Monday, September 17, 2007

Look carefully...

"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept."

– Ansel Adams

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gotta Dance!

I went to three dance classes this week, and two dance-themed aerobics classes:

Monday was Jazz for an hour and a half at the dance studio
Tuesday was a day off
Wednesday was Ballet Bootcamp for an hour at the gym
Thursday was an easy hip hop class for an hourat the gym
Friday was Tap for an hour and a half at the dance studio
Saturday was a difficult hip hop class for an hour and a half at the dance studio
Sunday will be a day off (well deserved)

Whew!

I loved it, it was an amazing week. I'm very very tired now, but I hope to do it again most weeks.

Taking these classes as a lowly burlesque dancer has been very illuminating. I may get in trouble for saying this, but I now fully understand why real dancers do not take burlesque dancers seriously. The classes are HARD. To be a dancer you have to be an athlete. You have to have flexibilty, strength, endurance, and amazing cardiovascular conditioning. But dancers are also artists. To be a dancer you have to have grace, musicality, and emotion. And to dance in front of people you also have to be a performer. You have to be focussed, brave, and have presence onstage.

I have very little of the first two categories. I am not an athlete, nor an artist (though I may be considered slightly athletic and a little artistically inclined). I have a little more of the third category. I'm a fairly decent performer. The thing is, being a good performer with some artistic ability is all I've needed to be a good burlesque dancer. But I need much more to be a good dancer.

I don't want to slag burlesque. I still love it, I enjoy performing it and watching it, and I think I always will. I want to make my own performances better any way I can, and I think the dance will help. But in addition to this, I have discovered something new that really challenges me. Something that maybe I can continue to grow with even after the boobs and ass have sagged beyond recognition (heck, maybe it will prevent or slow said saggage).

I've been bitten by the bug! I'm a convert. I've gotta dance! I'm gonna go to class and work my butt off (literally) until I'm slightly more athletic, and slightly more artistic. Then I'm going to keep going back again and again, and maybe after years of training, I'll be able to be both a burlesque performer and a dancer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Never noticed... and it was right there!


Garamond f-i ligature
(from Wikipedia)
It's amazing... little things. I've been writing my thesis for the last few months using the wonderful typesetting language LaTeX. It does a great job of putting graphs and figures in the right places, producing beautiful equations and numbering them correctly, and providing accurate and well-formatted cross-references and endnotes.

It also does great typesetting. Little things that I've never noticed before--not until coming across this page completely randomly.

I got to learn about something completely new to me: ligatures.

Ok... It's not that I've never heard of them before. But I've never really put much thought into what they are, where they come from, and how pervasive (it seems) they are in my life.

So I opened up the PDF of this gargantuan document that I've been working on all summer. Lo and behold, there they are... All over the place! I zoomed in on the text and stared wide-eyed, like a child, at these little compound characters that had completely flown under my radar until now.

The really fascinating part is how things like this develop. Language--spoken and textual--grow and mutate over time. For different reasons things change. Sometimes the reasons are political or religious (in this case, dropping characters from an "out of vogue" pagan tradition or two) . Sometimes, it's just to make life easier (like developing compact characters so that scribes can transcribe more efficiently).

The cultural impact of evolving languages is an interesting one. I grew up in Quebec, where language has always been an issue--the mainstay of a culture that feels marginalized. The internet and SMS brings a whole new transformation of language (bastardization to some, innovation to others), and until today I wasn't sure how I felt about it all.

But now, the way I see it, it all fits into a grander societal and cultural growth. The kids of today--tapping away on cell phones and in online chat rooms--just took the same license as monks in the middle ages. No longer a stylization to simplify the reproduction of illuminated text, this new economy of typographic language means an immediacy to communication that is less accessible when you're worried about every punctuation mark and extra syllable. The dynamism and information content isn't lost, and the only downside is potential miscommunication as the norms of the new language structure develop. (But that's nothing new. Just look at some of the ligatures on that Wikipedia page. There are a couple of those that, if I saw them in a text, I wouldn't know what they meant. For example, the "ss" ligature looks like a "beta" to me, the science geek.)

I sense a parallelism here deserving of inquiry: A critical view of l33t speak as a modern-day echo of the middle-ages development of accepted typographic ligatures. Could be interesting.

