Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prank or paranoia?

I've been getting  a lot of emails in response to my online postings putting my apartment up for sublet. Tons of people tell me they want to come see it, even though it's slanty and occasionally on fire. Sometimes I schedule three viewings in one day. I rush home from school, appointments, and post-class beers to make my bed and sweep the floor for them.

I get my hopes up.

Then they don't show up.

This has happened three times now. Three no shows, and several more last minute cancellations.

I would chalk this up to the general flakiness of people on the internet, if it weren't for some odd facts...

All three of the no shows shared a last or first name, which I will not repeat here. A couple of others have had names that are variations on a celebrity's name.

It's just weird on so many levels. It seems so much like a joke, trick, or conspiracy to waste my time that it can't be true.

Also, who would play such an elaborate joke? Is there really someone trolling Craigslist and Kijiji making up fake email addresses based on fake names and giggling as they schedule and fail to show up for apartment viewings? 

Lamest online prank ever. Right up there with "is your refrigerator running? Then you'd better catch it..."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Most depressing fortune ever.

I went out for Chinese food last night. This is the fortune I got in my fortune cookie:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Carleton's Master of Journalism Program: Kind of Like a Reality TV Show

I was flipping channels during the commercials on The National and briefly stopped on Hell's Kitchen.

Various little wannabe chefs had prepared dishes based on tuna for the head chef. The dishes involved things like balsamic ginger reductions and braised leeks. The nervous little junior chefs stood terrified in front of the beautiful products of their hard work and talent.

The head chef proceeded to tear them apart systematically and question their every decision. "Why didn't you put more sauce on this?" "I didn't want to drown out the flavour." "Well, that's a shame, because it's rather dry, ISN'T IT?" 

Even the ones he praised were concealed in a torrent of criticism. "Those leeks are chopped too large, and using your mom's cooking as a muse is rather pedestrian, but other than that, this tuna is delicious. Everyone else needs much more work. You, you need more work too, don't get me wrong. But it's acceptable."

It's uncanny how much this is like my program. We kill ourselves looking for the best story ideas. We obsess over every little detail. Then our professors question and criticize the smallest detail of everything we produce, in front of the entire class.

This leads to paranoia, panic attacks, and petty criticism. And alliteration. Apparently.

You know what? ALL of those tuna dishes looked delicious. Those scared little baby chefs had to work hard and show a lot of talent to be on that show. And there is absolutely no way I could have made that balsamic-ginger reduction glaze, let alone figure out how much to put on my tuna.

We're good at what we do. All of us. Obsessing over every detail is fine in the production stage, but the problem is when you take it home with you. 

But nobody wants to be a reality TV also-ran.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It actually happened.

I've been half-joking all year long that whenever I hear about a fire in Ottawa, I check to see if it's my building.

I live in a million year old house that's been chopped up (badly) into apartments. It's in Chinatown, which is the suspicious fire capital of Canada. And my landlord's been trying to sell the building.

People like to tease me about my Eeyore-inspired philosophy of life, which is that if you always expect the worst, you're pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen, and prepared when it does. 

So last night at 1:30 a.m. when I was awakened by a fire fighter pounding on my door and telling me to get the hell out fast, I knew what to do. I threw on my coat and winter boots, unplugged my laptop, and joined the rest of my neighbours in the street watching the mayhem.

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I couldn't be sure where the fire was coming from or how bad it was. All I could tell was that my section of the building was definitely not on fire, and that our porch definitely was. A fire fighter hacked at the wood fence dividing the porches of the house's two units to try and put the flames out.

"Rats," I thought. "Now where am I going to park my bike?"

This thought was immediately followed by: "I wish it was a newscast day tomorrow and I had the camera equipment. I could sell it to the A-channel."

We were only outside for about twenty minutes before the various authorities told us we could go back inside. Apparently they were able to respond right away because there was another fire down the block. Oh, Chinatown.

