Friday, December 30, 2011

My (brief) Internship at the Prime Minister's Office

You might not know this, but I spent the last summer interning for the Canadian Prime Minister. It was a super interesting experience and I learned so much about the world and myself. I thought maybe I'd share some of my experiences with you

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: I've been thinking Chris

Me: Yes?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Crime.

Me: Yes?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: It's a bad thing.

Me: Well. Yeah. I think everyone dislikes crime.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Not criminals.

Me: They don't?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: No. They think it's fun

I'm bored. Let's steal some TVs.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Which is why I'm going to get tough on crime!

Me: Okay. Just one quick thing. You do know that the crime rate in Canada is lower than it's been in almost 40 years?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: And there is still too much crime! We can do better!

Me: Wow. That's a lot of passion. I'm totally behind you. I like this. Let's get rid of crime. What do you have in mind?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: I've been thinking, Chris. If we can stop kids from doing the crime, then they won't grow up into adults who do the crime.

Me: That's a pretty progressive stance to take. Awesome. You know, there's research that shows rehabilitating young offenders and helping them get a high school education greatly reduces the chance that they'll commit property crime - the most common of all the crimes. It's a more cost effective way to deal with these offenders and at the end of it, they wind up as productive members of society, instead of career criminals.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: So what I'm going to do is throw them in jail for longer.

Me: Ah

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Because then they'll learn their lesson.

Me: There is a mountain of evidence against that position

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: And that lesson is that crime is bad

Me: Like, a literal mountain. An entire real life mountain.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: So don't do crime, kids.

Me: I think it's somewhere in the Rockies.

This isn't snow. It's every single sociological
paper that contradicts Stephen Harper.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Sorry, what were you saying?

Me: I was just pointing out that there's a geologically significant amount of statistics that say -

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: We don't govern based on statistics.

Me: Seriously? You actually just said that? How could you possibly think saying that thing would ever be good.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Statistics can't be trusted.

Me: Well, there's certaintly a lot of hokey information out there. But as long as you know what you're doing and double check things like sample size, possible bias in the sample, and the analytical methods used, then statistics are wonderful tools for figuring out things about the world we live in.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: No. They sit there looking all cute and adorable and then as soon as you turn your back, they're rummaging through your garbage. Probably for drugs.

Me: What!?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: And then they just go hibernate for five months, living off of welfare, not paying any taxes. The scum.

Me: Oh. Okay. I-I think I know what's going on here. You're confused. Just a little confused is all. Have statistics ever tried to steal your picnic basket?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Yes, but then I maced the drug fiend.

Me: Oh my. This is kind of unbelievable but here goes. The thing that you think statistics are is actually just bears. Bears crossed with, I guess, heroin addicts?

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Bears? I thought those were those crazy guys that no one ever listens to?

Me: No, you're thinking of Green Party MPs, honest mistake. This is a bear.

My platform is investment in renewable
energy sources and also eating dude's faces.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Whoah! What are statistics then?

Me: Statistics, or more rightly statistical analysis is a series of methods employed to collect and interpret data. Using this data we can then make conclusions about how certain things in the real world may or may not correlate. Statistics are essential to pretty much every science since without them we have no way of telling between the world we live in and some made up fantasy land.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Without statistics, we could be living in some made up fantasy land?

Me: Well, we might as well introduce policy as though we are.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: I stand by my original statement then.

Me: Seriously? Fine. We still need some way to pay for these changes to the criminal justice system that you're making.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Oh I'm sure we have money somewhere for it.

Me: Actually no. We have the largest deficit in Canadian history ever. We could maybe move some money around from something superfluous like those $9,000,000,000 fighter jets. But jets are SO FRIGGIN COOL. We need them. All of them

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: AREN'T THEY AWESOME!



The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: HIGH FIVE!

(Me and Stevie H high fived. It was a pretty deep friendship moment for us.)

Stevie H: Can we just get the provinces to pay for it?

Me: That kindave violates their autonomy doesn't it?

Stevie H: I have a majority government now. Who cares about the province's autonomy?

Me: Well, it kindave makes you a dick.

Stevie H: ...

Me: ...

Stevie H: ...

Me: Being a dick is a bad thing.

Stevie H: But it helped me to win this majority.

Me: Right.

Stevie H: So it's a good thing.

Me: No. Well. Maybe in politics. But being a dick while making policy is a bad thing

Stevie H: Why?

Me: Well it's like. It's like if you were debating a piece of legislature in the House of Commons and -

Stevie H: Sorry. Debate?

Me: Oh. That's my bad. They gave me the primer about how you don't know that word on my first day. Oh well, I'll try my best. When a piece of legislature is in the House of Commons, we talk about the pro's and con's and trying to work out different amendments that could be made before the bill is passed. That way we have the best possible legislature.

Stevie H: I still don't understand

Me: Ugh. So when you're a dick it's like when you're forcing some ideologically, poorly thought out, piece of legislature down parliaments throat.

Stevie H: Continue

Me: And then all of a sudden, John Baird starts waving his cock around. Maybe he disagrees with someone? Who knows? He's not using words. He's just flailing his cock about. Maybe it's some sort of phallic semaphore? Sure, people are paying attention to him, and the opposition can't say anything to stop him. But gosh he looks like a goddamned idiot.

Stevie H: That's actually pretty tame by John's standards.

Me: I know! What is with that guy? Anyways, my point is, when you're a dick and absolutely refuse to listen to what anybody has to say on any matter and force bills through parliament and stick the provinces with these huge bills for a crime initiative that won't even work, well Stevie, it kind of makes you a shitty leader.

Stevie H: You're fired.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Too many words about James Bond

The new Bond film 'Skyfall' is due to be released in November 2012. There are two reasons why this is the first Bond release that actually excites me,

1.  Ralph Fiennes is in the film and he has shaved his head. Now lets look at some facts. The last two films dealt with worldwide conspiracies committed by criminal organization QUANTUM (a clear ripoff of SPECTRE). The current synopsis for Skyfall indicates that MI6 will be under attack and that there will be some personal cost to Bond. Only three times in the 22 films has there been any personal cost to Bond - when Felix Leiter is seriously wounded (and his wife killed) in Licence to Kill, when Vesper Lynd is killed in Casino Royale, and when his wife Tracy is murdered by Blofed in On Her Majesties Secret Service. The Daniel Craig films have probed into Bond's past, and Blofeld is the leader of SPECTRE. Therefore this means that Ralph Fiennes may very likely be playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

You only live twice, Mr. Bond.

2. Skyfall is a return to the single word, slightly odd titled Bond films that are generally quite good (see: Goldfinger, Thunderball, Goldeneye. No. Seriously. See them. They will be the best thing you watch all week)

Now this second point got me thinking about the quality of Bond films vs the number of the words in the titles. Personally, my favourite film is You Only Live Twice, and my least favourite is Quantum of Solace. So from a min/max subjective perspective, the theory that quality drops as the number of the words in the title increases falls apart. But, surely, there is a way to figure this out in a nonsubjective way.

SPOILER ALERT: There is. And then I did it. Because I'm awesome. And also because I've got this useless math degree I've not been using. But mostly the awesome thing.

Before we get into results, let's talk about methods, because that's how you write a scientific article and this is legit science. Legience! Our domain includes only the Eon Productions films. So those two earlier Casino Royale films and that one Sean Connery film Never Say Never Again (which is just a remake of Thunderball and I will never watch) don't count. This leaves us with the 22 Bond films that are considered canon. For a complete list, click THIS LINK

I took the ratings for each Bond film from the approved critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. I used the approved critic's ratings because the general public has NO FRIGGIN IDEA WHAT A GOOD MOVIE IS. Basically, the critic's ratings seem far more accurate to me than the general public's. Maybe that counts as confirmation bias but maybe I'm choosing to count everyone with bad taste as an outlier because seriously, fuck those guys. I assure you that 'fuck those guys' is a valid statistical method.

I'll let you decide what this
bull is up to.

Other methods employed were just your basic calculations for means (averages) and standard deviations (how far away from the average a random film is likely to be). There's also a logarithmic trendline and some r-squared stuff but not very much and I'll explain it when we get to it. It's not terribly complicated but just sounds that way.

Now, lets get into looking at the data. Sexy, promiscuous data, wearing that dress just to drive you crazy.

Hey there.
Let's start with the basics. The average James Bond film rates at 70.8 %. Here are the top and bottom five, their corresponding scores, and the starring actor. Also included at no extra cost is some commentary from me (personal bias).

The Best
 Dr. No (98%, Sean Connery)
 Goldfinger (96%, Sean Connery)
 From Russia With Love (96% Sean Connery)
 Casino Royale (94% Daniel Craig)
 Thunderball (88% Sean Connery)

As you can see, Sean Connery dominates the top Bond films. As he should. Four out of the six films he starred in are in the top five, with only the recent Casino Royale beating him out. As I mentioned before, my personal favourite is You Only Live Twice -  a Bond film written by Roald Dahl simply has to be the best thing on Earth. However, Dr. No has my favourite scene in the entire series. It's the first clip from this video


It gives us a look into not only how ruthless Bond can be but also how that ruthlessness can make him a shitty spy (he probably should have gotten the information he wanted before shooting the dude, is what I'm getting at).

The Bottom (haha bottom)
 A View to a Kill (39% Roger Moore)
 Moonraker (47% Roger Moore)
 The World is Not Enough (51% Pierce Brosnan)
 The Man with the Golden Gun (53% Roger Moore)
 Tomorrow Never Dies (54% Pierce Brosnan)

The worst films are split between Moore and Brosnan (the sixth worst is Die Another Day, another Brosnan film). This isn't surprising - both of them are in some pretty terrible films. In fact, Brosnan's popularity as Bond is pretty much just coasting on the quality of Goldeneye. But, I'm rather fond of both of them, so it's disappointing to see them so poorly thought of. Also disappointing is the fact that Quantum of Solace is not on this list. Let's get something straight, there are good Bond films, there are bad Bond films, but all Bond films have something in them that's memorable. Except for Quantum of Solace. A View to a Kill is rightfully the lowest rated but it had Christopher Walken playing the shit out of being a Bond villian and that makes it entertaining and worth watching. Quantum of Solace had nothing. The only memorable moment in that film is when the Bond girl is coated in oil but that's just a ripoff from Goldfinger.


