Tell me what I want

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How Apple is changing our outlook on technology

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the 1976-theme issue of The Other Press. January 13, 2016

The old way of thinking: Nobody owns a computer because nobody needs one. Take a look at the new Apple 1, which came on sale this summer (July 1976). It looks like something a high school student built during the final days before the science fair. That crummy looking machine is worth the equivalent of a month’s salary for many middle-class people.

Few consumers want computers, and even fewer understand them, but that is not how trends should continue. People are generally content with living day to day within a routine. Technology doesn’t abide by those rules. Technology disrupts, but it often takes many years for it to do so. The same way the printing press, the wristwatch, and the steam engine changed the world, I believe that computers can do the same.

Yet when I approach every new technology—like the Apple 1—I still say: “Nah! I don’t need that. I’m happy with what I have.” I’m happy writing this article out on a pen and paper, then transcribing it on a word processor, and transferring that to a printing press. That’s not a big deal to me.

Steve Jobs, the young and hip founder of Apple, said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them… Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” It’s an inspiring quote that perfectly separates innovators from us mere mortals. This quote allows me to be even more optimistic about technology, knowing that in most cases it will win over.

Will there one day be virtual reality, mobile payments, or robot vacuum cleaners available to consumers? Probably. It could happen within the year, or it could take 40 years, but to write off technology is an ignorant reaction to change. We all need to push in the direction of progress. We need to push with Jobs and the Apple 1.

It’s easy to look to the past and think about how stupid those people were for doing things the “old” ways. Yet, what would the future generation say about us? Yes, technology is stealing jobs away from hardworking people, but I don’t believe that is a bad thing. I believe that people, like technology, should evolve. We need to start thinking like innovators and less like routine-orientated consumers. We should not just pick a job and stick with it. If you look at it, pretty much every job could be replaced with a robot one day, but I ask you this: how will you work with the technology?

Computers aren’t stealing jobs away from people. Computers are changing the way people work. Take this example: bank tellers are losing jobs to automated-teller machines. But then again, what are tellers doing to respond to this? They must innovate. We must see what has yet to be written.

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Layover: and Other Stories of Delayed Travelers by Elliot Chan

Buy It Here!

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Book Description:

Following the journeys of desperate lovers, lonesome pilgrims, borderline criminals, stranded space travelers, and lamentable individuals held up in a place far from home, Layover: and Other Stories of Delayed Travelers introduces an array of characters adrift in a purgatorial state, halfway from failure and too far from contentment. Elliot Chan’s first collection of short stories explores the traveling sensations often omitted from our memories; the missing photographs in our recollection and the time lost in between destinations.

 

Origin of the collection:

Much like writing, traveling to me is a love-hate relationship. On one hand, I can not live without it, and on the other, it is killing me slowly. How many hours have I spent waiting for the next bus, next train, next plane, next taxi, and next trip? How many hours have I spent fine-tuning these stories you are about to read? What did I really get out of these two time-consuming hobbies? What was my return on investment?

I wrote Layover, the title story, upon returning home from a trip to South East Asia in 2011. It was meant to be a companion piece to my novella Ben but stand on its own in a literary sense. My writing at that time was crazed. I worked like a man trying to pen down all his treasured memories before he lost his mind. I could have written a journal, but I didn’t, I chose the medium of short stories because I wanted to be published. I thought my fantastic tales of vacation were worthy. They were not.

Like traveling, writing is full of disappointments, delays, and disenchantments. They’re both escapes, but one is significantly cheaper than the other. By writing about traveling, I was able to assess my mistakes on the road and perhaps learn from it. But most importantly, the practice scratched an itch and saved a few bucks.

I would like to claim that my finest works are locked within this collection, but that is not true. If you wish to continue, you’ll be reading the words of a boy without a clear direction. Each piece was meant for something entirely different. Some trailed off, some ended abruptly, some were meditative, some wound up in an unpredictable place, some didn’t even go anywhere at all. I’m proud of what I’ve done here not because of any grand success, but because it liberated me. There is something divine about pairing writing with traveling. This is unlike a photo album, this is my album of words, the best kind of souvenir, in my opinion.

Many of us dream of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but most of us fail to pursue it. Many of us want to write a best-selling novel and fail to do that as well. I don’t expect Layover: And Other Stories of Delayed Travelers to blow you away, but maybe it’ll inspire you to turn your mere insignificant trips into memories, memories through fiction. That to me is meaningful enough.

