Updating le status de..uh, moi.

Let’s see, what’s happened so far? We’ve been to Chartres, Blois, all along the Loire valley, up to Mont-St-Michel, Normandy (Juno Beach), Arras (Vimy), Champagne for several days and now we’re in Paris. It’s all been fantastic, it’s all been fun, and it’s all been some kind of otherworldly vacation.

Net connectivity’s been spotty so I’ll have more for you this weekend after we get back. Woo!

Bonjour!

Good morning, North America. Just a quick update from beautiful sunny Normandy. We’re on day 4 of 14, and we’re having a blast. We’ve seen cathedrals in Chartres and Mont-St-Michel, Chateaux at Chambord and Villandry, towns of Candes St-Martin and Saumur and Bayeux, as well as Juno Beach and a thousand points in between. We’ve drunk wine and beer and apple juice and nary a Diet Pepsi. We’ve stayed at some wonderful B&Bs, a parade of one beautiful site and charming host(ess) after another. Both the rental car and my French are holding up fairly well so far; we’ll see what the next ten days bring.

Pictures to come, though I don’t know when. I’m not really inclined to sit at the computer right now. Come to think of it, I think I’ll join Nellie in the sunny courtyard and play with the dogs before dinner. A tout à l’heure!

à tout à l’heure

I went down to the river to scan

Finally overcoming the irony, I managed to summon enough attention to read “Information-rich and attention-poor”, an essay in last week’s Globe and Mail. It’s really quite insightful, and makes clear what so much abundant information is doing to the way we view knowledge:

“Knowledge is evolving from a “stock” to a “flow.” Stock and flow – for example, wealth and income – are concepts familiar to accountants and economists. A stock of knowledge may be thought of as a quasi-permanent repository – such as a book or an entire library – whereas the flow is the process of developing the knowledge. The old Encyclopedia Britannica was quintessentially a stock; Wikipedia is the paradigmatic example of flow. Obviously, a stock of knowledge is rarely permanent; it depreciates like any other form of capital. But electronic information technology is profoundly changing the rate of depreciation…Knowledge is becoming more like a river than a lake, more and more dominated by the flow than by the stock. What is driving this?”

The essay describes very well a problem I’ve been feeling. Well, a change more than a problem per se, but something I’ve sensed. In fact, the author deals with the perception that the shift from a lake to a river is problematic.

“Those of us who are still skeptical might recall that Plato, in the Phaedrus, suggested that writing would “create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it.” This is a striking example of a particular kind of generation gap in which masters of an established paradigm can only see the shortcomings, and not the potential, of the truly novel.”

I’m very comfortable dealing with this river of information. I’ve jumped right in, obviously, by scanning hundreds of news feeds every day at home and at work and picking out the relevant bits, but I feel like I’ve trained for that my whole life by being a generalist…I like knowing something about a lot of things, and knowing a lot about some things, so all this access to information is kind of like mother’s milk to me. I’ve never been the kind of person who memorized things, I’ve always assumed I could look them up or just figure something out again when I needed to. Now it sometimes feels like I can’t remember enough, especially when I’m at work and dealing with people who still value institutional knowledge.

It is frustrating sometimes, that I can’t sit down and focus on something very often. I find that needing to focus for an hour on conceptual work requires that I move to an empty meeting room, or even a Starbucks, just so I get away from the computer and the need to watch the river. That often means printing something so I can work offline, which I hate. So I figure I have three options:

  1. Build a nice, easy ‘dam’ switch on the computer that lets me disable Outlook, Twitter, Google Reader, IM and my phone for an hour or so
  2. Find a way to work on a paper-like form that doesn’t require killing trees. Maybe it’s time for me to get a tablet?
  3. Quit my job and find something that never requires any original thought or conceptual analysis, just parroting of the information I see which adds little or no value to it. But I’ve never really wanted to be a newscaster, so I guess that’s out.

Chemistry

Tonight my beloved Montreal Canadiens will hit the ice for their first exhibition game of the fall. I’ll miss nearly the entire pre-season, as well as their season opener against the Leafs (blurg!) while we’re in France, but I’m intensely curious about how the team will look.