 This first graph is the average rating of films based off of how many words are in the title. The horizontal red line is the average rating for all James Bond films.

Sometimes I wonder why girls don't like me, and then
I do something like this and the world makes sense.

This definitely follows the trend that quality decreases as words increase, but there is an anomoly when it comes to two films. This is due to the fact that there are only two two-worded Bond films: Dr. No and Casino Royale.

This next graph uses a logarithmic trendline to show that, it's not an absurd conclusion to assume quality decreases with the number of words in the title. The blue diamonds each correspond to the top of the bars in the previous graph. The trendline is logarithmic because it had the lowest r^2 (or r-squared) coefficient. An r-squared coefficient is basically a summary of, on average, how far away your trendline is from your data. So if you have really high r-squared then your trendline is terrible. Just the worst. You should be ashamed of your trendline. The lower the r-squared is, the better the trendline fits the data. A logarithmic trendline had the lowest r-squared (as opposed to exponential or linear or other options), so that is what I used.

Ladies love it when you show
them your trendline.

Clearly, there is a decreasing trend. You can tell because the beginning of the trendline is higher up than the end of the trendline. Hypothesis proven. Chalk one up to science. Mission Successful. If I were James Bond, this would be the part of the film where M rings to congratulate me but I can't be bothered to talk to the guy who signs my paychecks and gets me million dollar cars (that I abruptly destroy) because I am too busy with sexytimes. But I'm not James Bond. So this is the part of the film where I go 'whelp, I've got all this data, what else can I do with it'.

I decided that what I could do with it was make a boxplot comparing the popularity of the various actors who have played Bond. While doing this, I came to the same conclusion that I reached three years ago. Boxplots are fucking stupid. So my graph doesn't used the traditional 'median, 1st and 3rd quartile' bullshit that typical boxplots do. No. Mine is better. The coloured boxes represent one standard deviation away from the mean. The mean is where the coloured boxes touch each other (as they show one s.d. above and one s.d. below the mean). The whiskers stretch out to the maximum and minimum values. In a couple of cases, the maximum and minimum fell within one standard deviation of the mean. I set these whiskers as equal to zero because Excel totally lost it's shit when I tried to input negative numbers. Never use Excel to graph things. Never. It is the worst.

It's very important that we talk about George Lazenby for a moment here. Lazenby only starred in one Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The problem with this is that it totally fucks up my data. You can't calculate the standard deviation from one datapoint. Also, OHMSS is a really good film. So Lazenby has a disproportionately high rating. It's doubly awkward because the worst part about OHMSS is that it stars Lazenby. He isn't a very good Bond and he wears a puffy shirt. James Bond would never wear a puffy shirt. Bow ties are cool, puffy shirts are a sin.

We've now entered the part where I feel like talking about two fan theories about James Bond.

Theory 1:

James Bond 007, is a codename. One Bond dies and another moves up to replace him.

This is a really cool theory. Really super cool. You could probably make a couple interesting films based around this idea but there is one small problem: The other films don't reflect this fact. The actors change, but the character stays roughly the same. All James Bonds love girls, take their martini's shaken, and irritate the piss out of Desmond Llewlyn. 

I've had enough of
your shit, Bond.
If you're going to have six different spies take on the same designation, you've got to expect a greater variance in character then that. Sure there's some variation, Moore is the joker, Craig is angry and inexperience, and Dalton was a burnt out killer but that's not good enough. The character's are still far too similar to believe they are fundamentally different people. There's also one other major issue with this theory. Diamonds are Forever begins with Bond hunting down Blofeld for killing his wife in OHMSS. But Connery plays Bond in Diamonds are Forever and Lazenby plays Bond in OHMSS. So either they were in a polygamous relationship together with this girl or they are, in fact, the same person. This brings us to theory number two.

Theory 2:

James Bond is a Time Lord.

In Doctor Who, a Time Lord is an alien species that is capable of 'regeneration'. When they die, it is possible for them to regenerate their energy into a new body (given that they aren't killed instantly). This is how Doctor Who explains away the multitude of actors that have starred in the show. It's an incredibly clever device because it allows for a change in the personality and appearance (goofy, serious, arrogant) of the main character while being able to keep the characters memories and overarching philosophies (martinis, that time Blofeld killed Bond's wife).

However, like with the previous theory, OHMSS fucks everything up. George Lazenby was Sean Connery's replacement and OHMSS was the first Bond film that didn't star Connery. But Lazenby only signed on for one film and the reception for it was really bad. So Connery was brought back for the film that followed OHMSS. Using the Time Lord theory, this doesn't work. Sean Connery can't regenerate into George Lazenby and then regenerate back into Sean Connery before becoming Roger Moore. That's not allowed.

At least, that's what I thought. Then I realized, holy shit, Time Lords can travel through time, duh. So clearly, at the end of OHMSS, Lazenby travels back in time and warns Connery about Blofeld. Connery then hunts Blofeld down, preventing the events in OHMSS from ever occuring (and ensuring that his wife lives, even if they aren't married and will never meet now). Then, later on down the line in his incredibly dangerous job as a spy, he regenerates to Lazenby who does nothing important enough to make a film out of and then regenerates into Moore.