And I wonder: What is the link between modern SMS texting and the shortcuts we take to write text messages quickly (and with as few characters as possible) and, say, the acceptable shorthand of scripting ligatures that allowed a monk to reproduce a ready-to-distribute manuscript just that little bit faster?

Miracle weight loss!

There's an interesting link via Boing Boing today about a reference kilogram that seems to have lost weight. It's the weight of a fingerprint lighter. Even stranger is that though a series of these reference kilos were made out of the same material, at the same time, and stored under the same conditions, the weights seem to be ever-so-slowly drifting apart. It's a real mystery and it's got physicists mighty confused. (To say "this one included" makes me sound a far better physicist than I know I am... not that the statement isn't true, however.)

The kicker: If reference kilos are losing weight, then, by comparison, we're all gaining weight. (I'm only about 500 micrograms heavier than I thought, but that doesn't mean I won't at least think about going to the gym later today.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No time for work (or play)

I just finished compiling my schedule for September, and it's looking like a doozy. Between dance classes, a show at the end of the month, classes for school, and my day job... well, let's just say I hope there's another one of me to help me do it all...

Why do I do it? Because it's fun (no really). Am I going to get stressed out about it? Hell yeah. Am I going to do it anyway. Probably forever.

I couldn't do it without the support I'm given every day by the generous soul of a partner I have (Thanks Sammy) But most of the time, I don't think either of us would have it any other way. Now I just have to find a way to practice burlesque and do homework at the same time! Then my life will finally be complete!

Chickfight!

Chickfight!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Between a rock and my place

There's so much pressure to show up in the lab these days. When I'm not around, certain people (most notably those higher up the academic food chain) naturally assume that I'm slacking off and partying it up on my paltry stipend earnings. Sure, I work in a lab and to actually collect data I need to come in. There are definite advantages to bouncing ideas off people, getting feedback, and working collaboratively. And now that the summer is over (as far as the university administration is concerned), there are weekly scheduled meetings and gatherings where even if attendance isn't exactly mandatory, it's certainly frowned upon if you don't show up.

So I've spent most of the summer "working from home". I'm not going to lie and say that they were all productive hours and there weren't days when you could legitimately say I was slacking off. But, especially lately, I've never had more productive days than the last month or so...
  • wake up without an alarm (bliss!)
  • kiss my love on the forehead, give her the option to sleep in (which she always takes!), and stumble in my pjs/bathrobe into the living room
  • check email, catch up on a blog or two, and random web browse for 45 minutes
  • make coffee (inevitably result: the rising of sleeping beauty at the sound of the grinder and fresh coffee scent)
  • sit back down in the living room, laptop comfortably warming lap, coffee by my side and ready to work
  • within 90 minutes of waking up I'm actually working (not commuting to work)

The next step... work! (while waiting for my sweetheart to let the caffeine kick in and slowly lift from groggy sleep haze until she inevitably--the wonderful woman she is--makes breakfast: anything from a bowl of cereal to home-made pancakes. Jealous yet?)

And work I did.

Over the holiday weekend I spent 30 hours writing a 38-page draft of the fourth chapter of my thesis. This past week, I edited down a paper according to the reviewers' suggestions and have cobbled together 80% of a draft for another from that leviathan of a thesis chapter.

But I was beginning to feel guilty and came into the lab today. (Not to mention, there's a seminar today and Rani is working all afternoon. Poop.)

And what have I done?

Nothing. Well... nothing much. Certainly nothing as concrete as "finished a paper":
  • organized data to burn to backup DVD and erase from my laptop hard drive
  • caught up with the other students in the lab, letting them in on all the little things I "figured out" this week
  • organized a "study schedule" with another near-completion PhD student so that we can get together and actually sift through all the literature we need to know inside and out by the time we defend
  • caught up with a good friend (and full-fledged scientist here in the lab) over lunch and picked up a little gossip about the departmental behind-the-scenes workings (kinda miss that inside knowledge, actually)
  • asked a few people for help (i.e. to send me slides) for the "intro talk" I've got to give next Tuesday afternoon
  • and, oh yes, wrote this post

It's nice to list all that stuff. At least it feels "real" now and not just like I was a social butterfly who didn't do anything useful. (And I won't argue if you say that at least one or two of those items are, technically, useful things that were made much easier to do by being here.) There's just something about the environment here: the cramped office space, the people that are more fun and interesting to interact with than just look at, the stress of knowing my supervisor might be around the corner and ready to pounce, the need to share knowledge vocally rather than writing it down as I know I should. It's kinda fun, but never feels particularly productive.

