Monday, June 30, 2014

These Leftovers Are Undercooked

HBO's The Leftovers is adapted by Damon Lindelhoff from Tom Perrotta's excellent novel of the same name. Both the television series and the novel share a premise: millions of people around the world disappear one day, without rhyme or reason, a random rapture.

The novel focuses on the internal emotional struggles of a half-dozen or so characters, fundamentally good people each coming to terms with an unexplainable loss. It's quiet and gentle, especially given the immense pain felt by the protagonists.

The pilot of the television series tosses the emotional depth of the novel aside to focus on the same sort of melodrama we've already seen in other, better shows. The novel's lead character, a mayor whose wife has joined the Guilty Remnant, a cult of judgemental people who feel moving on after tragedy is a betrayal of those who disappear, becomes a police chief in the television series - a change in occupation that automatically allows for more action-adventure. There's also a bizarre subplot about dogs running wild, a distraction that tries to add an air of mystique to the proceedings but simply seems out of place.

I was hoping for more nuance from HBO, but the television series is, unsurprisingly, far more violent and confrontational than the novel. I understand the difficulty of translating thoughtful prose to interesting television, but given Perrotta's involvement in the show, I expected more.

It's quite possible that the show will improve with time, as often happens in genre television, but thus far The Leftovers leaves me feeling anything but rapturous.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Abandoned in Place

Abandoned buildings, like this farmhouse in southern Manitoba near Virden, fascinate me. Who lived here? Where did they go? Why did they leave the house behind? The answers are probably mundane. And yet, no one is mundane at all...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Miele Combat

While Sylvia was out shopping our new washer and dryer arrived today from Miele. The installers were very nice and professional, which in a way is unfortunate, for had it all gone wrong I could have called this post "Meile Combat." I suppose I could have someone photograph me pretending to be in a karate fight with the new washer and dryer, but no one else is home and I'm tired from mopping and vacuuming.

Susan Shyluk recommended Miele, so I trust that we'll enjoy this washer/dryer for decades to come. If not, I hold Susan responsible. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Piece-Meal Review of The Lego Movie

Everything about The Lego Movie is awesome, including its subversive "Triumph of the Will"-evoking theme song and its brain-bending but perfectly logical third-act pivot. Charming, self-effacing, clever, satirical and fun, The Lego Movie is one of those rare films that offers a straightforward and positive message without embarrassment.

Oddly enough, the film for some reason endorses Sylvia's view that Green Lantern is lame, a view I don't share but seems to have become some strange pop-culture undercurrent. I always thought Aquaman was the lame one, but perhaps not...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jarring Cola Irony

Thursday's lunch at the Jasper Avenue 3 Amigos with Dustin, Mike and Pete resulted in very good food and very poor service. Arriving at precisely noon, our food arrived at the table at 12:55, which meant I had to wolf my food down like a ravenous beast in order to get back to work as quickly as possible. Also, I thought it amusing that the waitress laid down Coca-Cola coasters for our drinks, including my Jarritos Mexican cola (which is also quite tasty). 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Lady Never Tells

James Bond sauntered into 00-Section at precisely 8 a.m. Monday morning, hung up his hat and flashed the pretty young Section secretary a winning grin. "Hello, Goodnight."

Mary Goodnight looked up from her receptionist's desk with weary amusement, tucking a stray strand of long blue-black hair behind one ear. "Your quips are as sharp as ever, James," she said. "Sharp as a scrambled egg."

"You wound me, dear," James said. "Itinerary..?"

"On your seat, sir," Goodnight said with an offhand gesture. She had already turned her attention back to her work. Bond lingered for a slow, appraising glance at the girl's nylon-covered legs, an indulgence he wouldn't normally allow, but his weekend had been full and happy, and his mood was uncharacteristically ebullient.

Bond stepped into his office, closed the door and retrieved the folder Goodnight had left on his chair. He sat down and scanned the itinerary first, setting aside the various briefings and correspondence - that could be attended to later.

An item midway down the list caught his eye. He frowned, gripped the itinerary in a fist suddenly taut with annoyance, and yanked open his office door, glaring at Goodnight.

"What's this at twelve? A damned birthday party? It doesn't even say whose birthday," Bond grumbled.

Goodnight shrugged. "That came straight from M's office, sir. You're to bring a gift suitable for a woman of a certain age, and dress casually, like a - "

"Yes, like a man of means on holiday. I can read the bloody note," Bond said, and shut his door again. So much for catching up on his paperwork.