There are two more things that connect Bond to Doctor Who. The first is this picture right here
This man. I want to be this man.
Timothy Dalton has played both James Bond and Rassilon, the founder of the Time Lords. So that basically proves it. The other point is just a striking similarity.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is Bonds archenemy. He is an evil genius and in his last appearance in the series (For Your Eyes Only), he was confined to a wheelchair and dropped down a chimney stack - presumably resulting in death but at the very least resulting in a huge amount of scarring and deformation.

Now, Stavro is pretty close to the name Davros. Especially when you consider how few words in English contain the sequence 'avro'.

Davros is The Doctor's archenemy. He is an evil scientist (genius) who created the Daleks. He is confined to a wheelchair. Here is a photo comparison of the two

Both very attractive men.

I don't think that it's too unreasonable to think that Blofeld and Davros are the same person. Thus lending the Time Lord theory more credibility. I am done now.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Mathematics Behind Contagion

If you're having trouble reading or can't zoom in, follow the link to find a pdf.
The Mathematics Behind Contagion

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What REALLY caused the London riots?

Not enough welfare. Too much welfare. Disaffected youth. Opportunistic thieves.Racial tensions. The shooting of Mark Duggan. Bad parents. The Middle East. Poor police presence. Twitter and Blackberry. Consumerist culture. The Tories. Anxiety over this season's Doctor Who.


Depending on which news article you read, these are all things that have been attributed to the London riots. The only thing that anyone can really agree on is that it's incredibly difficult to tell what exactly the main factor was. I think I've figured it out though. It was my fault. Looking back, I should have seen this coming. There were numerous hints I should have picked up on but didn't. For this, I apologize.

If you want, you can have this kitten.

But you weren't in Britain during the riots.

I know. Let me explain myself.

On May 18th, 2010 a Royal Bank of Canada branch was firebombed in Ottawa. At this point I had been out of Canada for eight months. This was the precursor to the the G20 protests that started on June 17th, 2010, culminating in riots in Toronto on June 26th and 27th. Notably, when I flew back to Canada on June 2nd, my flight did not have a layover in Toronto. Torontonians, I'm sorry. The direct flight was cheaper. Next time, I'll take your feelings into account.

While I was living in Glasgow (a violent city that is no stranger to riots) there was nary a protest. Then in November 2010, along with protests at universities across Britain, students marched on Glasgow University. Coincidence? Perhaps. But lets go on.

In February 2011, students illegally occupied the Hetherington Research Club until their forceful eviction in March. The stated reasons for occupying the building were "to protest the university's closure of the club". However, I'd like to think that they simply missed watching me walk to class everyday (the math building is next door) and were driven to this level of insanity.

In May 2011, riots broke out in Barcelona after they won the Champions cup. Five months prior, I was wandering their streets.

As well in May 2011, minor riots broke out during the Queen's visit to Dublin.

That's six incidents in five different cities in four different countries. Take note, that these are all stable 1st world countries, places where riots are a rare occurrence. The trail of destruction left in my wake doesn't end there though.

I leave for a week and
look what happens

I'm sure most of you still remember the Vancouver riots at the beginning of this summer. I very much wanted to be in Vancouver that day. Unfortunately, work and lectures made that impossible. My absence clearly frustrated Vancouverites so much that they felt the need to destroy their own city. Two days after the riots, I went to Vancouver and people were giving out free hugs in the street. See the power of my presence?

So finally, we find ourselves at the most current and most violent of the disturbances thus far. The London riots. It's been just over a year since I've been in the UK, just over a year for pent up rage to build up the breaking point. Had I realized my power sooner, I would have tried to stop it. But even then, I may have failed. You see, visa requirements in the UK are quite strict and they are only getting stricter.

Drawing from this evidence it seems like the easiest way to solve this problem is to give me a UK passport.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Quick reviews

I've fallen behind on this. Oops. Let's burn through three albums right now.

The Week Never Starts Round Here - Arab Strap

The Lowdown:

Arab Strap is Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat. Two dudes with awesome names and a very unique, if somewhat repetitive, musical style. I've not heard anything like them apart from in my favourite Belle and Sebastian song "Space Boy Dream" (which is a total ripoff of Arab Strap).

The Good:

Scottish, lengthy storytelling, lo fi

The Bad:

Scottish, lengthy storytelling, lo fi


People who don't like this album will dislike it for the exact same things people love about it. I have a huge bias on this one because it hits three things that I have a huge weakness for (Scotland, stories seemingly about nothing but then they actually manage to say a lot about 'place', and lo fi). Take a wee listen to "The First Big Weekend". If you're keen on it check out "The Clearing" and "Deeper" then the rest of the album. If you don't like "The First Big Weekend" you won't like any Arab Strap

Nice Nice, Very Nice - Dan Mangan

The Lowdown:

Dan Mangan is from Vancouver! That is pretty neat!

The Good:

Thoughtful and well put together lyrics. Brilliant music videos. Duet with Aidan Knight.

The Bad:

He is another bearded dude in a plaid shirt making acoustic guitar music. Not that this is bad inherently, just there are LOADS of options if you're looking for this. Dan Mangan is one of the better ones.


"Indie Queens" has probably my favourite line from a song ever.

"Bus down to the local record store
 Buy something to make you like me more"

Listen to that song. Now. Okay. Now tell me if it is supposed to be a melancholy love song or if it's a commentary on Vancouver's hipster scene. Hint: Both of these work. Dan Mangan is that good of a writer. Also: even if you don't like his music, you will find it almost impossible not to love the video to "Robots" and, to a lesser degree "Sold"

Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys

The Lowdown:

They are the Beach Boys. COME ON.

The Good:

If you are a person that likes to listen to the music then you will enjoy this album.

The Bad:

If you hate it when you hear sounds with your ears then this is probably not for you.


If you were to try and pick a "BEST ALBUM EVER OMG!!!!!!11" and factored in things like popularity, how  innovative it was when it was released, the influence on future bands, commercial success, and how well the album has aged then, depending on your personal taste, you've chosen either "Sergeant Pepper's" by The Beatles, "Highway 61" by Bob Dylan, or "Pet Sounds" by The Beach Boys. I dare you to disagree.

Anyways, there is a reason for that. Everyone has heard "Wouldn't it Be Nice" about a billion times. But, just for me, go listen to it right now. And actually listen this time. Pay attention. There are so many different things going on and they all fit together so well and it's all so complex and the entire album is like that.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weathervanes by Freelance Whales

I really hope the album cover
is actually made out of felt

I think Freelance Whales is a brilliant name. I've been pondering about the sorts of jobs one might hire a freelance whale for. My favourite theory so far has the freelance whales holding a mobster  stranglehold on the whale watching tourist industry. If you want to take a boat out and look at whales, you have to pay these guys off first. The first time you don't pay them,  the whales will refuse to swim majestically beside your boat and it will be super lame. If you don't pay them the second time you go out, these fuckers want your blood. Just every whale in the ocean will find you and they will sink your boat and rip every passenger on board in two. Do not fuck with these guys. Seriously. They will fill your shoes with concrete, drop you in the ocean, and eat you like an underwater lollipop.  

Another idea I had was for a ghostbusters style advert. Except instead of ghosts it'd be

"If you got some fish
stinking up your fridge
Who you gonna call?

Let's get onto the review shall we?

A Recipe for Mum's Own 'Freelance Whales':

Take equal parts Sufjan Stevens and Death Cab for Cutie and blend together thoroughly with an electric mixer. Add to saucepan and bring just to boil. Next, stir in one cup of repeatedly sifted Owl City. It’s best to double check the sifting and make certain that you’ve got all the chunks of shit out of the Owl City. Pretty sure screwing that up will ruin the recipe. Once the mixture has thickened to the proper consistency, remove from heat and put in a non-stick pan. Let it sit overnight in the fridge. For increased enjoyment, sprinkle the top with a healthy amount of Phoenix.

Serve with aimless summer drives to nowhere, balconies watching the sunset, or beach dance parties.

Three songs into ‘Weathervanes’ the only thing I could think was “These are the pop songs that should be playing on the radio”.   They’re light, catchy and have good flow. The lyrics are whimsical and poetic but not in a pretentious hipster sort of way. Also, there’s a banjo. Banjos are the best. Every album from now on needs at least one banjo.

The influences in 'Weathervanes' aren't difficult to spot but Freelance Whales manage to carve out their own unique sound while dishing out a fairly diverse catalog of songs. And as we all know, diversity is a good thing.

Three first three tracks "Generator ^ First Floor", "Hannah", and "Location" give you a good taste to Freelance Whales' flexibility while sucking you into their style.

"Generator ^ First Floor" slowly builds for a minute and a half around a banjo riff before dropping off into the first example off odd yet charming lyrics.

"Hannah" is a slower song, sung overtop of an electronic intro but contrasted with fastpaced lyrics that weave together so nicely.

"Location": Pure love for this song. Here's the opening lyrics:

"I am starting to sense your location
You are somewhere in the attic
Looking something close to tragic
Dating t-shirts and your mattress
I'm floating on the stairwell
With my toes grazed in the cedar
Thinking softly would a tender box leave them in..."

Other highlights on this album include the very Sufjan Stevens sounding "Broken Horses" and the just-oh-my-goodness-so-sweet-and-adorable "We Could Be Friends". If kittens could be turned into audiofiles, they would be "We Could Be Friends"

This cat. You could be friends with him.
Attribute: Heather Hopkins
This album is a great summer album. Just don't listen to the lyrics too much or it might get you a little down. I give it a 4.5/6.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Codes and Keys

There's a book I'm rather fond of wherein a father gives to his son ten commandments to live by. Number seven is: "Never let a week go by without investing in new vinyl". At this point in my life, it's neither practical or responsible to buy vinyl once a week so I get by on streaming and torrenting and modified this commandment into "At the very least, listen to one new album a week". I've decided I'm going to try and do one album review a week. Today: Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie.

How many years will it take until "pound sign"
is permanently replaced by "hashtag"?

The Bad:

The opening three tracks of this album 'Home is a Fire', 'Codes and Keys', and 'Some Boys' are at best forgettable and at worst (I'm looking at you 'Some Boys') annoying. It's unfortunate they named the album after a song that feels like Death Cab trying just a little bit to hard to sound like Death Cab. I'd like to think that the band was running out of studio time and Ben Gibbard was too busy working on the lyrics to 'Underneath the Sycamore' or the guitar riff to 'You Are a Tourist' (more on these later) to record so the record executives just got some stand-in named Ben Biggard off the set of a nearby fantasy film and had him do it instead.

