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I Am Skooter  So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Meanwhile in the forest / In a parliament of trees, The ink will crack and dry all up, But the compass will swing anyways. And we don't need mathematics / And we don't need submarines
— Rheostatics, Northern Wish
February 7, 2013
Justin Rutledge: Valleyheart

Justin Rutledge is one of Canada’s finest singer-songwriters. His new album Valleyheart was announced a few months ago, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating it ever since. I had the distinct pleasure of being able to interview Justin by phone and published an article at No Depression about the artist. You can read it below if you prefer, but it’s better in its original form.

The voice on the other end of the phone is quiet, as you’d expect from one of Canada’s most thoughtful and talented singer-songwriters. “When you make a record, all of a sudden you have to figure out how to talk about it” is one of the first things Justin Rutledge says. That’s why we’re on the phone: to talk about Rutledge’s new record Valleyheart, along with his upcoming tour, his recent theatre work and anything else that happens to come up. For a career that’s only 10 years old, there’s a lot of ground to cover with the young singer-songwriter.

Rutledge has been a well-known voice in the Toronto music scene for a while—his first album No Never Alone was released in 2004, and earned plenty of critical praise. That album was a spare and quiet self-produced affair and the lyrical songwriting it showcased made an immediate impression on a wide audience—including no shortage of his fellow musicians. Toss in a now-legendary once a week residency by Rutledge and his band at Toronto’s Cameron House bar and the rest is, as they say, history: four studio albums and who knows how many live shows of it.

It’s been a long wait for the release of Valleyheart, Rutledge’s fifth solo album. The solo distinction is important these days because the intervening years have seen the musician stretch his boundaries a bit: he’s acted in stage productions and started a Los Angeles based side project called The Early Winters. The band’s debut album was released in 2012 and sees Rutledge alternating lead singing duties with Carina Round. On the phone from Toronto Rutledge’s enthusiasm for his other band is clear. “The great thing about having a side project is it gives you another outlet,” he explains, “the songs there aren’t necessarily the songs I’d do myself.”

“Valleyheart has a California vibe. It’s very calm,” Rutledge explains. The album’s downtempo opening track Amen America feels like a love letter to the country he’s been spending more time in but also a lament for its flaws. It’s a song that probably wouldn’t have been written without that time spent in Los Angeles with The Early Winters. There’s a long tradition of Canadian artists spending time away from Canada to find their voices—think of Leonard Cohen’s time in Greece or Neil Young and Joni Mitchell in the United States—but Toronto’s Junction community is still home for Rutledge.

The calmness of Valleyheart comes across as a sign of an artist who’s comfortable with his place in the world—a man who, after ten years in a business that can be merciless to its most talented voices—knows who he is and isn’t trying to be anything else. When I asked if the quiet vibe was intentional Rutledge paused before answering: “I didn’t want to look at tempo. I was pretty unapologetic about how slow I was. This is what I do. This is what feels right.” So if the pacing of the album wasn’t exactly intentional, there was a conscious decision not to pick up the pace just for the sake of it. The end result is an album that feels whole. From beginning to end, nothing feels too out of place.

Don’t confuse that calmness with complacency, though: Rutledge has spent the last few years branching out in new creative directions. One of the reasons the new album took a little more time to get out than it might have is the time the artist spent on a different type of stage. Rutledge took a lead role both acting and performing music in the Toronto-based stage production of Michael Ondaatje’s award-winning novel Divisidero (which also served as the inspiration for much of his last studio album, The Early Widows.) He also wrote an original score of Morris Panych’s production of The Arsonists, accompanying the play live with his band for its entire run. Sadly, there are no plans to release the music from The Arsonists nor any to tour either of the theatrical productions.

