Thursday, May 30, 2013

Splash of Colour

It may be a cheap gimmick, but I've always liked film and photos that draw attention to a subject by desaturating everything around it. Mom or Dad took this photo of a flower near Pisew Falls, Manitoba, sometime in the last decade or so. Even in the full-colour version, this little gem stands out. So rather than leave nature be, I decided to test my Photoshop skills.

Turning a colour photo black and white with image manipulation software is easy; it's just a matter of choosing the "desaturate" command. But leaving part of the image in colour requires you to select, pixel by pixel, the image you wish to highlight. Five years ago this process would probably have taken me hours, but I've honed my selection skills enough to bring the job down to a more manageable twenty minutes. The job is especially tedious when the foreground and background colours match closely, as they often did in this image. 

I also cropped Mom or Dad's original shot in an attempt to follow the rule of thirds.The final result isn't especially groundbreaking, but I'm pleased with it anyway.

All of this playing about with graphic design and photo manipulation does make me wonder why I've been developing these skills, though. I'm not pursuing a career in layout or photography, after all.

It brings me pleasure and helps me see the world in a new way. Perhaps that's enough.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Exploring 391

When we moved from Thompson to Leaf Rapids, provincial highway 391 wasn't yet complete; we had to fly in. Here Mom and I bear witness to the road's construction, somewhere just outside Leaf Rapids. I suppose this means we were among the first to use the new highway. 391 remains a gravel road, save for a few kilometres near Leaf Rapids itself.

I don't remember us ever owning a green Ford like this, though the muddy icicles clinging to its frame are familiar enough. I wonder what I'm clutching in my hand.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photobombardier

This 2006 photo makes me laugh, not because of my antics but thanks to Sylvia's exasperated expression in the background. Good thing I didn't miss the bed after diving across the frame!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Eyes of Bruce Lee Game

On Saturday night Sean and I went to visit Jeff and his son Connor to play a couple of board games. We started off with Dominion, a well-designed card game of kingdom-building, which I won by a single point. The real highlight of the evening for me, though, was Bruce Lee Game!, the chaotic and violent game of martial arts.

I picked up Bruce Lee Game! shortly after Steve Fitzpatrick introduced me to it, way back in high school. I'm glad I bought it back then, because the game commands steep prices on the used market; it's long out of print.

The object of Bruce Lee Game! is to travel the streets of Chinatown, building experience, learning martial arts forms and buying weapons so that you can enter the dreaded Labyrinth and fight your way to confront the evil (?) Grand Master at its centre. Street fights, tournaments and assassination complicate matters, as do injuries.

In all honesty, the combat game mechanic in Bruce Lee Game! should probably be considered broken; every time someone rolls a one on a ten-sided dice in combat, you injure yourself and wind up in the hospital. Considering each player rolls the d10 three times during each fight, that's a lot of hospital trips.

Because it's so easy to wind up in traction, Jeff's early lead in the game evaporated. While he recuperated, Sean and I finished our training and followed him into the Labyrinth. If you're injured in the Labyrinth, of course, you wind up in the hospital and have to start all over again. Each of us fought the Grand Master multiple times, only to face bitter defeat in single combat or the greater humiliation of yet another trip to the hospital.

In the end, Jeff defeated the Grand Master on his eleventh attempt. If our game play Saturday night were somehow transformed into a Kung Fu movie, it would have to take the form of a farce. On the other hand, I giggled all night long...


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Earl's Television Checklist

Lately I've been tracking the books I read and the movies I watch, but I've never attempted to track the television shows I've seen, mainly because the project is so daunting. Some long-running series have hundreds of episodes, and there's no way that I'm going to create lists of that length.

On the other hand, I thought it might be interesting to see how many television shows I've seen in their entirety. For the shows I own on DVD or Blu-Ray, that's easy; I know which box sets I've finished and which I haven't. It's also easy enough to remember which recent first-run shows I watched from beginning to end. But it's considerably harder to recall which shows I watched in their entirety during my childhood.

