Friday, August 31, 2012

Bomber Before and After

Click to embiggen!
In 1984, I attended an airshow at Namao. As usual, I snapped photos with my Kodak, which I am now dutifully scanning into my hard drive for posterity. This is a time-consuming process. Not only must I scan every negative, I must also do my best to restore the images.

On the left you can see an image as scanned, complete with the edges of the negative, dust and scratches, faded colour...it's seen better days. On the right is my attempt at restoration, cropped, colour-corrected, with dust and scratches repaired. Thanks to Jeff Shyluk I've learned that it's not enough to simply choose "auto tone" and "auto colour" and hope for the best; to achieve this result I played with the histogram, with curves, with the hue/saturation tool...but mostly I fooled around until it looked right. Sharp-eyed sleuths will not that I attempted to remove a bit of the reflected sunlight from the airplane near the cockpit, and that I had to repair the letters in "FORCE" to do so. This probably steps over the line from restoration to alteration.

I clearly have a lot to learn about Photoshop, but every one of these little projects reveals something new.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Checkersmate

Sequential art! It forces you to fill in the missing action. The brain is a pretty amazing thing.

Telling a simple (very simple) story with Photoshop is pretty easy. I just opened the two photographs, checked the image size, started a new image twice the height of one of the originals, then copy and pasted both photos into the blank image, one atop the other. The borders were added with the "stroke" function in blending options. Thanks to Jeff and Allan, who taught me pretty much everything I know about Photoshop. (They know far more.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sentimentalist


Sixty years later the young woman in the faded blue jeans and the tan leather jacket returned to Cherryville. She’d stopped to shed her last vengeful tears while still out of sight of the town and now, cheeks dried and eyes clear and hard, she was ready.

She rolled into town on a weathered black sociable, its left seat long ago removed and replaced by a battered old rivercane basket, currently filled with an assortment of dried fruits, nuts, jerky and a faintly glowing data tablet, resting languidly atop this humble bounty. 

Her tires kicked up dust and small stones as she braked to a halt in front of the first of three skyscrapers that constituted Cherryville's main street - its only street. In thirty seconds' ride she could put tiny Cherryville over the horizon behind her, but duty and destiny demanded their due.

She leaned her sociable against a hitching post and stepped onto the boardwalk, pausing a moment to stamp the dust from her boots, remove her wide-brimmed hat and gaze up at the towers of glass and steel before her. GENERAL STORE, pronounced the easternmost tower in bold block letters of carved and cracking obsidian. SALOON, read the middle tower. And POST OFFICE, read the last.

She hesitated before the revolving glass and steel door that led to the saloon, and one slightly callused but meticulously manicured hand brushed against the pistol holstered at her hip. Others might have been comforted by its deadly weight, but the young woman felt the gun as a cold, lethal lump leeching the heat from her body, a malevolent force pregnant with ugly potential. It had been her partner for half a century, and there was no ending their dark contract now. She took an uneasy breath and entered the saloon.

The skyscraper was mostly empty space, its one hundred fifty floors merely ringing the inner walls, balconies open to the interior. On the ground floor hundreds of townspeople lined the bar or lounged at round oak tables as they dined, played cards or, more commonly, ignored each other in favour of consulting their smart phones. There was no music, only the low murmur of conversation.

She stood at the saloon entrance for long enough to attract some attention and then pulled her jacket open to reveal the large, polished black opal pinned to her blouse. The crowd fell silent.

“You know why I’m here,” she said. “At precisely noon today the extension granted you by the Confederation of the Living expires. Per the agreement, you will now surrender yourselves for conversion in an orderly fashion –”

But as usual, the crowd wouldn’t allow her to finish. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the first terrified citizen drew his primitive sidearm, his blue eyes bloodshot and bulging with panic, beads of sweat glistening on his pale skin.

He was only halfway out of his chair before the young woman and her gun were one being once more, her arm extended, eyes half-open, her expression serene but sad. The first conversion slug burped from the barrel of her pistol and sailed across the room and through the citizen’s heart, its recording devices transmitting the sounds and sights of the man’s death to the young woman’s tablet on the street outside.

She would have preferred if the first violent conversion could have persuaded the others to surrender, but this crowd was too attached to their corporeal home. Bullets, flechettes, darts and bolts crisscrossed the room in search of her flesh; she felt something bite into her left side, and another missile grazed her cheekbone, leaving a shallow gash that oozed a slow trickle of blood.

It wasn’t enough to distract the partnership. Her body moved with the grace of a dancer, long hair whipping in an arc as she pirouetted through the saloon, conversion slugs ripping through guts and brains and faces and lungs, every atrocity duly recorded. Once or twice an especially gifted citizen nearly managed to kill her, but her reflexes and the gun’s silent psychic warnings kept her injuries to a shameful minimum.

It was over in minutes. The carpet was soaked with blood; her boots squelched as she left the saloon.

The Cherryville postman was standing beside her sociable, holding her data tablet, eyes agog. He looked up at her as she stepped down from the boardwalk, taking the tablet back.

“Anyone else in town?” she asked, gesturing with her chin at the post office and the general store. Her eyes were wet again, and tiny rivers of blood dripped from cheekbone to jawline. 

“Just me,” he said. “Everyone else was waiting for you in there. They thought maybe they’d have a chance if everyone...well. I thought I’d go with a little dignity.”