Goodnight stared after him. "Then why ask me?" she wondered.

*  *  *

Bond slipped out at eleven drove his DB5 straight for the shops, where he purchased a brown Hercules leather bomber jacket with a furred collar, a pair of bluejeans and a pair of Sauvage snake-proof hunting boots. For the birthday gift he purchased a string of pearls, which the salesgirl wrapped up very neatly in a white box with a red ribbon.

You can't go wrong with jewellery, Bond thought, no matter what a woman's age. Ingénue or matron, Bond knew the gift would be well-received.  

Bond brought his purchases home, changed, and drove straight to Blades, M's favourite club, as indicated on the itinerary. It was all damned peculiar. Not only was he improperly dressed for the club, Blades was restricted to men; to whom was he giving the pearls? As he pulled up to the kerb outside Blades, Bond mulled over the possibilities. M wasn't the joking sort. Something about the situation felt wrong, and Bond never ignored the instincts that had saved his life again and again.

His hand hovered over the car's ignition switch for a second, then snapped back down to the gearshift. He hammered it into first and slammed the gas pedal to the floorboards, the engine screaming, the hood lurching skyward. An instant later he was in second gear and roaring down the avenue - not quite quickly enough to outrun the shockwave as Blades exploded behind him, enveloping the car in a lethal cloud of flying glass, wood and concrete. The DB5 heeled over to the left as Bond fought to stay conscious, the concussive force of the blast ringing his ears.

Everything started to move in slow motion as the car overturned and Bond was flung headlong through the air, flying alongside the debris.

"Goodnight, Mary," Bond thought irrationally as he crashed into the sidewalk, and then everything went black.

*   *   *

Waking up in a hospital bed was nothing new to Bond, and not for the first time he wondered why he stayed in the business. He'd certainly given up enough for Queen and country - Vesper, Tracy, any semblance of a normal life. He carefully looked himself over, noting that at least there were no missing limbs, though he'd probably picked up a fresh scar or two.

I wonder how many died, Bond thought. Blades tended to attract quite a lunch crowd.

As if in response to a psychic call, M suddenly appeared, bursting in like a dervish, slamming the door shut behind him, his face red.

"Twenty-seven killed, 007, in my club," he thundered. "And a valuable asset nearly blown to kingdom come with them."

Bond sat upright in his hospital bed, though it pained him. "Sir, what's all this about? It seems absurd to ask 'why the cloak and dagger?', but the itinerary was painfully brief - dangerously so, as it turns out."

"I didn't add that item to your calendar, Bond," M said, his steely gaze smouldering. "Your secretary is out of her mind with guilt, thinking she should have caught it. But the duplication was perfect. Your itinerary was stamped with today's codes, on today's paper, delivered by an interoffice courier who's been with us for nearly fifteen years."

"So not an inside job," Bond said.

"No," M said flatly. "I've assigned 002 to follow up. You're to recuperate for the next seven weeks."

Bond chafed. "But sir - "

"No buts, Bond. You're on medical leave effective immediately until I release you. The doctors tell me you ruptured a couple of organs and cracked a few bones, and I won't have a man who's not at 100 percent getting to the root of this damned situation."

"Yes, sir," Bond said, deflated.

*   *   *

A week after Bond was released, an unmarked envelope showed up in his mailbox. After checking carefully for poison and letter bombs, Bond opened it.

The card was blood red, with delicate black script in a woman's sure hand:

Mr. Bond -
So sorry I missed you at the club. It's a shame we'll never meet face to face, though I'll be calling on you again someday. Perhaps on your birthday, perhaps on mine, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps ten years from now. Why? My dear Mr. Bond, a lady never tells. But if you think back on all the men and women you've put in early graves over the years, surely you can narrow the list of subjects down to a reasonable thousand or so.
Be seeing you.

Bond sighed and slipped the poison pen note back into its plain envelope. He'd take it to headquarters for analysis, but he doubted they'd find anything. He wondered if this new old enemy was sane or mad, a professional or merely playing at it. It hardly mattered; in his business, her kind were legion. This was nothing remarkable, though he was sad for the loss of nearly thirty innocent lives.