Shows I've Finished 
(including shows still in production)


The Outer Limits (two seasons, science fiction anthology, 1963-65)
Gilligan's Island (three seasons, comedy, 1964-67)
Star Trek (three seasons, science fiction, 1966-69)
The Prisoner (one season, science fiction, 1967-68)
The Invaders (two seasons, science fiction, 1967-68)
UFO (one season, science fiction, 1970-71)
Star Trek (one season, animated science fiction, 1973-74)
The Six Million Dollar Man (five seasons, science fiction, 1974-78)
Space: 1999 (two seasons, science fiction, 1975-77)
The Bionic Woman (three seasons, science fiction, 1976-78)
Battlestar Galactica (one season, science fiction, 1978-79)
Galactica 1980 (one season, science fiction, 1980)
Police Squad! (one season, comedy, 1982)
Max Headroom (two seasons, science fiction, 1987-88)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (seven seasons, science fiction, 1987-94)
Twin Peaks (two seasons, supernatural mystery, 1990-91)
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (one season, western, 1993-94)
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (four seasons, superhero, 1993-97)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (seven seasons, science fiction, 1993-99)
Babylon 5 (five seasons, science fiction, 1993-98)
Due South (four seasons, comedy, 1994-99)
ReBoot (four seasons, animated science fiction, 1994-2001)
Superman (four seasons, animated superhero, 1996-2000)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (seven seasons, supernatural drama, 1997-2003)
Crusade (one season, science fiction, 1999)
Angel (five seasons, supernatural drama, 1999-2004)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (eight seasons, comedy, 2000-present)
The Lone Gunmen (one season, science fiction, 2001)
Enterprise/Star Trek Enterprise (four seasons, science fiction, 2001-05)
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (five seasons, superhero animated, 2001-06)
24 (eight seasons, thriller, 2001-2010)
Smallville (ten seasons, superhero, 2001-11)
Firefly (one season, science fiction, 2002)
The Wire (five seasons, drama, 2002-08)
The Shield (seven seasons, drama, 2002-08)
Battlestar Galactica (four seasons, science fiction, 2004-09)
Lost (six seasons, science fiction, 2004-10)
Carnivale (two seasons, fantasy, 2003-05)
My Name is Earl (four seasons, comedy, 2005-09)
The Office (nine seasons, comedy, 2005-13)
Heroes (four seasons, superhero, 2006-10)
Journeyman (one season, science fiction, 2007)
Masters of Science Fiction (one season, science fiction anthology, 2007)
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (two seasons, science fiction, 2008-09)
FlashForward (one season, science fiction, 2009)
Dollhouse (two seasons, science fiction, 2009-10)
Rubicon (one season, drama, 2010)
No Ordinary Family (one season, superhero, 2010-11)
The Walking Dead (three seasons, horror, 2010-present)
Human Target (two seasons, adventure, 2010-2011)
Person of Interest (two seasons, drama, 2011-present)
Alcatraz (one season, science fiction, 2012)
Arrow (one season, superhero, 2012-present)

Shows I'm Still Working On
(including shows still in production)
Adventures of Superman (one of six seasons, superhero, 1952-58)
The Twilight Zone (four of five seasons, science fiction anthology, 1959-64)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (one of four seasons, spy, 1964-68)
Mission: Impossible (seven and a half of nine seasons, adventure, 1966-90)
Hawaii Five-O (seven and a half of twelve seasons, police procedural, 1968-80)
Wonder Woman (one of three seasons, superhero, 1975-79)
Moonlighting (three of five seasons, comedy, 1985-89) 
The Simpsons (five of twenty-four seasons, animated comedy, 1989-present)
The Flash (half of one season, superhero, 1990-91)
Homicide: Life on the Street (missed a few late episodes, seven seasons, drama, 1993-99)
The X-Files (six of nine seasons and parts of the final three seasons, 1993-2002)
Star Trek: Voyager (all but two episodes of seven seasons, science fiction, 1995-2001)
The West Wing (five of seven seasons, drama, 1999-2006)
Futurama (five of seven seasons, 1999-present)
Arrested Development (three of four seasons, comedy, 2003-present)
The 4400 (one of four seasons, science fiction, 2004-07)
Life on Mars (one of two seasons, drama, 2006-07)
Dexter (two and a half of seven seasons, drama, 2006-present)
Breaking Bad (three and a half of five seasons, drama, 2008-present)
Fringe (one and a half of five seasons, science fiction, 2008-2013)
Caprica (half of one season, science fiction, 2010)
New Girl (one of two seasons, comedy, 2011-present)

That looks like a long list, but keep in mind these are only the shows I'm certain I've finished (or know how much progress I've made). Like a lot of people my age, I watched an awful lot of Charlie's Angels, The A-Team, Knight Rider, Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, The Rockford Files, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, The Partridge Family, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Dukes of Hazzard, Quantum Leap, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, CHiPs, The Odd Couple, The Flintstones, Rocket Robin Hood, the animated Spider-Man series and many, many more. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode of The Flintstones and Rocket Robin Hood, but my memories are too hazy to be sure, so I've left them off the list.

