Not a flash mob

I can’t believe I’m writing about this but it’s been nagging at the back of my mind for a while and I can’t get rid of it until I share it.

It’s about flash mobs. What is, and what isn’t.

This is a flash mob.

Flash mobs are cool. An entirely random selection of strangers agree to get together at a certain time and place to perform something randomly. There are the flash iPod raves where participants all download the same MP3 and show up with their personal audio devices at some public location to enjoy the track at the same time, dancing in a rhythm that onlookers can’t figure out. There was the group that showed up wearing the same colored shirts and slacks in similar styles to confuse best buy shoppers about who was and who wasn’t an employee.

Harmless, random fun designed to amuse and confuse. That’s what a flash mob is.

This, while entertaining, is not a flash mob.

What a flash mob isn’t, however, is an organized group of skilled performers who’ve rehearsed a piece  with the intent of performing it together. While the choir suddenly springing up to sing the hallelujah chorus is certainly surprising and entertaining, it isn’t a flash mob. It’s a plain old fashioned rehearsed and scheduled performance. Sure, the audience might not know what the schedule is, but it’s scheduled all the same. Prepped with camera crews ready to film the reaction of the audience the only thing it’s missing is a company logo.

If a group of strangers, people who do not know each other, show up somewhere, sometime, to perform something unrehearsed, it’s a flash mob. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the whole point. If it works then it has a certain magic, a success that was most definitely not assured, and a certain purity of intent.

But if it’s rehearsed it’s certainly not “flash” or spontaneous, and if it’s an organized group who’s membership is dependent on proving your skill at some specific task, it’s certainly not a “mob”. It’s a plain old scheduled performance piece, no matter how surprising or entertaining it might be.

I’m not sure why this bothers me quite so much, except perhaps the dividing point between the two different intents:

Flash mobs sprung up on their own for their own purpose, spontaneously, simply because it could be done. They’re fun for the sake of fun and are not done for any other purpose than the enjoyment of doing them.

The other stuff? It’s the marketing machine gearing up and trying, yet again, to take over something “cool” and make it work for their clients (who are likely the shopping mall the performance is scheduled in). It’s taking the tried and true advertising gimmick and applying he latest cool lingo to try and package it as something else.

Performances are all fine and good. I don’t have any problem with shopping malls scheduling performances to entertain their customers during the holiday season. They’ve been doing it for years. Just don’t call it a “flash mob”.

Just a short blurt into the darkness

With both ladies out of town I’m definitely beginning to feel the lack of human interaction, so it was nice to have coffee with Elizabeth yesterday and to drop in on Mary Ann and Tony tonight, and I’ve got Shane coming over for video games tomorrow. See? I can socialize.

I still need practice at initiating social contact. Not sure where the deficiency lays. You’d think someone who grew up alone would be well practiced at calling out to others but that just isn’t the case. I’m perfectly capable of standing up on a stage in front of hundreds of people and speaking on any number of things, but getting myself to pick up the phone and talk to one person is like trying to pick up a magnet with a similarly charged string. My brain refuses to stay on track and slips off to do just about anything but pick up the phone and make the call.

I’m not socially stunted. Put me in a group of strangers and I can be all gregarious and anecdotal, or at least make polite conversation until the food arrives. I’m not the sort of person who naturally hangs out with the people he works with but I do manage to mine out the occasional rare gem from the common gravel that end up being friends in their own right rather than “friends from work”.

A big part of it is my deep seated aversion to bothering people and I worry that if I call someone I’ll be putting them in the position of having to decide whether to entertain me or to politely let me down and keep the time for themselves. I know a lot of people will reply with “but you’re never a bother, call any time!” but then voices in my head tell me that’s the polite and supportive thing for them to say. In reality I know I treasure much of my alone time and that makes me assume others do too. My mother has long since trained me that people who love you will lie to you and so it has become a difficult for me to trust when people whom I believe care about me tell me they don’t mind me calling. I know that’s convoluted but that’s how my mind works. Or, more accurately, that’s how my mind overworks.

Paradoxically this winds up meaning the people I have the least trouble calling are the people who are most likely to turn me down. Knowing that they have no trouble saying “no” means I can trust their “yes” that much more.

It’s interesting how so many of the Truths that resonate with me come from comedy. Something about the court jester being the one to point out the obvious things that everybody else either overlooks or wants to ignore appeals to me. George Carlin can be so brilliant sometimes. Not all the time, but some times. Here are a few good quotes of his:

“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

“If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.”

“I love and treasure individuals as I meet them; I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.”

“The Earth is just fine. The Earth isn’t in any danger. We are.”

“Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”

Modest Mouse: Missed the Boat

I really love this song:

While we’re on the subject
Could we change the subject now?
I was knocking on your ears
Don’t worry, you were always out
Looking towards the future
We were begging for the past
Well, we know we had the good things
But those never seemed to last
Oh, please just last

Everyone’s unhappy
Everyone’s ashamed
Well we all just got caught looking
At somebody else’s page
Well, nothing ever went
Quite exactly as we planned
Our ideas held no water
But we used them like a dam

Oh, and we carried it all so well
As if we got a new position
Oh, and I laugh all the way to hell
Saying, “Yes, this is a fine promotion”
Oh, and I laugh all the way to hell

Of course everyone goes crazy
Over such and such and such
We made ourselves a pillar
But we just used it as a crutch
We were certainly uncertain
At least I’m pretty sure I am
Well, we didn’t need the water
But we just built that good goddamn

Oh, and I know this of myself
I’d assume as much for other people
Oh, and I know this of myself
We’ve listened more to life’s end gong
Than the sound of life’s sweet bells

Was it ever worth it?
Was there all that much to gain?
Well, we knew we’d missed the boat
And we’d already missed the plane
We didn’t read the invite
We just danced at our own wake
All our favorites were playing
So we could shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

Tiny curtains open and we heard the tiny clap of little hands
A tiny man would tell a little joke and get a tiny laugh from all the folks
Sitting, drifting around in bubbles and thinking it was us that carried them
When we finally got it figured out that we had truly missed the boat

Oh, and we carried it all so well
As if we got a new position
Oh, and we owned all the tools ourselves
But not the skills to make a shelf with
Oh, what useless tools ourselves

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Humpty Dumpty Bike

Broken signal light

Broken signal light

I managed to fix the bike again after having dropped it last week. We had just filled up at an Esso station and, while pulling away, I somehow managed to hit the kill switch just as I was leaning into a turn. Luckily I was just starting up so the bike simply dropped, and although it did drop on my leg I managed to escape with nothing more than a couple of bruises. The bike was quite as lucky.

The left front turn signal snapped off halfway up the connecting arm / bracket, the rear signal had a broken face, and the left mirror was smashed. Not a huge deal, all told, but we did stress a fair bit over a small hose that appeared to have worked it’s way loose. Given I’d just filled up the bike there was a bit of fuel leakage, which got the hose wet, which led us to believe it was a fuel line. We couldn’t for the life of us figure out where it had once been attached. In attempting to compare with Ronya’s bike she discovered three unattached hoses of her own… hoses that didn’t seem to need to be attached, for whatever reason. Given that the hose we were fussing over wasn’t wet with fuel anymore we decided to just give the bike a try and see if this was just another random, unattached hose.

Apparently it was. The bike started up right away and rode fine.

It seems to be that time of year where we end up paying tithes to support our lifestyle. Our older car needed to go into Ford for a water pump leak as well. Not cheap, and I was surprised to find that other garages won’t touch the Ford coolant system and instead insist you take it into a dealership. What is it, some kind of Illuminati secret? Or will Ford simply send out some bruisers to deal with any mechanic muscling in on their turf? Given that this is the third (I think) water pump we’ve had to replace on the mystique perhaps I’m not far from the truth. So long as Ford is the only one “qualified” to replace said pump they’re pretty much guaranteed a thousand bucks from us every second year.

What is that bit of advice people keep giving me about buying Fords? Oh, yeah, it’s “Don’t”. Given the stellar performance reviews I’m getting from everyone with an import I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever about why the north American auto manufacturers are in such dire straights. Here’s an idea, guys, how about building cars that don’t fall apart the second the warranty expires and perhaps we’ll start buying them again.

Anyway, I went out to work on the bike today. First order of business involved moving it back into the garage. First point of panic of the day: the bike wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t even turn over. In fact, there was no sign of electrical anywhere.

Hm, that seemed familiar to me.

So I pushed the bike around to the garage and began taking it apart. First discovery: the backpack I bought for the bike isn’t water proof. Heck, it doesn’t even seem to be water resistant. Good thing I didn’t have anything important in it. I set it aside to dry.

Second discovery: the old fuse we’d replace with the burned out fuse casing… was fine. The wire, on the other hand, had been abraded through, and in removing the electrical tape from it I wound up with little broken bits of fuse casing tumbling all over the place. Ah well, I managed to put the fuse and the wire together anyway and wrapped it up in electrical tape again. At least there’s still a fuse involved, so if there is a short I won’t loose much. Still, I’ll need to get a new casing for that fuse sometime soon.

Replacing the front signal bracket went relatively smoothly, although I did have a short moment of alarm when I found the wiring behind the headlight as bad as the wiring for the fuses. “Rat’s nest” is putting it mildly. Still, I managed to trace the requisite wires to their sockets and unplug them. The hardest part about replace the bracket was feeding all three wires down through it. The third one just didn’t want to go.

Putting it back together I was dismayed to have it simply not work. Taking it apart again, however, I discovered that the bulb wasn’t seated properly and before I knew it I had the signal working just fine.

Unfortunately when I went to replace the facing on the rear signal I discovered the reason the facing was broken was because the whole assembly had been dented out of shape.

I took the assembly apart, which was a feat in itself given the mounting nut was tucked away in a recess on the inside of the fender and was welded tight with dirt and rust. It took me a good twenty minutes just to get the wrench into a position where I could even try to turn it.

Once I did get the assembly apart I took it over to our work bench and proceeded to smack it around with a hammer. I eventually forced it into a vaguely circular shape, on where the screw holes for the plastic facing lined up at least, and put the whole thing together again. Re-attaching it to the bike turned out to be easier than taking it apart, which I found surprising.

So now it all works again. Mostly. Except now I have an indicator on the bike’s status panel telling me there’s something wrong with the headlight. Given that it is currently working just fine I’m going to ignore it along with the erroneous battery light and just ride until it actually stops working.

kodachrome abandons my mother

My mother died over a decade and a half ago, in 1993. Every time I think of that I keep reflecting on all the things she’s missed over the past sixteen years, primary among them the Internet. I’m not sure what she would have thought of it. Computers were an arcane mystery to her, as they are to most people from her generation. Had she lived I would have, no doubt, become her defacto tech support guy… assuming she’d ever bought a computer in the first place.

A few months ago I’d heard a short news byte about the alternative band Snow Patrol. With something like seven successful albums under their collective belts they were one of the rare success stories in the music industry. They had, as the vernacular goes, “made it”. They may not have been up at the tippy top of all the charts but they’d definitely been on the charts with their share of hits. With that legacy of success behind them the band decided, as a whole, that their next step would be… taking music lessons. Each band member interviewed and hired a personal tutor specialized in their particular instrument, from voice to drums, and sequestered themselves away for months of intensive study. To me their message was clear: no artist is ever done learning. There’s always something more. Success only means you can afford new and better instruction.

The news byte impressed me and made me resolve to check out their next album. It also reminded me of my mother.

Mom had been the recipient of numerous awards in her profession as photographer, from local to provincial on up to national. People in her profession knew her name from Vancouver to St. John’s. Outside the community of professional photographers the renown meant nothing, but to her colleagues it was everything. And she never stopped learning.

Throughout her career she would explore ever expanding aspects of her profession. She never turned down a chance to learn from someone new, even if it was something she herself was reknown for. Decades after winning national awards for family, wedding, and individual portrature she was still willing to sign up for seminars on the topic if it was done by someone new.

Her real passion, though, took flight when she started to explore various methods of retouching and restoration. She invested in new equipment; vertical mounted cameras that produced negatives larger than the prints you get from the photo marts, light tables with numerous attachments, and an airbrush with more attachments than I could count. She would take damaged photos and reproduce them in sharp, accurate detail that would have you thinking the photo had been taken yesterday. She learned to work directly on negatives, painting in alterations with single hair brushes barely tipped into chromatically reversed paints. If you think it’s hard mixing paints to match the precise hue of grass or ocean waves, imagine trying to come up with the colors in reverse.

Archaeologists digging up skeletons of primitive villages could always identify the weavers by their prominently bowed backs. My mother, had she not been cremated, could have been identified the same way. By her forties she was having to increase her eyeglass prescription every year. Into her fifties she was getting new glasses every six months. She worked over a glaring light table for hours, tiny little film negatives pinned beneath a quartet of magnifying glasses mounted on articulated arms. The finest watchmakes in the world would not have need for such precision.

A few weeks ago the Eastman Kodak company announced they were discontinuing production of their kodachrome film, a popular staple with professional photographers since the early seventies. The most widely known photograph in the National Geographic archives, the young “afghan girl” with the startling and gorgeous eyes, was shot on kodachrome film, as was the follow up photograph taken twenty years later.

Digital cameras, it seems, have finally taken over, rendering the old chemical process obsolete.

I felt another little piece of my mother detach from the waking world as I heard the news. A tiny weight of depression pulled my shoulders down. I felt that, even had she lived, her passion would have been overtaken by the ever accelerating pace of progress, her skill rendered as quaint and archaic as weavers and potters.

But then I brought myself up a bit. There’s a good chance I would have been wrong in that assumption. As I said, she never did stop learning. It’s quite possible that she would have taken her skills to their next logical evolution. I could quite easily see her becoming curious about Photoshop and Corel. It would have been right up her alley. I’m sure she could have taught even the most hip and savvy of graphic designers a few things about color and composition, chastising them should they ever complain about the limits of their wacom tablets and screen sizes.

After all, she could have admonished them, they should be grateful they aren’t slaving over a glaring light table with four magnifying glasses, working with a single hair brush and reverse colored paint… and no “undo” command or backup copies to save their ass should they make a mistake.

Kids these days. They have it so easy.

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