Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance


Niagara Falls New Year’s Eve Performance with Robyn Dell’Unto

Photo by Ed McAskill

I’ve been in love with Robyn Dell’Unto from the moment I first heard her voice, and it’s been almost two years now since we became friends and she first introduced me as her secret weapon.

This past Thursday, we had the opportunity to perform at the Niagara Falls New Year’s Eve party on the main stage. Though our set was cut short, it was a fantastic experience. We made it onto the Global TV national broadcast for about a minute, and I’ve stumbled upon some great photos taken by Ed McAskill (including some outstanding shots of me).

Robyn has been taking off recently, getting signed with Orange Lounge and having her music featured on CBC’s Being Erica season finale and other TV shows. She’s started work on her first full-length album, and it’s only going to get more exciting from here… I hope she remembers me when she’s famous!

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Approaching 1.0

I had a bit of a moment yesterday.

It’s just that I’m so incredibly excited and energized right now. I’m starting to move on a variety of really cool projects and endeavours.

A little over a year ago, I claimed I was about to “up the diversity” on this blog. Better late than never. Here’s me committing to actually begin talking about a Catholic case for free culture. I have been giving it a lot of thought and making lots of notes, but I just need to get over the urge to write an essay instead of blog post so that I can start getting the ideas out.

The other theme I hope to explore in depth is the full potential of a true free culture approach to transform music. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with Nathan Simpson, Roman Verzub, Matt York and Josh Newman, and I’ve been putting the pieces in place at to start turning some of these ideas into action. I plan to expand on this at length in future posts.

I feel like these two ideas will be prominent themes in much of what I do in the next few years, and beyond.

Then, there’s the work I’ve been doing on the Drupal Creative Commons module and, more recently, the new Creative Commons Canada website (hope to have something to show soon…), among many of the other cool things I get to do through Alleyne Inc. My band is showing signs of life again, and I’ve been gigging on violin. I’ve also been part of a great team with the University of Toronto Students for Life, and I’ll be putting on another pops concert with the Hart House Chamber Strings in February. The day after that, I’m headed to Philadelphia for a week-long immersion course with one of the leading scholars on the Theology of the Body.

Oh, and I’m getting married next summer.

I’m hitting the release candidate stage for version 1.0 of my life. And there are a lot of things I’m going to create.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Comments (1)

My Encomium For Brother Domenic

On November 14th, 2009, I was invited to give a speech at a tribute to Brother Domenic, principal of De La Salle College “Oaklands” from 1996 to 2009. I graduated from De La Salle in 2005.

In March of 2004, sitting in English class, Mr. Hunt told us that we were all schizophrenic. We were schizophrenic for “attending a school run by a man from another century,” and putting on our uniforms, and combating this “tidal wave of junk,” and then going out and living in it. “It’s one thing to be stuck in this hurricane,” he said, “but it’s even worse to be a schizo stuck in this hurricane!”

From Mr. Hunt, being a “man from another century” is a profound compliment of the highest order. I’ve been fortunate enough to know this man from another century for the past eight years of our century — and, unlike Alessia, only four years as a student, and the other four as an alumnus who hangs around the school a bit too much. Since graduating, I’ve attended — among other things — every Christmas and Founder’s Day mass that I could. Only a direct conflict would stop me; if my exams were in the afternoon, I’d be here in the morning.

One of the main benefits of being at the school assemblies has always been Brother Domenic’s speeches. I remember him stressing what it means to be a signum fidei at the opening assembly in 2001, when I was in Grade 9. I remember a speech railing against the phrase, “that’s nice,” as a focus on mediocrity. I remember him stressing that, at De La Salle, we are not taught to be great, but to be good — not in terms of being mediocre, but in terms of being centred on Christ. The most memorable of all, however, were the words of wisdom Brother offered us during a time of great mourning, at Ian Lawson Van Toch’s Mass of the Resurrection. Brother Domenic said,

The way we measure success as human beings is terribly flawed. I am increasingly of the view personally that we have it terribly wrong. It is not the length of days or the accomplishments or the conquests, or health or the career, which makes us most human and therefore like God in whose image we are created. It is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

Success is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

And love? The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), explains love in the following way:

(24) God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood…

For this reason, love for God and neighbour is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour…

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

In other words, man cannot truly be successful except through a sincere gift of self.

Love is a self-giving — to love is to serve — and to be truly successful is to love and to be loved.

Brother Domenic, it’s clear by your abundant service and gift of self to the school community, and by the community of people assembled here today who love you, that you have truly been successful.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Information Serendipity In Different Mediums

I’ve been meaning to comment on Mathew Ingram’s defence of newspapers and serendipity. Clay Shirky has been talking about the bundling that occurs in newspapers as a mere accident of print, something that was only necessary given the constraints of paper, but doesn’t make sense otherwise. Mathew disagrees:

Is there a purpose in aggregating the horoscope and the weather and the news about the coup in Tegucigalpa? I think there is, and I think newspapers do a pretty good job of it.