Still though, it couldn't be as bad as 'Some Boys'. The repetitive and simple lyrics make this sound like an abandoned attempt at a pop song that somehow managed to sneak back on the album and hide in the bathroom stall until the release date when it suddenly stumbled out, disoriented from subsisting for months on a diet of crackers and toilet wine. You stare at it, in disbelief, but with a shimmer of recognition in your eyes before it ultimately vomits all over you and you regret ever giving it the chance.

Thankfully, after the weak start, Codes and Keys starts to hit it's stride.

The Good:

 Things start to pick up with 'Doors Unlocked and Open', a more upbeat guitar-focused track than what we've heard so far from this album. The main thing I like about this song is how when I saw it performed live, my car keys were locked inside of my car. I had a good chuckle about that but I suspect this is not the case for most people. The thing with this song is that with the slow start of the album, I was starting to lose attention and this pulled me right back into it.

Let's take a moment now and reflect on the guitar riff of 'You are a Tourist'. It's impossible not to take notice of this song if it's playing. The lyrics are relatively simple compared to other Death Cab songs but that riff, oh goodness that riff. I haven't heard anything that infectious in months and I've been doing epidemiology lately.

Hong Kong Flu - 0
Death Cab - 1 

Let's skip a few tracks and talk about 'Underneath the Sycamore' for a bit. Why do I like this song? Well, it's pretty catchy but not catchy enough to be remarkable. No, like with so many Death Cab songs what really  makes this song great is the bleak lyrics.  This is a song that you might catch yourself singing before you know all the words and that is a mistake. Don't be fooled by the upbeat chorus, this is a fully depressing song. I like being tricked like that. To be singing along and then realize what exactly I'm singing and have it be something awful. Brilliant. Thanks for this. To save you some of the trouble, here's the opening lyrics:

"Lying in a field of glass underneath the overpass. Mangled in the shards of a metal frame. Woken from the dream by my own name"

Next up is the obligatory soft song to show off Gibbard's interesting,  wavering vocals and lyrical prowess: 'St. Peter's Cathedral'. For previous examples of this type of song, please see  'Bixby Canyon Bridge' and 'I Will Follow You into the Dark'. I don't like this one as much as those previous examples but I do have a pretty heavy bias towards 'Bixby Canyon Bridge' since it details the culmination of Gibbard's Kerouac obsession. I'm including this song in the 'good' section simply because his voice is so visceral when it's the main attraction. Right after this, is a nice acoustic affair 'Stay Young, Go Dancing'. I have a weakness for acoustic songs. Also: if you google 'Stay Young, Go Dancing', the second hit is a photo taken in the botanical gardens. That's endeared this song to me quite a bit and now I want to go to a ceilidh.

The Average:

Following 'You are a Tourist' is a track with a lengthy piano intro called 'Unobstructed Views'. It must be said the lengthy bass intro to 'I Will Possess Your Heart' annoyed me for a very long time (almost as long as the intro) before I started to enjoy it. I already like the piano intro and I suspect that it will only grow on me like some sort of parasitic fungus.

The final three tracks on the album, round everything out in a similar fashion. 'Monday Morning' and 'Portable Television' continue the pace set by the ending to 'Unobstructed Views' and walk us nicely into 'Underneath the Sycamore'. On their own, I'd say they were mediocre songs, but this album has a really nice construction and as supporting players, they work quite well.

The Really Quite Nitpicky That I'm Positive Nobody But Myself Was Bothered By:

With an album name like 'Codes and Keys' I was really hoping that there'd be some sort of contest that involved decoding a secret message. It would have been the perfect opportunity for me to combine my interest in cryptography with my interest in getting awesome free things. I would be lying if I were to say I'm not bitter about this.

The Rating:

Since this is my first review, I'd best explain how I'm going to rate albums. I believe that a 6 point scale will work best for my purposes

0.5 - Anal Leakage
1.0 - That ringing you get in your ears after having spent the night at a concert
1.5 - When you're talking on the phone to someone and you're really quite busy with something else but they just won't shut the hell up
2.0 - I listened to the whole album and I don't know why. It has no redeeming qualities. Not even the cover art
3.0 - If this was playing in the background at a party or my workplace, I'd be pretty chuffed.
3.5 - This album is like that one friend you have that you don't talk to often but you see at parties lots and they seem like they'd be really cool to hang out with sometime but you're both just so busy that you never get anything organized and then years later you run into them at some bar, have a few drinks, reminisce about good times that you technically didn't share before finally going to bed with a lingering thought of where your youth went.  
4.0 - Let me count the ways I love you. One, two, three, four. You get a 4.
4.5 - Oh, this album is playing? Excuse my while I go freshen up and unbutton the top of my blouse
5.0 - That feeling you get when someone you fancy says your name.
5.5 - This album is the bee's knees. It is the wasp's nipples. It is, I would go so far as to say, the entire set of erogenous zones of every major flying insect of the Western world.
6.0 - The album I just reviewed is titled 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' by Neutral Milk Hotel.