Elliot Chan

August 1, 2015

Layover: and Other Stories of Delayed Travelers is available on Amazon.

Don’t use the brand’s name in vain

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Passionate brand loyalists condemn popular child curse words

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Cheez Whiz, the delightful brand of cheese spread, is getting a lot of press recently as a group of brand loyalists have gathered together—from coast to coast like butter toast—to rise against the blasphemous use of the brand’s name.

A survey conducted by the Consumer Packaging Press found that the most common brand name used to cuss is, in fact, Cheez Whiz: 75 per cent of children under the age of 13 had used the name in a way of expressing anger 2 or more times. The second most common is, of course, Fudgee-O, with 40 per cent. In third is Gray Poupon, as in: “Aww! Gray Poupon! We are out of normal mustard!”

Delicatessen and linguistic expert Susan Rumchata said: “It’s not the brands’ fault that they have such hilarious names that blend so well with traditional swear words. The responsibility falls on the parents. They need to understand that at an early age, their children are learning more colourful language—let them—if they need to call out Jesus, let them! It’s more Jesus’ fault than it is the Cheez Whiz people’s.”

It has been well documented that some time ago there lived a guy named Jesus Christ. He was an entrepreneur who made a lot of good bread, wine, and woodwork. But due to his poor business acumen, supply couldn’t meet the demand. Consumers would say, “Jesus Christ!” in vain—a lot of vain—when their orders failed to ship. Not long after the company launched, Jesus Christ Inc. went bankrupt and the founder was crucified.

Cheez Whiz brand loyalists—they call themselves Cheez Wizards—see a clear parallel between what happened to Jesus Christ Inc. and what is happening with Cheez Whiz today.

Cheez Wizards spokesperson and single mother of four Brie Pumpernickel said: “You know what it is? It’s bad PR. You know what kills? It’s not global warming or terrorists or processed-cheese. It’s bad PR. And all that starts with our children. We must teach our children to respect brand names. This will ensure that the brands that serve us continue offering the same high quality products we want. Do we really want to live in a world without Cheez Whiz? I ask myself that every morning after making breakfast for my four Cheez Wizards.”

Safeway jam aisles were literally jammed with Cheez Wizards last Tuesday as a public protest took place. The sole purpose of the rally was to erase the phrase “Cheez Whiz” from the English vernacular as anything other than the name of the product. Anyone of any age that uses the brand’s name in vain will be sentenced to an eternity of dry, whole wheat bread. It’s some kind of hell, for sure.

Rumchata reminds us that there are plenty of lame-ass swear words out there for those moments when you have to curse in front of children: “‘Fiddlesticks’ is always a good one. ‘For Pete’s sake’ is great too. I’ve never encountered a Pete or Peter who was bothered by it. Anything that rhymes with ‘duck’ also works. You know, you stub your toe and you just shout, ‘Duck!’ It’s as satisfying, I’ll tell you that much. People will crouch over though, it’s weird.” She added: “Words are weird.”

What happened when George R. R. Martin finished his first book

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How to be successful and create your own ‘Misery’

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published for the 1976-themed issue of the Other Press. January 13, 2016

Young author George R. R. Martin’s first collection of novellas and short stories, A Song for Lya, is being published this year. There is probably not going to be a big launch party. There is probably not going to be coverage from multiple media sources. And there are probably not going to be lineups outside the bookstore. It is probably going to be a modest event with reserved excitement.

For a writer, there doesn’t need to be a big event, because there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing one’s works there, visible on shelves at a local bookstore. It must be the same sensation musicians feel when they hear their song on the radio, or how actors feel when they see their face on the screens.

Yet, at what point does that thrill fade? As artists, your profession is also your passion, right? That’s why when I see an artist with an insipid attitude towards their craft, I wonder: Why pursue this daunting, critical, often thankless, often highly demanding, sometimes soul-crushing, most often a poor return of investment brand of work? Why climb Mount Everest if you dislike heights?

Hopefully, this young Martin fellow can recall that initial sensation of accomplishment for having been published if he continues to write, and will never feel resentful towards any fame or success he gains.

My advice to Martin and to other young writers is to always be carefully aware of the scope of one’s craft—what it will mean to you, and what it will mean to the greater public. If you create something people love, what responsibility do you have to continue delivering? How much do you owe to those who have raised you to such prowess?

I was speaking with Stephen King, another young writer, and we were bouncing ideas around. He had this outline for a novel called Misery. It’s about an author who is captured by an obsessed fan and held hostage in an attempt to get him to write another book. That’s the risk of being beloved; you are not actually loved. I hope King gets around to writing that book soon. I think it’ll be good.