She nodded, wearing her mask of indifference. She reached out with her left hand, the polished black surface of her pointed nails shifting and whirling to reveal vast star fields, a universe on every fingertip. But before she could touch his grizzled cheek, he raised a hand to ask a question. She waited.

“Why do you take those awful videos?” he asked. “Surely it’s not necessary, and who’s going to watch them...you?”

Her thin lips twisted in a sad smile.

“I’m not so different than you,” she answered. “I’m a sentimentalist.”

He frowned, on the cusp of understanding. But then her starry fingertips graced his cheek, and the postman burst into wisps of silver smoke, lost on the wind.




Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon - first human being to make the journey from Earth to another celestial body - has died. 

The news hit me like a kick to the stomach just moments ago. It was only yesterday or the day before that I said to Sylvia, "It's going to be a terrible day when Neil Armstrong dies." I had no inkling that day would come so very quickly.

I was barely six months old when Armstrong made his small step and giant leap on Luna, but my parents tell me that I was awake and watching the live broadcast at that historic moment. I like to imagine that my lifelong passion for space exploration and science fiction began at the instant Armstrong's foot touched the lunar regolith.

Over the years I've read dozens of books about the American space program, and in each of them Neil Armstrong comes across as an enigmatic figure: immensely private, completely dedicated and professional, superhumanly cool under pressure, a gifted pilot and engineer. Armstrong famously retired from public life after his moon mission, appearing publicly only rarely. And yet despite his refusal to exploit his initial fame, Armstrong remains a key figure in history, one likely to be remembered centuries from now if we choose to follow those Lunar footsteps and build a better tomorrow among the stars.

Neil Armstrong's bravery and humility have inspired me and millions of others for decades. He was the first man to touch the nearest shore of the vast ocean that is the final frontier, and while others will go further and fly faster, he was the first. Neil Armstrong inspired me to look to the stars in wonder, and I'll be forever grateful for his heroic example. Wherever he's headed now, he'll go in peace, for all mankind.

Framed copy of the Flin Flon Reminder of July 21, 1969, currently hanging in our theatre room.





Friday, August 24, 2012

Expo '86

I remain grateful to Mom and Dad for taking Sean and me to see the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver. The fair's theme that year was transportation and communication, perfectly tailored to my interests. A few memories stand out:
  • Lunch at the British pavilion was, perhaps predictably, disappointing.
  • The Alberta pavilion took a shot at Manitoba, which was one of only a couple of provinces not to build a pavilion of their own at the fair, by displaying an encyclopedia page of Manitoba under glass and calling that "The Manitoba Pavilion." I thought it was pretty crass, personally.
  • McDonald's built a floating restaurant - the McBarge - for the fair. It was routinely packed during the fair, though now it lies abandoned.
  • The American pavilion featured a walk-through 1:1 scale mockup of the planned Freedom space station, which of course eventually evolved into the ISS. I found this exhibit particularly thrilling, though I was just as impressed with the Soviet pavilion, which also prominently featured its space race triumphs. 
For whatever reason I didn't take many photos of the fair, and none featuring my family. I think I was simply too engrossed in what was happening around me, which I suppose is no bad thing - sometimes you have to live in the moment instead of trying to capture it. But perhaps a few additional photos will stir your memories of Expo 86, if you were among the visitors...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Favourite Words

For the record, I present some of my favourite words. This is in no way an exhaustive list, nor is it arranged in any particular order:

giggle
puzzle
shape
lunatic
accident
dynamite
bananas
cryptic
betwixt
xylophone
imbecile
metaphor
science
yodel
flaunt
schism
sceptre
addle
ooze
catastrophe
apostrophe
gorilla
wildebeest
shovel
coquettish
marvel
annoy
backwards
jump
mash
apple
gonch
feet
gurgle
peanut
hippo
enchantment
id
pi
melancholy
urban
flesh
construct
logic
palindrome
bathos
tube
ruckus
rhubarb
singularity
magnet
trombone
tuba
blimp
airship
Byzantine
Zounds
astronaut
wonder
lickspittle
hidebound
rollercoaster
amplitude
erudite
whisper
shadow
angle
macabre
weird

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tin Man, Tin Woodman

While at the Wee Book Inn today I stumbled across Tin Woodman, a 1979 novel by David Bischoff and Dennis Bailey. I immediately added it to my pile of purchases, for I'd been curious about the novel ever since learning years ago that it was used as the basis for an excellent third-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Tin Man."

I read the novel over lunch at Chianti's on Whyte Avenue, and I was struck by how closely the world and characters of the book predicted that of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the show, of course, the U.S.S. Enterprise serves the needs of the United Federation of Planets; in the novel, the Pegasus is a starship serving the Triunion of worlds. Both starships travel faster than light, carry auxiliary craft as well as families and colonists, and come equipped with food replicators and holodecks. Even the bridge layout and the uniforms bear uncanny resemblance to the show - though of course Bischoff and Bailey drew some inspiration from the original Star Trek.

