Friday, January 31, 2014

Mystery GIF #1

I just discovered that Google has been rifling through my photos and turning them into animated GIFs. This is equal parts creepy and awesome. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Elegy for Captain Action

We called them Adventure People
Figures of action
Molded in plastic and ready for danger
Never suspecting the whim of the gods
Who stuffed them in action vans and crammed them in action boats
No seat belts no roll bars no cushions or helmets save hard plastic hair
No mercy no feeling no thought of next moments
Just innocent action men hurled through the air
And when molded joints snap and fling limbs all askew
And when heads pop clean off to land in morning dew
Who will lay the soulless to rest
What memories still burn in a child's fickle breast?

Only in dreams do they rise from cardboard graves
Hungering to play one more time

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Blog in Town: Flaming Cortex

I'm pleased to see that my old friend Michael Snyder has started a blog: Flaming Cortex. There are only two posts so far, but they're both insightful, analytical and educational - and in each, Micheal's arguments are bolstered by examples from the 2013 Disney film Frozen. Odd that a blog named Flaming Cortex would begin with allusions to ice, but Michael is a complicated thinker. Go check it out!


Monday, January 27, 2014

A Rink of Our Own

Today I dressed for work, entered the garage and hit the button to open the door. The door didn't move. I went outside to discover that our driveway pad is a three-inch-thick sheet of glassy ice, suitable for Olympic hockey.

Not only can I not get the car out of the garage, our fridge has broken down, meaning our food supply is rapidly spoiling. Someone please call International Rescue. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Contribution to Sean's Lime Pot Luck

For the record: Newman's Own Tequila Lime Salsa with two different kinds of Old Dutch Hint of Lime Tostitos, garnished with a slice of lime I cut myself!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Microsoft Surface Collages

What is this software good for?
Making collages, I guess. But I still don't get it. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Space Jumpers

I thought I might try my hand at designing my first fake hardcover book cover. It's pretty gaudy, but this is how we learn. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Bus Crash

Last night I dreamed I caught a bus home from work in a sprawling city bounded by an endless coniferous forest. I was the only passenger on the bus, an old-style model from the 1980s with orange plastic bench seats. I was sitting up front, near the passenger entrance; aside from the driver, I was the only one on the bus. 

"He's taking this turn way too fast," I thought an instant before the bus crashed through a guardrail and went sailing down an embankment toward a stand of rough-looking pine. 

"Well, this is it, I'm dead," I said with a mixture of annoyance and contempt for the driver. We hit the trees hard and were flung violently against the bus interior, but we both survived miraculously. Our rescue wasn't detailed, and in the next scene of the dream I was discussing the accident with Sylvia in our apartment, which resembled our old condo. She wasn't terribly concerned about the crash. I, however, felt every ache and pain of a crash that felt as though it had bruised every bone and organ in my body. 

Then I sat down at my computer and wrote a blog post explaining why I'd missed writing anything the night previous; I'd been recuperating from the crash. 

When I woke up I remember that I hadn't forgotten to post last night, but I felt phantom dream-pain until the moment I fully came to my senses in the shower. Vivid dreams are a cursed blessing. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Strossian Conceit

Over the past few months you've read a number of novels by British SF writer Charles Stross. You've enjoyed them all - Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise and Glasshouse in particular.

You also enjoyed Halting State and Rule 34, two novels of bizarre crime in a near-future, quasi-independent Scotland. But you would have enjoyed them far more had Stross not chosen to write in the second person - and in books with a dozen viewpoint characters each, no less. You applaud Stross for experimenting, but frankly you found the conceit a little distracting; instead of drawing you into the story, you felt as if you had to swim against a very strong current to immerse myself in the story's churning waters.

You wonder what the world would be like if every bit of prose were written this way, telling you not only what you're doing, but what you're thinking and feeling at every moment your eyes slide across the presumptuous text. And then, with a sneer of contempt, you click the next hyperlink with a muttered "Good riddance."