Let’s hope we never do the same thing to Martin. We love his work, but we don’t care about him as a human being. He won’t win us over with his delightful personality or his literary, sci-fi, or fantasy expertise. We’ll respect him for the awesome work he will surely produce. But if we want more, he’ll have to supply it or find someone to help.

Artists need to think of their work like starting a franchise. Books are the business. Understandably, when it comes to artworks, the artists get personally attached, because writing is, in essence, a birthing process. But if they’re not able to maintain their franchise, the artists should sell their rights to their work or hand the reigns to trustworthy partners. Although it would be tough to give their art up for adoption, if the author does not have the capability to raise it properly, would the right thing to do not be giving it up for the fan’s sake?

Dear refugees from Vietnam

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My advice for new immigrants

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published for the 1976-themed issue of the Other Press. January 13, 2016

A few years ago, my mother’s side of the family emigrated to Canada, France, and the United States from their home country, which had been torn apart by the Vietnam War, in the hope of starting a new life. So here I am now. What my family went through must have been tumultuous and frightening. Hopefully they can put those experiences in the past.

The following is some advice I have to give to not just my family, but to all immigrants, from all over the world, because there is so much to learn in this new world.

Language: One of the first things I would tell them is how important proficiency in English is. It’s true that Canada is a multicultural country, but only in select parts of it. The majority of Canada is still predominantly English speaking. Having a strong command in English is the first step to getting work that isn’t in a kitchen or warehouse.

Owning property: Homeless to homeowner in a few years. It can happen. This is the country of opportunity. Get a job, save up, and buy property. Invest in the suburbs surrounding the urban core, where property prices are very reasonable for families. Canada loves immigrants, and our population will surely boom, thus increasing the value over time.

Travel: I don’t believe travel is a practice you learn in your latter years. I think it is the best form of education both personally and socially. I understand that being immigrants means that at one point they were put through an arduous trip, but traveling in all forms is an opportunity for growth. My family members are citizens of Canada now, but they could be citizens of the world (even though there is much to see in Canada).

Hobbies: In developing countries, hobbies are for survival. In the developed countries, hobbies are for survival too, but in a more personal way. In this new world, my family works, comes home, watches television, goes to sleep, and repeats those steps. They don’t have hobbies per se. My mom is a practicing Buddhist, so she is a part of some communities, but she doesn’t have any personal projects—except for raising me, I guess. I believe personal projects, be they reading books, building miniatures, learning to cook, or working on puzzles, are a substantial record of accomplishments. Finding an area of interest to focus on helps create an identity, not just for other people to view you, but how you view yourself.

Refugees, like my mom, are still finding homes and creating their lives in Canada. They walk among us every day. In this country, there is so much freedom, and I wouldn’t want any new citizen to squander it by living only to pay their bills.

The great book of pseudonyms

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Should Facebook users be allowed to have fake names?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Before we get into the debate of whether or not having a fake name on Facebook is justified, we must first understand why people would want to use an alias to begin with. The Internet is a public place, and like all public places, once we choose to be there, we cannot control what other people will do around us. The way we dress, the things we say, and pretty much all our actions can be visible. Visibility is sometimes seen as a vulnerability. Some people want fake names so they can conceal their account from stalkers, exes, co-workers, family members, etc. Other people just want to be funny, and use joke names to do so.

Facebook’s policy is not heavily enforced, so if you do want to use a fake name, you can do so and probably never get caught for it. However, I don’t believe you should. Facebook is equipped with numerous security features that enable you to block certain people from viewing your account, in addition to a privacy setting that cloaks all your activities until you give permission not to.

If you have a public persona, like a stage name or pseudonym, you can create a Facebook Page—which pretty much acts the same as a profile—with some limited functionalities. This is great for interacting with those who don’t know you personally. You can monitor and moderate it as you please.

Some worry about the security on Facebook. The fear of Big Brother is one that lingers on their skin every time they enter their real name into a computer system, but believe me, there is more data locked in your credit card and smartphone than there is on your Facebook account. Who cares if the government sees what you are posting? As long as you aren’t plotting a terrorist attack, you’ll be fine. On top of that, if someone wants to find out your real identity, they can do it; a fake name is the crappiest form of security. You don’t need a front door to break into a house; there are many ways to get in.