Mora Elbrun serves as the Pegasus' "shiplady," a kind of therapist in much the same vein as The Next Generation's Deanna Troi. Both characters are empaths, though Troi is an alien while Elbrun a human mutant. In both novel and episode, representatives of the government enlist an even more powerful empath - in the book, Div Halthor, on the show, Tam Elbrun - to make contact with a living but dormant space-borne organism, called Tin Woodman in the novel and Tin Man on the show.The Pegasus/Enterprise ferries Halthor/Elbrun to the alien entity to make first contact, and at this point the plots diverge widely.

And no wonder. The captain of the Pegasus is petty, obsessive and eventually monomaniacal, the first officer waffling and ineffective. This sort of characterization wouldn't work for the Enterprise crew, so the Moby Dick-like aspects of the novel's plot are dropped in favour of a cold war-like race between the Federation and the Romulans to secure - or destroy - Tin Man.

Bischoff and Bailey adapted their own novel into the episode's screenplay, so it's no wonder that the episode uses many of the book's character names and situations, merely shifting them about to fit the series format. Because I was exposed to "Tin Man" long before Tin Woodman, I found myself placing the Star Trek characters in their corresponding roles in the novel. It was rather amusing to imagine Picard acting like such a crazed martinet (eventually blowing his own head off with a laser), and to see Riker waffling over whether or not he should mutiny (though his counterpart in the book is a woman). Worf becomes a sycophantic toady and LaForge Troi's heroic but ultimately doomed lover. Read this way, the book plays out just like an episode of The Next Generation - only one taking place in the mirror universe.

Both the novel and the episode stand as solid, if not transformative, science fiction. There's a good reason that Star Trek has always been at its best when it takes its inspiration from literary SF; that's where all the groundbreaking ideas come from. When Star Trek comes back to television (as I'm sure it will), I hope its producers will seek out today's best speculative fiction for inspiration. I'd love to see Jack McDevitt, John Scalzi, China Mieville, Lois McMaster Bujold, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, Connie Willis or Ken MacLeod, among many others, adapted to the Trek milieu...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chekov's Monolith

Steve thought I might get a kick out of the Halftone iPhone app, and I do. Here's my first attempt at wry pop-culture crossover humour. Big-headed Happy Meal Chekov matches up fairly well with the official 2001 Monolith action figure...makes it look like he's evolving rapidly!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brick by Brick

I've been doing some freelance writing while I'm between full-time gigs, and the first of those pieces is now online. Thanks to Kim Dewar and the Alberta Teachers' Association for the opportunity, and to Mike Somkuti for being a great interview subject!

Brick by Brick: How one Edmonton teacher uses Lego to build knowledge


Sunday, August 19, 2012

USS Oklahoma City and USS Missouri, 1983

While browsing through my recently scanned photos in thumbnail view, I suddenly realized that two consecutive shots formed an accidental panorama. I doubt that's what my 14 year old self was attempting on that day back in Seattle, but just to amuse myself I threw the two photos together in Photoshop to see how they matched up. Not bad at all, and I'm sure with more than five minutes' work I could make the transition a little more seamless. Click to embiggen!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gardening 101 Lesson Four


Sometimes the writing process requires a little lubricant. On those occasions when I've been staring at a blank screen for too long, sometimes I'll quickly write something silly to get my creative juices flowing. In the case below, I must have been working on a gardening article for Hole's. Usually these efforts wind up in the trash can, but for whatever reason I saved this one...for better or for worse. 

Gardening 101
Lesson Four: How to Grow the Biggest Man-Eating Plant in Edmonton

The intriguing Man-Eating Plant (Ferosicus eatemupus) of Zanzibar isn't often seen in Edmonton's yards, mainly because this tropical beauty needs plenty of heat and light to thrive. However, this tender perennial can do very well here with the proper care. The MEP's gorgeous crimson blooms and handy disposal features make it a worthwhile challenge. Follow my lead to grow the biggest, baddest, bloodthirstiest Man-Eating Plants in the City of Chompions.

This weekend is the perfect time to plant MEP transplants or seeds. I grow the variety 'Bloodsucking Monster,' because it has the biggest, reddest blooms and the most ravenous appetite. 'Rabid Hellebore,' 'Satanwort,' and 'Beelzebub 496' are also excellent choices. Avoid older varieties like 'Slobber Girl' and 'Drooling Maniac;' these heirloom varieties tend to be sloppy eaters.

The first thing to do is prepare the soil. Do not remove any weeds; F. eatemupus likes weeds nearly as much as people, and will happily gobble them up. MEPs grow best in rich, well-drained soil, especially when fortified with human blood. For each transplant, add 10 L of fresh, untainted, deep red blood to the earth. If you don't have access to fresh blood, plasma from the blood bank is an acceptable substitute. When we first started growing MEPs at the greenhouse, we ignored this crucial step and lost a few employees because of it.

After the blood has soaked into the ground, plant each transplant to fingertip depth. Just poke a hole in the soil to the depth of your fingernail and drop the plant into the hole. Mound the soil around the plant, covering the roots. Plants should be spaced at least 2 m apart, to prevent them from feeding off each other. They should also be spaced 2 m away from any of your other plants, playgrounds, and pathways.

MEPs are very thirsty plants, and should be watered daily for best results. For safety's sake, I water in the morning, while the plants are asleep. Keep the soil around each plant very moist, but don't drown them. Be consistent! Water every day‹don't skip days and try to overcompensate by soaking them. Inconsistent watering can lead to splitting, or, even worse, explosion, and you don't want that.