Sunday, January 19, 2014

Streamer's

My cousin David Newton called my attention to this Winnipeg Free Press story about Streamer's, the independent hardware store in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba, where my grandmother lived until her recent move to nearby Flin Flon. When we lived in northern Manitoba, our stops to visit Grandma in Cranberry Portage were often punctuated by visits to Streamer's, usually to pick up fishing equipment. I took the photo above in 2006, when I drove Sylvia up to see Leaf Rapids.

According to the Free Press story, Streamer's has been around since 1928. Not bad for a small store in a tiny community on the edge of the edge of nowhere. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dad at the Centre

For their honeymoon Mom and Dad went on a road trip through the USA, including a stop at the geographical centre of the country somewhere in South Dakota. I quite like the image, but the old negative was quite scratched and dirty, rendering the original scan pretty messy. I spent about an hour cleaning up dust and scratches and correcting the colour.

For comparison, here's the original. As you can see, I took some liberties with a few background elements in order to clean up the composition, sacrificing history for art.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Study in Gold

Sometime in the early summer of 1986, my friend and next door neighbour Keith Gylander (left) and I got together to study for our English 20 final. Mom or Dad, for whatever reason, decided to preserve this moment on film, and along with it my stylish banana-yellow pants and loud multicoloured shirt. I would have fit right in on Miami Vice. At least we did well on the exam. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Goodnight, Professor

Back in the early 1980s the first thing I did after returning home from school was to turn on the television and watch Gilligan's Island reruns. It remains one of my favourite shows, for under its slapstick patina lies...well, a lot more slapstick, silly puns, sight gags and tomfoolery - but also a fair helping of social satire. Critics called it a tremendously dumb show back in the day, but I watched the series on DVD again a few years ago and I think it holds up tremendously well, mostly due to its use of classic archetypes extremely well-played by the talented cast.

The Professor, aka high school teacher Roy Hinkley, was my favourite character. Everyone on the island had their foibles, the Professor included, but of all the castaways he had the clearest head, the most common sense, and of course the smarts to get the other castaways out of whatever jams they'd gotten themselves into that week. Thanks to the Professor the castaways had all the comforts of home - record players and washing machines and even a car made out of coconuts, bamboo and whatever other natural resources the island could provide. While the other castaways were superstitious (sometimes to crippling degrees), the Professor demanded rational explanations - and he was pretty much always right. Calm, collected and kind, the Professor was one of my childhood heroes.

Today Russell Johnson, the actor who brought the Professor to life, passed away at age 89. Like many fans around the globe, I'm grateful for the laughter and inspiration Johnson's portrayal provided; he made a lot of people happy, and that's a great legacy for anyone. I don't believe in an afterlife, but nonetheless I'd love to be wrong, for I like to imagine the Professor enjoying a genuine tropical paradise somewhere out there in the great beyond. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tarzan in Alberta...Almost

"The sun is an impartial old devil. He shines with equal brilliance upon the just and the banker, upon the day of a man's wedding or upon the day of his death. The great African sun, which, after all, is the same sun that shines on Medicine Hat, shone brilliantly on this new day upon which Tarzan was to die." - Tarzan the Magnificent, chapter 19, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1939

For obvious reasons this passage jumped out at me when I read it over lunch today. How much notoriety must Medicine Hat have had in the 1930s for ERB to choose it as a point of ironic comparison to Africa?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Earl's Ebooks

When my friend Bruce published the list of books he read in 2013, he also noted his steadily evolving reading habits - to wit, most of the stuff he reads comes in electronic form now.

Most of the books I read in in 2013 were physical books, but a growing number came in electronic format. I downloaded the classics on the list (The Jungle Book, The Art of War, The Metamorphosis, White Fang) from the app store, while all the Tarzan books I read after Tarzan and the City of Gold (as well as the Pellucidar novels) were found on Project Gutenberg Australia, where the Tarzan novels have fallen out of copyright.

I still far prefer physical books over e-books, but I'm willing to admit that in a pinch - say, for example, when you simply can't find a physical copy of what you're looking for - they do the job.

This year, then, 10 of the 112 books I read were e-books. At this rate, I'll probably still be reading physical books on my deathbed.



Monday, January 13, 2014

Mom and Sean October 1984

Either my father or I shot this before we went out to the grade nine awards night at Leduc Junior High School. Sean liked cats at a very young age.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Seattle Ship Seasick Slick

In 1983 the Woods family went to Seattle. While on a ferry I shot this photo of another ferry. It's a completely unremarkable shot except for the multicoloured stain near the bottom of the frame. I'm pretty sure that the stain is actually just an artifact of negative discolouration captured by the scanner, but it does look a little bit like an alien oil slick.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Conversation with Deadmau5

"Earl, I'm pleased to introduce you to popular progressive/house musician Deadmau5!"

"Hello, Earl."

"Hello, Dead-mau-five. I enjoy your Bradbury-inspired single 'The Veldt.'"

"Er, actually it's pronounced 'deadmouse.'"

"If you spell it stupid, I'm gonna say it stupid."

*   *   *

I wouldn't actually be this rude, but this sort of thing drives me nuts. Other bad examples include Keedollarsignha and Sesevenen.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A Picture Worth at Least Several Hundred Words

My friend Jeff has dramatized our recent basement near-flood over at Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog. I'm afraid I didn't look nearly as calm and heroic as portrayed, but I think it's still a very cool piece of art. Be sure to tune in to JSVB tomorrow for Jeff's 900th post! 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Nowhere Man

For this fake book cover I tried to subvert my established formula a little bit and add some complexity to the proceedings. The pull quote doesn't quite work, though; I probably should have added a drop shadow or made it smaller so it would fit in the white space.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Flood Footnote

For those who wanted more details about Saturday night's mini-flood::

Sylvia and I knew something was wrong the moment we heard something that sounded like a minor explosion near the roof of my office. The intense vibration caused the fire bell on the hallway wall to BONG in alarm. Each of us leaped into the hallway - we were both downstairs - to see what was going on. The sound of rushing water made it clear something had gone wrong with the plumbing but we couldn't see any water for several seconds, until a pool started to spread from the 500 gallon tank that feeds the sprinkler system. And it was spreading fast. I tore open the door of the furnace room, cranked one valve closed to no effect, then tried again, this time wrenching a handle conveniently marked "shut off water to holding tank." The rushing waters stopped, and Sylvia and I were able to soak up the mess in my office and the hallway within a couple of hours.

It has to be said that the ShamWow is far from a sham. A layer of them probably saved the carpeting in my office.

We called Sylvia's Uncle Joe and explained what had happened. He came in the next day and we explained what happened in detail. After taking a look around the room, Joe was able to deduce that the valve feeding the holding tank had stuck in the open position, causing pressure in the tank to build until its lid popped free, causing the loud bang we heard. The excess water spilled down the sides of the tank and stopped once I shut off the supply.

Joe estimates that it would probably take a year for all the water in the tank to evaporate, so we can simply keep the flow shut off and monitor the water level, opening the tap up again when needed. That's a simple enough fix, but Joe's also going to install a new valve for us so that the system works the way it should.

I feel incredibly fortunate that Sylvia and I were home when this happened. If we'd been out, the entire basement could have flooded, destroying my library, my computer and all the writing in it, the theatre room, and worst of all my photo albums and home movies, a loss I would have found genuinely devastating. For a few minutes there I felt like the trapped crew of the Deep Core in The Abyss, except it wasn't our lives I was fearful for, but our memories.

I don't do New Year's resolutions, but this I do resolve: to speed up the process of archiving all the family photos, movies and my writing, and to save complete copies in at least two off-site locations before the year is out.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Close Call

Given the number of books, photographs and personal writing projects in our basement, I've always been a little worried about flooding. So when Sylvia and I heard a loud bang and then rushing water late last night, the adrenalin rush that slammed through me was stronger than I've felt in years.

Luckily I found the cut off lever before too much water escaped, and Sylvia's uncle discovered the underlying problem today. Thank goodness it's an easy fix! 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Island on the Sea of Nowhere

This one's a little busy, but there are elements I like: the oversized initial capital spilling into the banner, the gloss of the title itself. Maybe this cover would work better without the skull and crossbones motif. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Some Brief Thoughts on The Wolverine

Somehow I failed to list The Wolverine in my list of movies I watched in 2013, bringing the total to 103 (five of them superhero films, not four). I think perhaps I missed including the film on the list because I went out to see the movie with friends and chatted for a while after, resulting in a late return home on a work night.

In any event, I'm sorry I missed including the film on my list because it turned out to be a refreshing change of pace for the superhero genre. I was rather burned out on apocalypse after the (often literally) world-shattering events of Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, and The Wolverine's more personal scope gave me hope that creators will remember genre often works best at the small scale.

In brief, Wolverine saves the life of a Japanese soldier during the closing days of World War II. Decades later, that ageing soldier seeks out Wolverine for one last act of gratitude - or so it seems. In a nutshell, Wolverine has to overcome a scheme to steal his powers, going into battle with only his wits and his adamantium skeleton.

Any super-hero plot sounds pretty silly on the surface, but James Mangold's film works as an action vehicle, a character piece and a surprisingly ambitious attempt to begin fixing the mistakes of the third X-Men movie. Wolverine spends much of the film mourning the loss of a woman he was forced to kill in that story, and those scenes are moving and effective. There's also a very well executed post credits scene that sets up Day of Future Past, the next X-Men film. In an age of reboots, I'm impressed that the X-producers are trying to fix the mistakes of previous movies rather than sweeping them under the canonical rug.

Even without these touches, though, The Wolverine stands on its own as a smart, atmospheric action film with compelling relationships, convincing character arcs and an admirable absence of the idiot plot. Every character behaves in believable ways given their individual perspectives, something that doesn't always happen in big-budget films. Here the focus is more on character and less on special effects mayhem.

In the comics, Wolverine is consistently portrayed as a shorter-than-average character who makes a point (usually with his claws) that bigger isn't always better. The same is true of this film. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Robot Vampires

I was pretty excited when the blog hit 10,000 page views a month for the first time back in November, though even then my pleasure was tempered with the suspicion that spambots were responsible for some percentage of the hits. Since then I've been tracking the amount of comment spam in my inbox along with any suspiciously large number of visits to especially banal Earliad pages. This is an inexact science, but I estimate that spambots, including the malicious vampirestats bots, are generating about 30 percent of my visits. Hitting 10,000 page views was suspicious enough, but then my readership spiked to nearly 15,000 in December my worst fears were confirmed.

So I probably haven't received 10,000 legitimate, human visitors a month quite yet. But I'm pretty certain that I'm getting at least 7,000 or so real hits a month, which is still a far greater audience than I ever expected. As for the spammers, well, a pox on all your houses. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Movies I Watched in 2013



Last year I started tracking the movies I watch. Here's this year's list in viewing order: 