A lady never tells, Bond mused silently. But blood will tell eventually, he thought, and went back indoors, calling out to May to prepare a cup of tea.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Some Bond Titles

I'll never be asked to write a James Bond novel or screenplay, but no one can stop me from coming up with some evocative titles for future Bond stories:

His Majesty's Shadow

Diamondeye

No Time for Regrets

Spectres Never Die

A Lady Never Tells

All Earth for a Tomb

Vanquisher

Midnight Kiss

A Fortnight 'Til Doomsday

Baron Earth

Death to Spies

Last Among Equals

No More Secrets

Never Die Alone

Forever Silver

From a Deal to a Draw

Hmm. Turning these into faux paperbacks might be a fun graphic design project...stay tuned. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bond, Beat by Beatle

A few months ago my friend Steve asked me why I didn't post about music more often, and I replied that I simply didn't know enough about the subject to comment intelligently. On the other hand, that disability has never stopped me from commenting on any other subject.

Last night I read the latest James Bond novel, William Boyd's Solo, so it seems natural to comment on the music of the James Bond films. I may not know what I'm talking about when it comes to music, but I do know what I like - so here's my list of the best Bond themes, ranked from best to worst in my uninformed opinion:

"Live and Let Die" - What if the Beatles had written a Bond track? This is as close as we ever came, and it's a great song that will be remembered long after the film itself is forgotten...and since Bond movies are rarely forgotten, well...

"You Only Live Twice" - One of my favourites. Great lyrics, cool western/Japanese fusion.

"You Know My Name" - A really powerful piece of work that almost assaults the listener, a great introduction to the latest Bond.

"Skyfall" - Heartfelt, mournful, dangerous. I love this one.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - It might be wrong to call this driving instrumental "jazzy," but it sounds right to my ear; maybes someone can weigh in with a better adjective. All I know is that it gets my heart pumping and ready for some espionage thrills.

"The Living Daylights" - Probably the best thing A-Ha has ever done, thanks mostly to John Barry. I really like this one.

"All Time High" from Octopussy - What, they couldn't come up with a way to work the film title into the lyrics? Still, catchy.

"The Spy Who Loved Me" - Sentimental and so very 70s, but somehow it captures the essential Bondian tragedy, the man who leads the ultimate man's life save for one thing: he'll never have enduring love.

"For Your Eyes Only" - Another 70s romantic ballad that makes a nice companion to "The Spy Who Loved Me."

"The Man With the Golden Gun" - This one's pretty goofy, but something about the beat and the funky electric guitar grabs me.

"Diamonds Are Forever" - Better than the film it introduces, but you could say that about quite a few of the Bond tunes...

"Goldeneye" - It's got Tina Turner and I wrote alternate lyrics to serve as the theme for Toilet Chase. If any of my female friends can sing, I'll pay you $50 to sing the Toilet Chase lyrics to Goldeneye karoke...

"Licence to Kill" - I just like the "WAAAAH wah...wa wa wa wa wa WAAAHHHH WAH..."

"From Russia With Love" - Opens with a pretty nice instrumental that I far prefer to the Tom Jones lyrical version.

"Goldfinger" - Another classic, but it doesn't really move me that much. Probably suffers from familiarity.

"James Bond Theme" from Dr. No - Sure it has the classic theme, but its début is marred by weird beepy-boopy stuff and an annoying segue into "Three Blind Mice."

"The World is Not Enough" - I was hoping for better from Garbage, but meh.

"Tomorrow Never Dies" - Another meh.

"Die Another Day" - Madonna, but auto-tuned? Ugh.

"A View to a Kill" - I like Duran Duran as much as the next guy, but this one feels pretty dated now - very much a product of its time.

"Moonraker" - One of the weakest songs for one of the weakest movies.

"Thunderball" - I've never liked this one. "A thunnnnnderbaaaaallll!"

"Another Way to Die" from Quantum of Solace - I really hate this one, especially given the creators could have chosen the far better "Quantum of Solace" by Eva Almer.

Can't remember some of these songs? They've all been compiled below:


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Leaning Tower of ATCO

The iPhone's panorama tool can be used vertically, and if your hand is as unsteady as mine appears to be, you may get strange results. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Jim

One of the best presents my parents ever gave me was a Big Jim action figure and his camper van. Big Jim was a lot like G.I. Joe, but his adventures were sports-, safari-, and spy-themed. I don't remember which costume my first Big Jim came with - perhaps it was the standard karate suit - but I recall vividly when we found my second Big Jim at a department store in Thompson, the P.A.C.K. version that came with nappy blue turtleneck, paw-print boots and a pistol.

