Friday, February 27, 2015

Live Long and Prosper, Leonard

From a very young age, I knew I was different. I didn't enjoy sports or roughhousing, I was afraid of dogs, I loved to read, I hated conflict of any kind. As a result of these idiosyncrasies, I endured a lot of bullying from kindergarten right up to high school.

I took solace in the love of my parents (and later my brother) and in the four-colour stories of Superman, Spider-Man and other comic book heroes. But most of all I escaped to the 23rd century, voyaging with my friends on the Starship Enterprise, including another person who was different than everyone else - Mr. Spock.

Spock was cool, dispassionate, unruffled even during moments of crisis. He endured prejudice with calm and gave as good as he got in the form of archly delivered zingers and irrefutable logic. And while the child I was gravitated to the derring-do of Captain Kirk, Spock let me know that it was okay to be a little weird.

Spock was brought to life by actor Leonard Nimoy, who died this morning. I never met the man, who by all accounts led a long and prosperous life; he would probably call himself a lucky man. And yet I'm saddened, because without knowing it Mr. Nimoy not only made my life a little easier, he also helped make it possible for me to meet some very special people.
Back in 1987, about a month after I started university, I attended a meeting of the University of Alberta Star Trek club. There I met Tony Longworth, Steven and Susan Neumann, Jim Sandercock and Ron Briscoe.

Later Jeff Shyluk, Andrea MacLeod, Paul Allen, Carrie Humphrey, Grant Mitchell, Allan Sampson and Michael Snyder would join. Those friendships led to others in turn through the 1990s, and I treasure them all.
Without Leonard Nimoy's graceful presence, I doubt Star Trek would have enjoyed its enduring popularity. Without Nimoy, there may never have been a U of A Star Trek club, and I would never have met a host of superb people.
Through his art, Leonard Nimoy and the many talented people he worked with shaped the course of my life for the better. And I'm just one of millions the man's life and work has similarly changed.

He played a man who suppressed his emotions in favour of pure logic. And by doing so, he inspired a bottomless well of love, loyalty and friendship.

He's not really gone - as long as we remember him. I'll remember Nimoy's gift from now until I, too, face the final frontier.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Handcar Horizons

Every so often I dream that I'm on a handcar equipped with piles of books, a cooler full of food and drinks, and a comfy chair. I ride the handcar down the endless rails on a world where it's always summer and the scenery is magnificent. Every so often I stop at little railside restaurants and corner stores where I load up on fresh food, drink and books and chat with the locals. There's always something new to see, and the cool breeze is just enough to protect me from the heat of the day.

I imagine such an existence would get tiresome eventually, but it would sure make a nice, long summer vacation. I'd get quite a workout, too. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

46

Birthdays seem to get more sinister with each passing year. Thanks to all the friends, family and colleagues who wished me a happy 46th today! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meter Stuck

Meter Stuck
Caught betwixt the rhyme and reason
Comes the meter and the season
For poetry profound and strange
In stanzas badly arranged

Words pop like pink popcorn confection
The poet has no sense of rhythm
You'll find no editor for this collection
You can't even call it a haiku or free verse really

At least the lines are straight and true
The words cannot all run amok
The critic cries "He's missed his cue!"
His metre stick is meter stuck

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Fitzpatrick Oscars

Steve and Audrey hosted another wonderful Oscar party last night, with an extravaganza of pot luck treats and companionable film trivia and speculation. Steve tallies a ballot of Oscar guesses each year for fun and prizes, and for the first time in several years I came out on top with 12 correct guesses - tied with Steve, it should be noted. However, due to a change in rules (correct guesses earn you tickets, which are placed in a tam o' shanter for a random draw) perennial winner James still walked away with the grand prize - and I picked his winning ticket out of the hat! However, I did get to pose with this cool Oscar-like trophy, a great consolation prize. Sylvia did quite well too, finishing second with ten correct guesses.

I thought this year's Oscar ceremony was better than average, compared to the last several shows; there were a few very powerful and heartfelt speeches on important issues ranging from equal pay for women to the erosion of voting rights for minorities to government erosion of privacy and personal freedom. And I thought the opening musical number was a joy, too. My favourite joke of the night came when host Neil Patrick Harris noted that nominees were being given gift bags full of swag worth $160,000 - "good luck when the revolution comes." No kidding.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Best Picture 2014

In a few hours Sylvia and I will head to the Fitzpatricks' for their annual Oscar Party, and once again I expect to come in second or third in the Oscar pool. (Mumble...)

As in previous years, here I offer my rundown of the Best Picture nominees, from worst to first:

8) The Imitation Game: None of this year's nominees are bad films, nor will any of them achieve lasting greatness. The Imitation Game is a perfectly serviceable biopic if you can stomach the historical liberties taken. This is the first of two autobiographical films to focus on the lead character's obstacles rather than his scientific triumphs, to the detriment of the story.
7) Selma: This historical drama plays more like a well-executed TV movie of the week than a Best Picture nominee. On the other hand, that's unkind to television, which in the 21st century is more innovative and daring than mainstream film has been since the 1970s.
6) The Theory of Everything: This is the second biopic to focus on the lead's challenges rather than his contributions to history, again, to the detriment of the film.
5) American Sniper: This turned out to be less offensive than I had feared, but that's faint praise for middling Eastwood.
4) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Its reach may exceed its grasp, but at least Birdman tries to be different with its ambiguous narrative, unreliable narrator and nested layers of meaning.
3) Boyhood: Richard Linklater's ambition deserves praise - he's the first filmmaker daring enough to stretch a production over a decade to let us watch his stable of actors age and change. Unfortunately this very conceit makes it difficult to construct a coherent throughline for the story; it just...ends.
2) The Grand Budapest Hotel: Sometimes I find Wes Anderson's work a little too cute, but here he fires on all cylinders, delivering a whimsical, funny adventure story that is at times poignant, and his production design remains sumptuous.
1) Whiplash: While I may disagree with this film's central philosophy - that greatness always requires self-sacrifice and hardship (not to mention terrible bullying), it's still a captivating story with warm, vivid cinematography and wonderful music.

There you have it. Oddsmakers say Birdman or Boyhood will walk away with the statue.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Chill of '82

Here I am sometime during Grade 8, working on a project for the photography module of our Industrial Arts class. I suspect the photo was taken by my classmate Mike Repchuk, since there are photos of him that accompany this image, taken at the same place and time. Behind me stands Leduc Junior High School; it's still there, though I imagine it's been expanded and remodelled a couple of times since I left. I'm not sure why I have such an annoyed expression on my face, since the photography module was my favourite of all the Industrial Arts courses I suffered my way through, Power Mechanics possibly being the worst. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Die is Cast

More fiddling with the pen tool and the flame render effect. Not exactly what I was going for...but still sort of cool. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ozyimandibus - The Collection

My younger brother Sean composes amusing poems chronicling his adventures on the Edmonton Transit system. The latest, about Sean capturing a precious seat on the ride home from work, was dubbed "Ozymandibus" by Sean's friend Jesse Jahrig. I quote it here:

Got the last bus chair 
look at my seat, ye standing
and despair, ha ha

This moment was the tipping point convincing me that Sean's transit-ory genius needs wider circulation.

I know that Sean has had some preliminary discussions about producing an illustrated collection of his bus poems with our friend and artist extraordinaire Jeff Shyluk, so in an effort to see that that actually happens, I hereby declare that I will pay happily for a copy of said book. If you, too, would like to see a collection of Sean's bus poetry accompanied by Jeff's serene/macabre art, comment below! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rockford Theme

I belatedly realized that I wrote about The Rockford Files last night without mentioning Mike Post's masterful theme song, which perhaps like no other theme perfectly captures not only the whimsical tone of the show, but also, somehow its era; it plays almost gleefully mournfully, saying "This is the way the world is - messed up and broken - but what the hell can you do but get up each morning and smile in the face of the tragic and the absurd?" It's a wonderful work of art that makes me happy and sad all at once with every beat.

Here's a fun extended version of the theme:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Rockford Files Files

A couple of months back I picked up all seasons of The Rockford Files for a song, and I just started watching the first season. I used to watch the show when I was a kid, and I'm happy to say it really holds up. James Garner makes a terrific world-weary private eye, the stories are tightly constructed, and there's a deep vein of sarcastic humour running throughout the show. The car chases and fight scenes are excellent too, though Garner's Rockford does his level best to solve problems with his wits rather than violence - perhaps because he often loses fistfights.

It's also a kick to see California of the 1970s - the cars, the architecture, the fashions, the home decor.