I give Codes and Keys a 4.0/6.0

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Perplexing Perspective #1 (Gotta trace them lines)

An ocean is a terrifyingly large thing to comprehend. To knowingly be on the opposite side of one from everything I’ve ever known is a larger thing still; so large that my mind fails completely to register even a fraction of the distance. 

Internet and, to a lesser degree, phones only compound this problem. To look someone in the face and have a conversation, knowing that they are an ocean and more away is above my level of comprehension. To see pictures of home, friends, and family hours after they were taken, to be told how someone’s day was over the space of mere minutes and thousands of miles, it makes the world deceptively small. This only serves to increase the shock of realizing just how incredibly and unfathomably large the whole thing is. 

Even just looking at something as simple as a map renders all logic mute. Maps are a gross misrepresentation of the world.We ought not to see and understand America and the UK and Asia all in one glance. It’s too bite-sized and does not allow the proper consideration that every country, every city, every town and every person deserves; mountains, oceans, rivers, valleys, highlands and lowlands, deserts, marshes, the entirety of humanity and all its creations all jam packed onto a little sheet of paper. 

Here is everything there is to see, now make it real and make it yours.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Death on Two Legs Pt 2

For part one click here

Grouse walked through the door to the reception at MI6 and threw his hat and jacket clear across the room, landing perfectly on the hat rack. It was impressive. It was even more impressive due to the fact that grouse don't usually wear hats or jackets but he was just that fucking suave.

"Oh, it's nice to see you again Famous", said the receptionist. She was horribly smitten by Grouse. This is because she was a girl and all girls were horribly smitten by Grouse.

"The pleashure ish all mine Tenderpensh" replied Grouse as he handed her a single rose.

Tenderpence giggled, "I'm still waiting for that ring Famous."

" We'll have to shee about that"

"Grouse, would you skip the canoodling and get in my office", M buzzed over the PA.

"Of coursh" 

Grouse entered the office. Behind the desk sat a meerkat, munching down on marmite.

"Ahh, good of you to join me double-oh-zeta, I trust you've heard the news already"

"I hear alot of thingsh", was Grouse's requisite snappy response. He actually hadn't heard the news because he had been sexin' up pretty much the entire time between the last chapter and now (yes, even on the aeroplane, there was a confused stewardess in the back). The reason why that wasn't included as it's own chapter is because this story is PG you fucking perverts.

M continued, unabashedly ignoring 00ζ's snark, "Then as I'm sure you know, last night one of our dry-docked nuclear submarines was stolen. Amongst it's cargo was 6 SLMB's capable of launching a nuclear payload to anywhere on the planet. You can understand the seriousness and delicacy of the situation?"

"I've never been a fan of delicate"

"I'm well aware of that fact 00ζ and wouldn't be talking to you otherwise... only you see, whoever has hijacked our sub is yet to contact any government, ours included. We simply cannot have some maniac out there on the loose with nuclear capabilities and have no idea who it is or what their intentions may be."

"Sho where do I come into all of thish?", mused Grouse

" Ahh, well luckily one of our videocameras managed to capture a picture of one of the hijackers before our system went down. It's a bit blurry but from what I can make out, it appears to be a smallish mouse with an eyepatch over the left eye."


Look at that evil bastard, plotting awayawwwww HE'S SO CUTE!

"Our thoughts exactly. Now, as you have more intelligence on this particular villian than any other agent, I'm assigning you to investigate and to figure out what they could possibly want with that sub".

Grouse sighed heavily, "What you mean to shay ish that really you're jusht putting me in charge of shaving the world again aren't you? AGAIN?"

"In short yes, but there's no time to argue the point. Now if you'll go down to Q labs, there is some new field equipment that you'll need for your mission"

Grouse started down the elevator to Q labs. These were the sort of times where he really appreciated his job, when he understood why he was a super-top-secret-spy. He didn't do it for the money or the girls or the near endless supply of Aston Martins. No, he did it all for the badass elevator music.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and Grouse left the elevator to be met by Desmond Llewelyn.

"It's about time you got here".

"I've been bishy"

"Yes well, hurry along"

Desmond Llewelyn went over to a table and picked up a watch,

"Now 00ζ, this is our newest standard issue Omega Seamaster Watch, it comes complete with..."

However, instead of listening, Grouse's full attention was directed towards a gold pen that was sitting in a coffee mug on the table.

"Don't touch that!" cried Desmond Llewelyn just as Grouse clicked the end of the pen. A cyanide tipped dart flew across the room, embedding itself in a graduate student's neck. The student stared right at Grouse with a surprised look on his face before dropping to the ground dead.

Desmond Llewelyn snatched the pen out of Grouse's hand, "How many times must I tell you not to play with things. You're lucky that was just a graduate student and not someone valuable".