Your Man-Eating Plant needs plenty of food. At the seedling stage, they need only an occasional finger or toe once per week. Don't debone your offerings. Man-Eating Plants can use the calcium to develop strong vines. Once the plants are 1 m tall, start feeding them your enemies, dead or alive.

Pruning Man-Eating Plant tentacles is dangerous to the point of foolhardiness, but necessary if you really want that prizewinning specimen. To avoid being crushed by the deadly coils, spray the plant with Malathion while standing at least 2 m away. Once the tentacles are stunned, use heavy shears to snip off all but the longest, strongest tendrils. For tougher, Malathion-resistant plants, use small children or pets as bait‹these tender morsels will distract the plant, giving you the chance to leap in and prune.

Man-Eating Plants are tender perennials; to make sure they overwinter safely in Edmonton, cover them with a dark shroud or dig them up (carefully!) and place them in a thick-walled wooden coffin. Bury the coffin at least six feet under, then exhume in the spring. (Some MEPs may need to be staked during the overwintering period.)

For a great gag, sow Man-Eating Plant seeds into an unsuspecting neighbour's garden. He'll probably only lose a couple of fingers the first time he bends over to examine the unusual "volunteers" that have sprung up in his plot.

-30-

Copyright © Ghoul's

For further information, contact:

Ghoul's Greenhouses and Slaughterhouses
666 Hellerose Drive
Sinner Albert, Alberta T8N 8N8
Phone: (666) EAT-GORE
Fax: (666) HOT-BURN
Email: grub@ghoulsonline.com


Friday, August 17, 2012

6166

Somewhere in space, Sean salutes the sigil of Saskatchewan on a steam-powered sentinel styled 6166.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

U Can't Touch U Thant

Now listen up homies 'cause I have a little rant
Waging war and peace is no mere accident
When it comes to building bridges and making plowshares
U can't touch the man with the Burmese stare

No U Can't
(whoa)
Touch U Thant
(whoa)
Secretary-General of United Nation peace plant
(whoa)

When Dag's plane went down in the fall of six-tee-one
The General Assembly said U is the only one
So U's in the big chair and in charge of the situation
With a mission to bring peace to all divided nations

When the Russkies and the USA start talkin' smack
U Thant smacks them down and says put those missiles back
And when brothers kill brothers down in the Congo
U Thant puts the hammer down and says this can't go on no long-o


No U Can't
(whoa)

Touch U Thant
(whoa)

Secretary-General of United Nation peace plant
(whoa)

Listen up homies United Nation represent
U Thant welcomed all to his peace and freedom tent
So give up your respect to the man with one name
'Cause in Burma U means Mister and Thant earned it all the same


No U Can't
(whoa)

Touch U Thant
(whoa)

Secretary-General of United Nation peace plant
(whoa)

Yeah!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chilling Out

Sometime in 1982 Mom photographed Dad and Sean and me standing on one of Alberta's glaciers along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. According to the WWF, Banff and Jasper's glaciers have retreated 25 percent during the course of the twentieth century. I wonder what this shot would look like if we went back and took it again this summer...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dispatches from a Parallel Universe: Pennies from Hell

August 14, 1900
 
Private "Penny Dreadful" Detective Stops Nickel-and-Dime Crook
Special to the Regina Crier by Nancy Fitzgerald
 
Broadview, Assiniboia - Joe Jones, the Welsh-Canadian writer who has thrilled a Generation of mystery lovers with his thrilling Detective stories of Dash Eagle, Private Detective, became embroiled in a real-life Drama yesterday afternoon when he stepped into Broadview Sweets for a stick of candy and instead found himself in the midst of a Villainous Robbery. 
 
Jones witnessed a swarthy, dull-eyed assailant threaten the candy store's aged proprietor, one Nick Applodious, with a heavy cudgel.Thinking quickly, Jones seized a jar of pennies from the counter - presumably placed there for the day's accounting - and hurled the heavy missile like a Champion Rounder.
 
"I yelled 'I'll knock some cents into you' and threw the jar," Jones recounts. "I was probably more surprised than the Burglar when the Pennies hit him square in the forehead, knocking him out cold. Rather than call the cops, this situation called for some Copper!"
 
The Miscreant, identified by Broadview constable Henry McTavish as one Earl J. Woods of no fixed address, was laid low by the blow. Applodious informed the RCMP that even had the robber successfully carried his plot to conclusion, it would have Profited him little. 

"On a slow day like today I've naught but Nickels and Dimes in the register," Applodious confesses. "Had he stolen every coin, every gumdrop, every lolly and all the soda in the store he may have escaped with ten or fifteen Dollars' worth of goods - hardly worth it with today's hyperinflation." 

Woods will be transported from Broadview to Regina for trial this week.
 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The New Security Chief

A couple of days ago Sylvia walked in to find me watching "The Neutral Zone," the last episode of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, on our ginormous new TV. Near the episode's climax, marooned man-out-of-time Ralph Offenhouse gets on a turbolift and heads for the bridge to make demands of Captain Picard.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Sylvia said. "How come the elevator lets him go to the bridge during a red alert? He's just a civilian, they don't know who he is. That's a huge hole in their security!"

