Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Planning a Powell's Pilgrimage

One day - perhaps this summer - I would like to visit Powell's Books, the world's largest independent new and used book store. Perhaps I'll take a couple of flex days surrounding the Canada Day holiday. Who's with me? Sean? Sylvia? Jeff and Susan? Steven? I suppose that's a lot of people for one vehicle...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Alberta Velocipede

A few years back, Mom and Dad caught some people riding velocipedes on an Alberta farm. The original image was a little crowded, so I tested my image manipulation skills by seeing if I could paint them out convincingly. It turned out all right, but then I had the idea of adding blur to make it look like the cyclist was speeding across the prairie. It's a little primitive, but sort of fun. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Grass River Crew Cut

Here's Dad near the Grass River in Manitoba sporting a truly archetypal 1960s crew cut. The original photo is pretty overexposed and resisted my efforts to correct it; I need more practice. The grass is sure a vibrant green, though. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bridge to Nowhere

I'm running out of provinces and territories for the Nowhere series to visit, so here I'm resorting to a fake behind-the-scenes "making of" text, the first non-fiction work in the not-yet-a-series. This bridge is just north of Leaf Rapids, straddling the Churchill River. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cape Nowhere

I hadn't done Nova Scotia yet in my series of imaginary "Nowhere" book covers, so this time I tried a photo cover. It might work better with the title on the bottom, my name at the upper right, and the Nova Scotia space-scape overlaid on the gantry.

Hmm. This is a little better, I think. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Signature Moment

A wedding photo?! I know, I know. But it's never a bad time to praise our friend and photographer, Yolande Cole, who so generously donated her time and talent to our wedding. And it's also never a bad time for a bad pun; this was, after all, a signature moment. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Roadkill Stanzas

Help! Help!
We die! Ugh! Oh!
Over the dangerous cliff we go!

Help! Help!
We fall! Ack! Aiieee!
This unfortunate circumstance we did not foresee!

Help! Help!
The artist is mad!
Condemns us with malfunctioning brake pad!

We die! Ugh! Oh!
Where all of the supernumerary characters go!
We fall to our dooms without rhyme or reason -
This is the Golden Age, the super-hero season! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Clean Alternative

I was helping Sylvia with the wash this weekend when we were both startled by the sound of something clattering out of the clothes dryer. When I leaned down to see what had fallen, I was initially baffled by the sight of an Alternate key - until I remembered that Sean and I had each saved a key after smashing our old Atari computers. I must have saved it in my sweat pants pocket and forgotten about it until the pants and the key went through an entire wash cycle.

The key came out spotless, both inside and out - no mean feat, considering it had been sitting in a dark, musty corner of a basement for years. Cleaning keyboards can be a frustrating experience, but the next time that task faces me, I may very well pop off all the keys and throw them in with my next load of clothes. The results are spectacular! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Manitoba Horror House

When Sean and I went to Manitoba in 2009, we came across this creepy abandoned farmhouse. I thought this was the only reasonable response. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rubber Falls Flat

Last night Sylvia and I watched Quentin Dupieux's absurdist comedy-fantasy Rubber. I enjoyed it well enough, though I wish it had been a little less self-consciously clever and a little funnier. For Sylvia, however, the movie fell flat - as did, in a strange coincidence, our right front tire after having lunch at Creole Envie with her parents. Thankfully Sylvia's father Gill came to the rescue and slapped on the emergency spare.


Two weeks ago Sylvia warned me that the right front tired seemed to be losing air. But as is sometimes my wont, I merely nodded and promised to fill it soon. Naturally I forgot, leading to today's embarrassing pit stop.

I wouldn't blame Sylvia at all if she considered both the film and my cavalier attitude toward auto maintenance somewhat...tiresome. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

TNG Season Two in HD: Worst to First

Yesterday Sylvia and I finally finished season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation in high definition. Way back in 2012 I finished season one and ranked those episodes from worst to first. Now it's time to see how season two's episodes stack up against each other.

