"When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around"

Happy New Year (Samhain)

By Shanathalas
Happy Halloween to everyone. I get to celebrate my favourite and most sacred festival at the right time of year for the first time in seven years. There's a reason Halloween is not that big in the southern hemisphere: it's a harvest festival, not a rite of spring. It should be celebrated when its cold and dark and the leaves have fallen off the trees, leaving branches bare like skeletal arms reaching into the night sky. According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, at times even fading away completely, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialise with humans.

For me Halloween is very special as it is my own personal end of the year. Today is the last day of the old year and tomorrow will be a new year. October is my lucky month, and I am usually blessed with a positive change at this time of year. Last year is was a proposal. This year's blessing was the news I received yesterday that my application for a research job has finally been accepted. While I still have a few hurdles to jump, I am on my way to a research job. I may be agnostic, but I still have a profound feeling for the sacred, and this time of year is sacred to me.

Halloween is also for partying and our first Hallow's Eve festivities this year started with a trip to our friend Kass's Halloween Party on Saturday night. From there we made our way to the annual Parade of Lost Souls. This event, organised by Vancouver's Public Dreams Society, was great. Commercial Drive* was closed down to cars for ten blocks and all manner of people took the street to celebrate this festival of the dead. It truly was a night where demons, devils and ghouls could walk feely with the living. The costumes were fantastic and it was great to be street-partying with thousands of people in good humour. This year I dressed up as a elvin ranger. Jaime went as a ninja, Rob was "the Dude", Kass the Grim Sweeper, and Bjorn as Hannibal Lector. Wearing a costume makes one feel free and invulnerable, and generally gave the crowd an incredible feeling of camaraderie. Alas, the parade eventually ended when it started raining about 10:30pm. We retreated back to Kass & Bjorn's to teach the Kiwis a little thing called "Guitar Hero".

On Sunday evening, after a day of lounging around doing nothing, Jaime and I met up with our friend Ange to check out Sanctuary's Halloween Party. Sanctuary is Vancouver's regular Goth/Industrial night club and we had been meaning to check it out before this, but as it's always on a Sunday, we hadn't. So we braved the freezing temperatures (it was minus 2 that night) and the Monday morning hangover to go to this excellent Halloween dance party. The djs really rocked out and the music was great. The quality of the costumes was fantastic, but then again, it was a goth club; they might turn up like that every week. Ange made a great costume as what happens to a demon when hell freezes over. We would have loved to stayed all night but with work looming in the morning and the smoke machines making me asthmatic, we left just before the witching hour.

Today is Halloween actual. As its a Tuesday and were broke, there won't be much revelry, but I figure this elf and ninja should take to the streets to check out the kiddies in their trick or treat outfits. Alas, living in an apartment building with locked lobby, we are pretty unlikely to get any trickortreaters. Never the less, I have bought some treats, carved my jackolatern, and decorated. Children may not get through locked doors, but pixies, demons, and ghouls don't worry about such things, and I would hate for them to knock on the door demanding their treats, and us having nothing for them.

*Sydneysiders read King Street

Best Live Show EVER!!!

By Shanathalas
Last night Jaime and I had a little slice of home. We went to see the Cat Empire at the Commodore Ballroom. It was just amazing to see such a great live band in the best live venue around. I haven't danced and sung so much at a concert. The band put on such a show, giving the audience exactly what they wanted. I was surprised by the turn out, I didn't realise they were that big in Canada. There were obviously many aussies there, but there were also a surprising amount of Oirish there too (one of whom, a very drunk and belligerent woman, had a good ole rant about how Canadians are too polite)*. The whole crowd was right into it, jumping and singing along for over two hours. There are good bands out there, but not a lot of bands are 150% better live.

*Most Vancouverites thank the bus driver as they get off the bus.

Boring email threads

By Shanathalas
I am following the most boring email thread at the moment. I am on a mailing list for the australian archaeology community. I like to keep my foot in the door somehow and see what's going on. Sometimes there's some pretty substantial emails about work, newly published books and emergency pleas for people to quickly do something before yet another australian company destroys australia's dwindling natural and heritage resources.