"But, but," I stammered, "Just a few minutes ago they showed that Federation starships don't work that way. Offenhouse wasn't supposed to use the ship's communications system earlier in the episode and Picard comes down and lectures him for it, saying people in his time have enough self control to make the need for locks and passwords obsolete. This is just an extension of that philosophy -"

"That is B.S. I found a flaw in your crazy show. There's no way that guy should have gotten anywhere near the bridge especially when the green bug is out there!"

(The "green bug" is Sylvia's catchall term for any Klingon or Romulan spaceship.)

"I...but...from the future people's point of view no one would dream of coming to the bridge without permission, so the computer just obeys all requests...it's...you're supposed to...uh..."

"I should run the ship. This is nonsense."

I have to admit my explanation seems a little lame. But there are solid grounds for my objection to Sylvia's perceived flaw! On the other hand, she'd probably make a pretty good security chief. Better than Tasha Yar, anyway.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Act Three, Scene Two: The Dinner Party

(fragment of a future screenplay by Earl J. Woods, posted accidentally to his past and our present)

and that's why Karapleedees took the -

KLAUT: I'm going to give you a knuckle sandwich - with extra ketchup!

True to his word, KLAUT punches OBSEEQ in the mouth, bloodying his teeth. A brawl immediately breaks out in the dining hall. Guests throw punches, kicks and food.

MANDRE is the only diner who attempts to stay out of the fray, completely focussed on devouring his turkey stuffing. But SHEEZ grabs MANDRE by the hair, lifts him painfully to his feet, and punches him in the stomach.

SHEEZ: I'll beat the stuffing out of you!

SHEEZ does so - literally. MANDRE is unable to hold the contents of his stomach in place, regurgitating the stuffing.

SHEEZ: So! Not such a stuffed shirt anymore, eh Mandre? Ha ha ha!

MANDRE slumps into unconsciousness. KLAUT appears and takes a defensive position back-to-back with SHEEZ.

KLAUT: This only happens because we're too lazy to cook at home!

At that moment, KITCHEN ROBOT DISHWASHER CHEF bursts into the dining room, firing cutlery from its torso-mounted washer. Several guests are shot with forks, plates, teacups, butter knives, spoons etc.

SHEEZ: Time to get the fork out of here!

KLAUT: Sorry to dine and dash!

SHEEZ and KLAUT dive through the dining room window and into the street as the restaurant explodes behind them. SHEEZ and KLAUT surf the shock wave in glorious slow motion, propelled into the back of a passing garbage truck. FADE TO BLACK as they ride to safety.

 III. INT. CHINESE LAUNDOMAT - LATE EVENING

YURO SHIFTYGRIPPO is plunking quarters int

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Five Years of Wedded Bliss

Five years ago today I married this spectacular creature. She's very naughty but I wouldn't change a thing about our time together. Thank you for sharing your life with me, Sylvia.

Friday, August 10, 2012

TNG Season One in HD: Worst to First

Today I finished watching the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray in gloriously remastered high definition. Re-edited from the ground up from the original film elements, the series looks better than it ever has. It really is like watching an entirely new show; the more detailed and accurate picture adds great depth and previously unseen context to the storytelling.

For example, during one early episode aliens kidnap Natasha Yar. When the crew sees her again, still in the clutches of her captors, there's a line of dialogue that suggests Yar has been a bit of a handful. In the original broadcast the line falls a little flat. But in high definition viewers can plainly see that one of her kidnappers has a swollen black eye, a detail that gives additional weight to the line. Similarly, computer readouts that were once illegible now often reveal clever in-jokes or background information about the show's universe. It's a huge treat for detail-oriented fans.

Still, this is the much derided first season of Star Trek's first spinoff, a year of uneven acting and weak stories - or so the conventional wisdom goes. Perhaps it's merely the high definition gloss, but TNG's first season is much richer than I remember, improving by leaps and bounds as the season progresses...with a few notable exceptions that nearly derailed the show right from the beginning.

Here's how I rank the 25 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, with a brief explanation following each choice. From worst to first:

25. "Code of Honor"
An episode lambasted even by the cast for its heavy-handed racial stereotyping and goofy catfight, there will be "no vaccine!" for viewers forced to suffer through it.

24. "Angel One"
As sexist as "Code of Honor" was racist, this outing's only highlight is Commander Riker's enlightened attitude towards diversity. Due credit goes to actor Jonathan Frakes for doing his best with some pretty awful material.

23. "The Last Outpost"
The Ferengi make their embarrassing debut, hooting and hollering like chimps while the Enterprise crew smugly dismiss them. Thankfully the producers gave the alien species more depth in later episodes (and series). 

22. "The Naked Now"
It's the second episode of a brand new series and already the writers are stealing plots from the original show. There are a couple of cute, broadly comic moments, but it's the first example of poor Wil Wheaton being forced to save the ship as Wesley Crusher, earning the near-universal hate of fans. 

21. "Justice"
Picard and company visit Planet of the Half-Dressed Himbos and Bimbos and anger their vengeful god. Awkward and immature sexual allusions, a contrived Prime Directive crisis...it's just a mess.