Like any art form, the quality of individual works varies widely. Even within each series, certain episodes stand out as classics while others are so dreadful it's hard to believe they belong to the same series. What I find most interesting about television is the way changes in real-world production circumstances affect the style and story lines of the shows. Actors age, quit, are replaced, pass away; writers and showrunners move on; current events alter the cultural gestalt, leaving some shows seeming dated and invigorating others with new life. So while the lists above show that I've spent hundreds of hours watching television, I don't consider that time wasted. Instead, I've been witness to fascinating reflections of modern western culture. I can't wait to delve into Rome, Lou Grant, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, the 80s Twilight Zone revival, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and so many others.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mystery of the Missing Miscellany

When you have a lot of books and movies, it's easy for one or two titles to slip through the cracks and disappear. I know for sure that I'm missing my copy of John M. Ford's hilarious Star Trek novel, How Much for Just the Planet?, and both volumes of The Outer Limits on DVD.

I only noticed the absence of the Ford title because recently Sean asked me if I could loan him some classic Trek books, and How Much is certainly one of the best. I discovered The Outer Limits set was missing when I had a hankering to watch "The Forms of Things Unknown"a couple of months ago.

These items, of course, are easy to replace, so their loss is no great tragedy. But I've misplaced at least three things in my life that I really do miss:

1) The Realm, a movie I made in high school with Keith Gylander and Mark Lede. I had the only VHS copy, and in a moment of foolish desperation I used it as part of a video resume while job-seeking in those desperate summer months of 1991, just after I graduated from the University of Alberta. Unfortunately the place where I dropped off my resume and video package was in an area of the city I wasn't familiar with, and to top it off I lost the newspaper ad I'd used to find it (and the prospective job) in the first place. The employer never called me back, so I had no way to get my stuff back. Pure idiocy on my part.

2) "Ozone" soda pop commercial, another short film I made for a communications class during high school. Besides the commercial itself, the tape had a whole bunch of footage of my friends at the school, footage I'd dearly love to have today. If my memory serves, I accidentally taped over this with an SCTV special, then threw the tape away in disgust when I realized what I'd done.

3) One of two notepads full of story ideas from the early 90s. The notepad I lost included a very detailed and funny as-it-happened record of "Scuba Trek," describing the time when the University of Alberta Star Trek and Scuba clubs travelled to Los Angeles in February 1992. I have no idea where this might have gone, and what a shame; I could have turned it into a couple of memorable blog posts.

I suppose it's possible that VHS tape with The Realm is still sitting somewhere in that office, and the notebook might still be kicking around somewhere. So if by some miracle someone spots this stuff, please let me know...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lacking Transparency

Observant readers will see I've revised the blog's header. Unfortunately it doesn't look as it should. I created a .png file with a transparent background so that the type would appear to float above Blogger's starfield image. However, when I upload the image into my Blogger template, it gets rendered with a black or white background, depending on whether I save the .png as an interlaced file or not.

I've done some searching for a solution, but the answers I've found on the web are several years old. Does anyone out there have a clue as to how I might fix this problem?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

American Pictureshoppe

When I first realized that Hillbilly Handfishin' was a real television program and not a parody of reality shows, my mind boggled. Since television producers are obviously in desperate need of more content - and the more cheaply produced, the better - here's my latest fake television show for The EW: American Pictureshoppe. The network will solicit funny (?) image manipulations from the public and play them slideshow-style while a goofy narrator makes snide remarks. Ladies and gentlemen, the future of television, produced for maybe a thousand bucks an episode.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Raising the Stakes for Superman


Here's the latest trailer for Man of Steel. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, especially in light of my disappointment with Star Trek Into Darkness, but there's one line in this clip that makes me feel as though there's a chance the filmmakers understand how to provide a compelling threat to an indestructible character:

"For every one you save, we'll kill a million more." 

This is what makes Superman a compelling character to me. You may not be able to hurt him with brute force, but you can hurt him by attacking what he loves - and he loves people. With his abilities he could set himself up as a dictator and indulge every pleasure, but because he was raised right he just wants to be a regular guy and help. On Earth, S stands for skepticism, which is how I feel about most Zack Snyder films, but since S means "hope" on Krypton, I'm allowing myself to get excited. This look like it'll be really good.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Medical Ethics in the 23rd Century

WARNING! This post contains SPOILERS for Star Trek Into Darkness
If you haven't seen the film, don't read this post! 

In my review of Star Trek Into Darkness, I alluded to problems with the film's story logic. My friend Steve emailed me to discuss the issue further, and in the course of that discussion I realized the film had two more glaring problems.

Near the end of the film, Kirk dies in the exact same way Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In a truly cringe-worthy moment, Spock screams "KHHHAANNNN!" and runs off to have his vengeance, beaming down to chase Khan across San Fransisco. But Doctor McCoy realizes that Khan's genetically engineered blood could be used to revive Kirk. In a bit of hit-you-over-the-head foreshadowing, earlier in the film McCoy injected Khan's blood into a dead tribble. Why? That's never clearly explained. Just as Kirk's cold corpse reaches sickbay, the formerly dead tribble, sensing a dramatic moment, begins to coo, miraculously revived. McCoy calls Spock and says "We need Khan alive! He's Kirk's only chance!"

So instead of killing Khan, Spock and Uhura knock out the bad guy, bring him back to the Enterprise and Kirk is saved.

Earlier in the film, Spock serves as Kirk's conscience, reminding the captain that it is immoral to assassinate suspects, that they must be brought to justice to stand trial. Spock's morals suddenly fly out the window when his best friend is killed, and only when he learns that Khan's blood is useful does he quell his thirst for blood...well, sort of, because he brings Khan back to the ship for a transfusion.

We don't see the medical procedure that saves Kirk. But given that Khan was unconscious when he was beamed to the Enterprise, we're left wondering if McCoy just took the blood right then and there and performed the transfusion without asking. Time was of the essence, after all, and having just tried to kill everyone on the Enterprise it seems unlikely Khan was in a giving mood. This may be why the filmmakers glossed over the actual procedure.

But consider this. Minutes ago, Spock had saved all of Khan's followers. Khan admitted earlier that Kirk seems to have a conscience, so the stage had already been set for what might have been a pretty cool scene: McCoy refuses to perform the procedure without Khan's permission. Spock orders McCoy to wake up Khan. McCoy asks for permission, Khan refuses, Spock notes that he saved all of Khan's friends and further notes that Khan must have had at least some respect for Starfleet and the Federation at some point, having worked for them for months. Khan begrudgingly agrees, saving Kirk. He's still a mass murderer, but at least this way his character gets a tiny bit more nuance and the audience isn't left wondering if their heroes only have ethics and morals when it's convenient.

Would this have messed up the film's pacing? Maybe, but the last third was such a mess that I hardly think yet another scene would have made it significantly worse. At the very least the tradeoff helps cement the point that the filmmakers tried and failed to make with this film - that good people are supposed to do the right thing even when it's hard.







Monday, May 20, 2013

An Effect in Search of a Purpose

I shot this photo of my parents' rooftop a few years ago, and wrote the text tonight. I had no particular purpose in mind, just the notion that the sky in the background seemed empty, wanting for prose. And so I supplied some. I'm certain a real artist could put this effect to good use.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

WARNING: This review is loaded with SPOILERS. If you have not seen Star Trek Into Darkness, see the film before reading!

Like many modern Hollywood movies, Star Trek Into Darkness is almost impossible to judge on its own merits. It is the product of a society obsessed with fear of the other in a time when popular culture is folding back in upon itself. This combination of circumstances results in a film nearly crippled by its thematic contradictions. As originally conceived, Star Trek (the television series) was meant to show that human beings had reason to be optimistic about their future. But despite this film's attempts to claim otherwise, Star Trek's original utopian vision has been subverted by a culture that no longer believes in the show's core message. In other words, Captain sir, we're all doomed...

Star Trek Into Darkness opens strongly, with the Enterprise on a mission of mercy. Captain Kirk breaks some rules to save the indigenous peoples of the planet Nibiru, only to have Spock tattle on him and get him in trouble with their mutual mentor, Admiral Pike, former Captain of the Enterprise and now a Starfleet bigwig. Kirk is busted down a step in rank, relieved of command of the Enterprise, and Spock is transferred to another ship (the USS Bradbury, in a nice nod to one of SF's greatest writers). And while Kirk is clearly deeply wounded by the demotion, he knows that he made the moral choice.

The early part of the film does a good job of answering some of the open questions of Star Trek (2009). Kirk's rapid promotion from cadet to captain is seen by some as perhaps not a good thing, a realistic reaction to the events of the first film. Kirk is shown as something of a womanizer, a reputation somewhat undeserved in William Shatner's iteration of the character, but one that's taken literally here. However, given this new Kirk's tragic upbringing, it's understandable that Chris Pine's version of the iconic hero would find comfort in the arms of (several) women. This Kirk is still brash and arrogant, not at all the cool professional fans remember from the 1960s. 