It’s clear that the time spent in the theatre has had an impact on the approach Rutledge takes to storytelling in his songs. “Watching them tell a story…essentially all artists try to tell a story in a different way,” Rutledge says. The songs Rutledge writes tend to tell shorter stories and be less linear than the ones told on stage. Rutledge describes himself as being the kind of writer who’s “…after smaller moments. I’d rather start at W and go back to F.” Valleyheart contains plenty of these smaller moments; Through With You and Out of the Woods seem inspired by the uncertainty that enters our relationships over time; Kaspuskasing Coffee is a more upbeat take on the same theme; the album’s closing track Heather in the Pines feels like a series of perfect memories captured in song—like looking through box of old slowly-fading pictures, each one a moment long-gone but still intimately present in the memory of the listener. It’s the kind of music that makes you smile warmly or cry: it all depends on what you bring to it.

Valleyheart is a self-produced album, something it has in common with the almost ten-year-old No Never Alone album that first brought Rutledge to attention. A high-quality vinyl version of that album was released by Outside Music in late 2012, something that required Rutledge to revisit the older work for technical reasons and had him “…thinking about the guy that wrote [No Never Alone] and recorded it.” Rutledge describes Valleyheart as a “response to that young kid who just wrote what he felt.”
It was the combination of the deeply personal nature of the material and a sense that he knew what he wanted that lead Rutledge to work without a producer on Valleyheart. The album is also Rutledge’s first for Outside Music—his previous albums were all released by Toronto-based Six Shooter Records. Rutledge has nothing but praise for both his new label and his old, saying that they granted him “total artistic freedom…There was no one breathing over my shoulder, no one to tell me how to do my job.”
Rutledge will be heading across Canada on a solo tour—letting the songs “speak for themsleves”—to promote the release of Valleyheart and is hoping to tour with a full band to play some louder shows in the fall. In between he’ll be returning to California to resume recording with The Early Winters, who expect to be releasing a new album in 2013 as well.

For many people this busy, fitting together all of these disparate parts would be a challenge. It seems to come naturally to Rutledge. “We all bring unfinished ideas to the table,” he says when describing how recent albums have been created. Those ideas are shaped and moulded before being recorded, and he admits that “Sometimes I’m torn…what songs do I keep for myself?” He pauses for a moment before finishing the thought: “…but it’s not like it’s the last song you’re going to write.”

That’s a good thing, because Valleyheart feels like a new beginning of sorts: it looks both backwards and forwards at the same time, and I suspect that some of Rutledge’s best writing is ahead of him still. It’s nice to know that he thinks so too.

March 3, 2011
The Harper Government Uproar

It seems that Stephen Harper’s decision to ask senior civil servants to use the phrase The Harper Government to describe the Government of Canada has caused quite the furor. The Globe & Mail now writes that Harper has been accused of shaping other language to suit the government’s political ends.

Offensive? Maybe. Surprising? Absolutely not. I’m more surprised that the media has kicked up a fuss.

This is what politicians do. They manipulate language and choose words to obscure hard truths and blunt the impact of messages they think will be unpopular. These linguistic games are have been going on for years: Barak Obama had the audacity to hope for just about everything; George Bush senior had his 1,000 points of light that appeared to shed little light on anything;Mike Harris’s “common sense” revolution conveniently ignored much that made sense;Trudeau’s “just society” while a noble goal masked a deficit spending addiction; troops returning from the Gulf War suffered from a “syndrome” instead of being shell shocked.

The line goes back much farther than that, but a detailed tracing of each point on it is hardly necessary to make the point. I can’t understand why the Globe is surprised: manipulating language is what politicians do. Stephen Harper’s just doing an extremely bad job of hiding it.

January 19, 2011
Why I Stopped Reading "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Far be it from me to suggest that one of the best selling books in the world isn’t good. Clearly, popularity is a judge of quality: that’s why Oprah does so well. Nonetheless, this is the paragraph that made me drop The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in favour of The Hotel New Hampshire in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

“Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative; the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960MB RAM and a 60GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.

Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 × 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.”

A lot of people have told me the plot was well written and suspenseful. I’d seen the movie, so the plot wasn’t really gripping me. This wasn’t the only example of needless detail in the book, but it was the most egregious in the first 300 page.

The fact that you can’t get a computer with two memory slots to 960MB of RAM? That’s didn’t even bug me that much.

