Saturday, April 17, 2010

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


So I was in the elevator of my building the other day when an old lady walked in. We chatted. Then she asked for my profession. "I'm a professor at the University of Ottawa," I said.

"Really?" said she. "My grandson is also a professor!"

"Oh?" I said. "What does he teach?"

"He teaches grade 7 at Nepean public school!"

Tht's great. Just great.

In other news, one of my students (you reading this, Jenny?) recently bought a used copy of my first book off the Internet from a source in the USA. When she gave it to me to sign, I was surporised to discovered that I had already signed it... ten years ago! Not only had I signed it, I had added a personalized note to the ingrate who clearly did not appreciate my efforts.

I have vague recollections of who it was: some British balloonist. Seriously, a balloonist.

Well, I got over my huffiness and have since learned to appreciate the synchronicity that brought my signed book back into my hands ten years later.

In yet more "other" news, last week I woke up with mysterious bloody claw marks on my left shoulder. The obvious explanation is that I did it myself, in my sleep, but I bite my nails and barely have any left! I doubt my stubby little nails could have done this:

The rabble on Facebook thinks these are stretch marks. They are not. They are scabbed over scratches. The mystery persists.

What else? Nuthin'. Oh yeah, apparently I'm speaking at the Climate Justice "Teach-in" tonight at the University of Ottawa campus. Check out my news link for details.

Now, despite what the image suggests, I will not be having underage girls on my lap. Nor will I be dressed as Uncle Sam.

Oh, and apropos of nothing.... today is Osama bin Laden's birthday. Make of it what you will.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Memories of Student Journalism

Patricia Rozema

On Friday I was interviewed by the University of Ottawa's student paper, The Fulcrum. The interviewer was a first year student, and I couldn't help but recall my own student journalism days, many many many years ago.

I was a writer for the University of Toronto student papers, The Varsity, The Gargoyle and The Newspaper. This was back in the late 1980s and early 90s, so there were no websites back then, and even email was a rarity. Many would type out their articles on typewriters! Gasp! I know!

I wrote mostly arts reviews, and rarely something more serious. I wrote about 40 articles for those journals back in the day, and at least one was included (without my permission, I will add) in some Japanese coffee table book about an art installation I'd reviewed ("Ball Crowd Illuminates Riotous Architecture", The Varsity, Oct 2, 1992). The rest were of variable quality, but each had the fullness of my attention. The experience, without a doubt, helped me to develop the skills and discipline to become a professional writer.

My very first editor was Isabel Vincent, who went on to Canadian journalistic fame. The article I wrote for her was a review of a new TV show called Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'd concluded that the show would probably not have a long run. I was quickly pigeonholed as the "Star Trek guy", and was subsequently sent out to review a couple of Star Trek conventions. Yeah, chicks dig guys who write about Star Trek. Right?

My old high school friend Simon Houpt was my subsequent editor. Simon, of course, is now a superstar arts writer for the Globe & Mail, and author of Museum Of The Missing: A History of Art Theft. I remember that one of Simon's thrills was occupying the Gargoyle office once owned by David Cronenberg when he, too, was a student journalist. The lineage of such things is deep and important.

(A decade later, Simon and I would meet Ted Turner in the men's room of a movie theatre. Simon would go on to interview Billionaire Ted in an article that briefly caused a little stir in American print media. I mentioned the meeting briefly in one of my wrestling columns at the time.)

I recall fondly my first "big name" interview, which was arranged by Simon. It was with film director Patricia Rozema at the so-called "Festival of Festivals", which is what the Toronto International Film Festival was called back then. It's quite the giddy thing for a naive 20-something to be cast into the world of glamorous film festivals, with a catering room, press pass, press kit and everything! I would go on to review the TIFF for a variety of magazines years later, as my career matured.

Ms Rozema was very helpful, as she could probably tell how nervous I was. She told me to stop recording and check to see if the tape recorder was actually working. Now that I myself am sometimes interviewed, often by inexperienced journalists, it's something that I find myself doing: asking the interviewer to check on his recording device. I was such a pathetic sod, that at one point the interview turned into a therapy session as Ms Rozema attempted to console my broken heart, recently made so by an ended relationship.

I'll never forget something she told me during the formal interview. She was talking about how people search for meaning through family and by doing good deeds, leaving their mark, etc. I asked her then what her purpose in life was, and she replied, "To make beautiful things through my art." At the time, I thought it was the stupidest, flakiest and most self-obsessive thing I'd ever heard. I'm not so sure anymore.