It's clear that in this film Kirk will be put through the crucible to find some maturity. But because this is 2013, Kirk's journey will occur through the lens of global terrorism. A suicide attack on future London, followed by an assault that kills one of Kirk's loved ones, sets the scene for Kirk's character arc. Will he be consumed by the need for vengeance, or will he grow into the captain that we remember?

At first it seems as though Kirk will indeed succumb to the need for revenge. He makes a personal request to a top-ranking admiral to get his command back so that he can go after the terrorist, revealed to be John Harrison, a Starfleet agent gone rogue. Surprisingly, the admiral agrees.

I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of plot points here. A society-altering piece of technology invented by Scotty in the first film turns up again, much to the surprise of jaded viewers who are used to such plot devices being used once and forgotten. And the admiral gives Kirk a blatantly illegal order - essentially telling Kirk to perform a drone strike against their target, who's holed up in a neutral location. Not only would this violate another planet's sovereignty, it could start a war - and besides, as Spock and other Enterprise crew members point out, assassinating a suspect goes completely against Federation principles. Scotty even resigns his commission in protest.

Here is where the film comes closest to capturing the spirit of the original show. As in the original series, the writers have placed a science-fiction gloss over modern issues to highlight the importance of making morally correct choices, even when it would be easier and more satisfying to give in to our darker impulses. The moment Kirk decides to disobey orders and arrest Harrison instead of simply killing him from afar shows vividly that Kirk is starting to become a true hero.

Once Harrison is in custody, however, the film begins to fall apart, degenerating into a never-ending series of action set pieces and unnecessary callbacks to earlier Trek lore. As in Star Trek (2009), the creators get so caught up in keeping the pace fast and furious that they make elementary mistakes in story logic and basic science, inconsistencies that take viewers right out of the picture. One of the film's multiple false climaxes is a reverse homage of an earlier (better) film, an incomprehensible choice on the part of the filmmakers because the scene isn't powerful enough to stand on its own, and its presence can only remind viewers of the superior film. There is also a cringe-inducing moment that rivals Darth Vader's infamous "NOOOO" in Revenge of the Sith.

By film's end hundreds of people have died and Starfleet's reputation must lie in ruins. And yet the movie ends with an optimistic coda that tries - and, unfortunately, fails - to reaffirm the original show's utopian vision. Yes, Kirk and company are boldly going on a five year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations, but those words ring hollow when the film's subtext reinforces our modern era, one seemingly utterly devoid of the hope Star Trek is supposed to offer. Just as our leaders and media try to tell us that we live under constant threat from malevolent outsides, this film's version of Starfleet is identically paranoid. Not without cause, of course; the filmmakers have built a world in which the threats are real and the paranoia justified, which says something about how they view the real world here and now.

There's much to like in this film. The performances are outstanding, with a great deal of character-driven humour. Production design and visual effects show great imagination and audacity. Small nods to the larger Star Trek universe, including references to Enterprise (the show) and Deep Space Nine are very welcome. The first half of the movie sets up an interesting problem and treats the audience with respect.

Unfortunately, the film crumbles under the weight of its chosen theme and that theme's dissonance with Star Trek's core values. This movie wears Star Trek's face, and it even makes a fair attempt at emulating its structure and philosophy. But it doesn't believe in Star Trek, and it shows. Perhaps the world really has moved into darkness, and dreams of a better tomorrow are behind us.




Saturday, May 18, 2013

Barrelling Along

Yesterday I took my camera out for a walk. I shot some birds and plants and rocks, and then I started trying to replicate an old trick I learned in junior high school: tracking a moving object while holding the shutter open in the hopes of producing an image featuring a sharp moving object against a blurred background. Well, I almost succeeded; the taxi here is certainly sharper than the background, but it's not exactly pin-sharp. Still, the effect remains interesting.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Universiade Tickets, 1983

Back in 1983, Edmonton hosted the Universiade, an international competition of university athletes. I was only 14 at the time we scored these tickets and not much interested in sports, but I was happy to see some of the spectacle. I remember nothing of the volleyball (the fact that the stub isn't missing seems to indicate that perhaps I didn't use the ticket), but I do recall the cycling vividly, perhaps because there was a mid-race crash that involved most of the riders.