Posted by skooter at 10:22 AM
Tags: Books, Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, Literature

June 13, 2009
Post It Stop Motion Animation

Posted by skooter at 5:11 PM
Tags: Animation, Design, Post-It

January 6, 2009
Best. Headline. Ever.

I just love the headline.

Giddy-up, morning commuters
Last Updated: Monday, January 5, 2009 | 2:16 PM

A lasso might have come in handy during Monday’s commute to work.

Eight horses roamed the streets of Halifax after escaping from a fenced-off area at the Bengal Lancers equestrian club in the central area of the city.

It seems a gate leading to a parking lot on Bell Road wasn’t latched tight enough.

“Horses are a little bit smart. Apparently they opened the gate and left,” said Jill Barker, Bengal Lancers manager and head instructor.

Posted by skooter at 1:43 PM
Tags: Giddy Up, Horses

February 25, 2008
Tina Fey Hosts Saturday Night Live

The first post-writer’s strike of 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live aired last night, with Tina Fey hosting. I’m not sure how I knew about this in advance, but I stayed up to watch it anyway.

It’s never been more obvious to me how far the show has fallen: guest appearances by Steve Martin and a remarkably self-deprecating Governor Mike Huckabee were definite highlights, but the general skits were just…blërg.

Back to Cormac McCarthy for me, I think.

Academy Awards tonight. I’ve said it before but I’m hopeful for No Country for Old Men to win Best Picture. I’d like to see Tommy Lee Jones win Best Actor—he’s nominated for the excellent and underwatched In the Valley of Ellah but also gave a stellar performance in No Country for Old Men. I suspect Daniel Day Lewis will take it, but that’s where my personal loyalties lie.

Posted by skooter at 1:30 AM
Tags: SNL, Television, Tina Fey, Writing

February 5, 2008
Yes We Can

Beautifully executed. I still think Hillary Clinton is the right choice for a democratic nominee, but moments like thist are rare in modern politics. Will.I.Am’s notes on the video are worth reading.

Whatever happens today, and in the next year, the Democratic Party will be making a historic choice: forging a new path forward. I only hope that all of my American friends vote, no matter who they vote for.

Posted by skooter at 3:45 PM
Tags: Barak Obama, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Politics

October 13, 2007
Information R/evolution

Thanks to Donna Mauer for pointing this out.

Posted by skooter at 5:03 PM
Tags: Data, Information Architecture

July 9, 2007
Oak & 37th

I pulled up to the corner of Oak and 37th, heading West…away from Toronto and towards home, in a manner of speaking. 37th is a major East/West bike route in Vancouver, although it’s a weird one for me to take—I’m not sure why I chose that route home tonight, but I did.

I slid in behind someone and, as I so often do, started examining his bike. It was red…a Vitali frame. Probably a few years old, judging the its construction: there was no carbon fibre at all, and the paint had chipped a bit.

Mostly what I looked at was the components. There were Campagnolo Veloce parts. Campagnolo components are rarer than my Shimano and have the beauty inherent in their Italian pedigree. Say what you want, but the Italians know something about machines that move…they are things of beauty that come from the heart first, and machines of efficiency and reliability second.

They guy on the bike in front of me turned around. He was older than I thought, or expected…probably about 60 or so, although it’s hard to judge. He smiled and said:

“You better go ahead. I’m recovering from chemotheraphy.”

It was such a pure moment of open disclosure I didn’t quite know what to say, but I told him I was admiring his bike and as I rode off I told him to have a nice ride.

It’s moments like that that I love about commuting on my bike.

Posted by skooter at 9:19 PM
Tags: Bikes, Vancouver

March 29, 2007
On Humans

Leslie Kaelbing was at UBC as part of the Department of Computer Science’s distinguished lecturer series. She gave me my best quote of the day.

She was discussing the difference between computers and humans and how they approach tasks. Essentially the argument was that computers are excellent at performing simple, well defined tasks. They can, in fact, be better than humans on average—chess is an example where computers can excel, but the average human does not.