No one seemed to know how the fire had started, but since it seemed to have started on the porch, there was speculation that someone may have set our recycling on fire. When I left to grab a paper this morning, I noticed that our recycling bin was seared onto our front walk in a charred, semi-liquified blob, which would appear to support that theory.

My front porch looks like a bomb hit it. It still smells like smoke. Piles of seared, chopped up wood are lying all over the place. The siding around the door frames is partly melted and peeling back. The mailboxes have been twisted into unusable shapes by the heat.

Before the fire, I was thinking that today might be a good day to finally put up a Craigslist posting to sublet my apartment for the summer.

Apartment that is somewhere between a bachelor and a one-bedroom for summer sublet.
Perfect for one person, or one person plus one shifty couchsurfer who doesn't mind sleeping on the kitchen floor.
Easily accessible fire escape that you could totally turn into an awesome balcony with patio furniture and a barbecue.
Slantiness and poor renovation makes you feel like you live in an M.C. Escher painting.
Front porch slightly crispy.
Five minute walk to beer store.
Rent includes stray cats.

It'll get snapped up right away for sure.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Read some good news.

I just stumbled upon this incredibly hopeful and beautiful blog post. I'm going to copy the quote that was lifted from the blog I discovered it through, The Journalism Iconoclast, because I agree that it sums up the post the best:

"And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie."

Like a lot of undergrads, I became enamoured with the concept of revolution, then disillusioned by it. But this post stirred up some of that old excitement. Maybe we should stop listening to all the doomsday prophets who keep telling us we're idiots for getting into a dying, unsustainable industry. Maybe now is the most exciting time to be a journalist. The end may be near for the old model. But maybe that's a good thing for those of us who want to be part of something radically new, participatory, democratic and relevant.

It's a sunny day in Ottawa. It's a good day to be a journalism student.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It was a good morning.

I woke up bleary-eyed at 7:00 this morning, last night's manic episode long gone, resentful at having to commute to another 8:30 class in sub-zero weather.

I left my house and turned on my iPod, which was halfway through this week's CBC Radio 3 podcast. My ears were greeted with... a French rap about partying in a Jacuzzi by Acadian group Radio Radio.

"Je porte une grosse furcoat dans ma jacuzzi
Ma vie a changée depuis qu'j'ai une jacuzzi
Et je mange des onion rings dans ma jacuzzi
Chaque jour c'est Noel pi je paye point de taxe"

Please tell me they are coming to Ottawa soon and bringing their Jacuzzi and rotating girl with a disco ball on her head with them.

Do yourself a favour and watch the YouTube video. It's the best thing that's happened to me all week.

"J'ai une grosse Jacuzzi, comme dans les movies..."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It begins.

In Tuesday's TV class we did an exercise where we were given a bunch of footage of a fish farm tank that burst onto a road in Whitehorse and had to edit it into a news story complete with voice over. My TV news team is a journalistic dynamo, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to technical skills, we're, well, new. Brand new.

So in order to get our video done on deadline, our pictures didn't match our sound. We had footage of gasping, flopping fish when we were talking about the president of the company. We spent our last 30 seconds making a text graphic that read FISHPLOSION!!! in the hopes we'd get points for not taking ourselves too seriously.

Last night, I dreamed it was the night before my MRP was due. In my dream, for some reason the only material I had was the fish flop video. I had to hand that in as my major research project, and sit there as my classmates, professors, and everyone I knew watched it and laughed. Then I had to get up on a podium in front of everyone and make a speech about it.

Thus begin the year-end academic panic dreams. Right on schedule. But this time the mood is different. Instead of despairing, I feel manic. Right now, for example, I'm trying to convince myself to watch TV and go to bed, but I'm having a hard time drowning out the snarling demon voice telling me to run around the block, drink a red bull, and stay up all night researching media constructions of the Canadian military as a peacekeeping force.

I'm compromising by blogging over a glass of wine. So far, still sane. Stay tuned for updates throughout the month.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's wrong with Ottawa?

Last night Sonya and I ventured out into the strange and unsettling world of nightlife in the Byward market, and I feel it summed up everything I love and hate about this city so perfectly that it requires internet-sharing.