What amuses me most is the price of the tickets. Even in 1983, paying six or eight dollars to see world-class athletes seems a bargain.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

USS Bonaventure Patch

Since Star Trek Into Darkness gets its wide release today, this seems like an opportune time to mention my brief membership in the Edmonton Star Trek Society. In October 1987, a month into my first year at the University of Alberta, I stumbled across a meeting of the Society in one of the large lecture theatres in the Humanities building. Just as I arrived a young man sitting at the very top of the lecture hall carelessly tossed a soda can down to the first row, where it bounced painfully off the innocent skull of a Star Trek fan and model builder I'd later come to know as Barry Yoner. This seemed like my kind of place, so I joined the club and a couple of years later later became the second or third President of the spinoff University of Alberta Star Trek Club.

Before that happened, though, there were some fun times on the Bonaventure, the Society's imaginary starship. We once constructed a bridge and shot a short film based on the then-new Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ron Briscoe played Captain Picard by wearing a flesh-toned bowl on his head, and I think Tony Longworth played Commander Riker. I played myself, Ensign Woods, at the navigation station, drinking Coke while on duty as an in-joke reference to...oh boy, here's where it gets complicated. Let's just say that Star Trek fandom and a nascent Internet sometimes combined in very absurd ways.

I don't remember who designed this very handsome USS Bonaventure patch, but I think the design and execution still hold up very nicely. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anonymous Love Note, circa 1989

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I had all my hair and I was still fit, my friends used to tease me about my many girlfriends. Of course I had no girlfriends at all, but that didn't stop the teasing, including this anonymous note, slipped under my door at 139 Kelsey Hall sometime early in my third year of university. I'm pretty sure my friend Susan Shyluk (nee Neumann) was responsible for this light mocking. I was rather befuddled the morning I woke up and found the note. (I kept it all these years because I'm a sentimentalist.)

A little earlier - sometime in second year - I discovered that someone had slipped a girl's bracelet into the pocket of my jacket. Completely lacking in self-confidence and desperate for female companionship, my heart leaped - a girl liked me! Why else would she do such a thing? What a wonderfully cryptic and yet romantic gesture.

My hopes were dashed about an hour later, when my friend Kim (who, it can now be confessed, I was somewhat enamored with) knocked on my door and asked for her bracelet back. She'd stuffed it into my pocket because I'd left my jacket on the floor in the proximity of the volleyball court where she was playing, and my pockets provided a convenient place to stash her stuff.

I meekly handed over the bracelet. If I couldn't have True Love, the trust of a good friend was equally precious.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Projects That Got Away

I've had a significant increase in freelance work over the past couple of weeks, so today I spent a couple of hours dealing with my accumulated office clutter. I can tolerate a certain amount of chaos in my workspace - in fact, I'm somewhat comforted by it - but there's a point at which the piles of stuff begin to interfere with your workflow.

As a result, I stumbled upon some of my old work for one of my former employers: outlines for two non-fiction books. I can't share the work here, since it was created while I was on the clock and not on my own time, but I can say the outlines are interesting reading - so interesting that I'm sorry we never got around to producing the books.

I've had a few work experiences like that over the years. The CBC pilot I co-hosted as a teenager could have gone to series, and I think we could have done some solid work. The non-profit I served in the 90s filled what I thought was an important niche, only to be swallowed up by a larger organization. And of course we could have done so much more at the Official Opposition had we sufficient resources.

Of course we live in an imperfect world, and so must make do with the capabilities at hand. Even with the various restrictions and realities I've experienced in my working life, I remain quite proud of 99 percent of the work I was involved with over the years - and even prouder of the people I worked with.

Besides, who says good ideas have to die? Maybe someday I'll write those books, if my old colleagues are amenable.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Seat of the Century

Mom and Dad are quite handy, particularly when it comes to renovating their yard and garden. When Sean and I visited Leduc for Mother's Day yesterday, we were surprised to see this new feature: an original horse-drawn mower seat, rescued from the Etsell farm many years ago by our Aunt Jean. Manufactured sometime in the 1920s, the seat and its supporting armature were quite dirty and rusted when Aunt Jean delivered it, but Mom and Dad painted it with John Deere colours and used lag bolts to mount it on a railroad tie. It's sturdy, comfy, and a colourful piece of family history.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gaming & Guinness VIII: After All the Dies Are Cast

I'll conclude my summary of G&G VIII highlights with a few of the more amusing group photos. On to Ottawa for G&G IX in 2014!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gaming & Guinness VIII: Chariots of Fire