Humans, on the other hand, are competent at an astounding range of tasks and able to adapt to new ones as they come along. Stairs of various heights can be challenging for ambulatory robots, but for humans they’re quite simple.

This led to Leslie’s assertion that as a human being it was best to be:

“…aggressively suboptimal.”

I love this, and am going to strive for it as a goal.

Posted by skooter at 7:28 PM
Tags: Humans, MIT

December 22, 2006
Inflatable Christmas Decorations

The New York Times has an excellent article on Those Inflatable Santas

It’s not so much the article’s topic that makes it great, as the words used.

Those Inflatable Santas: Eyepoppers to Eyesores

By PAUL VITELLO
Published: December 22, 2006

HOLTSVILLE, N.Y., Dec. 19 — On a recent quiet afternoon, with few witnesses around, Homer Simpson, Santa Claus and a penguin perched on an igloo suddenly appeared here on the Long Island landscape as if from nowhere, unfolding slowly like Frankenstein monsters lurching to life on the table. As Homer’s extremities reached full size, his pink nylon fist puffed into Mr. Snow Man’s face — an involuntary attack, to be sure. Bop.

It’s that last sentence…that single word Bop that completes the article’s first paragraph so wonderfully. Without it, the paragraph would be flat and dull and technical in nature.

Both the author and the editor who left that in deserve a tremendous amount of credit for doing so.

Posted by skooter at 4:56 AM
Tags: Articles, Christmas, Penguins

April 30, 2006
Two Rich Minds Departed

This week has seen the departure of two of North America’s distinguised thinkers: Jane Jacobs and John Kenneth Galbraith. Both were erstwhile Canadians.

Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities is a classic text to anyone interested in urban planning. It went against conventional wisdom of the time and, to this day, remains an insightful thoughtful viewpoint.

Jacobs called both Toronto and Vancouver home for extended periods of time, and was proud to have been associated with both communities.

John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most influential liberal economists of our times. Born near London, Ontario Galbraith was a Harvard professor and trusted advisor to a number of democratic presidents. His influence over American monetary policy was significant, and serves as evidence that the decline of liberalism in modern American economic thinking may, in fact, be linked to the general decline of America’s economy and its political relevance in the world.

Galbraith’s The Affluent Society was republished to celebrate an anniversary, and I read it years after I’d left school. It’s worthy reading for anybody with an interest in modern economics, despite the fact that it was written many years ago.

Posted by skooter at 9:15 AM
Tags: Economics, Obituaries, Urban Planning

April 5, 2006
Babies, Dinner and Spring

With spring in the air, the general mood around the city has been getting happier in Vancouver, despite the fact that it’s been really cold. I’ve started cycling to work and it hasn’t been raining much. This young boy’s thoughts are turning to motorcycles too, but I do love the way my mind fits better in the world while I’m pedaling.

Yesterday — the fourth consecutive day that I cycled to work — I picked up bagels for the landlords, who love a specific type of bagel that is boiled and baked around here. Tuesdays are cheap dozen days, so off I went to fill my panniers.

When I got home, I brought the cheap dozen upstairs and was asked if I was staying for dinner — as usual, more had been made than necessary and when these two cook, I never say no (there was a sauce reduction needed…we’re not talking frozen food here.)

As usual, there were also children.

There’s a new mix in this house — little Paige was born in January of this year giving us both a 2.5 year old and a 2.5 month old baby girl. You have no idea how time flies until you watch a baby grow. It feels like Paige has been with us forever.

Mom was cooking and so put Paige down in this great little chair that takes batteries and vibrates, and usually soothes her to sleep pretty well. This time it wasn’t working, so a bit of a fuss went up while an already busy Dad said he’d be there in a minute to take care of her.

No problem; don’t worry — Uncle Skot can handle this, or at least give it a try.

So I reached around, and underneath and cradled this tiny little…person…smaller than any I’ve ever held before. One hand gently cradled her head while the other lifted her up, and I brought her up to my chest. She curled up, with her tiny little face right next to my chest and I gently started rocking her up and down, back and forth.