It’s not just because they have to — although that’s part of it. Maybe I’ve just been trained as a newspaper reader for my whole life, but I like the serendipity of tripping over fascinating articles about things I would never have known even existed were it not for a newspaper. To take the Saturday Globe and Mail as an example, I read about an up-and-coming Muslim hockey player, a profile of Paul Shaffer, a review of the punk band Gossip, an article about contentious city council politics in Aurora and a great feature on retirees and their vanishing pensions.

Just two days before Mathew’s post, my friend Emilie and I were having the same conversation. She reads the newspaper daily and made the same defence. I used to read the paper regularly when I was commuting to school in Grade 9, but more recently, I’ve come to get my “news” through Gwibber and Google Reader. It’s not that Mathew or Emilie don’t use the web, but they both have found something valuable in newspapers that the web hasn’t been able to offer — information serendipity (by that, I mean serendipity with respect to encountering ideas). Mathew continues,

Could links to those stories show up in my RSS reader? Possibly – but I doubt it. The mix is just too eclectic. And I would never have sought out the article about the Muslim hockey player, because I don’t particularly care about hockey and therefore I would likely never have come across it. Would the retirement piece ever make it to Techmeme or some similar aggregator? I doubt it. But it was still worth reading. And so were the half-dozen or so articles I can’t recall right now, which I tripped across as I read the paper. I would never have deliberately sought them out either.

I think Mathew’s missing one of the most serendipitous aspects of the web — the social aspect. I wouldn’t likely stumble upon those sorts of articles through my RSS subscriptions (though I’m subscribed to some pretty eclectic stuff), but through Google Reader shared items (e.g. Turadg Aleahmad shares some really interesting things, like this Wikipedia article on Mamihlapinatapai). I stumbled across Valaam chant through a friend’s Facebook posted items the other day, a genre of music that’s entirely new to me and will likely influence my own music. I find interesting links through Twitter/ every week that are outside my regular areas of interest (e.g. this video riding blog from Sunday). I may follow someone who shares some interests in common with me, but that doesn’t mean their other interests are my usual fare. Information serendipity here is social.

Then, beyond the social, Mike Masnick was writing about serendipity of search a few weeks before Mathew’s post:

There’s a separate side of having search so ingrained in our lives that isn’t often explored: the serendipity of search… I do a countless number of searches during the day — it’s ingrained to quickly and automatically jump to the search box all through the day — and usually two or three times per day, I end up going down a fascinating, if unexpected path to learning something new and interesting. Usually, it’s related to what I was originally searching for, but leads me on a trail of additional information, well beyond what I expected to learn. Other times, it may be a total tangent, but still one that ends up being useful and relevant in odd and unexpected ways.

A couple days after Mike’s post, I was watching Margaret Visser’s The Geometry of Love with the RCIA group at the Newman Centre. She makes a passing comment in the video about the serendipity of browsing through the stacks at Robarts Library — yet another type of information serendipity.

Beyond information serendipity, there’s a likelihood of social serendipity (in encountering people rather than ideas) that exists in a communications medium like the web that you wouldn’t find in a newspaper. On any medium, it’s not so much a question of whether there’s an element of serendipity as it’s a question of what that serendipity is like.

Information serendipity on the web is different than in newspapers. There’s information serendipity in bundling, in proximity, in linking, in social connections, and then there are other types of serendipity altogether, like social serendipity. I think it’d be really interesting to dig deeper and explore the differences…

Information Serendipity in Wikipedia

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Against the Test Drive Approach to Spousal Love

Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth, wrote about why everyone should have premarital sex on Feministing yesterday.

Let’s face it – if you’re going to commit yourself to someone for (presumably) the rest of your life, it’s probably best if you know that you’re sexually compatible. I don’t think this is particularly radical thing to say; in fact, it seems quite logical to me. But somehow, if you suggest that pre-marital sex is a good and maybe even necessary thing (especially if you say those things while being a feminist) you are an evil, evil whoremaker.

Do I think that people can have perfectly wonderful satisfying relationships without having had sex before making a commitment? Sure, I’m positive that happens often. But considering what a huge role sexuality plays in our lives and relationships…well, I’d rather be super duper positive.