Saturday began with Fortune & Glory, a game that casts players in the roles of 1930s Republic serial heroes, cooperating to stop either the Mob or the Nazis from casting the world into darkness.
With a full complement of eight players our game took forever, though unfamiliarity with the rules was partly to blame. In the end we halved the game goals for both sides (Nazis and fortune hunters) just so we could finish the game without cutting into Circvs Maximvs time.
 Circvs Maximvs is, of course, the epic game of Roman chariot racing, and the closing marquee game of G&G. For the first time this year we had nine racers, thanks to the sudden arrival of Scott's older brother Dustin (left).
Jeff had already won the coveted Caesar's Cup twice in a row, only to have Pete steal his laurel wreath last year. Jeff  was champing at the bit to reclaim his crown, while Pete was eager to match Jeff's back-to-back victories. But what of the other hungry gladiators on the field? Every racer hungered for victory.
My team, on black bases, began the race next to Mike Totman's yellow-based team. I enjoyed an excellent start, whipping my horses into a frenzy to overcome inertia flawlessly. But my opening luck was not to last.
Yes, for one brief, shining moment, I held the lead. The crowd roared!
Thundering hooves kicked up great clouds of fine Roman earth as we raced past the enormous edifice replicating the cup.
But even now the vile Brothers Friel were plotting against me, and against all their fleet-footed betters. Note Dustin's Machiavellian stroking of his Mirror Universe goatee.
Dustin (white team) and Scott (orange team) lashed out with their whips at rival horses and charioteers, their vile calumny raising bloodthirsty cheers from the stadium throngs. "Are you not entertained?" the Friels cried.
Their bloodlust even infected Mike Totman, who attempted to whip my charioteer in passing. But my man was too quick, and snatched Mike's whip away, disarming the rival racer.
With half the racers getting into whip fights, former champions Jeff (light blue) and Pete (fuschia) focussed merely on circling the track as quickly as possible. Here, Rob moves his charioteer into position (in Circvs Maximvs, you move your horses first, then follow with the chariot; this makes it easier to keep track of your moves).
At the halfway point, it was still anyone's race.
And then, vile villainy. Scott whipped Jeff's horses into a frenzy, causing his chariot to flip. I narrowly avoided the wreckage, while Scott simply, callously, drove atop it.
Jeff's racer was dragged by the reins through the dirt, his body taking incredible punishment as Island Mike's racer looked on in horror.
Fortunately Jeff was nimble enough to untangle himself from the reins and make a break for the safety of the stadium. He escaped, narrowly dodging Scott's attempt to trample his fleeing form.
In the final turn I made a fatal error, misjudging my speed and flipping my chariot. Now it was my turn to be dragged through the dust. But I refused to release the reins, reasoning that this close to the finish line I still had a chance of at least reaching the podium. Here I am, right on Pete's tail.
But from behind, the hand of fickle Fate (or, more accurately, fickle Friel) loomed, moving his pale white horses into position.
On a pale horse the reaper came...
"AAIIIEEE!" wailed my driver as Dustin's horses trampled him to death.
I wasn't the only casualty. Right after Dustin trampled me, Scott whipped Rob, causing Rob to flip. And then Scott casually trampled Rob to death just as his brother had killed my hapless racer. This gory finish almost eclipsed the greater accomplishments of the victor, Island Mike himself, new champion! Mike Totman and Stephen Fitzpatrick followed right on his heels, followed by Pete, Dustin and Scott. Only one question remained: how would Mike transport the fragile statue back to Vancouver Island..?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gaming & Guinness VIII: Racing and Rock & Roll

Formula De is an appropriately fast-paced racing game. We've played Formula De at G&G before, but in keeping with our habit of upping the ante every year, this time around Stephen replaced the game's plastic cars with beautiful hand-painted miniatures in authentic racing sponsor colours. I wound up with a Kool cigarette-themed green and white racer, seen here just out of pole position at race opening.
In Formula De the trick is knowing which gear to use while negotiating the turns. Take a turn like this in fifth or sixth gear and you could spin out, or worse. Steve had the lead at this point in time, but the pack is close behind.
Steve's new miniatures really add to the game's aesthetic. Scott ran away with the race, rolling exactly what he needed three times in a row to get through the corners while barely slowing down.
My racer, Yuro Shiftygrippo, placed either a respectable fourth or a dreadful second-last, depending on your perspective. But at least he finished the race, unlike poor Jeff and Rob, who smashed their multimillion dollar cars into smithereens.
I remain astounded by Steve's new miniatures. The pictures above don't really show their small scale; each car is about the size of the last knuckle of my pinky finger. To see how Steve painted the new cars, see his blog here.
Most of the G&G crew require a little alcohol-fuelled loosening up before they feel confident enough to tackle Rock Band. Scott and I are natural hams, so we'll make fools of ourselves singing even without fortification.
Jeff generously purchased some new songs for the group, including Animotion's Obsession. I played guitar for our rendition of that little number, but I know the lyrics off by heart and so sang along. One of the great regrets of my life is my failure to learn an instrument; when I have the leisure and the money, I keep telling myself, I'll take some guitar lessons. Rock Band gave me the illusion of belting out one of my favourite 80s hits with my friends - a wonderful experience.
Here's a dramatic angle of Pete on drums.
A talented vocalist, Island Mike is also an accomplished Rock Band guitarist.
"Freeeee bird..."