Big Jim had a couple of cool features. If you bent his arms, realistic biceps would bulge. And pressing in his back would make Big Jim perform a karate chop.

Some genius has created a short film featuring Big Jim, his friend Big Josh and the camper van. Check it out:


I love it. But the relationship between Big Jim and Big Josh takes an unfortunate turn in the sequel:


Fortunately they patch things up and share their scrapbook:


And then it all goes south again:


Sadly, naught remains of my Big Jim collection except for the DC comic book that came with the P.A.C.K. edition of Big Jim. Thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, you can read it here

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The IXS Enterprise

Yes, the science is still speculative, but I still find it very exciting that real scientists are working on a warp drive and that they feel it's within the realm of possibility (if only barely) that such a thing might one day exist. In the meantime, we can all enjoy these amazing concept images of what a "real life" starship Enterprise might look like...


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kickfarter

I've seen a lot of cool projects on Kickstarter, but Fart Attack, a proposed game for iOS and Android phones, is the only one that has left me crying with laughter. The game is simple: earn points by farting in the close proximity of the people around you, but be careful! Too much enthusiasm and you could poop your pants. It's all rendered in adorable 8-bit glory. I particularly love how the expressions on the characters' faces change to shocked dismay when you fart around them.

Also, I love this absurd quote from the developer's Kickstarter page:
"Prepare to have you mind fartestroyed!"-Carol
The creator promises that if he gets $10,000 in pledges, "I will video tape myself farting on strangers and then probably get hammered on a two or three day bender with part of the money..." I certainly don't endorse such behaviour, but you have to admire the developer's honesty.

Friday, June 13, 2014

See Theatre of the Exploding Sun at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery

My cousin Keith Langergraber's Theatre of the Exploding Sun opens June 27 at 5 p.m. at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Alberta. A few years back Sylvia and I met Jeff, Susan and Steven in Vancouver to view Keith's earlier exhibit, The Society of Temporal Investigations, and we all had a great time. If I can't get away from work to make it down to Lethbridge by 5 on the 27th, I'll try to take in the exhibit before it closes on September 7.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Previously on 24...

Previously on 24...

...renegade counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), faced with the prospect of being detained by the authorities, deliberately sprayed bullets into a crowd of innocent British civilians protesting the American use of drones. When confronted with his actions a couple of episodes later, Jack responds with irritation: "I barely grazed them!"

"How do you know that?" the astonished interrogator asks.

"Because I was the one doing the shooting," Bauer growls.

I laughed during both scenes, but not for my usual reasons. I started watching 24 not as a drama but as a farcical comedy sometime during the second season. But this pair of scenes was different, and I'm not finding the show as funny as I used to. This time, I laughed in disbelief.

Others have written with far more eloquence than I about 24's troubling worldview, one that pits religions and ethnicities against each other, one with no room for cooperation, compromise or negotiation, one that enthusiastically embraces torture and violence as the only sound public policy in a world bubbling over with apocalyptic levels of terrorism. This is a world where terrorists have set off nuclear weapons and caused meltdowns in American cities, where plague has been unleashed, Presidents assassinated and fifty percent of authority figures are traitors. Jack Bauer, who is always right, is the violent force of nature who has electrocuted suspects, chopped off heads with a hacksaw and literally tore an opponent's throat out with his teeth, like a vampire. This is the show's hero - not a protagonist, but explicitly a hero, practically worshipped by all right-thinking supporting characters on the show. Those who doubt or question Jack are inevitably proven wrong, sometimes (often!) with fatal consequences.

I could laugh at 24 because as each season went by it seemed to me that the creators were taking the show less and less seriously. It began to serve as a window into the paranoid worldview of hyper-extremists, those fearful few who have created the surveillance society the rest of us now begrudgingly inhabit.

But Jack's assault on those British protesters this season was ugly, mean-spirited, and played without any sense of irony. Cues in the direction, editing, script and music make it clear that the producers intend audiences to sympathize with Jack's psychotic violence as right and proper under the circumstances. He was only doing what had to be done for the greater good - in this case, ostensibly to protect the citizens of London from American drones hijacked by terrorists, but really to protect American interests and the right to continue using drones for their "proper" purpose. The message is clear: anyone stupid enough to protest against drones (or, metaphorically, state-sponsored violence as public policy) deserves to be shot.

