Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Nine Lives of L. M. Montgomery

I was very lucky to get a chance to go out and see this new play at the Kings Playhouse theatre in Georgetown last night. And given that I know a good amount about all of the pieces that came together to make this whole thing a success I can say that this whole event was really quite extraordinary.

The official website for the show is a good intro to what it's all about at

There has been a lot of work done to the Kings Playhouse to upgrade the lighting and other facilities specifically for the play, and just in time for the theatre to host the Vinyl Cafe tonight and tomorrow night. Overnight PEI goes from having just Charlottetown, Summerside and Victoria for theatre locations to having four now that Georgetown has come up so nicely.

I have only a second-hand knowledge of L. M. Montgomery's journals from my mother who has read them through when they were first published widely, so I think I come to seeing the play about the author and her imagination from a fairly neutral position. I got through Anne of Green Gables, didn't really find it too interesting, but I did really like The Story Girl and the Golden Road so I am also not one of those islanders who instinctively hate everything associated with Anne, either. This play creates a very vivid picture of the story of a talented but under-appreciated young girl who writes poetry and dreams of being published in a magazine, though her struggles with her extended family and working jobs as a teacher and newspaper writer where she inevitably puts in more work than she should because everyone around her rushes to take advantage of her talents and generosity, through her later life with similar hardships as a preacher's wife and author of bestsellers who tries hard to find a balance between her light-hearted characters and her own desire to put her own darker thoughts into writing.

While her books were aimed at children, the story of her life is a complex and interesting story, with characters defined more by weakness and struggle than by good or evil natures. The play does a very good job of highlighting the lawsuits and fights with her publisher as important contributing events to Maud's mental state without turning them into plot points or easy sources of suspense.

The appearances of her fictional characters having conversations with her, arguing about how they are to grow and develop or admonishing her for putting little bits of her own darker thoughts about life into her characters is done very well, and isn't at all gimmicky (well, there's a clever use of lighting used on Anne's hair but that was just a fun little surprise.)And I caught a few familiar lines from her writing worked in as seamless bits of dialog, and if I caught a couple surely there were many more.

Another thing that I noticed was the silent skill of the choreographer, there were at times quite a few people moving around on the small stage and there wasn't a single clumsy moment. It could certainly grow to fill a larger stage area, but they make great use of what they have.

I will confess that I will not go out of my way to watch a musical if I can avoid it. But as musicals go, the songs in this one were excellent. The style of music varied and kept up with the time period where the story was happening, and showed the cast's ability to vary their own singing to fit the styles and the different moods in each scene. The sound could have been better in the theatre, a few more mics placed around the stage and better control over music vs. vocal sound levels would be good, but they'll take care of that pretty quickly I'm sure. You can here some of the songs on the play's site here. Go take a listen.

Overall it was a great testament to what can get done if everyone involved in a project has the vision and drive to see it through, even when they walk into a dusty old theatre that no one expected could put on something so innovative and interesting.

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By al - 5:16 p.m. | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I liked Ang Lee's Hulk

There, I said it.  I am a fan of the solitary, dark and booding Hulk, though, and the story of the Hulk is supposed to be a tragic one.  I haven't seen the new film yet but it looks like popcorn fare to me.

The Hulk Dogs thing was stupid but it was something the studio forced on Ang Lee.  And computer graphics  really didn't serve the movie well at all.  But there's no way it deserves the reputation it has. I understand Marvel's desire to have full control over film production now, but it's because they've found a successful formula and they're going to stick to it feverishly from now on. Lee's interpretation of the Hulk remained truer to the spirit of the original story if not the fanboy-pleasing specifics in the most important facet: the Hulk isn't a superhero, he's a force of nature.

Here's an article at Slate that talks about the same thing: Link.

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By al - 8:44 a.m. | (1) comments | Post a Comment

Thursday, June 12, 2008

PEI on Everything^2

I really liked this part of the Everything^2 node for PEI:

Many (but not all) inhabitants of Prince Edward Island suffer from a strange phenomenon I call "delusional island antagonism syndrome" or DIAS for short.

Visitors to P.E.I. (or "the Island") generally fall in love with the rolling green hills, the rich red clay, the hot white beaches, and the picturesque cityscape. Those who were born and raised on the Island, though, tend to either overlook this magical scenery, or view it as tied to the oppressive and ignorant agrarian society they hate. These sufferers of DIAS consider PEI a prison to escape, not someplace to which to move.

These poor souls often operate under the (false) belief that big cities have higher proportions of cool people. This just isn't the case. Big cities do have more cool people, but only because they have more people, more people of every sort – and therefore more ignorant, rude, stupid people as well. I've met lots of cool people that were raised in weird back-corners of a rural community or even a small city; I've also met scores and scores of incredibly uncool people who were raised in the big city.

To be sure, there are some places on P.E.I. I would never want to live. There are some places here where I would never want to raise children. And I've already acclimated myself to the need to move away, to a big city, in order to go to graduate school, and it is unlikely I'll ever live on P.E.I. after that. But P.E.I. is still one of the best places in the universe to live.

I love Everything^2, it's sort of the tongue-in-cheek Wikipedia where trivia and shit-talk are encouraged as long as you can write half-way decently. I should remember to check it more.