Season two is generally regarded as an improvement over season one, and while I generally agree with that common wisdom, season two has a lot more stinkers than I remember. Still, the show is clearly finding its feet, and a pair of episodes from this season hint at the real greatness to come.

Reviewers with keener eyes than me have said that the quality of the HD presentation in season two falls short of the stellar quality of season one, but these episodes still look better than they ever have. As I've said before, watching TNG on Blu-Ray is like watching it for the first time.

Here's how I rank the 22 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation's second season:

22. "Shades of Gray"
Star Trek's first and only clip show, this episode was clearly made only to round out the season to 22 episodes. For 42 minutes we see poor Jonathan Frakes as a wounded Commander Riker sweating and moaning on a biobed as Dr. Pulaski uses "powerful memories" (i.e. clips from old adventures) to purge the disease that's killing him. Very weak.

21. "Where Silence Has Lease"
This episode has a great title, but the story is pretty thin gruel. A space monster called Nagilum tortures the crew for his own amusement. A redshirt is killed, but Picard and company outwit the beast in the end and sail off into the stars with some homily or other I've forgotten.

20. "The Outrageous Okona"
A cheap Han Solo rip-off rips off the plot of Romeo and Juliet while Data learns how to be funny from Joe Piscopo (ouch). Notable only (for me) for featuring a pre Lois & Clark Teri Hatcher as Lieutenant B.G. Robinson.

19. "Time Squared"
This is one of those dreaded Enterprise-runs-into-a-spacial-anomaly episodes. What's meant to be trippy, mind-bending time travel results, but in the end it's just an incoherent mess. Even Patrick Stewart, playing two different versions of himself, is lost here.

18. "The Icarus Factor"
Riker's absentee father shows up in an effort to reconcile with his son and Worf goes through a silly Klingon ritual. Also features the debut of ambo-jitsu, a nonsensical martial art that's embarrassing to watch.

17. "The Dauphin"
Wesley Crusher falls in love with a shapeshifting alien ambassador, but has to let her go because only she can stop a war. There's a nice scene where Wesley shows his new girlfriend the wonders of the holodeck and the beauty of the universe, but everything else about this episode is pretty forgettable.

16. "The Royale"
This episode features a well-executed atmosphere of surreal dread, and the plight of a long-dead NASA astronaut is genuinely chilling, but in the end it's really just a shaggy dog story of little consequence.

15. "Up the Long Ladder"
I prefer this episode's original title, "Send in the Clones." Not only is it a terrible pun, but it has a stronger connection to the episode's clone-centric plot, in which Picard plays matchmaker to two lost Earth colonies - one made up of offensive Irish stereotypes, the other a rigid society of clones dying out due to replicative fading. This episode has an interesting central concept and includes a strong pro-choice message, but the haphazard execution takes this otherwise promising story down a few notches.

14. "Unnatural Selection"
This episode isn't terrible, but it's laid low by two unfortunate tropes: the rapid-aging gag and the ability of the transporter to fix virtually any problem. The episode's depiction of Federation-approved genetic engineering is also at odds with other Star Trek stories before and since.

13. "Pen Pals"
Data winds up breaking the Prime Directive by striking up a long-distance friendship with a little alien girl whose culture hasn't yet developed warp speed. Both Data's naivete and the crew's churlish reaction make everyone seem a little out of character, and the episode's predictable resolution is hardly ground-breaking. How much more effective could this episode have been if Picard actually stuck to his guns and enforced the Prime Directive? It would have been pretty shocking, at least.

12. "The Child"
You have to give the producers credit: season two's opening has a lot of baggage to explain, and they pulled the episode together in spite of a writer's strike, re-using a script from the aborted 1970s Star Trek: Phase II project and melding it with some necessary exposition explaining Dr. Crusher's sudden replacement by Dr. Pulaski. Despite these obstacles it's a sometimes moving story, and Marina Sirtis' acting has improved enough to carry its considerable emotional weight.