Let's start with hate. I. HATE. The Byward market. It's the Disneyland of urban planning. It feels like the product of a city council meeting where the councillors decided they needed to "jazz up" the downtown core. I can just picture some dweeb in a Calvin Klein tie saying "You know what would really give Ottawa a hip, pedestrian feel? An open air urban market." This statement, in my imagination, was met by rousing pats on the back, the uncorking of champagne, and the drafting of forms for the owners of bars, poutine shacks, and souvenir stalls to fill out so a committee could decide if they were hip and authentic enough to win a place in their new 'hood.

Fast forward to a Saturday night in March 2009, in which Sonya and I are standing in a very long line outside a certain pub in the market. Yes, you non-Ottawans read that correctly: A line. At a pub. This fact alone would be enough for people in any other city to laugh at the suckers and go to any other pub next door. But alas, this is Ottawa, and the same hellish line ups were snaking out of every establishment in a four block radius. Also, we were supposed to meet friends there.

So we stood in said line for about half an hour, when we finally got to the bouncer and compliantly showed our ID. I look to the alley where the entrance is on the left and see... another line. "What is this? Some kind of post line up line?" I ask.

"Yes," the cross-armed bouncer informs me. "If you don't like it, good luck finding a shorter line somewhere else."

He had a point, and we were still waiting to hear from our friends. So we joined the post line line.

"What a scenic alley this is," enthused Sonya. "This exposed brick and stucco is totally worth the wait."

"How lucky are the people who live in those apartments above us?" I agreed. "They can come sit on those fire escapes and hang out in this alley every day."

A waitress interrupted our sarcasm to ask if we wanted to order drinks. This was one of the perks of making it to the post line line, apparently. But we weren't quite VIPs yet: all you could order was beer and shooters. Sonya does not drink beer. So she opted for a Jager bomb.

That's right: We each paid $4.50 for the privilege of chugging beer and Jager bombs in an alley.

We reached the end of the post line line, where we were informed the cover was $6.50.

Two lines. A 45 minute wait. And a $6.50 cover. FOR A PUB.

That was the last straw. I daintily swigged back the last of my beer, threw the plastic cup in the garbage, and stormed out.

We went a few doors down to Zaphod's, where the line was shorter and you get a dance floor in exchange for the cover charge. We texted our friends, who met us there. We drank stupid space ship themed cocktails. Dancing ensued.

In my opinion, this all stems from Ottawa's identity crisis. It's essentially a small town that has had big city features thrust upon it. It feels obligated to at least look like it's trying to be cool and fun, but in reality it would rather drink a cup of tea and go to bed at 10:00. 

I love my Ottawa friends. I love the canal. I love the Parliament buildings. I love the crazy, grungy Chinatown neighbourhood I live in. 

But when it comes to night life, Ottawa, please: Stop being a try hard. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm moving into a bomb shelter.

Global warming is going to flood the earth, we're entering The Great Depression II, and I've lost count of how many countries have nuclear missiles aimed in my general vicinity.

I thought that was enough to worry about, but apparently I forgot about ASTEROIDS.

Apparently one came this close to hitting the earth and causing nuclear-scale destruction last Monday.

Sometimes I wonder if it's foolish to plan a career, what with the impending rapture and all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Dear Lulu Lemon yoga pants:

I would like to offer you an apology.

I spent years making fun of you. I was even a member of a Facebook group called "Down with Lulu Lemon." This deep seated prejudice was the result of the fact that my arch enemies, Dumb Rich Girls from My Hometown of Oakville, Ontario, have adopted you as your uniform. You can see them at the mall or walking home from high school wearing identical black Lulu Lemon yoga pants, candy coloured Lulu Lemon hoodies (all different colours, of course, because having the same clothes as your friends would be OMG mortifying), and carrying giant Lulu Lemon tote bags. This cult of Lulu Lemon leads these girls to abandon school work and reading books, pursuits which their 25 hour a week retail jobs do not leave them time to enjoy. Their entire pay check is then spent on gas for driving their daddy's Benz to the mall in Mississauga in order to stay up to date with the latest Lulu additions.