"I shuppose the pen truly ish mightiar than the shord"

"Quite, now if you'll come this way, you'll find that I've outfitted another Aston Martin DB5 with all sorts of handy gadgets; although it's pretty much inevitable that you'll have completely destroyed the car by the end of week. Honestly, I don't know why MI6 keeps giving these to you - half their budget must be allocated to "Cars for Famous Grouse". It's ridiculous. I could rig up a Volvo with an ejector seat and some headlamp machine guns just as easily and that thing would never get destroyed - no matter what hell you put it through. But no, instead my work is constantly being interrupted by M going, ' Oh, oh! Desmond Llewelyn, 00ζ's gone and completely wrecked a $200,000 vehicle', and that's the pricetag before my modifications mind you, 'could you pretty please make another for him?'. NO. FUCK. GET YOUR OWN FUCKING CAR YOU IRRESPONSIBLE TWAT. How the hell have you even got a driver's licence? I mean, the licence to kill I understand, you happen to be very good at killing people and just causing ridiculous amounts of mayhem in general but please please be careful with this car. If I have to build another, I may just go absolutely nutty.

For possibly the first time in his life, Grouse was completely speechless. He didn't even have a snappy comeback. Desmond Llewelyn, on the other hand, seemed to return to form just as quickly as he'd lost it.

"Anyways, this one's pretty standard. Secret glovebox, ejector seat, extendible spikes in the hubcaps, and machine guns in the headlights".

Desmond Llewelyn handed the keys over to Grouse and, in a spectacular display of indifference to instructions, Grouse put the car into reverse, gunned it to 40 miles and backed over a two foot concrete abutment without slowing down, before whipping it around 180 degrees and flying out of the garage door entrance to Q labs.

Death on Two Legs Pt 1


"Ahh, Mr. Grouse, it's so very unfortunate that things must end this way, however my employer is very adamant about getting you out of the way"

"And who egxshaclty ish your employer", questioned Grouse while struggling with the straps that held him to the conveyor belt.

"No no no Mr. Grouse, what do you think this is: A Bond film? No, I'll not be telling you any of our plans even though there's absolutely no chance for your escape. You never can be too careful, that is the motto of our evil underground organization and I stand by it."

"You'll never get away wi' thish Bandicoot"

"But I already have. Good day Mr. Grouse"

Bandicoot flipped the switch to the conveyor belt and then left the room. At the end of the conveyor large blades began to whir, slicing easily through pieces of lumber. The belt drew Grouse nearer and nearer till the roaring of the saws was deafening and a harsh gust cut through his feathers. Manoeuvring his wing, Grouse managed to press a button on his watch down against the side of the belt that confined him to his doom. Out of the watch shot a laser, red hot and cutting through his bonds. The blades were mere inches away now; feathers from the top of Grouse's head were getting knicked. Time itself seemed to slow down and the last precious seconds Grouse had until becoming mince passed with the yawning clarity of hours. At last, the strap broke and Grouse rolled off the conveyor belt.

" That'sh what I call cutting it closhe"

Grouse had to act quick. After a quick inspection of the steel door Grouse realized that he'd need to find another way out of this room if he wanted to escape. Ten feet above him wound the main ventilation shaft of the complex. Using his shoe to jam the saws, Grouse caused the machine to overheat and explode, sending one of the blades flying through the air, slicing the ventilation shaft in half. The fire alarm rang; Grouse had to act quick. He began making his way through the shaft, winding through the industrial complex. After crawling for about thirty feet, Grouse saw Bandicoot through a vent; standing in an office that had modestly been furnished by Ikea - but in a way that would make any interior designer cringe - and cowering in the presence of someone that Grouse could only make out as a shadowy figure sitting in a chair. Bandicoot stuttered fearfully, completely having lost that smug mocking superior English manner of speaking as he had while taunting Grouse,

"I-I searched the room sir... It seems that G-Grouse..."

"Growse vat?!" was the thick Russian reply from the shadowy figure in the chair

"He's not in the room. I t-think - I think he may have escaped"

" Escapt! You let Famous Grouse escape! He may be de only vun who could stop me."

The shadowy figure whirled round and leapt across the office desk, faster than Grouse could pick out any distinguishing characteristics, and tackled Bandicoot to the floor.


"Next time I take your whoole hed. Find Grouse before he gets away for good!".

On that cue, Grouse decided that he'd best not stick around and continued crawling down the ventilation shaft. The shaft ended at the outer wall of the building, ten feet in the air, and faced a snowy airfield. Directly beneath the shaft, guarding the airfield were two armed squirrels. As well as having arms they also carried guns and adorable little squirrel militia helmets. This made them OH SO CUTE!- but also deadly as fuck.
He wants his fucking peanuts and he wants them now.

Grouse carefully and silently removed the cover to the vent shaft. He threw the cover at one of the squirrels while simultaneously jumping down on top of the other. Both squirrels were knocked unconscious by an overdose of badass.

"Jusht thought I'd drop by", quipped Grouse - unknowingly causing heart failure in the squirrels whilst doing so. 

Unfortunately, the Control Tower saw all of this and sounded the alarm. Within seconds squirrels came dashing out onto the airfield and opened fire on Grouse as he sprinted for the nearest plane. Bullets cut through the sky all around Grouse but they were all too scared to actually hit him; instead they whizzed past inches away from him, mentally preparing the story for their friends back home even though, inevitably, their friends would never believe them. 

"Oh yeah, sure sure. I bet you did nearly kill Grouse. Went just inches past him uh-huh".

Making it through the impossibly large barrage of bullets, Grouse hopped into a single engine biplane that was preparing to take off but not before throwing the pilot out of the door.

"Niysh landing!" Grouse yelled from the cockpit as he flew off across the mountains and toward England