I'll also never forget the reception that my interview received, so typical of idiotic, self-important youth. The first line of the article was, "Patricia Rozema is a beautiful woman in every respect." Predictably, the newspaper received letters of complaint that I was "objectifying" her. Insert rolling eyes here.

One of the curious things about student journalism, especially at a big and important school like the University of Toronto, is that you never know who your coworkers will become. Another old friend of mine, Matthew Vadum, was big on the student journalism scene and now makes it big on American TV and print. Another gadabout in those days was Hal Niedzviecki, who has certainly carved out a niche for himself in Canadian culture.

Back in the Varsity days, I worked alongside many future big names. Two necessarily come to mind: Naomi Klein, who is now one of the most famous women in the world; and Tim Long, who is now a writer and producer for The Simpsons. (And I will personally attest that long before the Powers That Be noticed him, Tim Long was a reflexively hilarious writer and a naturally hilarious fellow.)

As a result, despite whatever small success my writing has afforded me, I hope you will forgive me for never quite feeling up to the task. Look to whom I must constantly compare myself!

So what's the lesson here? There is none, except to say that so much of student experience separate from the formal academics plays a role in shaping one's skills and path in life. I wonder who the young woman who interviewed me on Friday will become in 15 years.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Bits of Tid

My friend Mieke K., who's now living in London, UK, went to an auction and found the following for sale:

It's cologne made by Dean and Dan Catenacci, founders of DSquared. The cologne was going for some unZodly amount.

Why is this relevant? Because Mieke and I went to high school with Dean and Dan. Strange to find a product made by high school friends being sold with such aplomb at a London auction house, no?

Okay, I thought it was interesting.

What else have I got for you today? DeeMack sends us this feature about fan stories surrounding some famous movie narratives. Trust me, they're much more interesting and plausible than the movies themselves. I particularly like the far superior theory surrounding the Matrix (*cough* crap *cough*) movies.

Also from DeeMack, apparently the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:

  1. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
  2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
  3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
  4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
  7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
  8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
  9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
  11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
  12. Decafalon (n..): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
  13. Glibido: All talk and no action..
  14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
  16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
  17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

  1. Coffee (n.): The person upon whom one coughs.
  2. Flabbergasted (adj.): Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
  3. Abdicate (v.): To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
  4. Esplanade (v.): To attempt an explanation while drunk.
  5. Willy-nilly (adj.): Impotent.
  6. Negligent (adj.): Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
  7. Lymph (v.): To walk with a lisp.
  8. Gargoyle (n.): Olive-flavored mouthwash.
  9. Flatulence (n.): Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
  10. Balderdash (n.): A rapidly receding hairline.
  11. Testicle (n.): A humorous question on an exam.
  12. Rectitude (n.): The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
  13. Pokemon (n.): A Rastafarian proctologist.
  14. Frisbeetarianism (n.): The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
  15. Circumvent (n.): An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

In Other "News"

You never know where a blog post is going to end up. My H1N1 vaccination post has been popping up all over the 'Net, including on the blog of Keith and Darcie Dow. I don't know who these people are. They're welcome to my words, as is everyone else, so long as my name remains attached, as the Dows have done.

Sadly, my post on Obama's failures thus far appears on this discussion forum, resulting in not quite the quality of discourse I had hoped for.

And every now and then some wingnut conservative discussion forum picks up my 2004 blog post about Belinda Stronach (scroll to Jan 16).

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Monday, January 11, 2010

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Friday, January 01, 2010

2010: Odyssey Two

Know what's sad? A Google image search of "2010" and "Odyssey" results in scores of images of freakin' Honda minivans.

Those of you in the know, however, will recognize the reference is to a classic novel by the late great Arthur C. Clarke, whose recent demise is still felt these many months later by a science fiction industry yet to find someone of his stature to fill the empty seat of Grandmaster. No, Bradbury doesn't count.

The thing about the book, and subsequent movie, is, of course, is that the world of 2010 described bears little to no resemblance to our world today. For one thing, Clarke failed to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union, and still couched his story within the confines of the Cold War, a conflict of which today's young people have little concept. And Clarke's depiction of thinking, feeling and creative artificial intelligences really has no place in a world in which my email filter tags emails from myself as spam. The lesson, of course, is that, as far as I know, no one has ever accurately predicted the future. How's that for deep?

Regular readers of Deonandia know that the tradition here, going back to 2001, is that the first post of every year is when I list the things I was thankful for during the past year. Here are my comments from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 (you'll have to scroll to the bottom for those), 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. So, at the risk of being maudlin, let's begin...