In the past 24 hours I've had 30 emails on "where is the best place in sydney to get pointing trowels". Trowels small enough for archaeological use are notoriously hard
to find in Sydney. But now this has now turned into an email thread on how crappy the parking lot at the Bunnings in Ashfield is. Sheesh

Luckily someone posted something completely unrelated and amusing:



- - - -
January 22, 1939

Assistant Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Chapman Hall 227B
Marshall College

Dr. Jones:

As chairman of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, I regret to inform you that your recent application for tenure has been denied by a vote of 6 to 1. Following past policies and procedures, proceedings from the committee's deliberations that were pertinent to our decision have been summarized below according to the assessment criteria.

Demonstrates suitable experience and expertise in chosen field:

The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from "possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency" to "practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics" to "unabashed grave-robbing." Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn't surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist's tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.

Nationally recognized for an effectual program of scholarship or research supported by publications of high quality:

Though Dr. Jones conducts "field research" far more often than anyone else in the department, he has consistently failed to report the results of his excavations, provide any credible evidence of attending the archaeological conferences he claims to attend, or produce a single published article in any peer-reviewed journal. Someone might tell Dr. Jones that in academia "publish or perish" is the rule. Shockingly, there is little evidence to date that Dr.Jones has successfully excavated even one object since he arrived at Marshall College. Marcus Brody, curator of our natural-history museum, assured me this was not so and graciously pointed out several pieces in the collection that he claimed were procured through Dr. Jones's efforts, but, quite frankly, we have not one shred of documentation that can demonstrate the provenance or legal ownership of these objects.

Meets professional standards of conduct in research and professional activities of the discipline:

The committee was particularly generous (and vociferous) in offering their opinions regarding this criterion. Permit me to list just a few of the more troubling accounts I was privy to during the committee's meeting. Far more times that I would care to mention, the name "Indiana Jones" (the adopted title Dr. Jones insists on being called) has appeared in governmental reports linking him to the Nazi Party, black-market antiquities dealers, underground cults, human sacrifice, Indian child slave labor, and the Chinese mafia. There are a plethora of international criminal charges against Dr. Jones, which include but are not limited to: bringing unregistered weapons into and out of the country; property damage; desecration of national and historical landmarks; impersonating officials; arson; grand theft (automobiles, motorcycles, aircraft, and watercraft in just a one week span last year); excavating without a permit; countless antiquities violations; public endangerment; voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; and, allegedly, murder.

Dr. Jones's interpersonal skills and relationships are no better. By Dr. Jones's own admission, he has repeatedly employed an underage Asian boy as a driver and "personal assistant" during his Far East travels. I will refrain from making any insinuations as to the nature of this relationship, but my intuition insists that it is not a healthy one, nor one to be encouraged. Though the committee may have overstepped the boundaries of its evaluation, I find it pertinent to note that Dr. Jones has been romantically linked to countless women of questionable character, an attribute very unbecoming of a Marshall College professor.

One of these women was identified as a notorious nightclub singer whose heart he attempted to extract with his hands, and whom he then tried, and failed, to lower into a lake of magma. Another was a Nazi scholar he was seen courting just last year who, I'm told, plummeted into a fathomless abyss at Dr. Jones's hand. And, of course, no one can forget the slow decline and eventual death of Professor Abner Ravenwood after Dr. Jones's affair with Abner's underage daughter was made public, forcing her to emigrate to Nepal to escape the debacle.

Demonstrates successful record in undergraduate and graduate teaching:

In his nine years with the department, Dr. Jones has failed to complete even one uninterrupted semester of instruction. In fact, he hasn't been in attendance for more than four consecutive weeks since he was hired. Departmental records indicate Dr. Jones has taken more sabbaticals, sick time, personal days, conference allotments, and temporary leaves than all the other members of the department combined.

The lone student representative on the committee wished to convey that, besides being an exceptional instructor, a compassionate mentor, and an unparalleled gentleman, Dr. Jones was extraordinarily receptive to the female student body during and after the transition to a coeducational system at the college. However, his timeliness in grading and returning assignments was a concern.