11. "Contagion"
Some nifty special effects, a guest appearance by the Romulans and Geordi's hilarious ride in an out-of-control turbolift give this otherwise unremarkable story about a computer virus some extra punch.

10. "Samaritan Snare"
The infamous Pakleds make their d├ębut. There's something offensive about these slow-witted alien bumpkins, but their hilarious dialogue makes me chuckle to this day: "We look for things. Things to make us go."

9. "Manhunt"
Lwaxana Troi returns, and she's looking for a husband. Every once in a while there's nothing wrong with a light-hearted episode, and this one is pure fluff. Patrick Stewart does a wonderful job as a panicked, fearful Captain Picard playing chicken and hiding in the holodeck to avoid Troi's affections.

8. "A Matter of Honor"
Commander Riker temporarily joins a Klingon crew as part of a cultural exchange. Fun blood-and-thunder nonsense.

7. "Peak Performance"
War games result in a potentially deadly encounter with the fiendish Ferengi! Notable for some clever misdirection and the remarkable Lieutenant Burke, a Starfleet officer who clearly couldn't care less about anything, especially his own job performance. To this day I regret that Burke never reappeared.

6. "The Emissary"
The wonderful Suzi Plakson makes her first appearance as K'Ehleyr, Worf's old girlfriend and eventual mother of his son. And as a bonus, the episode actually has some interesting things to say about cultural identity, belonging, compassion and mercy.

5. "The Schizoid Man"
Brent Spiner offers another great performance as Data, this time possessed by a dead, ego-maniacal scientist. Worth watching for Spiner's magnificent snark alone, and Patrick Stewart's outraged reactions.

4. "Loud as a Whisper"
A nice little parable about disability, dealing with sudden loss, and the difficulties of communication.

3. "Elementary, Dear Data"
Superb production values (including really remarkable sets and costuming), a great guest performance by Daniel Davis as Professor Moriarty, and a fantastic ethical conundrum make this one of the standouts not just of season two, but of the entire series.

2. "Q Who"
Not only does Q return - always one of the highlights of the season - but he introduces the deadly Borg, who are never scarier and more menacing than they are here (more's the pity). It's refreshing to see Picard and his crew taken down a notch by a threat they simply can't understand or fight; in the end, Picard is reduced to begging. And he learns from that.

1. "The Measure of a Man"
This Blu-Ray release features a real treat for fans: an extended version of this, one of Star Trek's very best episodes. The extra scenes add a little extra depth and texture to an already great story, one that asks us to consider the nature of sentience and human rights. This is possibly also the best use of Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan, who with casual but deadly logic leads Picard where he needs to go. Great stuff all around.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Slaughterhouse Pie

Sylvia sent me this text message this afternoon. I laughed at the non sequitur of the final line. And yet it seems fitting that the huntress should feast after her kill. My line about the pancake, of course, is in reference to this post

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Man with the Kryptonite Punch

Some time ago Jeff asked me if I could send him some photos of my Lex Luthor action figure so that he could paint a Number 25 action figure. Jeff's work turned out great, but I felt bad that my reference model was missing an arm. So when Sean and I stumbled upon an old but whole Luthor for a mere $10, I had to snap it up. For future reference, then, here is a two-armed Lex Luthor figure from the Super Powers line. Here he poses malevolently, brandishing his Kryptonite ring, in front of some JSVB calling cards, mostly because the colours match and this is a Jeff-related post. Comic book maxi-series have thrived on thinner plots!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Grumpy Gourmet


We've had a hard time replacing our broken refrigerator and as a consequence we're starting to run a little low on food. Today Sylvia phoned me to say she ate "an old pancake out of a cardboard box" for lunch. It reminded me of the day Sylvia returned home after having spent a month in rehab for her broken leg shortly before our wedding. She was very well cared for, with nutritious tasty meals every day. The state of our larder was something of a shock for her, and when I stepped out of my office for a moment I caught her eating several-days-old Kentucky Fried Chicken out of the bucket, not even bothering to take it out of the fridge; she merely stood there looking forlorn, gnawing on old meat.

"That was a sad moment," she remarked when I reminded her of this story a few minutes ago. Yes, but a pretty hilarious one in retrospect. I wish I had a photo. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dicelexia

Last night, as Jeff was once again lamenting his terrible luck with die rolls, Pete came up with a name for that unfortunate condition: dicelexia. I was immediately inspired to show how a typical roll of the dice might look to someone suffering from the disease: all ones. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Handcar Horizons

In many of my dreams I find myself alone on a handcar, pumping the handle up and down, propelling myself down the railway track. It is always summer, the landscape is always beautiful, and I never get tired. The sun never sets, but I'm never too hot. Sometimes there's a cooler resting on the handcar and I reach down and pull out an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola, dripping with condensation.

I never need to worry about colliding with a train, for there are no other travellers on this track; there is only me on my handcar, and I have all the time in the world to chase the never-setting sun. The only sounds are the steel wheels tumbling along the track and, sometimes, the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind.

It's a good life that goes on forever. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My Plan to Win the Stanley Cup

While I'm barely conscious of hockey, my brother and many of my friends are fans so I can't help but absorb some hockey knowledge through cultural osmosis. According to my brother, Edmonton has had a terrible hockey team for years. So a few weeks back I asked him if I would make a better general manager than the person doing the job now.

Sean eventually said no, but he had to take a long pause to consider it.

Were I to become the Oilers' leader, I would enact my simple plan to win all games: I would hire the hugest, fattest goalie ever, a person so gigantic that their entire body would cover the whole net. This way opposing teams could never score.

I have no idea why this idea hasn't been tried by some team in the past, but I'm certain if the Oilers hired me and allowed me free reign I could bring home the championship. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Offer of the Century

I found this unopened pack of cards in our board game closet; it's a legacy of my parents. The cards came with one of those giant rectangular batteries that were slung underneath a handle and a big flashlight. I find it amazing that Ray-O-Vac corporation was willing to cut cheques for the meagre value of 75 cents; perhaps it's because they knew few people would bother, given they had to buy another battery and mail in the receipt...and back then, a stamp cost 30 cents, leaving you with a 35 cent return - in 1983, about a third of the value of a comic book. It hardly seems worth the bother, which is perhaps why this deck of cards remains in pristine condition over 30 years after Mom or Dad bought the lantern battery it came with. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

We Laughed for 45 Minutes



Sylvia and I watched this clip in bed a couple of weeks ago and laughed and laughed for nearly an hour, tears spilling down our cheeks. Perhaps we're insane. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Dodgeball Memories

As part of its community outreach efforts ATCO Electric is encouraging employees to participate in National Volunteer Week, so tonight I joined some co-workers in spending some time with the kids at the west end Boys and Girls Club. I helped make some garlic toast early in the evening, but my most demanding contribution came when we headed over to a nearby school gymnasium for a round of dodgeball. 

Dodgeball was perhaps the only sport I was ever good at as a kid. Throughout elementary and junior high school, gym was by far my most humiliating class; I was terrible at floor hockey, basketball, flag football, track and field, everything. Keep in mind that at the time I was fit; I was small and skinny and even a little toned. (Those were the days!) But I was hopelessly uncoordinated. I briefly held a school record in situps and the flexed arm hang, but those activities required no real skill. Anything that did - including badminton - was completely beyond me. 

That is, except dodgeball. I wasn't very good at hitting anyone with my throws, but I was mostly untouchable on the court, routinely the last man (or teen, I suppose) standing. With dodgeball, I was in the zone. 

Tonight was another story, though not as calamitous as my current age and size might imply. I was taken out a few times, but I stayed alive for most of the game, and I even scored a hit on one opponent. 