20. "When the Bough Breaks"
Aliens who can't procreate kidnap six Enterprise children in the hopes of saving their civilization. I don't think six people would provide a diverse enough gene pool to accomplish such a task, but leaving that aside this is still a dull episode bereft of drama - there's no way that anything bad was going to happen to the kids. Now, if they'd lost one in a rescue attempt, that might have been good storytelling, really calling into question Starfleet's wisdom of including families on starships. Sadly, this episode plays it safe.

19. "Lonely Among Us"
There's nothing particularly bad about this episode, it's just not very challenging. The Enterprise inadvertently kidnaps an energy being, who spends the episode body-hopping in an effort to get back home. The issue is resolved with very little suspense.

18. "Encounter at Farpoint"
TNG's pilot has a lot going for it - an interesting central mystery with a great payoff, the introduction of Q, great performances by Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart. But the pilot is hampered by one over-the-top music choice and its treatment of the female leads. Gates McFadden's Dr. Crusher comes off as wooden and cold, Denise Crosby's Natasha Yar is overwrought, and poor Marina Sirtis is in tears for practically the entire episode, her Deanna Troi overwhelmed with fear one moment, rage the next, joy the next. Several sections are actually embarrassing to watch; everyone, both in front of and behind the cameras, was still finding their footing.

17. "Too Short a Season"
An ancient Starfleet admiral takes a youth drug with predictably tragic consequences. There's not much for the crew to do but watch things fall apart. 

16. "Hide and Q"
Q returns with an intriguing offer for Commander Riker, offering him omnipotence. John DeLancie is great as always, but the episode's preachiness and a truly embarrassing scene forced on Denise Crosby mar the episode. You're the security chief and you start crying on the bridge? Really?

15. "We'll Always Have Paris"
In which we learn that Captain Picard was too chicken to date one of the Mamas and the Papas and a time travel experiment goes wonky in a way that's still pretty hard to understand.

14. "Symbiosis"
The series' "drugs are bad!" episode, complete with lecture from poor ill-used Natasha Yar. No wonder Denise Crosby asked to be released from her contract. Still, Picard's solution at episode's end is nicely open-ended and even a little cruel in a thought-provoking way.
13. "Home Soil"
Terraformers accidentally threaten an indigenous silicon-based life form, and the Enterprise crew must put things right. Notable mostly for the alien description of humans as "ugly bags of mostly water."

12. "Coming of Age"
A setup episode for "Conspiracy" with some very effective editing and direction, plus some needed positive character development for Wesley Crusher.

11.  "Haven"
Majel Barrett's playfully shrewish Lwaxana Troi and her manservant Mr. Homm are fun to watch, considerably elevating the otherwise silly and overly mystical romance plot. Mrs. Troi, like Q, would go on to become a beloved recurring character across modern Trek series, but like Q her first-season debut is a little rough around the edges.

10. "Datalore"
Gene Roddenberry's last teleplay introduces one great concept: Data's evil twin brother, Lore. But while it's fun to watch Spiner play two parts, the episode's pacing is a little off and it's hard to believe that Lore could pass for Data for even a few minutes, given their personalities. Still, Lore is a wonderful menace, sadistically shooting Dr. Crusher in the arm and setting her on fire. (She was just singed.)  Pretty hardcore!

9. "Where No One Has Gone Before"Gorgeous special effects, a sense of wonder, some nice character bits and a journey to the edge of the universe help this episode stand out. 

8. "The Battle"
Picard gets a bit of background and the Ferengi are slightly redeemed, though the titular battle's staging is a little rushed and doesn't quite serve the story as effectively as it could.

7. "The Arsenal of Freedom"
The critique of arms trading and advertising is a little on-the-nose, but then why should everything have to be "sutle?" (That's for Mike Totman.) The evolving doomsday weapon is an interesting precursor to the Borg, and there are tense phaser fights in orbit and on the ground. Lightweight but fun.

6. "Skin of Evil"
A lot of people don't like this episode, but I think it has a lot going for it: Deanna uses both her empathic powers and her training as a counselor effectively, there's actually some poetry in the episode's title and the titular villain's dialogue, plus it's an irredeemable monster, which is actually kind of refreshing. Even Data notes, quite coldly, that it should be destroyed. Tasha Yar's death occurs in a flash, without glory, in the line of duty, one of Roddenberry's ideas and one I think works extremely well; she was, after all, one of the leads, but she was also a redshirt (metaphorically). Her senseless death is the sort of thing that one would expect to happen on dangerous space missions, and her abrupt departure added verisimilitude to the show. Dr. Crusher's quietly desperate attempts to revive her in sickbay also made for a tense, well acted, well directed scene.

5. "Heart of Glory"
Worf confronts his cultural duality in a fast-paced, cleverly-shot action episode, notable for reintroducing the Klingons and setting the groundwork for a number of interesting Worf stories. 

4. "The Neutral Zone"
The season's final episode is a bit schizophrenic: it reintroduces the Romulans, lays the groundwork for the Borg, and also covers the crew's attempts to deal with three cryogenically frozen and revived 20th-century humans. The Romulans are well done and the "people out of time" story does a good job of illustrating the vast differences between Roddenberry's 24th century utopia and the culture of the present day.

3. "11001001"
The "stealing the Enterprise" sequence alone is terrific, but this episode's action set piece is just a means of telling a solid story about trust, diversity and compassion that really captures the Roddenberry ethos in a compelling way.