A Room With a View (James Ivory, 1985)
A Touch of Class (Melvin Frank, 1973)
Idaho Transfer (Peter Fonda, 1973)
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972)
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012)
The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951)
The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983)
The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)
Inspector Clouseau (Bud Yorkin, 1968)
House of Wax (André de Toth, 1953)
Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
Lenny (Bob Fosse, 1974)
Anne of the Thousand Days (Charles Jarrott, 1969)
The Dresser (Peter Yates, 1983)
Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)
A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann, 1966)
War Horse (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Joysticks (Greydon Clark, 1983)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)
Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)
Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012)
Dredd (Pete Travis,2012)
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)
Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson, 2001)
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (Mike Judge, 1996)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942)
Empire of the Sun (Steven Spielberg, 1987)
Red Planet Mars (Harry Horner, 1952)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (Gordon Flemyng, 1965)
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (Gordon Flemying, 1966)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)
Malibu Express (Andy Sidaris, 1985)
Cosmic Voyage (Bayley Silleck, 1996)
The Emigrants (Jan Troell, 1971)
Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972)
Sounder (Martin Ritt, 1972)
The Untouchables (Brian DePalma, 1987)
Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
Hard Ticket to Hawaii (Andy Sidaris, 1987)
Breaking Away (Peter Yates, 1979)
The Turning Point (Herbert Ross, 1977)
Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni, 1997)
Intolerable Cruelty (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2003)
The President’s Analyst (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967)
Dolemite (D’Urville Martin, 1975)
The Human Tornado (Cliff Roquemore, 1976)
Iron Man 3 (Shane Black, 2013)
The Valley of Gwangi (Jim O’Connolly, 1969)
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)
Battle Beyond the Sun (Francis Ford Coppola, 1959)
Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, 2013)
Space Battleship Yamato (Takashi Yamazaki, 2010)
Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
Son of Dracula (Robert Siodmak, 1943)
House of Dracula (Erle C. Kenton, 1945)
Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee, 1939)
Wrath of the Titans (Jonathan Liebesman, 2012)
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (Erle C. Kenton, 1942)
House of Frankenstein (Erle C. Kenton, 1944)
Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)
Hello, Dolly! (Gene Kelly, 1969)
Z (Costa-Gravas, 1969)
The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
The Night Stalker (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972)
The Night Strangler (Dan Curtis, 1973)
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome (Jonas Pate, 2013)
Invasion of Astro-Monster (Ishiro Honda, 1965)
All Monsters Attack (Ishiro Honda, 1969)
Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)
Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)
Terror of Mechagodzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1975)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1962)
Devil (John Erick Dowdle, 2010)
Atragon (Ishiro Honda, 1963)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Gorath (Ishiro Honda, 1962)
La Fin du Monde (Abel Gance, 1931)
La Decima Vittima (Elio Petri, 1965)
Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978)
Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013)
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)
Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011)
Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges, 1980)
Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012)
This is Cinerama (Merian C. Cooper, 1952)

That's 102 films, a few less than last year's 116. 

Films by Genre
Best Picture nominee: 33
Science Fiction: 24
Fantasy: 4
Western: 1
Horror: 12
Action: 4
Thriller: 2
Drama: 27
Comedy: 5
Documentary: 4
Superhero: 4
War: 4
Musical: 3
James Bond: 1 
Star Trek: 1

Top Directors
Ishiro Honda (6)
Erle C. Kenton (3)
David Lynch (3)
Steven Spielberg (3)
Gordon Flemyng (2)
The Coen Brothers (2)
Terrence Malick (2)
Andy Sidaris (2)

Films by Decade
1930s: 3
1940s: 5
1950s: 6
1960s: 16
1970s: 16
1980s: 12
1990s: 4
2000s: 5
2010s: 32

Final Thoughts
I had a lot of fun this year enjoying Ishiro Honda's kaiju spectacles, particularly the off-formula and much-derided All Monsters Attack; you can read my analysis here. 2013 was also the year I finished the filmography of David Lynch, one of my very favourite directors; here is my list of most-to-least comprehensible Lynch films. 

I'm surprised that I managed to knock 33 films off my list of Best Picture nominees to view; I haven't updated my master list yet, but I imagine by now I must be close to 60 percent finished. 

I'm also surprised that I watched only one western this year, considering it's probably my second-favourite genre. 

Of the few first-run pictures I caught in theatres, Gravity was by far the best. I enjoyed Man of Steel, but thought it made a better science fiction movie than a Superman film; Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were fun sequels, and Star Trek Into Darkness was a huge, dumb disappointment. 

Colin Trevorrow's little-seen comedy Safety Not Guaranteed was this year's biggest pleasant surprise, and I thoroughly recommend it. Watch it cold, without knowing anything about the film.