Ironic that: that coming in to work makes me feel like I'm working less, while staying at home in my pjs (or, like I did yesterday, taking my laptop to the pub for a few hours), makes me feel like working hard and actually producing something.

I like working at home better. It's more relaxing and I have complete control of what I do and how I do it. I can handle more stress in an environment that I'm actually comfortable being in. I feel like I actually get things done there.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Silvered Reflections - Looking back on the year


A year ago, the summer dragged on. Not in a bad way, just in that wonderful lazy way that summers can.

This summer disappeared in the blink of an eye. Enforced relaxation was by no means the norm, but it was worth it.

I've got one academic paper in press and another that's been reviewed and needs to be sent back. My photo portfolio has grown and my technique (both behind the camera and in post) has come a long way. People are coming to me asking for photos and even offering to pay. And I've got 90% of a PhD thesis written that, by the end of the month, will be done

Somewhere in there Rani and I managed to attend a few parties, enjoy the occasional patio, have a few great shows, visit friends and family in far off places, and generally stay somewhat sane.

Despite the craziness and the overwhelming stress, happiness was easy to maintain. Being so busy meant little free time, and the stress kept piling (rather than floating away) as the summer went on. But we decided early on to enjoy ourselves and keep smiling.

It worked.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

How does that iPodTouch/iPhone screen work anyway?

When I saw the iPodTouch/iPhone screen in the Apple demo videos, I knew it felt familiar. Stumbling from link to link today, I found a video that I've seen before:



(Link to the webpage here.)

It's a talk from Feb 2006 on this wonderful new "multi-touch" technology. Though Apple found some nice little consumer apps to pop it into, the way this screen works could, quite literally, transform the way we interact with computers. It's so intuitive and seemingly simple to use. I've been thinking for ages about getting a touchpad interface to help with photo editing, etc... but this is light years ahead of that.

Take it a step further and think about what happens if this tech really catches on... I can imagine a whole new design for computers--fitting even more organically into our everyday lives. I'd love to have a desk with one of these things integrated right into it. Or a laptop that doesn't need an extra keyboard and is as intuitive to use as a pad of paper.

Not that computers aren't already everywhere, this takes them another leap away from being some alien technology and towards devices that you barely even notice you're using. Kind of scary. Kind of exhilarating. Can't wait to see what comes next.

For a little more insight into how it might actually work, have a peek here at an amazingly simple homebrew version.

She's Got Legs


Even if it's not a career, you're pretty damn good at it!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Burlesque as a Career? Haha!

An acquaintance of mine got upset at me the other day for spending too much time and energy on my "career" (and by career she meant burlesque). This was, of couse, after I'd spent more than $300 of my hard earned money on costumes and props for a show that I wasn't getting paid for (It was for a good cause, so I'm all for that). I gingerly informed her that 1)I spend alot of money putting together charity shows, and 2) My career is academia - I'm going to get my PhD and become a university professor one day, so why would I want a career in something that pays me nothing?!?

A Career in burlesque - haha! You can have one if you want, but I'll explain why you might not want one:

- Since the burlesque "revival" everyone and their dog does burlesque, there are new troupes popping up every day

- It can be a really catty business, once people get into it to make money they don't support each other very well

- You spend thousands of dollars on costumes (if you're doing it right) and make very little back. Only the big names make any money at it, and I can only think of about 3 or four of those people in all of North America

- You have a shelf life, when you get too old, you can't really keep doing it.

All that being said, however, I think burlesque is a really great hobby for me. I enjoy the costumes, the performance, and the interesting folks I meet along the way. Many people spend money on their hobbies, and so I don't mind investing in mine in order to do it right. And if I spend my time on this hobby, it doesn't mean I'm career bound, it just means I've found better things to do than sit on the couch all night, watching TV and drinking beer.

Tunnel of Light



A little abstraction to start the day. Nothing wrong with that.