2. "Conspiracy"
The season's creepiest episode was so shocking back in the day that ITV (now Global) broadcast a warning before the episode began. At the time I thought there was some kind of mistake, that ITV had broadcast the warning in error; there was never anything truly shocking or scary on Star Trek. The warning was repeated after the final commercial break, and my teenage eyes boggled at the sight of Riker and Picard phasering a man's head until it exploded and then vaporizing the alien creature hiding in his unfortunate guts. But aside from the shock value of the episode's climax, "Conspiracy" delivers a delightfully creepy experience of low-level paranoia throughout. It's a shame that this storyline was never explored again.

1. "The Big Goodbye"
A Peabody winner for good reason, the season's best episode gives Picard emotional depth while asking interesting questions about the nature of consciousness and reality itself. Not just the best of the season, a standout for the entire series. 

The Next Generation's first season certainly has its share of stumbles and embarrassing moments, but there are some solid stories here. Of course season two is even better - I can't wait to rank its episodes a few months from now!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

First Stop at Lister Hall

Over two decades ago, I spent four years as a resident of Lister Hall on the University of Alberta campus. I moved in for a four-year stint in the Kelsey tower in September of 1987, but over a year before that I stayed in the Henday tower as one of a couple of dozen students participating in the Rotary Club's 1986 Forum for Young Albertans. This recovered image captures Lister (and Kelsey and Mackenzie towers in the background) as they stood in May 1986.

I remember a number of things about the Forum, chiefly that Grant MacEwan was an engaging guest speaker and that I got shot down by the founder of Mark's Work Wearhouse. Full of nationalist fervor at the time, I stood up to ask a question:

"Mr. Blumes, many Canadians are concerned by the dominance of American companies on Canadian soil. Mark's Work Wearhouse is in the process of opening stores in the United States. How do you feel about reversing that trend of American dominance?"

"Not an issue at all, ridiculous," Blumes replied. "Next question."

Burn! Oh well. At least the Forum gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the student residence I'd call home for four years. And what a ride it was...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Same Old Orange and Blue

"Together! A New Alberta Team." Even back in 1986, when Alberta's ruling PCs had been in power for a mere fifteen years (!), the provincial Tories understood the importance of brand renewal. This was new PC Leader Don Getty's first election as Premier, and the election slogan seen here was part of that renewal strategy.

The 1986 election was held on May 8; the folder containing the negative for this photo is stamped May 1986. Other photos on the same roll of film imply that this was Leduc's Black Gold parade, which is normally held in early June these days, but perhaps back then it occurred earlier. The party livery on the car hints that this is a pre-election shot, and yet Don Sparrow is identified as Minister of Forestry, a title he shouldn't have been using during an election, since cabinet is dissolved during the writ period. Of course it's also possible that this shot was taken after the election, but the orange and gold branding certainly makes it look like a campaign car.

I volunteered for Mr. Sparrow during the 1986 election, back before I realized that my values and those of the PCs didn't really align very well. That being said, I thought Sparrow himself was a pretty good guy (I have vague memories of playing on the youth baseball team his company sponsored), and I was saddened when I heard of the fatal car accident that took his life not long after he lost his seat to Alberta Liberal Terry Kirkland in the 1993 election. Progressive Albertans may be frustrated by the PC ability to constantly rebrand itself as somehow new, but parties are composed of people, and from my limited interaction with Don Sparrow he seemed like a man who simply wanted to serve the public to the best of his ability. Whatever party colours we fly, we all belong to the same civilization, and I'm sure Sparrow had much more to contribute during his post-government career.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Dread Pirate Woods

The image of me with the knife in my teeth was taken back in 1986 at Con-Version in Calgary, possibly by Stephen Fitzpatrick. The background is a screen capture from one of my old Star Trek DVDs. If I can find a place that designs custom boxes, this might be the image I use to decorate a container for my Starfleet: A Call to Arms miniatures. Of course only a fool would bring a knife to a starship fight, but perhaps my fearsome visage will strike fear into the Klingon and Romulan forces wielded by Stephen and Sean.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Strange Mystery of Return to the Edge of Nowhere Part V

Google's spam filters do a pretty good job of protecting this blog from comment spam, but one particular post seems more vulnerable than others: Return to the Edge of Nowhere, Part V. Two or three times a month a spammer - usually from Australia - will leave the typical "great blog" or "awesome post" message that's really just a cover for the website links they're pushing, only discovered when you click on their username, which appears above the comment they've left.

It takes only a second to delete this sort of spam, and it doesn't really bother me very much to do so. But I do wonder why spammers - or, more likely, their automated software - targets this particular post so often. There's nothing particularly remarkable about it; it's the halfway point of a story about Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, a subject of limited interest and therefore one would imagine little profitability for spammers. The post does feature an abnormally high number (for this blog, at least) of photographs and embedded videos; perhaps these somehow act as flags for the spambots.

The problem isn't a greatly troubling one, but I am curious about why this post gets attacked so disproportionately. I welcome any insight from my more web-savvy friends.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

They All Scream for Ice Cream

In retrospect, I should have asked them to scream. The queue for ice cream in Cochrane was never shorter than this when we visited the southern Alberta community today.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A Sign of Bad Composition

Just as I was finishing Grade 12, Leduc Composite High School sent a group of students to Drumheller for a biology field trip. When the trip was over, I asked someone - I don't remember who - to take a photo of the group. Can you see what's wrong with this picture? I didn't, not until I developed the film. (That's me on the right, in the purple jacket, by the way.)