1. My family. You know the drill.

2. The University of Ottawa. I mock the U of Zero, but Zod knows how grateful I am to be a professor there. It really is the greatest job in the world, despite the mountains of work and frustration.

3. My students. See "frustration" above. They drain me and infuriate me at times, but for the most part their genuine desire to learn fills me with joy.

4. Facebook. Yeah, you read that right. I still have my various websites, endless email accounts, Twitter, text messaging, etc. But Facebook has provided a one stop shopping locale for accessing all of the above. It also provides a fake social life for those 3:AM late worknights.

5. Physiotherapy. Finally, after more than a year of agony due to herniated discs, I'm on the path to a life of manageable pain.

6. The women I've dated. Like other years, 2009 brought me more delightful women generous enough to spend their time with me. I believe I even managed to squeak out something resembling a relationship once or twice, but don't ask me to confirm details.

7. The Interwebs. For rescuing me from commercial TV, an office, isolation and paper.

Is that enough? Can I go now?

In Other News

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod.... there's going to be a LIVE ACTION STAR BLAZERS MOVIE! (For you not in the know, the Japanese name is Space Battleship Yamato, one of the finest anime products of the 1970s!)

For comparison, here's the opening to the original 1974 anime:

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Student Evaluations

I've been catching up on archiving old documents today. Finally got around to scanning my student evaluations from 2007. (You'll recall that I already posted my favourite evaluations from last year.)

My ego needed some stroking today, so here are my favourite evaluations from 2007. To those who wrote them: I don't need/want to know if you were being sarcastic; I appreciate them as is!

Okay, done. My ego feels back to its old self again :)

Oh and this was my second most favourite one from my first year class last year:

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

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Oh, and an extra:

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

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And a special addition from Graham S., labelled "The Dr. Deonandan Show":


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will The Work Never End?

What is this? Tow blog posts in two consecutive days? It's like the old days, no?

For the second consecutive year, I also attended the opening cocktail party of the Harbourfront Festival of Authors. Remember last year's photo? Here's the new one:

Before I forget to bring this up, I stole the following from Graham S.'s Facebook page:

I also found an old letter of recommendation I wrote on behalf of myself, to be signed by my former boss. I was just checking to see if he actually read it:

I'm working like a mad man trying to get stuff done before catching a train to tomorrow in the morning. I was in Toronto this morning, Ottawa the day before, and Toronto the day before that. Yes, I know. I know.

Oh, it gets better. I'll be up all night doing paperwork, then off to the Canadian Conference on International Health at 8:AM to hear Jeff Sachs speak, then hop on the train, then rush to a Board meeting at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, then rush to the opening ceremonies of the Canadian Conference on Science Policy.

This is the sort of rushed, stressful schedule that can make you sick. Might even allow you to contract the flu! (Nice segue, eh?)

Following up from yesterday's post, here's a graphic from

It's yet another attempt at providing evidence for the anti-vaccination crowd. See, according to this graphic, the current H1N1 pandemic is no big thang.

Let's consider this an educational moment. Can you see the problem with using this graphic, assuming it is correct, as an argument against the seriousness of H1N1? It's the difference between absolute and relative measures.

Here's an example of what I mean: if you hear that the incidence of cholera in Alberta doubled between 2007 and 2008, that sounds pretty serious, right? "Doubling" is a relative measure. But what if I tell you that the number of new cases went from 1 in 2007 to 2 in 2008? Yes, it doubled, but the actual number of additional cases was one. That's an absolute measure.

To beat this dead horse, it's clear that if media and policy makers relied on the relative measure to inform their decisions, a lot of emotional and financial resources would be misspent.

Now, for the graphic above, it's important to look at the denominators. The case fatality rate is a relative measure. According to it, SARS was a much bigger deal than H1N1 (swine flu), about a 19.2X increase in mortality rate.

However, the number of people who actually contracted SARS in Toronto in the 2003 outbreak was a mere 358. If we believe the graphic's 9.6% case fatality rate statistic, this translates to 35 deaths in absolute terms.

In absence of the seasonal vaccine, seasonal flu would be contracted by tens of thousands in Toronto. Assuming an infection denominator of a conservative 10,000 unvaccinated people, that translates to 100 deaths in Toronto alone due to seasonal flu.

See the point? The absolute measure provides more meaningful information.

Okay, I've got work to do now. As you were.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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