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By al - 10:02 p.m. | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I remember that

I was talking to g. yesterday and the topic of old jobs came up, at which point I did a little google image search for a company I used to work for that sadly seems to have disappeared. But one that that did remain was an image from a tool I built while I was there on a co-op term:

At one point I used it to index to 2 levels down and it produced a huge graph, but one that was actually pretty easy to navigate and understand. This was back when yahoo was mostly a web directory with categories, and everything fit neatly together. For example, there was a box that said "countries" and inside it when you expanded it were sub-nodes that contained each different country listed in the directory. Imagine representing that in two dimensions.

Looks like the UNB prof who started the company went on to write a book, Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design (Interactive Technologies) has an excerpt as well. Very cool.

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By al - 9:28 a.m. | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Friday, June 06, 2008

How to be Comfortable?

I'm putting my answer to this Ask.MetaFilter question here so I'll remember to try and keep observing it myself... Here's the question:
How do you learn to feel comfortable with yourself?

(Anonymous because of family on Mefi.)

I'm never really comfortable. I always feel like an outsider, or that I'm doing something wrong... I can just never relax because of all this.

I have low self-esteem, it's true. I also just tend to assume I've screwed up somehow and work from there. It drives some of my friends batty, but it kinda works. It keeps things steady.

Part of all of this not trusting myself is that I assume that I have to keep myself restrained. Can't let myself go, or I'll start acting on all my other problems--start confusing sex with love, start acting out, start doing all these things. Like if I let myself go, my little box of a life will just crumble and everyone will see how fucked up I am. This, plus my natural introversion, results in a lot of automatic repression, which means a lot of things just... bubbling over suddenly. I've gotten better at not talking about my feelings too much, though... which is probably part and parcel with the problem of not feeling comfortable, but it keeps me from causing unnecessary problems for anyone else.

Oddly enough, all of this came to a head in a club. I couldn't make myself dance. I was tipsy, even,which helps, but I felt so horrifically uncomfortable... I just couldn't relax. I physically couldn't. I couldn't make myself feel comfortable. Friends and acquaintances were trying to get me up and dancing, but that only made me feel worse, like I was screwing up their night slightly just by being there.

It's not that I was stressed about work or anything... I have all the free time in the world and still feel like this.

One restriction: I have no money to spend on the favorite AskMe answers of improv classes, or therapy, so those don't really work as solutions.

I know this is all kind of vague, but it's the best description I can offer. Thanks in advance.
And my reply:

I think a lot of the answers seem to just be pulling out the standard answers to "help me not feel unhappy" but your situation is a little more specific than that and it's one I can identify with.

Something I realized was that part of the reason I expected others to be so judgmental of me was that I was silently doing the same thing to a lot of the people around me. I am not saying you are or you aren't projecting in this way, but perhaps it would be easier to learn to be accepting of yourself by practicing on other people first. Little things like paying no mind at all if my carpool mate starts to hum a little too loudly to a song on the radio, and being more patient when a family member calls to see how I'm doing and just asks the same usual questions that I had been getting tired of. That's not to say let people walk over you, but just realize that as their flaws and shortcomings do you no harm, in the same way the way you act isn't causing anyone else any real damage either, to the point that they probably aren't noticing it while you are worried sick about their perceptions.

Of course the opposite of judging others too quickly, putting them on a pedestal, won't help you either. If someone makes you feel nervous or inadequate.. well, one time this really gorgeous girl who had come up to me at the bar and wanted to talk to me was causing me to stammer a little, and I just on a whim decided to say "OK, I'm going to admit right now that I'm finding you a little intimidating". She thought that was very funny but it made her relax herself and the conversation after that was completely fluid and easy. So honesty sometimes is the easiest solution.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:55 AM on June 6 [+] [!]

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By al - 1:09 a.m. | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bad Keynot, Bad

I confess that I love iWork '08's Keynote so much that I will often take work home with me so I can use it instead of PowerPoint to prepare presentations. However it still isn't 100% at importing and then re-exporting PowerPoint files, and will sometimes mangle things in weird ways, like putting bullet points back where I removed them, like in this Unix shell script example that I made for a course I have to give in a few minutes:

So I've had to spend the last hour frantically re-editing my presentation. Maybe I removed them the "wrong" way in the first place, I don't really remember. And it looked fine in Keynote when I was editing it there, it was only when I loaded it back into PowerPoint that they showed up. While Keynote is the best software there is for making slide presentations, little things like that are causing me some annoyance when I try to use it in a non-perfect (e.g., PC-bound) world.

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By al - 12:24 p.m. | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Hot Dog Stand

A followup to my previous post about how great the Windows 3.1 Program Manager actually was, one more little piece of nostalgia courtesy of Coding Horror: The Hot Dog Stand colour scheme:

I love little peeks into the "oh, fuck it" school of design. Probably some Microsoft product manager asked about making an option in the interface that is perhaps more kid friendly, naturally not allocating any real budget or time or design resources to such a request, but he wanted it done anyway. So the intrepid Microsoft engineer said "this ought to shut the busybody up" and threw together this lovely eye-watering creation.

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By al - 4:06 a.m. | (3) comments | Post a Comment

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