Establishment of an appropriate record of departmental and campus service:

Dr. Jones's behavior on campus has led not only to disciplinary action but also to concerns as to the state of his mental health. In addition to multiple instances of public drunkenness, Dr. Jones, on three separate occasions, has attempted to set fire to the herpetology wing of the biology department. Perhaps most disturbing, however, are the statements that come directly from Dr. Jones's mouth. Several faculty members maintain that Dr. Jones informed them on multiple occasions of having discovered the Ark of the Covenant, magic diamond rocks, and the Holy Grail! When asked to provide evidence for such claims, he purportedly replied that he was "kind of immortal" and/or muttered derogatory statements about the "bureaucratic fools" running the U.S. government. Given his history with the Nazi Party, I fear where his loyalty lies.

To summarize, the committee fails to recognize any indication that Dr. Jones is even remotely proficient when it comes to archaeological scholarship and practice. His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better. Marshall College has a reputation to uphold. I need not say more.

My apologies,

Prof. G.L. Stevens

Ball Hogs Never Score

By Shanathalas
Jaime and I have been playing indoor soccer at a local community centre here in Vancouver. Its just casual, for fun soccer, and is technically co-ed. I say technically because even though it is advertised as "Co-ed", I am the only female who has ever shown up in the three months since we started playing. I don't mind being the only girl, it was the same way when I played pick-up soccer and floor hockey when I was a teen ager. And generally, most of the guys I play with are pretty good with it.

But last night this total asswipe turned up and was put on our team. Joaquin from Uruguay apparently has a blind spot for females, cause he didn't pass to me, AT ALL. For 105 minutes this dickhead just hogged the ball. I would be in perfect position by the net to score and instead of passing to me, he'd just run into three of the opposition. Or he'd get within a few metres of the net and then kick the ball AS HARD AS HE COULD, which of course would sent the ball flying into the wall about two metres above the net!!! Anyone who knows indoor soccer knows that scoring goals is a matter of finesse and positioning, and not sheer power. We use floor hockey nets, which are considerably smaller than a regular football net, and the chances of scoring in a hockey net with a soccer ball with three defenders standing there is pretty unlikely. And just kicking the ball as hard as you can just ends up turning the ball over to the oppositon at best, or at worst, injuring one of the poor defenders .

To be honest, he was such a ballhog, he didn't pass the ball to the male members of our team that much either. But at least he passed to them sometimes. But never to me. I mean what harm could it have done?! Its not like we keep score or anything. And believe it or not, while I'm not the fittest person on the team I am actually pretty good at ball handling, and have been known to score sometimes. And I am brilliant at assists (i don't need the glory, I'm happy to pass to a top scorer).

Sorry for the rant, but ball hogs make me angry.

All good things ...

By Shanathalas
... must come to an end. I knew my go as a games tester would finish, but I'm not thrilled the way it happened. We had initally been told we would be there 4-6 weeks. As the 4 weeks neared, we kept asking both the temp agency and EA when we would be finishing, but we just kept getting a big "we don't know". Then on Friday after, our manager finally had a meeting with us. He tells us that EA is much more impressed with the temps that they had expected them to be, and that it looks like were going to be staying longer than they originally said, and that they were just ironing out the details. So it was quiet a surprise to come home on saturday to find a message saying our work with EA was finished, effective immediately. Calls to my temp agency this morning verified that yes, we were told the wrong thing on Friday and yes, I'm out of a job. Its not the job ending I don't like (I'm hoping to get a better job soon) just they way it was carried out. Its not shocking from EA (they're terrible to their employees), but it is a surprise from such a large temp agency.

In other news, I got a free sample of Coca-Cola BLaK - and yes - its revolting. Only thing its good for is giving you a headache. I like Coke and I like coffee, but never the twain shall meet in my mind.


By Shanathalas
I can't remember if I made any New Years resolutions, but if I had, I'm sure "read more books" was one of them. I use to read like mad, but over the past few years my reading time has dwindled. Moving to Vancouver where I first had no work and now have a job with considerable commuting time, had given me the opportunity to get back into reading.

I will update this post each time I finish a novel this year. I am going to write about my impressions of novels, but not the details, just in case any of my reading few plan to read any of these stories and do not wish to have their enjoyment ruined by spoilers.

Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
(October 2006)

"Tess" had been sitting on my bookshelf for about 15 years, so I thought it was high time I actually read this book. I had seen the bbc movie in 1998, but couldn't remember that much, except how terribly sad it was. This was not an easy book to read, in two ways. The first is Hardy's biblically and classically-laden high english, the second is how hard it is to read all the horrible circumstances poor Tess is forced to endure. It is a very moving book and I really felt Tess's plight. The book offers an excellent insite into the desparate living conditions of the rural poor in Victorian England, particularly for woman. I am glad I finally read this book, but it is very depressing and I feel I need to now find a light and uplifting novel to restore me to a happier mood.

Appropriate accompanying music: "White Flag", Dido
Etoiles: 4/5

Voyage of the Dawntreader by CS Lewis
(September 2006)

This was not actually a reading but a re-reading. I had read this short novel when I was a child, and it has always remained my favourite of the Narnia Chronicles. Though I had always looked back on this book fondly, I couldn't actually remember much of the story, apart from the ship itself. As moving to Vancouver reunited me with many of the books I left at home with mum, I thought I would give it a re-read (something I rarely ever do). It took me only a few days to go through this story again. Having just read Stardust, I could recognise how much Gaiman had borrowed from CS Lewis (something he freely acknowledges in his notes in Stardust). The simplicity and originality in this fantasy from a more innocent time is comforting. Its like reading the adventures of Lucy, Edmund, Eustace and Caspian as if one was sitting in a sunny window, with a nice cuppa tea and a comfy blanket.

Appropriate accompanying music: "Enigma Variations", Edward Elgar
Etoiles: 3.5/5

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
(September 2006)

As a rule, I try not to read the same author consecutively. I am trying to vary my reading material, and try not to "use up" good writers too quickly. But having just read the very long American Gods, I thought the shortness of Stardust looked appealing. This is a beautifully written fairy tale with great characters and a terrific pace. With so much fantasy having been written over the past 100 years, it is hard to find something original, but Gaiman pulls it off. The language is perfect for visualising the story; so much so that I feel almost as if I had watched a movie rather than having read a book. In fact they are currently filming the movie version of this story. But I have my doubts that the movie could be anywhere as good as the film.

Appropriate accompanying music: "Magik", Hallucinogen
Etoiles: 4.5/5

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
(July - September 2006)
It is surprising that it has taken me quite sometime to start reading the novels of Neil Gaiman, as I had read and thoroughly enjoyed the Sandman graphic novels many years ago. I did get to Good Omens last year, as I am such a Pratchett fan. But I finally got to American Gods as it was my "flightbook" for our long planetrip from Sydney to Vancouver at the end of June. Even though this managed to capture my interest from only the first couple of pages, it took me several months to read, probably owing to the fact that its a bloody big book, an unfortunately, about 100 pages too long. I found this story about shadow and his adventures with Mr Wednesday very readable, particularly as I have studied mythology and find it facsinating. But this novel suffers from a common fault of books of modern times: a poorly realised ending. The climax is no where as tangible as the first 3/4s of the book is, and after such promise, it is quite a disapointment.

Appropriate accompanying music: "The End", The Doors
Etoiles: 3/5

They can fly!

By Shanathalas
I try my best not to post every great thing I see on; that's youtubes job. But sometimes you see something so spectacular, you just have to share it. This is the something that manages to be terrifying, beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time.

While sharks are one of my most primal fears (along with clowns), they are animals of true beauty and have my absolute respect.

Playing the odds...

By Shanathalas
I recently read a quite disturbing news article on how an upcoming experiment to prove the Big Bang Theory could accidentally destroy the planet. Though the test on the Large Hadron Collider could show how the universe began and shed some light on dark matter, there is a "a tiny, tiny risk the device could create conditions that would obliterate the planet and all human life". The low odds still leave me with a sense of unease. Especially when I read this article this morning about how a woman managed to "dream" of winning the lottery ticket, so went out the next day and bought a ticket with the same numbers as a ticket she had already purchased. She then won the lottery and as she had two winning tickets, picked up 2/3rds of the prize rather than sharing the it 50/50 with another winner in a different province. What are the odds of that?

But Jaime gave me a comforting thought. If they are successful in creating a black-hole under a mountain in Switzerland, the world will be over in a blink of an eye, and we wouldn't feel anything.