Conan O’Brien on a Kinder, Gentler “Grand Theft Auto”

“In the past, Grand Theft Auto has been severely criticized for being too violent,” says Conan O’Brien. “Well, the new version — I got it yesterday and was playing with it — it’s been toned down a lot. I’m not sure it’s better…”

[This was also posted to Global Nerdy.]

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

Nine Years as “The Accordion Guy”

Here’s a blast from the past: me with purple hair, rockin’ out at Queen’s Park on Saturday May 1st, 1999:

Joey deVilla playing accordion and “throwing the horns” at Queen’s Park
I had no idea what was coming up next.

Yesterday marked the 9th anniversary of my playing the accordion on the street for the first time. I’ve got a longer entry about that fateful Saturday, when my friend Karl Mohr and I took our accordions out on the street that morning and ended the day as goth rock stars, and I’ll post it this weekend.

Geek It Happened to Me

Cory Doctorow’s Reading of “Little Brother”

Cover of Cory Doctorow’s novel, “Little Brother”

Last night, the Ginger Ninja and I attended Cory Doctorow’s reading of his new novel, Little Brother at the Merrill Collection (the collection of sci-fi books located in the upper floor of the library on College Street just east of Spadina). Little Brother is Cory’s first foray into writing a “young adult” book (memo to my friend Stacy Dillon: read this book!).

Here’s the publisher’s summary of Little Brother:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Cory Doctorow being introduced at his reading of “Little Brother” at the Merrill Collection
Cory being introduced to the crowd.

The room was packed to overflowing with Cory’s fans, largely a slice of Accordion City’s sizable nerd community, but a different branch from those you see at gatherings like DemoCamp. Cory’s family were also there: Alice and Poesy (who’s a very sweet, well-behaved baby) and the doting grandparents (whom I’ve mentally filed as the “Docto-‘rents”). I also saw some people I hadn’t seen in a good long while, including OpenCola alumni Chris Smith, Michael Skeet and Karl Schroeder, who writes sci-fi that’s harder than Chinese math.

Cory reading from chapter 12 of his new novel, “Little Brother” at the Merrill Collection

In order to let some latecomers straggle in and not miss the reading, Cory opened the session by taking a couple of questions from the audience.

One member of the audience asked Cory for his opinion of the proposal that the SFWA — that’s the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America — open their membership to comic book and graphic novel writers. Apparently this has sparked some controversy among science fiction and fantasy writers, who don’t want their roster muddied by funny-pages people. In response to this, Cory said that he supported the SFWA opening their doors to comic book people, stating “If science fiction writers and comic book writers have nothing to say to each other, then someone should tell Neil Gaiman.”

Another person asked about Cory’s being a Canadian writing about the Department of Homeland Security, whose methods and approaches are basically an American problem. Cory answered that a number of Americans have taken up the same challenge, and that being a Canadian gives you a little distance from the situation, which in turn can give a better perspective. He used a couple of comparisons: first, how being a bit of an outsider in high school can give you a better view into the social machinery of the popular kids’ cliques (a feeling that I’m sure everyone in this crowd was familiar with), and second, “It’s like we’re Animal House and they’re Dean Wormer.”

“Would you consider Little Brother a sequel to 1984?” asked someone else in the audience, to which Cory replied, “Don’t think of it as a sequel to 1984, think of it as 1984 fan fiction.”

Cory read chapter 12 of Little Brother. A lot of his descriptions of San Francisco’s Mission district come directly from experience; when he and I worked together down there, we ate at a lot of the little Mexican restaurants that fit those he described in the book, right down to the description of brain burritos and our never quite getting up the gumption to order them, even after watching the dinner scene near the end of Hannibal. (And I could swear that he wrote the make-out session near the Mission church by following me and my then-girlfriend back in 2001.)