I would like to think that reasonable people can have a rational discussion on the use of drones in the so-called war on terror. 24 makes it clear that even to question the use of drones, and by proxy the war itself, is tantamount to treason against Western values...whatever those might be in this troubled age.

(Stephen Fry's participation in this season (he plays the British Prime Minister) is particularly disconcerting, since Fry has through word and deed consistently shown himself to be a pretty intelligent, progressive human being. Then again, Kiefer Sutherland himself has described himself as a socialist and supports gun control, and I suppose actors aren't required to limit themselves to roles and projects that support their political views.)

24's big first-season hook, the concept that made it different, was its claim that "Events occur in real time," as stated at the beginning of each episode. It's become clear that the events of 24 now occur in what might be called "unreal time," a twisted funhouse mirror of the real world, a place of blood and shadows where no one can be trusted, power is the only virtue and compassion is weakness.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Prison Library

The books they
Multiply and there's nothing I
Can do but shuffle out the old and shuffle in the new but
It hurts to drag them from the shelves
The ones I'll never read again
Consigning them to Goodwill stores and hospital wards where
They may gather dust for forty years
Oh how I
Miss the books I sold to used bookstores in the past
They were mine, they should have remained mine but
I had no room
Even were I a billionaire with ten libraries
There would never be enough room
Paging Dr. Freud

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Wrath for Khaaaaaaaannnnn!

I'm not sure what effect I expected to achieve by holding Khan in front of the camera while using the iPhone's panorama feature, but it wasn't this. Is he travelling through time or experiencing an agonizing transporter accident?

Goofy as it looks, this little experiment gave me a better idea of how the iPhone panorama technique works. Now I need a volunteer to stay still until I pan past them, then run around behind me to a spot on my right. If I'm correct, in the resulting panorama they should appear to be in two places at once. Bonus points if the volunteer can quickly change shirts or something before the camera's i returns to them.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Back Yard Panorama

Phone cameras have come a long way in a very short period of time. I used to sneer at them a little, but as real photographers say, "The best camera in the world is the one you have with you," and it's hard to beat a phone for portability. I had our SLR with me when we visited my parents in Leduc on Saturday, but the iPhone has one feature my Canon doesn't: an idiot-proof panorama function. I only just discovered this tool despite having had iOS 7 since it was released, and it works surprisingly well. It really makes Mom and Dad's back yard look huge. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Sylvia's Promotion

Ooooo, she gets so excited! 
One of the things I love about Sylvia is her inability to suppress her feelings when she's very happy and excited. She had good reason for her characteristic adorable giggling and squealing today when she learned that she'd been promoted to Human Resources & Internal Communications Coordinator at Alberta Pensions Services. It's a good fit, as she's been studying HR through MacEwan University for some time and it's where she's wanted to move. She's going to be fantastic in this role - APS made the right move.

So congratulations, Sylvia, and never hold back your glee! 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Stop, Go, Go Very Fast

Today while driving west on Stony Plain Road I noticed that the traffic signal was showing green, but also flashing amber. I have never seen this signal before, and I instinctively slowed down a little while I tried to puzzle out what that particular configuration of lights could mean.

Green, of course, means go. A flashing amber generally means go, but use caution. Together? Uh...go, but use even more caution? No, that's backwards. Use caution, but less than usual? That doesn't seem likely.

Has anyone else seen this odd signal before? I fear I may need to redo my driver's test. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

One Year In

One year ago today I joined ATCO Electric, and today my boss presented me with this very stylish plaque and a nice pen-and-key chain set. Pretty spiffy!


Monday, June 02, 2014

G&Glass

I'm still working my way through the hundreds of photos I took in Ottawa at Gaming & Guinness IX, but in the meantime here's a shot of my first use of one of the terrific swag items created by Mike and Rob for the event: the official G&G IX tumbler. Sure, it's full of Coke rather than Guinness, but I think it's still serving a noble purpose.

I'm quite taken with the logo design: the tumbling dice, which has become a recurring theme in the logos, the reversed "G" serving as the 9, the rocket-looking silhouette of Parliament, evoking any number of spaceships from games we played like Firefly or Warhammer. Excellent job, gentlemen. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Night of the Gecko

Steve and Audrey have been taking care of a gecko, and sometimes it creeps across the table while we're playing Dungeons and Dragons. The Fitzpatricks will actually touch this thing, but whenever it comes toward me it sort of looks like this in my head...