What a tragically narrow vision of sexuality! Sexuality is reduced to an action. It’s not just Valenti. Films become rated R: “contains sexuality.” The example that will always stick out in my mind is Nick Carter asking in Backstreet’s Back, “am I sexual?” (Yes, Nick, you are a sexual being.) As wonderful as sex (the act) is, sex (-uality) is so much more than that. It’s especially ironic considering Valenti is trying to reclaim a more nuanced vision of sexuality from “the virgin/whore binary,” yet her nuanced vision remains so narrow. Sexuality isn’t just having sex. It’s about being created male and female, about our entire being, not just our genitals.

More importantly, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “test-drive” approach to love. Yes, of course you want to get to know your partner before you make a longterm commitment, but suggesting that means you ought to take their body for a test drive is a bad, bad way to approach that commitment.

It sets up the spousal model all wrong.

I’ve come to refer to this as the “pleasure and duty” ethic. If people consent mutually to the use of their bodies for pleasure, what’s the problem? Look at the model: Pleasure is the end goal, and consenting to the “use” of your body parts is the means of attaining it. Fluffy feelings of bonding might be a nice side-effect. Orgasm is the intent. The other person becomes a means of achieving your orgasm, and you become a means of theirs. This is objectification by definition, even if it’s mutual and consenting. On top that, pleasure is the metric of success. That is, a successful sex act is one that brings about pleasure. The act of sex becomes, at least in part, an economic transaction where you trade access to your body in exchange for pleasure. And that’s not always going to be a fair trade — and you may evaluate the quality and the fairness of the deal. After all, we test drive cars. And we also sell and replace them when they no longer serve their purpose.

I have a crazy idea: What if the goal of sex is self-giving rather than pleasure? What if the idea was to come into ultimate union with another human being, and the means of attaining that was complete and total self-giving and affirmation of the other as other? I have a feeling that the pleasure factors in as a side-effect, without “driving” the entire experience.

I don’t feel the need to take my future spouse for a test drive. I’m not marrying a car.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Our new puppy: Irie

On Friday, my family brought a new puppy home (our dog, Sydney, passed away in the fall). I uploaded some photos and video clips yesterday (warning: extremely cute).

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

UofT Graduation Photos

Yesterday, I graduated from the University of Toronto, officially completing my Bachelors in Science. I took a computer science major, and English and philosophy minors. My family was on hand and they took a lot of great photos, so I thought I’d share them here.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Comments (2)


The chamber strings pops concert was an amazing success. During my set, I played a new song I wrote for Heather as a surprise and proposed to her during the bridge.

HHCS Pops Concert Blaise

plus this…
The Ring

equals engaged:

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Comments (4)

Singers, Songs and Strings

Hart House Chamber Strings Pops Concert Poster

If I’ve been MIA over the past month, it’s because of a huge concert I have coming up next weekend. I play double bass with the Hart House Chamber Strings (HHCS) and for the past three years, we’ve done a pops concert in March with independent songwriters. The concert was started by Paul McCulloch, who was conductor when I was in first year. I played bass for the concert and talked to Paul afterwards about performing as a “guest” artist, so at the next concert in March 2007, I wrote out arrangements for my band (which, I think, may have recently slid from “coma” into “permanent vegetative state”) and we had the privilege of performing with the ensemble.

Last year, Paul left the group and I took over the pops concert. I was cautious about writing arrangements for songs I wasn’t terribly familiar with, so I only took on three artists — Robyn Dell’Unto, Jadea Kelly and myself. (I was playing violin with both Jadea and Robyn, so I was pretty familiar with their music.) We filled out the rest of the night with music from popular films. Like previous years, it was a lot of fun and a great success.

We have seven artists on the bill for next Saturday, March 14th — Mandippal (@mandippal), Dave Borins (@daveborins), Lucky Fonz III (all the way from the Netherlands, in town for Canadian Music Week), Robyn Dell’Unto, Pat Robitaille (@patrobitaille) and Peter Katz and myself. I play violin with Mandippal, Dave and Robyn regularly and am excited to write for them, and I’m thrilled to be working with Peter, Pat and Lucky Fonz. As always, I’m honoured to have the chamber strings play my arrangements, especially for my own songs. I’ll be on bass with the ensemble for all of the other artists.

So, if you’re in the Toronto area, this is going down Saturday, March 14th at 7pm in the Hart House Great Hall (Facebook event). Admission is free, and I promise it’ll be epic.

If you’re not in Toronto (or if you can’t make it), I’m hoping to get the video camera out… so, with any luck, I’ll have something to upload afterwards.

I promise to come back to life March 15th.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Use LastGraph to Explore your Listening History

I was introduced to LastGraph recently, a application that lets you explore your listening history. The coolest feature is the LastGraph poster, which provides you with a visualization of your listening habits over a given time span. Here’s a poster detailing my listening habits over the last year. Very strange, if I say so myself. (Thanks Nathan for introducing me!)

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment