Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two Views of the Suwannee River, Manitoba

Even today, a web search for "Suwannee River, Manitoba" still gives you a ton of hits for the American river of song rather than the far more remote Suwannee near Leaf Rapids. Mom or Dad (or maybe even I) shot these two photos from our boat while fishing on the Suwannee in the summer of 1976. The place existed, it exists today, and hopefully now the Internet knows it. POSTERITY.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Adventures of Allan Lad

Back in the late 40s/early 50s DC produced a short-lived comic featuring the fictional adventures of real-life movie star Alan Ladd. Something about the double consonant in Ladd struck a chord. My friend Allan has two ls in his name, so I stole Ladd's second d, transformed it into an l, and turned Alan Ladd into Allan Lad, presumably a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. I imagine Allan Lad's powers would be sarcasm, sardonic humour, logic and computer hacking.

A couple of days ago Jeff Shyluk posted a very useful tutorial showing Photoshop users how to give artwork an artificially aged look. I've used some of Jeff's techniques here, though not all of them; I had a hard time making the half-tone layer look right.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

3 Men in a Boat

A few random frames from an educational filmstrip that might have existed in an alternate 1970s. In reality, Mom took a few pictures of Dad, Sean and I on a couple of fishing trips on the Suwanee River near Leaf Rapids. I imagine fishing up there hasn't changed much, although perhaps everyone brings their cell phones on the boat, and maybe a GPS. Or maybe not even the cell phones - I don't seem to remember having coverage up there when Sean and I last revisited the place.

I have several vivid memories of our summer fishing trips, but the one that stands out most is the time the boat was racing along and I decided to reach out and try to pick a cattail as we passed by. That's how I learned why grass leaves are called "blades." I failed to pick the cattail, but the friction of my hand against the razor-sharp edge of the grass gashed open my palm quite efficiently. 

Don't forget to click to embiggen!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Another Paperback on the Edge of Nowhere

Yesterday's effort to render a paperback novel cover wasn't perfect, so I spent a few minutes this morning crafting the inevitable sequel. I moved or changed all of the text elements, and I think they're all better positioned now. I wonder what the ellipsis in the Tundra Weekly quote hides? Probably nothing too flattering...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Paperback on the Edge of Nowhere

Inspired by Jeff's most recent post, I felt the urge to create something retro - in this case, an imaginary paperback from an alternate 1970s. After sketching out the original design, though, I found that giving the cover an authentic aged look with weathering and so on remains beyond my skills. Still, I'm pretty happy with the design itself. I attempted to emulate the look of the first edition cover of Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, so I chose a jungle-looking font and a green/black/yellow colour scheme. I'm particularly happy with the tagline, which can be interpreted in two very different ways, but I had a heck of a time finding the right place to put the author name and the "complete and unabridged" text. I'm still not sure they're in the right spots.

You can read two journeys to the edge of nowhere starting here and here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Depths of Space

Only now, after years of practise, am I beginning to develop a hint of understanding of depth and perspective in art. This image is silly, but it serves as an important learning tool in my quest to come to grips with perspective. As you can see, I've attempted to semi-realistically place myself in the middle of a rain of light, with some of the rain in the background and other falling droplets in the foreground, as if they're in front of me, or closer to the reader. To accomplish this, I selected several of the bars of light and then transformed them into a separate layer, which I copied a couple of times. Then I pasted my Earl cutout into the image, placing that element between the background layer and the raindrop layers. Using blending options, I added drop shadows to the raindrops. The tricky part was trying to determine the distance between my body and the drops; that would determine where the shadows should fall. I used the same trick with the "Mystery in Space" logo. While the effect isn't polished, I think it's a stumbling, shambling step forward.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rescue on 81st Avenue

Summer, 1992. I pulled into the parking lot on 81st avenue and 105th street, just a couple of blocks away from Warp One. I had my day planned out: pick up some comic books, walk across the back alley to Greenwoods' to browse for novels, cross Whyte Avenue to spend a couple of hours at the Wee Book Inn, and then break for lunch somewhere along the avenue. It was going to be a good day, I thought as I shut the car off and then swung myself out into the summer heat, making sure to push the lock down and hold the handle up as I when I closed the door; otherwise, the lock wouldn't engage. 

I shut the door firmly, released the handle. And then through the window I saw my keys, still dangling innocently from the ignition. I'd locked myself out of my little silver Corolla station wagon.

I stuffed my hands into my pockets and stared at the keys for a minute, as if I could step backwards in time and get myself out of this through sheer force of will. There were no cell phones back then, and I had no change for payphones; I was on my own.

Or so I thought. For down the sidewalk came two imposing figures, rough-looking bearded men in jeans and leather jackets.

"You lock yourself out?" asked the burlier one.

"Uh huh," I said shamefaced.

"No problem," he said, and reached into his jacket, unfurling an unwound coat hanger. With balletic grace, he stepped past me and wormed the long, stiff wire inside the door frame, wriggling it around until a catch popped and the lock popped up. The entire process took only a second.

"Thanks!" I exclaimed, opening the door to retrieve my keys. But my benefactors were already halfway down the block, their hands raised briefly in offhand acknowledgement of my gratitude.

With my keys safely tucked away in my pocket, my thumb hovered over the lock once more...and then retreated without pushing it down. I casually flipped the door shut and headed east down the sidewalk. On that day, at least, locks had caused nothing but trouble. Why encourage them?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anti-Portraits

If I ever find myself with more money than I know what to do with, I'm going to hire a photographer for an anti-portrait session.

What, you may ask, is an anti-portrait session? The concept leaped to mind when I spotted a portraiture ad this afternoon in the Save-On parking lot. In the ad, the models looked gorgeous; their hair and makeup was perfect, the lighting and soft focus flattered every feature and hid every deficiency.

My anti-portrait will take the opposite approach. I immediately shared my plan with Sylvia: I'd show up in a stained t-shirt, sweat pants and old sneakers. I won't shower, shave or brush my teeth that morning. Nor will I comb my hair. For her part, Sylvia will wear her rattiest old pajamas, eschew makeup and hairstyling and skip the shower just like me. I'll insist upon the worst possible lighting - the harsher, the better. And whatever lens is least flattering to the human visage and feature? That's the one I'll make the photographer use.

My plan should result in a portrait train wreck not even our parents could love. I will then sell the portrait to the Guggenheim as a commentary on body image/crass commercialism and recoup my investment with interest.

Sylvia thinks my plan is brilliant, but noted she's unwilling to serve as one of the models for this endeavor. Surely one of my readers will take her place for the sake of art and riches?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Strategic Communications Professional for Hire!

For some time I've meant to experiment with Blogger's Pages feature. What better way to begin than by advertising myself? Whether you need a freelance writer for specific projects or a full-time communications professional with over a decade's experience, click on the new "Strategic Communications Professional for Hire!" tab at the top of this blogroll and see if my skills meet your needs.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Emotional Manipulation

Storytellers manipulate audiences; that's their job. Mom or Dad or one of my aunts or uncles shot this photo of me and an unknown dog back in the 1970s. I don't remember the encounter, nor do I recall my emotional state at the time. But with the addition of a couple of captions, I can frame this image as a small tragedy. Do we know what this dog might have been feeling at this moment? Of course not. Did I know I was allergic back then? Sure, but was I really sad I couldn't pet the dog? It's just as likely I was scared of it, or I was distracted and wishing I had a book instead of posing for photos. Or maybe this was shot before I developed my nervousness around dogs, and I really did want to pet the beast.

You and I will never know. The text has its own agenda. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Blob

A couple of weeks ago I was fooling around with one of those innumerable iPhone photography apps and accidentally shot this. I don't know what I was actually trying to photograph, but this result is sort of cool. The Blob is due for another remake, isn't it?

Come to think of it, the Blob should fight Godzilla. And the Three Stooges, but then the Three Stooges should fight everyone: Bruce Lee, Tarzan, Zorro, Hannibal Lecter, Dirty Harry, the Man with No Name, the Three Musketeers, the Mummy, etc. I'd go see each and every "Three Stooges vs." movie. In fact, I'd buy them all on Blu-Ray. Get with it, Hollywood!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Farmer Classics Back in Print

I've long been a fan of Phil Farmer, master of the pulp pastiche. My single complaint about Farmer is that some of his older works have been tough to find, but thanks to Titan Books several of those elusive novels are now back in print in handsome new trade paperback editions. I mentioned this fact to my friend Neil some time ago, and I was thinking about him tonight so I figured I'd just show off my growing collection of back-in-print Farmer.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Not I, the Jury

They say revenge is the best medicine, love only hurts when you're having fun and never give a sucker an even break. What that has to do with this story I don't know, but maybe it'll all make sense in the end, like a cheap dime novel with a ludicrous final-page plot twist that makes you throw the book out the nearest window. Or maybe it'll just be another half-baked blog post with a laborious setup and little payoff. What do I know? I'm just the writer, I'm not qualified to judge - not I, the jury.

With my summons folded neatly into a paperback copy of Tim Dorsey's The Big Bamboo, I reversed my salt-stained Kia out of the garage at 7 a.m. into a refreshingly bright and warm spring morning, the accumulated snow finally, begrudgingly, melting, like a cheap ice cube at one of those all-night blues joints that never closes because the inspectors don't visit that end of town anymore.

The drive to the law courts was simple enough - I'd plied these roads before too many times, often under less than ideal circumstances, like when your gas tank is running dry and your bank balance hasn't seen the plus side of zero for nine weeks. Today my tank was full but my pocket change was running empty as I pulled into the underground parking lot beneath our spiffy new city hall. I was sweating bullets as I fished through my pockets and plunked coins into the soulless face of the 8-hour meter - Loonies, Doubloons and quarters only, no nickel-and-dime jazz for the downtowners. When I plugged the last quarter into the slot the meter read just a hair over four hours. Having never served on a jury before - at least not an official jury, if you catch my drift - I sweated a little, wondering if jury selection would conclude in time for me to avoid an expensive fine. Well, it was all in Lady Luck's hands now, I thought.

I rode the elevator up to street level, crossed the street and found the law courts entrance, only to discover that I'd arrived a half hour before the doors even opened. Sixteen bits in parking money down the drain for nothing, and now I couldn't do anything but loiter in the stiff breeze with the half-dozen other mooks who'd been a little too eager to perform their civic duty.

I flipped open my beeper to check for jobs, but as usual of late I was out of luck unless I wanted to edit a hog farm journal or go back to throwing press releases into the media meat grinder (both of which, incidentally, start to look good after a few months of living off your good-hearted trophy wife's paycheque). That took all of 45 seconds, so I decided to take a walk around the building, as always amused by the multi-million dollar edifices on the west side of the street and the ramshackle pawn shops on the east side. That seemed like some kind of metaphor about the justice system, but I'll be a Tanzanian moose before I could tell you what it all meant.

After my stroll I read a few pages of Dorsey, but I couldn't get my mind off the case - the case that had brought me to these granite steps. Of course I had no idea regarding the details of the case, because that was secret. So as usual, my mind was spinning its wheels and burning itself out uselessly on metaphysical conundrums I sure as hell wasn't going to solve while waiting for some bureaucrat to open up the building.

And then suddenly it was 8 a.m. and I was shuffled into a security checkpoint line with the other prospective jurors. I cracked a thin, world-weary smile as I spotted a poster: "THE FOLLOWING ITEMS HAVE BEEN CONFISCATED FROM PERSONS ATTEMPTING TO ENTER THE LAW COURTS." Underneath that caption, grainy photos of brass knuckles, a switchblade, pistols and a hand grenade. I congratulated myself for not being dumb enough to get caught with that kind of contraband, just as the metal detector went off and I was pulled aside for further inspection.

"Just stand over here, sir, with your arms out." I played it smart, wondering what I'd forgotten to put in the little grey basket. The guard waved his wand up and down my body until passing over my midsection. Beep. Like a dope, I'd forgotten about my belt buckle.

"Just remove the belt, sir, and try again."

If my face was flushed just a little with embarrassment, well, I wouldn't be the first guy singled out for special inspection because one of the rules slipped his mind in the heat of the moment. On my next pass through the checkpoint I was clear, and the guards waved me through. I collected my meager belongings and headed upstairs to Courtroom 317, where hundreds of people in various states of boredom, fear or annoyance waited. What a hodgepodge of humanity, a small selection of Homo Sapiens Albertans: black, white, brown, yellow, pink, purple, red and that was just the hair. I cooled my heels while the big clock's cool digital numbers winked by, until at last a silver-haired, smooth talking gent had us line up again with our summons papers. One by one we showed him and his partner our papers, and they gave each of us our jury number. We kept that new number in our heads and passed it on to the clerks, high-class dames who were not only efficient, but friendlier than you'd expect in a place of such dead-serious business.

"Please have a seat in the gallery, sir," one of them said after handing me a small two by two-inch card with my name, address and previous occupation on it in plain Courier type.

"You mean up there?" I gestured over her shoulder, until realizing even as I said it that I'd probably just pointed at the spot where justices normally sit. But she only laughed and said "Anywhere in those brown seats on the floor, sir." I found a spot on one of the many long wooden benches and gave my heels a second cooling. Once everyone had their little cards, the clerk stood up to give us the lowdown on what was going to happen. Frankly the process seemed so simple as to defy explanation, but just in case some of us needed things spelled out, she started a video that played on two 46-inch flatscreens mounted on the courtroom walls - a modern innovation that seemed out of place in the mid-70s, wood-panelled gestalt of the place.

On screen an inoffensively good-looking guy with hair like a Ken doll explained how important it was that we were here, and how our participation made democracy and the justice system possible. I absorbed the soft sell with only mild cynicism - I still wasn't very good at crushing that idealistic inner child under the weight of the school of hard knocks. After the video was over, the bailiff escorted us from the courtroom so the lawyers could set themselves up. A few minutes later, we all filed back into the room like good little herded citizens. One of the clerks called the roll, the judge entered, we stood, we sat, and the judge repeated the same shpiel we'd just heard in the video, only with more class and panache. He seemed like a sincere and reasonable guy, just the sort of judge you'd want if you were ever threatened with the big house.

And then the lottery began. The clerk filled a metal cylinder with copies of our little cards and pulled twenty names. Folks approached the front of the courtroom, some slouching forward reluctantly, others springing up with delight, some a little nervous. When twenty names were called, the judge asked if anyone had any reasons why they couldn't serve on a jury, and about half those twenty hands shot up like they'd been flung from a catapult. One by one they told the judge their stories - I have a paid vacation coming up, I have a heart condition, I'm the only person working the night shift next week and so on. The judge excused each and every one of them, and I found myself admiring his compassionate wisdom. Maybe the system works, thought that idealistic little boy, and I stomped him back down with a well-practiced silent "shaddup!"

The remaining potential jurors were then called, one by one, before the prosecuting and defending lawyers. I took careful note of these legal eagles - one looked like he'd just stepped out of law school with the ink still drying on his degree, while the other looked like the guy that played My Favourite Martian. In turn, each lawyer took a look at his notes, then the prospective juror, and muttered either "content" or "challenge." There were a lot more challenges than I expected, and they had no pattern I could grok. The clerk had to draw lots of twenty twice more, and another lot of twelve, before twelve jurors had been chosen - and I was surprised to find myself part of that last lot. The prosecutor had no beef with me, but the defence attorney took one long look at me and barked "Challenge!" I returned to my seat, not sure if I was disappointed or relieved.

With twelve jurors chosen, the lawyers packed up their gear. To my surprise, the lawyer who'd challenged me approached me on his way out, smiled, winked and whispered "Good luck!" I couldn't figure it. Good luck for what? Did he think I wanted to serve on a jury, and hoped I'd get picked in for the next trial? Was he sorry he'd had to reject me? Or did he think I wanted to avoid the responsibility, and had his fingers crossed that my name wouldn't be drawn again? I couldn't answer those questions, because I didn't know myself what I wanted.

It took only a couple of minutes for selection for the next trial to begin. This time around my number was called during the very first random draw. The silver-haired gent who'd taken our summons papers pointed out where I should stand, and leaned over to whisper "You should buy a lottery ticket after this." I couldn't help but agree - the odds of being drawn twice seemed pretty long. This time around the tables were turned: the defence had no problem with me, but the prosecutor took one look at me, grinned in a not-unkindly way, and proclaimed "Challenged!"

"You're excused, sir," said the judge. I nodded and left the courtroom. I had just minutes to spare over at the City Hall meters - plenty of time to ruminate a little while I made my way to the parking lot.

What did it all mean? Are we all just names and numbers in big spinning wheels, waiting for our number to come up, only to be tossed aside for some arbitrary reason we'll never know? Or do we escape fates worse than death every day, Lady Luck stepping in with her gentle, invisible touch to deliver us?

I hated bathos, but I needed a pizza. Case closed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on the Final Man of Steel Trailer


I've been suckered by slick trailers before, but if Man of Steel is even half as exciting and inspiring as this clip, it'll be well worth a trip to the multiplex. My favourite moments:

"They'll kill him."
"How?"

"Can't I just keep pretending to be your son?"
"You are my son."

"In time, they will join you in the sun."

And most of all:

"It's not an S. On my world, it means hope."

I'm very excited that Nolan and Snyder seem to be using a first contact story to ground the film, a fantastic idea that's perfectly suited to Superman's history and glossed over in every other interpretation of the character. Any extraterrestrial life making its way to Earth would be the biggest news in history, a world-changing event, and the film seems to be treating Superman's discovery in just that way. When I first heard that General Zod would serve as the film's villain I was a little leery, but in this context - he's hunting down Superman for reasons that are, from his point of view, legitimate - it could work wonderfully.

I'm still leery of Zack Snyder's track record, but perhaps Chris Nolan's influence has helped the director mature. If nothing else, it's clear the film's cinematography is going to be gorgeous, and I hope that the wondrous music used in the trailer is Zimmer's, and that it's actually from the film (a sad rarity for trailers).

Finally, you couldn't ask for a better cast. Amy Adams could be the most credible Lois Lane ever, Henry Cavill makes a great golden age-esque Superman, and Costner and Crowe as Superman's two dads look amazing. Also - Toby Ziegler as Professor Hamilton! Inspired.

I can't wait for June 14th.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Requiem for Erewhon

Some days it's hard to be human.

Last night I mentioned my friend Rick's serious illness; Sylvia and I missed a tribute to him because of an important condo meeting. At that meeting we learned that one of our neighbours died the night before, a sweet little old woman who baked us cookies. I'd wondered why there were ambulances and a fire truck with lights flashing outside our door that night, but my mind simply wouldn't make the obvious connection; I thought they must have been caught up in some kind of drill.

By now everyone's heard of the terrorist attack in Boston, and the bombings that killed dozens in three cities in Iraq. And now we learn that Iran has suffered an 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with hundreds feared dead.

I usually resist commenting on events like these because I feel like I'm just piling on platitudes. But I will offer one thought that always gets me through times of sadness like this: good people all over the world are working hard to make things better.

Thousands of people dedicate their lives to ending heart disease and cancer. This activity goes on every minute of every day, invisible to most of us unless and until we or a loved one get sick.

Thousands of others risk their lives to mediate disputes among the warring tribes of Earth. Still more devote their days and nights to creating desperately needed infrastructure in developing countries. And whenever a crisis strikes, human beings instinctively rush toward the epicentre of disaster to help in any way they can. That's who we are.

Some of us are lost or sick or angry enough to lash out with senseless violence. Some aspects of our technology make it too easy to hurt people, and the temptations of power in combination with that technology have put millions in harm's way. Governments, individuals and organizations are all capable of great evil.

On day like this it's all too easy to surrender to despair or cynicism. But whenever I think of the everyday heroes who give of themselves so others may live, I'm heartened once again. Every day we lose people to tragedy, and those losses wound us forever. But we move forward anyway, struggling to build that better world that always seems just beyond our reach.

One day we'll get there. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rick's Roast

A crucial condo board meeting prevented Sylvia and me from attending tonight's Roast for Rick Miller. It's a great sadness for both of us, as we were looking forward to joining our Alberta Liberal friends in honouring the former MLA and ex-Chief of Staff of the Official Opposition. Rick is, of course, in the midst of a battle with cancer, and the event offered not only moral support to Rick and his family, but financial assistance to the cancer charity Movember. If any of my friends were at the event and snapped photos, I hope you'll send me a couple - Sylvia and I would both love to see how everything went. In the meantime, we'll keep sending our very best hopes and wishes out into the universe for Rick. 


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Death in the Pyramid of Shadows

Shortly after midnight this morning, the adventuring party known as the Unusual Suspects met its doom in the library of the Pyramid of Shadows.

Having already survived a pit of corpses, fiendish two-headed monsters and giant rats, the stalwart compatriots were eager to track down their adversary, a wizard who held the only means of escape from the labyrinthine, other-dimensional pyramid. Aided by an elf sorceress imprisoned in an orb, the party made their way to the pyramid's library, guessing that there they might find clues as to the evil wizards location.

But alas! The brave souls were ambushed by a quintet of immortals, ageless beings with horrific psychic powers, servants of the mad god Vecna. Storms of psychic arrows rained down upon the hapless adventurers, dazing them, slowing their reflexes and leaving them vulnerable to further assaults.

Lady luck also played a role in the grim fate of the Unusual Suspects. Even Jeff's brand new dice, purchased in desperation after too many polyhedral disasters, abandoned the elf ranger, and he was the first to fall. Mike's gnome illusionist, sensing that only unorthodox solutions offered any hope of escape, mounted the ladder to the library's second level and opened the door to another chamber, where he spied, miraculously, the image of his god. Head bowed, he prayed to the stone idol, only to be struck down by a lethal trap.

Meanwhile, Audrey's paladin, Pete's tiefling fire-caster and my melodious bard attempted to hold off the assault of the immortals. Indeed, Audrey managed to murder one of the immortals, while Pete's magic missiles whittled down two others to their doom. But our final foe laid us all low - first my bard, then the paladin, and finally the mage. In the end, only Scott's character escaped - mainly because Scott himself couldn't make it over to Steve and Audrey's for the game. His character missed the massacre.

As games go, "losing" in Dungeons and Dragons can be relatively tough; we had, after all, invested three years in these characters, only to see them butchered. But as any lover of games will tell you, the possibility of losing is what makes success sweet. If we'd been smarter or luckier, we might have survived this encounter, but instead we'll have to continue with new characters, new back stories and new motivations. It's almost like transitioning from season one to season two of a fantasy television series, with nearly all the cast and characters replaced to revitalize the show.

When we created our backup characters years ago, I decided to play against type and crafted a musclebound, relatively dimwitted barbarian named Anvil. It'll be interesting to see how he fares when Scott's character recruits him to avenge his fallen comrades.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Excalibur Shuttles

Today I joined Pete and Mike at Steve's place for a little pre-Gaming and Guinness prep. While Mike and Pete painted their models for our planned A Call to Arms: Starfleet melee, I used nothing but my graphic pens to add some detail to this trio of Federation shuttlecraft. It's incredibly difficult to draw in straight lines on models so small, but I'm reasonably pleased with the results given my shortage of artistic talent.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rocket Babies

Coming this fall on The EW...

ROCKET BABIES!

To the parents, it's just a baby taking a bath in the sink.

But in a world where a baby's imagination can transform reality, that baby in a sink becomes the commander of a mission to the stars!

ROCKET BABIES! From the producers who brought you BABY GENIUSES, BRINGING UP BABY, BABY LOVE, BABY GOES BANANAS, BABY OF BUTCHER FALLS and BABY BABY!

ROCKET BABIES! A wild new world of the imagination each and every week! Series premiere September 19 at 7 on The EW!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sean Versus the Arena Deal

While this looks like a political cartoon on the surface, my real goal today was to practise using Photoshop layers for more realistic effects. In this case, I made Sean's lower legs a separate layer so I could use blending options to add shadows to the background without casting a whole-body shadow over the sky, which would of course ruin the illusion. I also had to make a new layer for Sean's fist in order to make him look like he's clutching the sack of cash. I'll be the first to admit that both efforts are a little clumsy, but remember my caveat: as a graphic designer, I make a pretty good writer. I borrowed the rage graphic at the upper right from Sean himself.

Edmontonians who follow municipal politics will know that this image is a barb at the ongoing saga of the proposed deal to build a new arena for the local hockey team, a deal many Edmontonians feel is flawed because it uses taxpayer money to help fund the activities of a professional sports franchise. I learned from Sean that at one point the deal would have given the City of Edmonton some perks in exchange for taxpayer funding, perks such as the right to name the stadium and a share of the revenues brought into the building. This seems pretty reasonable to me, but apparently those perks are now off the table and there's still some question of where all the taxpayer money will come from, hence the catastrophic rage level seen here.

Please note that Sean himself isn't responsible for this image, nor am I necessarily correctly interpreting his attitudes regarding the arena development deal.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stompin' Sean

Reading memes is fun, but creating your own memes is even better. Here's an easy-to-use cutout of my brother Sean, ready for insertion into whatever funny situation you can imagine. I can think of a whole bunch of Godzilla-themed city-stompin' rampages already!
Here's an example of the fun you can have with the Stompin' Sean meme template.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Floppies on the Wall

I keep hearin' you look down upon my Atari
But you can keep your Commodore because I'm quite happy
If I was sittin' at your desk I wouldn't dare disdain
Because hangin' on my wall I have the best of '80s games

Hangin' floppies on the wall
8-bit glory one and all
Playin' Autoduel 'till dawn, painting floors with Bounty Bob
Drinking too much Coke and watchin' Star Trek: TNG
Now don't tell me I don't have it good

Last night I talked to Lord British and flew a jet in Stealth
With a joystick in my hand I feel in perfect health
So even though your Commodore is plenty cool and keen
I'll stick with my Atari as my primary games machine

RealSports Tennis with young Sean, 40 Love but I'll play on
The best version of Donkey Kong and Shamus you can't go wrong
Burning pizza boxes from yellow submarine
Now don't tell me I misunderstood (...the instructions)

I'm glad you stopped by but I must return to my keyboard
Star Raiders calling and I'm trying to beat my high score
And besides you haven't heard the latest 8-bit dope
Pitfall Harry's only hope is the shiny golden rope

Playin' 8-bit 80s games
You might think I'd go insane
Chasing virtues and my fate from Ultima 2 through 8
Swinging vines in Jungle King, boxing in a virtual ring
Now don't tell me the '80s weren't good...

Now don't tell me the '80s weren't good...

(With apologies to the Statler Brothers)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Food, the Final Frontier