And so I wrote you off as brand slavery. How ironic that the ancient spiritual pursuit of yoga has become the platform for yuppie consumer culture, I scoffed.

Then I went to a clothing swap, where a pair of said uniform black Lulus were up for grabs. I needed more workout clothes, and decided that the fact I got them at a clothing swap cancelled out the brand name, so I took you home with me.

Then, last night, I went out for drinks after class where I ate deep fried zucchini sticks followed by half an alfredo pizza with three cheeses and M&Ms. I quickly required freedom from the confinement of a waistband. I went home and put you on.

Your stretchy, yet substantial fabric hugged my love handles like a mother cradling a newborn baby. You were supportive and forgiving. You made my butt look fabulous.

I must admit that in the past, I have marveled to myself at your ability to look like dress pants to the untrained eye. You are a shape-shifting miracle of modern technology. You are consumer culture's gift to women.

I still would never pay full retail price for you, Lulus. But I will never mock you again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to get people to pay us for doing our jobs

This is a topic that has created some ruffled feathers in the Carleton MJ blogosphere lately: Are we walking into a profession that, like the music industry, offers a product people want but refuse to pay for because you can find it free on the internet?

We're not the only ones talking about this. Here's a sample of some views from other media types:

Alan Mutter says newspapers were crazy to offer content for free online in the first place, and they're crazy if they don't start charging people for it now. He also has a really good point about how aggregates like Drudge Report are cleaning up by selling ads on websites that get zillions of hits a day that do nothing but link to content they didn't have to pay to produce. Yikes. Never thought of that.

Paul Robinson says newspapers have been undermining their own ad revenue for years by offering free online adspace to try and entice advertisers to buy print space. He also has a point form list of things newspapers should do to revive their business model. This is my favourite one

"Customers do not want to pay for anything. Ever. You have to work hard to convince them it’s worthwhile. You’re doing an awful job of that, so stop trying to do it."

Steve Yelvington has some good but depressing points about why he doesn't think the idea of providing news through iTunes-like software will work.

Meranda Watling wrote a really interesting post that includes the concept of "the silo effect," in which media types only listen to each other and not the readers, leading them to come up with bizarre theories about why people aren't reading newspapers any more that have nothing to do with reality. She talked to quite a few people who understand why having fewer reporters on old-fashioned beats with less time to do investigative work is a bad, bad, bad thing. I commented gushingly on her post. I am a geek. Whatever.

What do I think? I think offering everything for free online obviously isn't working, as evidenced by the media bankruptcy armageddon that's going on right now. I think making people pay a subscription fee to access individual newspapers' websites won't work, either, because people will just go elsewhere and no one will see those precious ads on your site. I agree 100% with Meranda Watling that media types are too cynical about public demand for things like city hall and school board beat reporting. People want and need that information.

I am sick of this leap in logic: People aren't buying newspapers and are getting their news online instead, therefore they don't care about thoughtful, investigative print reporting and are more interested in 15 billion live tweets and sound/video clips a day than one balanced, well-researched article, therefore let's send out our one remaining employed reporter to the news conference armed with a mic, a video camera, a still camera and a blackberry like a one woman marching band and give her half an hour to file. 

Media types consume that type of journalism and go "Oh, new, cool, the way of the future!" Normal people consume that type of journalism and go "What the heck is this, who has time to look at all this stuff, and how come I still don't know how this affects me?"

I'm not as cynical as Steve Yelvington about the iTunes model. People are buying those ebook things these days, right? And iPhones? There's gotta be some sort of subscription model to an aggregate that tailors the news you buy to your interests.

One thing that's different about music and news: People don't just like news, they need news. And they need it continuously. They will never get all the news they need and say, OK, my news collection is now complete. I realize that the fact that music and news are very different is part of Yelvington's point about why the iTunes model won't work, but there's got to be some way to take that into account.