I’ve held off talking about all the off-season changes Bob Gainey’s made as I wanted to see the final product take shape before commenting. This was the most change I’ve seen my Habs, or maybe any team, go through in one summer. After the disastrous 08-09 season, the centennial celebration in which the Canadiens were supposed to contend for the cup, Gainey knew he had to do something. And what he did was blow up his team’s leadership core and start over.

Saku Koivu, the heart of the team and one of the club’s longest-serving captains, wasn’t signed. Likewise Alex Kovalev, their most talented player and assistant captain. Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins, both of whom have worn the A and have been projected to eventually don the C, are gone. Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Patrice Brisebois, Tom Kostopulous, Mathieu Dandenault, Francis Bouillon…all gone.

Plenty of players came back in return, and on a talent-by-talent basis they’re as good or better as what went out the door. The interesting part of the great reset of 2009 was the fact that Gainey looked at his core of veteran players and decided he simply wasn’t going to win with that group. Loathe as I am to admit it, he was completely right. There’s been something lacking on the Canadiens team for a long time, something intangible…usually teams use words like chemistry or cohesiveness to describe it. Maybe it was heart. Short of Koivu, who would probably run through walls or kill a hobo if that’s what it took to win, there were a lot of guys on the team who would disappear when their backs were against the wall. But even Koivu, with all the heart in the world, often couldn’t get his name into another gear in crunch time. The effort was there but the execution wouldn’t come.

So, Gainey brought in Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Jaro Spacek, Hall Gill (!), Travis Moen and Paul Mara to reform the bulk of the team. Whether they can produce the chemistry Gainey’s looking for, or whether the departure of the old guard allows others to finally step up, remains to be seen. There are already early whispers of better chemistry in the room, so we’ll see if that sticks. Interestingly, those comments about chemistry came from Carey Price, upon whom success this season hinges more than anyone. If Price doesn’t bounce back from a bad year, all of Gainey’s machinations may be for naught.

However, the time for introspection is passed. The time for hockey is…uh, tonight. I can’t wait to hear the sweet sounds of blades carving ice and boards being rattled.

Go Habs go.

Leslie, My Name Is Evil

Our final film of the fest was a bizarre one: Leslie, My Name Is Evil (tiff | imdb). Director Reg Harkema introduced it as virulently anti-realist (I’m paraphrasing here) and that was about accurate. It’s hard to describe, other than to say it’s unlike any other surrealist examination of the Manson family murders in the context of the Vietnam war (and featuring a love story) that you’ve ever seen. Full points for audacity, and for making everything I described above pretty friggin’ funny.

B-, but I’ll knock it up to a B for superb use of a Black Angels song.

Accident

Accident, or Yi Ngoi in Cantonese (tiff | imdb) was the only second choice that we ended up with, since Whip It tickets were in short supply. Still, Whip It will be out soon and the guide’s description of Accident reminds me of a film we saw one year ago today, The Ghost, which would have been very good except for the awful score and sound mix.

Likewise, Accident would have been pretty good, but it fell down on execution. The idea was very cool, but they didn’t do nearly as much with it as I thought they could have. I don’t want to give away too much in case anyone reading this is a fan of Hong Kong cinema and plans to see the film, but it seemed like they could have made that a real cat and mouse. This just felt like they sissied out around the time the second act began.

C+

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising (tiff | imdb) was our third film, and first of the year back at our old familiar haunt: the Ryerson theatre. This film didn’t make the first draft of our schedule, but after hearing some early buzz and watching the trailer again, we swapped it in. I mean, c’mon…the awesome Mads Mikkelsen playing a savage mute warrior named One Eye who goes off to fight in the crusades, and allegories of religious warfare ensue? Oh, I was there. I was there yesterday.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Or it did at first, but then lost them. It started off with a…well, not a bang so much as the thud of rock hitting a skull. Incredibly violent at the beginning and for various bursts throughout, but the bulk of the film plodded along to the point of tedium, beautifully shot though the tedium may have been.

It’s weird…I liked it, but I would have liked it so much more if they could have found some pace.

C+ B+

[UPDATE] The more I think about this film the more I like it. The images from the ‘plodding scenes’ keep racing through my head, even as I watched another movie, and since that was the only weakness I could think of, I’m upping my grade.