Last night Sylvia and I took a trip through the Anthony Henday wormhole to Pete's place for another of his fabled Geekquinox dinners. This spring's theme was Star Trek, and once again Pete outdid himself. For sheer complexity of presentation and preparation and gastronomic delight levels, this Geekquinox was, to my mind, the best yet, despite Pete having set the bar pretty high in the past.
I knew that Pete was preparing a video of some kind to accompany dinner, for I'd helped him source some Star Trek episodes. What I didn't realize was that he was creating a video menu using the LCARS interface used in Star Trek: The Next Generation, complete with full-motion clips.
On the left, Pete listed the evening's drinks; on the right, the food courses. All items, of course, have appeared in or been inspired by at least one episode of one of the Star Trek shows - or in the case of the Transporter Accident, Galaxy Quest, the best Star Trek film that's not a Star Trek film.
Here, for example, is the menu screen for Pete's Gorn Meat Gunpowder Shot. A clip from "Arena" plays at bottom, while up top the menu displays the real-world ingredients Pete used to make the dish.
Here are the shots themselves. At first I thought this was an alcoholic beverage of some sort, so I demurred from partaking, as I'm a teetotaler. But Jeff explained that these were food shots, so I downed one - and immediately went for another. This was a remarkably spicy, savoury shot of flavour.
Sylvia, too, shared my initial skepticism. But Pete's concoction instantly won her over.
As soon as Pete told us that the next Geekquinox would be Star Trek-themed, I begged Sylvia to come with me in costume. Thinking myself quite clever. I even ordered a uniform tunic for her from Think Geek. Little did I know that all of the women in our group conspired to surprise the guys by showing up in appropriate outfits. We were completely out-geeked, though Sylvia reminded me several times that "This is never happening again!"

We shall see.
Here's another menu screen, this time explaining the composition of plomeek soup, a favourite of Vulcans such as Mr. Spock.
Scrumptious and elegantly presented!
Pete's best culinary pun was the Smorgasborg Cube, a cube of risotto accompanied by a slice of roast duck breast.
Trekkies will, of course, recognize this as part of a Borg regeneration alcove, re-purposed to give the Smorgasborg Cube's pickle and olive accompaniment a healthy green glow.
Audrey, hamming it up as usual, slurps down a pickle in hedonistic fashion as Scott looks on. Margaret, in the meantime, reaches for a carafe of Klingon bloodwine. Speaking of which...
"Brag all you want...but don't get between me and the bloodwine!"
Between courses Pete and Jeff served up Warp Core Breaches, originally served by Quark at Federation Starbase Deep Space Nine. Somehow I missed getting a screenshot of the ingredients, but Pete's LCARS display described the beverage as "Very Alcoholic."
Heather, in her "Expendable" redshirt, looked a little apprehensive about the cloud-misted beverage.
It didn't take long for things to get silly. Sillier.
What would a Star Trek party be without Romulan Ale?
Here's Pete's Transporter Accident, an inside-out serving of eggs Benedict prepared completely from scratch. "This is an appetizer?" Steve exclaimed in disbelief.
Since I don't drink, I enjoyed non-alcoholic Tranya, introduced to humanity by Balok of the First Federation. "Ah ha ha ha ha ha!"
Pete put his OCD tendencies to good use by painstakingly assembling his home-made French fries into pyramids. The Fries of Triskelion?
After each Geekquinox dinner, Pete assures his guests that "Next time it's not going to be quite so insane." I hope, for his sake, that he does indeed scale it back a little, because this time it really did get a little crazy. There's meat in those coolers, regulated by...uh...some kind of machines. Machines that look like they could have come from the engineering section of the Enterprise...
Here are the tools Pete used to craft last night's dinner. My mind is still, frankly, boggling. For example, since you can't buy radish sprouts, used in the Gorn gunpowder shot, Pete grew them hydroponically. Mr. Sulu would be proud.
By the time the "Food Cubes" (roasted potatoes with food colouring) arrived, we were too stuffed to eat another bite. To my chagrin I somehow missed getting any shots of the Heart of Targ, a softball-sized steak topped with brie, served with mushrooms and glazed with some kind of heavenly sauce beyond my poor power to describe. 

Sylvia and I left at about 2:30 am, completely sated and marvelling yet again at the sheer scale of Pete's efforts - ably assisted, we shouldn't forget, by his girlfriend Ellen. It was all we could talk about on the journey home, and again when we went to visit my parents and brother today (no mean cook himself). 

On a personal level, this has been my favourite Geekquinox yet - not simply because of the Star Trek theme, but because Sylvia was such a good sport, the food was exquisite and the company was marvellous. Of course these things are true every Geekquinox, but this time I'm especially grateful because the festivities greatly reduced some of the stress I've been feeling regarding my career path. Thanks, guys! 

Here are a few more of the evening's best images, and a short video of the Warp Core Breach version of Tranya.