The chapter was good solid present-day cyperpunk, and in addition of bringing back memories of San Francisco, it also brought back memories of being young, going to concerts and ditching my alcohol and running from the cops after they busted a bush party. As a forty-year-old, I enjoyed this snippet of the story, and I’m sure that teenagers — whom Cory says read not only for pleasure but also to figure out the world — will get a lot out of it.

Joey deVilla and Cory Doctorow
Posing with Cory after he signed my book.

It was good to see Cory and his family at the gathering — it’s a shame that he, Alice and Poesy live so far away! I’ll have to visit them in Merrie Olde Englande sometime soon.

It Happened to Me

Colossal Cake

We have team lunches (on the company dime, whoo-hoo!) reasonably often at b5media. Sometimes it’s dim sum, sometimes it’s shwarma, sometimes it’s pub food. Last week, we ended up at Wayne Gretzky’s, where we saw this colossal cake in the desserts display:

A whole colossal cake sitting in the dessert fridge at Wayne Gretzky’s
Damn, that’s one seriously stacked cake!

Naturally, we had to order a slice of this sucker. From what we could see, it’s a tricky cake to slice and carrying it to the table is a two-handed operation:

Darcie Vany, Jeremy Wright and a slice of “Colossal Cake”
My coworkers Darcie Vany and Jeremy Wright marvelling at the slice.

The slice fed 7 people quite nicely, and one can be yours for the low price of CDN$13.99. You might want to drop by Gretzky’s and get one if you’re entertaining hockey fans from out of town.


Pete Forde’s Taking the IonCleanse Challenge!

Section of the IonCleanse poster showing “before” and “after” photos.

My friend Pete Forde suffers from “Rich Man’s Disease”, which the medical profession has given the less colourful name of “gout”. He saw my earlier post, Quackery in the ‘Hood, in which I wrote about the IonCleanse system, a footbath which purports to remove harmful toxins from the body…through your feet. One the ailments that IonCleanse is implied to cure or at least prevent is gout.

Like most people in the field of computer programming, Pete’s an empiricist and wants to put IonCleanse to the test. He’ll go in for a treatment, which will give us a chance to see the IonCleanse system as well as the brown goop up close. Of course, doing this costs money, and he’d like your help in raising the money for a session. Here’s his page at Fundable, a site for online fundraising. If you’d like to help Pete put IonCleanse to the test, go there and pledge some cash!

Recommended Reading

Ion Cleanse or Ion Scam? An article that points to other articles on IonCleanse. The short version: Ion Scam!


Star Wars Hijinks at Global Nerdy

Small versions of the “Slave Leia Pillow Fight”, “Darth Emo” and “Speeder Dogs” from Global Nerdy

My tech blog, Global Nerdy, is largely focused on computer technology and programming, but it also covers nerd culture, of which Star Wars is a significant part. Right now, I’ve got some Star Wars fun on its front page:

  • Slave Leia Pillow Fight: Six women. In the “gold bikini outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Having a pillow fight. Why are you still reading this?
  • Darth Emo: There’s a special bond between a boy and his first droid that’s not easily broken.
  • Speeder Dogs: The only way to fly!

When Engrish Accidentally Makes Sense

The b5media office is just south of Accordion City’s downtown Chinatown, so I encounter “Engrish” — gramatically incorrect versions of English from southeast Asia — quite often. It’s quite rare to encounter Engrish that accidentally makes sense, as with the T-shirt shown below:

“Think twice before making any trunk calls” T-shirt

“Think twice before making any trunk calls,” the shirt says. Given that the shirt was being sold at a store that carried mostly club clothing for women and the social phenomenon known as drunk dialing, I believe the intended T-shirt slogan was “Think twice before making any drunk calls.”

In spite of this gaffe, the T-shirt slogan makes sense. The term “trunk call” is an archaic term used to refer to a long-distance call. Long distance calls, especially made from mobile phones (on which most “drunk dial” calls are made), can get quite expensive, so you really should think twice before making them.

Maybe they should give away these T-shirts with new mobile phones.

“Think twice before making any trunk calls” T-shirt