Suddenly, the noise stopped. Little gurgling noised started, and these were then followed by silence. I reach down and gave Paige a little kiss on the cheek, more for my satisfaction than hers as I suspect she was fairly ambivalent, and started moving around the house…Paige lay there, content and — seemingly — happy.

This went on for half an hour or fourty-five minutes or so, while we talked and Georgia fought for her slice of our attention. Paige just stayed, and I held her as close as I could — afraid to move her too far, lest she wake up unexpectedly.

I’ve never held a baby this young before, but I’m glad I got that monkey off my back. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done.

Posted by skooter at 3:44 PM
Tags: Cycling, Georgia, Paige

February 26, 2006
Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Faced with the rather depressing prospect of a Sharon Stone Triple Bill on Bravo for the evening, I instead fled for the Fifth Avenue Cinema to see the newly released Neil Young: Heart of Gold.

The film was directed by Jonathan Demme and feels much more like his Stop Making Sense concert film than, for example, The Last Waltz which has more of a documentary feeling. It opens with scenes of Neil and his frieds speaking about the concert, thir past and the Ryman Auditorium in Nasville, Tennessee where the Grand Ole Opry was filmed for many years.

Next comes the music.

I only really discovered Neil Young’s music a few years ago, which is surprising because it fits very well into a mold that I’m quite fond of — once best described by a lovely young lady as Anything with a Twang.

Music has a power to move the soul and Neil’s music speaks to a place deep inside. If rock and roll embodies passion and anger, with Punk and Heavy Metal at the cliche extremes and country embodies heartache, with the sanitized sounds of performers like Garth Brooks embracing this cliche wholeheartedly there’s a place in between where music that comes from a deep, honest place.

This is the place that this movie plays from.

The music in the movie lives on a bridge between these genres. Not quite rock and roll, and not quite country it is, simply, amazing music.

With Neil on stage only weeks after having been diagnosed and had surgery for a brain aneurysm, and only two months after his father passed away the pain and anguish he exposes is visible at times. Surrounded by friends and loved ones the songs on the Prairie Wind album come alive.

Emmylou Harris — a woman with a voice so pure it could only come direct from the heavens and a beauty to match — sings backup and accompaniment on many of the numbers here. Emmylou’s last album Stumble Into Grace lived in my ears for a long time after I bought it. Her presence on this stage and in this film could not be more welcome.

As a movie, this fairly straightforward concert film could have been different; I’d like to have seen a bit more of Neil speaking, to get a feeling for his state of mind. even without, it’s a film that’s well worth seeing.

Posted by skooter at 9:19 PM

February 8, 2006
Feynman

But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
Richard Feynman

Posted by skooter at 4:34 PM

December 31, 2005
Revenge of the Sith

I’m finally watching Revenge of the Sith on DVD (borrowed.)

So far, I’m fairly unimpressed and unmoved. Two lines of Yoda’s dialouge provide a great example of why.

“A prophecy, that misread could have been.”

“I hope right you are”

Even George Lucas has just fallen into the trap created by the cliche’s of his characters. He’s writing reverse Yoda speak more often in this movie than in the originals.

It’s really quite tragic.

Then there’s this little lightsabre battle where the emperor jumps out from behind his desk as well, flying towards three jedi knights - including one master. Two die immediately, as the Emperor runs his sabre right through them while they don’t even move.

Huh? Aren’t these supposed to be the highly trained Jedi Knights? The most powerful force in the universe? They couldn’t at least have swung a blade once and parried at least one attack?

This is closely followed by a 30 second transformation of the young, virile emperor into the one we’ve been familiar with as he blasts Samuel L. Jackson with energy from his body and ages before our eyes.

What exactly was the point of Yoda being seen off by two wookies, with the extremely obvious “Goodbye, Chewbacca”? Given that it wasn’t relevant or apparent from the subsequent storyline that these two knew each other, I presume this was simply George Lucas showing off his cleverness.

Not so much, as it turns out.

Bleh. This is a silly cliche ridden poorly written movie. It doesn’t close loose ends at all, it just comes across as a collection of random events.