For the other point, joke names are funny, sure. But as far as comedy goes, it doesn’t have strong sustaining power. After a while, even the friends who found your joke name humourous will become a little annoyed, having to think twice when trying to invite you to an event because they are used to thinking of you by your real name. If you have a nickname that everybody uses to refer to you, that is a different story.

Our names are a part of our identity. While I believe there should be a certain amount of freedom on the Internet, I also believe that we should be visible in a space with so many dark corners. We can add locks, but we shouldn’t add to the shadows. If you don’t want people to see pictures of your vacation, don’t post it. If you are getting harassed, inform the authorities. If you are having an identity crisis, seek help. Remember that on Facebook nobody knows you are a dog—but they should if you are, shouldn’t they?

Wealth care

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Your financial well-being is as important as your physical well-being

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

You may be spending money on gym memberships, organic health food, and high-performance active wear, but, while on pace to a healthier life, you are also wasting a lot of money on items that you probably don’t need. Running is good, but running out of money is scary. Two out of three people are constantly worried about money.

While buying healthy food is an investment in your prospective health, investment in your financial future is of equal importance. You cannot always anticipate what will happen in your life and what role finance will play in the sudden shift in lifestyle. A loss of employment, an illness, or an act of God may eat away at your savings or push you into debt.

Careless spending—like poor eating habits—comes back and bites you later on in life. We are constantly warned about why we should not consume crappy food. But when it comes to how people spend their money altogether, people tend to keep comments to themselves. In this society, we aren’t really allowed to criticize other people’s spending habits. If someone wants to buy video games instead of paying rent, you can’t stop them. They’ll get evicted, but it’s still their choice. There is no visible danger zone when it comes to money in this country, because at the end of the day Canada is built so that no human being will starve. When people receive money they are free to use it however they like.

Nevertheless, if you are smart, you would treat your money the way you would treat your own body. You care for it, you utilize it when you need to, and you get it to work for you. And, over time, you strengthen it so that it can take care of itself. The same way you exercise, you must do the same with your funds.

You get physical checkups from your doctor and you heed their warnings, and you must do the same with financial advisors. You don’t need to take all of their advice, just like how you don’t need to take all of your doctor’s advice, but a different perspective, perhaps encumbering, may be refreshing.

It’s time we start putting our money where it counts. We might need to change how we see our money. It’s not the key to fulfillment, but a necessity for survival. This way, as life progresses, we’ll have enough to spend on the stuff we need and plenty left over for the stuff we want.

The target audience

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Why retailers’ preconceptions are insulting to the customers

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan 6, 2016

Just browsing, I’m always just browsing—at least I used to be. I tend to panic a little when a retail clerk pops out from behind a rack of clothes and inquires: “Can I help you look for anything?” Nope, just browsing. However, recently I’ve started making some bigger purchases, and I’m not talking about televisions, hockey gear, or computer software. I’m talking about appliances, furniture, and an engagement ring. Not exactly kid’s stuff, these are bona fide adult purchases. It’s a next step understandably, and hey, I’m proud to be making strides.

My problem is not with having to grow up and buy expensive things seldom advertised as “action packed,” my problem is with the service I get upon buying them. It’s subtle, but like all forms of discrimination, it’s apparent. I look younger than I am, I’ll admit it—and if I don’t, people will insist that I do. It’s a gift and a curse. Whenever a liquor store employee doesn’t ask me for identification, I feel they should be fired. Yes, I look young and so in many adult situations, I’m treated that way.

It doesn’t matter how old I look, though. It doesn’t matter how much money I may have. What matters is that I should feel welcomed and be kindly guided through the shopping or buying process without feeling like a kid taking food from the adult’s table.

Many retailers make status a commodity in their stores. If you are seen buying something there, you are of a higher class or tax bracket. When young people enter the store, they are perceived with suspicion. It’s uncomfortable and that’s probably why they do it. Capitalism has turned retailers into machines that only focus on those who have and ignore those who don’t. And sometimes when those who do have look like those who don’t, they experience a less than satisfactory customer service. It’s as if a server at a restaurant only served those who tip well and disregarded those who don’t. That’s kind of a shitty way to deal with customer service—as if it’s a commodity, sometimes with a monetary value.

To the people working in retail, I say this: don’t ever assume that someone doesn’t have money to buy your product. Don’t ever make it sound like they need help paying for it. They might, but they might not. Your job is to facilitate a sale, not to make assumptions about their livelihood. While statistics and data on a given demographic are useful in determining marketing strategies, isolating or alienating outliers—discriminating against age and wealth—is not.