The sign at the centre of the frame is blocking two kneeling students. Argh! I'm sure this was my reaction when I received the prints:
Strangely enough, I shot a group photo myself which wound up being used in the Leduc Representative. Of course I'm not in that shot; I was shooting. I don't have that one scanned, and now I'm almost afraid to look - did I make the same mistake? To be continued...

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Longest Shift

During my 19th summer, I worked as a server at Mr. John's, a truck stop on Edmonton's south side. The place was open 24 hours and I was assigned rotating shifts: 8-4, 4-12, or 12-8. Aside from foolishly giving away Wayne Gretzky rookie cards that might have paid for a year's tuition if sold, it was a fairly uneventful summer job...but for one particular shift.

I arrived at the truck stop shortly before 4 p.m. on a warm midsummer afternoon. In my dress shirt and slacks, I was the very picture of professional servitude, ready to juggle plates and coffee urns for the next eight hours.

For most of the afternoon and evening, business was steady but manageable for my small team of servers, cooks and busboys. At midnight, as per the restaurant policy, I closed the non-smoking section and awaited the arrival of the graveyard shift.

Save for the cook, they never came. Meanwhile, my fellow afternoon-shift employees streamed out the door and into the black summer night even as more customers streamed in. Suddenly, I was the only server on hand.

I immediately phoned each server scheduled for the graveyard shift, but all pleaded illness. Not knowing how to proceed - I was, after all, only 19 - I phoned the manager.

"Nothing I can do," he said sleepily. "You'll just have to handle it."

And so I did, on what turned out to be the busiest night of the summer. The lower portion of the restaurant was completely full, and yet customers continued to cram themselves into the restaurant, pushing aside the chairs I'd used to block off the non-smoking section and seating themselves while I attempted to take orders and refill coffee.

The night went by in a blur: pour coffee, hand orders to the cook, collect food, serve food, make more coffee, refill soda machine, clear tables, rush to the back to wash dishes, man the register,run over to the convenience store/gas station side of the business to man that register, make the rounds to ensure the food was good, run to the back to sort dishes, wipe tables, clean messes, assist the cook. There was a lineup for tables the entire night - not a single moment of respite. If the gas station hadn't been relatively quiet I probably couldn't have kept up at all. 

At one point we ran out of cutlery because the washing machine couldn't keep up with the volume I was cramming into it. There were forks and knives in storage downstairs, and I raced to the stairwell intent on collecting them. But my haste was my downfall; at the top of the stairs I tripped, plunging head-over-heels down the stairwell. My head bounced off the stairs at least twice, but I miraculously ended up feet-first on the basement floor, only to have my momentum propel me head-first into the opposite wall. Stunned but high on adrenalin and desperation, I collected the extra cutlery and raced back upstairs. My teenage lungs filled with second-hand smoke, but I fought through it, smiling through the grey haze at the bemused truckers and exhausted travelling families who were our primary customers.

The shift remained frantic until 8 a.m. Eyes red and lungs blackened by tobacco, I felt a surge of giddy relief when the manager arrived. He surveyed the restaurant, flicked through the night's receipts and nodded in satisfaction.

"You had a good night," he said. "Nice job managing that yourself."

"Thanks," I smiled, extending a weary hand toward the exit door.

"Make sure to vacuum before you leave, okay?"

I left an hour later, the truck stop carpets pristine but my mood considerably muted by a 17 hour shift and a probable concussion. There was a bountiful silver lining in my pockets, however - over a hundred crisp 1988 dollars, thanks to the generous and patient patrons I'd done my best to serve. That money paid for my second-year university texts, some of which I retain today, the hard-won fruits of a long, smoky night.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Women's Sports News!

...or, possibly the unlikeliest title for a My Name is Earl (J. Woods) blog post ever. But yesterday I met my friends Andrea and Greg and their kids Lena and Mitchell at the Legislature; they're here from the UK to visit friends and family. (As an aside, Lena's British accent cracks me up for some reason, particularly when she's displaying her knowledge of Star Wars trivia.)

During the course of our conversation I learned Andrea has started a new blog on the subject - women in sport, that is, not her daughter's accent. The Olympics have certainly given Andrea ample grist for the beginnings of her new mill! I wonder if she'll have anything to say about the Olympic fencer who refused to leave the field of battle because of a disputed call.

In any event (pun intended), visit Women's Sports News for Andrea's coverage of...women in sports!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Not One More Step

Discovering forgotten images is the greatest reward of scanning hundreds of negatives. This particular image comes from a roll developed in January 1982, but considering the weather it was probably shot - by Mom - at least six months earlier.

Poor Sean is clearly agonized by the long walk to the top of whatever trail we were exploring. I've felt the pain of his "I can't take another step" half-crippled gait of despair. In fact, I'm sure I've assumed this stance more often than him.
Sean persevered, though, and joined us in admiring the majestic peaks...
...and the sublime lakes. I'm guessing these images were taken somewhere in the Rockies, but I don't remember the trip at all. Seeing photos like this thrills me, but there's a flip-side of dark horror: how much have I forgotten?