The truly sad thing is that the twin light sabre battles that occur at the tail end of the movie — one between Obi Wan and Anakin and the other between Yoda and the Emperor — are truly exhilirating, recalling the glory of the original. I still remember (as all people my age do) seeing that and the feeling of excitement it left in me.

These movies were so much a part of my youth, and have fallen so far from being anything relevant.

Posted by skooter at 6:11 AM
Tags: Movies

December 6, 2005
The Source of Cynicism

This article from the T-dot Star outlines Mr. Martin’s new, improved childcare plan designed to trump Mr. Harper’s $1,200 child related tax credit (call it what it is Mr. Harper…call it what it is.)

No wonder Canadians are cynical.

This is like a good old fishing story; Mr. Harper pulls his smallmouth bass out of the water and a picture gets taken; back on shore, Mr. Martin says “Sure, that’s what he caught…but you should see what I caught! It was this big!” all the while holding his hands out to indicate a fish a few inches larger than Mr. Harper.

Mr. Harper, of course, responds in kind by suggesting that the camera ran out of film and the next fish he caught was even bigger than the one Mr. Martin claims. So it goes, ad infinitum.

Harper’s plan is horrible, because it’s open to abuse and a lack of responsiveness. It’s a simple tax cut disguised as somethig else. Mr. Martin had a plan in place, but now — facing an angry electorate in virtually every province — is upping the ante and laying more money on the table.

What Canadians should be asking is this: if it is such a noble cause, why wasn’t all that money put on the table in the first place?

The answer, I’m afraid, is that the Liberal party needed to bribe us with it during an election campaign; don’t fall for it. If you’re going to vote Liberal, don’t do it because of a bribe.

Posted by skooter at 8:24 AM

November 16, 2005
Brand Spanking New

After quite a bit of time and work, there’s a brand spanking new site over at www.penguinstorm.com

There’s still work to be done (editing needed, and more content added - particularly a couple of items under the history section) but it’s ready enough to no longer be an embarassment.

All executed within Movable Type.

Posted by skooter at 10:11 AM

November 12, 2005
A Giant Amongst Business Writers

Peter F. Drucker has died today. Drucker is a giant among business authors and journalists, with few even in the same league.

Drucker’s writings were consistently perceptive, and ahead of their time. It’s a shame that more don’t choose to learn from the man. Our world would be a better place.

Posted by skooter at 6:30 PM
Tags: Books, Obituaries

November 3, 2005
What not to say in your Craigslist posting

I regularly cruise the Craigslist furniture listings, and was pretty tempted by this.

120cm x 170 cm in good condition. no stains, non smoking, no pets, vacumed on a regular basis. In fair condition 6/10. still pretty clean. used in bedroom. Clean enough to lie naked on for a minute or two. Originally sold at ikea at $20. Yours for $5.

Posted by skooter at 8:47 AM

June 20, 2005
The Singular Excellence of Outside Magazine

I’ve been as regular a subscriber to Outside Magazine for as long as I can remember - at least 10 years now. I have consistenly held it up as an example of not just one of the best magazines of its genre, but one of the best magazines in North America. The National Magazine Awards agree with me, awarding it with best magazine three years in a row.

Mark Jenkins’ Hard Way column is a big part of this, and language like this:

Between 1980 and 1994, Yellowstone National Park recorded more than 600,000 backcountry overnights and hundreds of thousands of day hikes. In this period there were fewer than 21 grizzly-related injuries &em; fewer than three for every 100,000 visits. Since 1895 more than 130 million people have visitied Yellowstone, five have been killed by grizzlies, the last one in 1986. Grizzlies do kill people now and then, but&em;as it turns out&emdash;they are pathetically ineffective compaired with more contemporary murderers like cars, cholestorol, and cigarettes.

Tonight’s issue was hand delivered to me by my favourite girl. I spent last friday playing with a little one a half year older than this young Georgia, and i was astounded by the difference. I expect the next half year to be full of surprises, and joy.

Posted by skooter at 11:36 PM
Tags: Articles, Georgia

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