, I never realised how much my parents saved and spent on our Disney and Universal tickets alone. I stared at the children and all the things they cried for and felt so sorry for the parents, most of which cannot say no or just want to prevent a scene from happening. They'll understand one day, if they visit the park once they are older.

Disney's attempt at "nerdy" is hipster.

Mickey rides an Amsterdam cruiser. You can see it at his house in toontown.

No one does "mornings" quite like Minnie.

Seuss Landing - Islands of Adventure (Universal Studios)

He even smells like Strawberries.

Numerous items including Mickey's mailbox take this form around Mickey's house. Kinda narcissistic.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
The detail is incredible, you can even buy butterbeer (delicious but how you'll feel diabetic), definitely worth the wait. The 4D ride in the castle is good, and the roller coaster is thrilling.

Creative Jamming

People I stalked

Oh c'mon, stop acting as if you wouldn't have taken these either. Panda hats? So cute.

It's kind of blurry but never in my life did I ever think I would only wait 5 minutes for this ride.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Dinosaur Claws Claus