More importantly, the kids had fun. Not a bad night.  

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Shield of Liberty: The Winter Soldier

By far the best of the modern Marvel movies to date, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a sharp, well-plotted political action thriller that neatly poses a question every citizen must answer: how much freedom are we willing to surrender in the name of security?

As the film opens, we discover that time-tossed World War II super-soldier Steve Rogers - AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) - is dividing his time between performing anti-terrorist operations for shadowy supra-government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and trying to catch up on the sixty or so years of popular culture he missed while in suspended animation. (There's a cute moment where we see a brief close-up of Steve's notebook, which includes a checklist of music, movies and television shows he should watch to bring himself into the 21st century.)

While a patriot, Steve is clearly uncomfortable with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s methods, which consist chiefly of universal surveillance and overwhelming firepower. His concerns mount when his boss, Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) informs him that a new generation of helicarriers (basically flying weapons platforms) will soon be deployed, and that these weapons are capable of wiping out every bad guy on earth in one fell swoop. In the real world, drone strikes kill indiscriminately at a distance without due process of law; the film takes this unhappy reality one step further, suggesting a holocaust by remote control.

Steve's misgivings - and, as it turns out, those of his boss - turn out to be well-founded, and soon Captain America and his allies the Falcon and the Black Widow are on the run, fugitives from their own employer. What follows is a well-paced cat-and-mouse chase full of surprising revelations and chilling betrayals, with not only millions of lives at stake, but the personal freedoms of everyone on Earth.

While this film, like the other Marvel movies, features generous helping of super-hero action, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is far more grounded in real-life problems than its cinematic siblings. While previous films in the series dealt with mad scientists and alien invasions, The Winter Soldier presents us with villains cast in the mold of today's greatest threats to democracy - the very people we elected to serve us, who instead kowtow to the 1 percent and sacrifice the liberty of the masses to serve a few corporate masters.

That may sound a little cynical, but the past year's revelations of increasingly intrusive corporate and government surveillance of our lives makes this, along with climate change, one of the chief existential threats to civilization. Tellingly, the only politicians in The Winter Soldier turn out to be exactly as deserving of the distrust polls show we have for our elected officials.

Many storytellers fail to deliver on the initial promise of an intriguing premise, but in this case the film plays out exactly as it should, taking some impressive chances to deal with the logical fallout of its plot - fallout that can't help but have an impact on future Marvel movies (and especially the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television program).

In the end, Captain America and his friends save the day - for the moment. But it's a victory that demands its audience start thinking more seriously about what patriotism and freedom really mean. These are not American problems; it's a struggle that touches each and every one of us. The Winter Soldier is just a movie, but like the best popular culture, it raises an important issue and even serves as a call to action: don't let the powers that be cow you into a state of constant fear. Open your eyes and look for the real enemies. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

HAiKU

Poems now mortal
No paper, ink or pen strokes
Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 04, 2014

Bald Birthday

Sean's friends like to make fun of him by insinuating that Harvey's is his favourite restaurant. For Sean's birthday we played along with the joke by shooting this photo and claiming on Facebook this would be Sean's birthday supper before heading in to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Squires of Leon

Thanks to the generosity of my boss, Sylvia and I had a great experience at the Kings of Leon concert. Seeing a show from a suite is definitely the way to go! 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Lightning Brains

Disembodied brains make great villains, and it's been ages since audiences have enjoyed a good mad-brain-on-the-loose story. I propose a film in which the test of a terrible new weapon goes wrong, destroying the bodies of a small town full of innocent people but leaving their brains behind as one interlocked community of brains with LIGHTNING POWERS! The brains would float, hundreds of them, linked together by intermittent blasts of lighting transmitting their thoughts to one another. When enemies approach, the lightning brains would focus their powers to blast and sear the foe into oblivion! Imagine the lightning brains shooting down fighter jets and blowing up tanks, or razing cities full of panicking citizens as the brains wreak their revenge!

I'd go see that movie.