Here we are performing "Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult. History shows again and again how karaoke is the folly of man!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gaming & Guinness VIII: A Call to Arms

As told in previous episodes of The Earliad, we've been playing A Call to Arms: Starfleet for about a year in small skirmishes of two to four ships. Thursday's marquee G&G event has always been Warhammer: 40K, but the guys started to get tired of lugging around thousands of models - and it was time for a change. A Call to Arms: Starfleet requires each player to purchase, paint and control only one ship, a much smaller investment of time, money and effort than Warhammer. Plus, it's space galleons!
We began with a simple playtest: four Constitution-class Federation starships (captained by Pete, Scott, Rob and me) versus four formidable Klingon D7 cruisers (commanded by Steve, Jeff, Mike and Mike).
I usually play fairly conservatively, in keeping with the style of a Starfleet captain unwilling to place his crew at unnecessary risk. But for this play test I dove in with both nacelles, swooping in to take on two Klingon ships on my own.
Yes, this was totally my plan and not just ineptitude. Cough. Good thing I closed the blast doors to withstand the awesome battery of close-range enemy fire coming my way. Despite foolishly putting myself into this position, I managed to cripple one of the D7s, and I got away relatively clean.
The test encounter ended inconclusively due to time constraints, but our general consensus leaned toward a narrow Federation victory. We took a short break for lunch, and to fine-tune Steve's "Shell Game" scenario, in which the Klingons were tasked with escorting four freighters from one side of the map to the other. The Federation task was to scan each freighter, knowing that one contained weapons, one Federation hostages, and two were decoys. If the Federation could destroy the weapons and rescue the hostages, the victory would be ours. If the Klingons got away with their smuggling operation, victory would be theirs.
Each ship on the board is worth a set number of points. Blow up a ship, earn points for your team. More points were awarded for destroying (or smuggling) the weapons, and rescuing (or fleeing with) the hostages.
Our Federation fleet quickly discovered that time was on the side of the Klingons. At the speed the freighters were moving, it would only take a few turns for them to cross the board and escape. We had to dive in for our scans while withstanding heavy enemy fire, and there simply wasn't time to scan all four ships - we had to make our best guess.
Scott and I discovered and destroyed the freighter carrying the Klingon weapons, seen here just before the Excalibur opened fire (represented by me rolling that rain of dice). But Pete and Rob were taking heavy damage. Indeed their ships were destroyed, along with the Klingon cruisers controlled by Mike and Mike. The death toll was in the hundreds.
Here's how the playing field looked as the episode opened. These neat formations wouldn't last.
In the end, with two ships destroyed per side, the weapons shipment blown up and the hostage ship just about to get away, Scott and I were left with only one option: if we could destroy one more ship, we could win on points. Jeff's cruiser was crippled, but my Excalibur was in excellent shape, while's Scott's cruiser was still battle-worthy. We swooped in for the kill, but Jeff put all emergency power to warp and jumped to lightspeed in the instant before we would have opened fire. Slamming our fists into the much-abused armrests of our funky captain's chairs, we wheeled about in an effort to bring down Steve's ship - but alas, he too escaped. We lost the hostages - and with them, the encounter. Only ten points separated the victors from the vanquished.
During our lunch break, Scott and I unveiled this year's swag. Scott created gorgeous, comfortable golf shirts and these custom dice bags, colour-matched to the colour of Guinness beer and its foam.
For the two teetotallers in our group and for mixers for the others, I arranged for the delivery of three twelve-packs of custom G&G Jones soda.
I also used the Pulp-O-Mizer website to design and print a collectible notebook, suitable for keeping score in all variety of games.The first full day of G&G VIII was off to a rousing start.

For a more detailed account of "Shell Game," visit Steve's blog.