Bumping into the ex

Definitely something I'm never prepared for. Especially when it's just around the corner from where you used to live together -- and when I'm accompanied by my partner who I live with now. It seems like there's so much to say about the years that have passed, but it equally feels that little has changed. And none of it is worth trying to get into on a street corner in the Annex.

Had me wondering for a while, "Has my life really not changed that much?" But, in the end, it was just the weird juxtaposition of being in an "old place" with an "old face" that made me feel that way. Of course life has got more complicated, I've grown up a lot, and I'm in a much better place now.

I've got my studies/career on track (despite the incessant moaning). My creative life has taken an upturn I never could have expected. Most important, though, I'm actually the partner I want to be -- rather than the one I thought I was being.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't any less a "good guy" back then than I am now. But I was just that kind of selfish only those in their early to mid 20's can be (and none of them know it). Just getting into the world, figuring out how it works, starting to carve a little hole in it to call your own, and still just a little too green to realise how little of it you'll ever really figure out -- makes you world-weary enough without being world-wise enough yet, and it's too scary just thinking about yourself that even when thinking about others it doesn't always work out 100% right.

I'm happier now. Much. And that's all that matters.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Weird dreams

I used to believe that dreams were prophetic. That was back when I also thought that I could project my "spirit" to the astral plane and spy on my parents, siblings, and friends without them knowing it. (I suppose it was a few years after I relied on Looney Toons for my understanding of physics and assumed that the reason I kept getting pulled down by gravity was that I didn't not believe in it enough.)

Last night I had a series of dreams. Of course, I only remember snippets. But they involved:

  • writing to a deadline about to pass
  • racing around in a convertible car on lonely highways and back roads, not a care in the world
  • prepping for a photo shoot, having to deal with a prima-donna-esque model, and watching the sun go down (losing that "perfect timing" for the light and having to cancel the shoot)

I'm sure there was more, and I seemed to wake up repeatedly over an hour or two. But everything linked to the various stresses in my life these days, both in my academic (thesis) life and creative (photography) life.

Not to mention that little unspoken wish to just run away from it all and have seem "easy" for a little while.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How Can One Person Do It All?

I wonder, how can I do it all?

Research
Write
Go to class
Work
Make Costumes
Plan Shows
Dance classes
Dance practice
Work out (so to keep my girlish figure)
Make friends
Keep friends
Meet with thesis supervisor
Edit papers
Be a supportive partner
Clean the apartment
Write in the blog

How does one person do it all? Yet, how can I not do it all. Were I to stop I don't think I would be me.

I think it may be time for a PDA, a calendar, and a class on time management.

Mental exhaustion

So very tired...

I had an important committee meeting yesterday. After spending 30 hours over the long weekend finishing up a draft of the 38-page-long chapter 4th chapter of my thesis and spilling my guts about it in the meeting, I just can't seem to get off my ass today to do anything that (most other people) might call useful.

I know I've got piles of thesis work to do. And a photo shoot or two that I'd love to be preparing for. And some side-line layout work that would be nice to get out of the way. All of those things sound so.... useful. (Don't they?)

But maybe I'm doing exactly what I need to do today: Relax, recharge, and give myself the chance to really jump into all that stuff full force. I'd argue that useful (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. For me, I know that random day recharging my batteries (and feeling like an absolute useless lump) can jump-start a few days or even weeks of accelerated productivity.

Now I just need to give myself permission to do just that. Why is that sometimes so hard?

Let's begin... in the middle?

We start, of course, with "The Big Finish". No, not because were done already, but because we're well past the start. To catch everyone up real quick, the last year has had stuffed into it:

  • The start of one thesis (Rani) and nearly the end of another (Sammy)
  • Lots and lots and lots of performances (Rani) and even more photos of said performances (Sammy)
  • Groups (performance and otherwise) come and gone; friendships with them (but were they really friends to begin with if they're not still around?)
  • Travel (around the world and around the block)
  • Stress... oh boy, yes stress
  • ...but also lots and lots of fun (the photos say it all!)

The most important thing, though, is two lives becoming intertwined... meeting as photographer and model, sitting for coffee and finding common research interests (despite wildly disparate fields).

Seems an obvious pairing right from the start, doesn't it?

The Big Finish