"This just hasn't been my day at all," Rockford quips after, on top of two arrests, two beatings and a betrayal, the bad guy sneaks up behind him with a loaded pistol right after he's figured out the case. Garner's exasperation neatly encapsulates the tone of the show, one of the best dark comedies of the 1970s. I look forward to seeing the whole series for the first time. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Snow Canoe

Here are Sean and I playing in the backyard sometime in early 1982. I feel like we used to get more snow back then, but of course I'd have to look at the data to be sure.

We moved the canoe from Leaf Rapids to Leduc, but I don't remember if we ever used it in Alberta - certainly not during the winter. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Devil's Candy

It tastes like something straight from Hell
And has that awful licorice smell
This candy reeks with foul intent
It aches to leave your senses bent

Never gobble this awful stuff
Or you will need your tastebuds buffed

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thy Fearful Symmetry

A couple of weeks ago the protective cover fell off our bedroom fan. Being somewhat cavalier about home repair, I figured the fix could wait a while; after all, I wasn't going to walk into a running fan like some fool, was I?

This morning I did, and the fan gleefully sliced into my thumb as seen above. At least the lines are roughly parallel, which makes for nice symmetry.

"I knew that was going to happen," Sylvia said.

I'll fix the fan tonight. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ant-Man Post Credit Sequence

Now that Sony and Marvel Studios have made a deal to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there's an obvious way to tease fans - by making Spider-Man the centrepiece of Ant-Man's post-credits sequence. Rather than feature Spider-Man himself, though, I think there's a way to build anticipation while also introducing a surprise...

AFTER THE CREDITS...

INT. THE DAILY BUGLE.

City editor ROBBIE ROBERTSON enters an office, holding up the galleys of the morning edition of the DAILY BUGLE newspaper. "ANT-MAN SAVES CITY" screams the headline.

We see the back of a familiar head with a flattop haircut.

"Ant-Man? That's what we're calling him? Ant-Man?"

ROBBIE shrugs. Camera angle shifts to reveal JK Simmons as J. JONAH JAMESON.

"As if SPIDER-MAN weren't bad enough! Where are those photos of him fleeing the disaster like the coward he is? PARKER! PARRRRKERRRRRRRRRRRRRR!"


From offscreen, a WEB-LINE zips into frame and seals JAMESON'S mouth shut with webbing. CUT TO a rear view of Spider-Man swinging away from the DAILY BUGLE building.

The surprise, of course, would be casting Simmons in the Jameson role again. It might not be likely, but I'd sure love it. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

January 2015 Review Roundup

It occurs to me that my annual lists of books I've read and movies I've watched is of limited utility to readers unless I include at least a few thoughts on the art I've so eagerly enjoyed. So from now on I'll endeavour to offer some commentary on the books and movies I've read or watched each month. While I won't review everything, I'll capture the highlights.

Books
In January I alternated between mid-20th century crime fiction, Shirley Jackson novels and both early- and late-period science fiction. The Jackson work left the strongest impression, but that's a little unfair because I've read both The Lottery collection and The Haunting of Hill House before. If you've never read Shirley Jackson beyond the eponymous story of that collection, I highly recommend further exploration of her beautiful, brittle work. Nearly half a century after her death she remains relevant and potent.

I was also impressed by Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, perhaps one of the first novels about psychopathy, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith's examination of sociopathy. Hmm, I detect an unintended theme...

I've long been familiar with Vonda McIntyre thanks to her much-better-than-average Star Trek tie-in novels, but until January I'd never read any of her non-media work. Dreamsnake is her Nebula-winning post-apocalyptic novel of 1978, and while I liked her concept of a world highly advanced in some technologies and stagnant in others, her worldbuilding feels oddly offstage here; there's too much telling and not enough showing, or perhaps she's just too subtle for me.

Richard Morgan is one of my favourite new-ish SF authors, but it took me eight years to read his last SF novel, Black Man (2007); he's since switched to fantasy. I didn't enjoy Black Man as much as Market Forces or Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs books, but that won't stop me from recommending it to his fans; there are some interesting SF concepts here, as well as an interesting exploration of personal identity and racism in a supposedly post-racist world.

Film
At long, long last, I've finally seen Safety Last, the 1923 Harold Lloyd comedy most famous these days for its image of a bespectacled Lloyd hanging suspended over a city street by the hand of a broken clock. A great physical comedian often compared to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd certainly earns his reputation in this short but thrilling feature. Even nearly a century after it premiered, the climbing finale remains both hilarious and edge-of-your-seat chilling.

Quite by chance I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley the same month I read the novel. It's a faithful adaptation, but suffers when held up against the original prose, and the period setting doesn't quite translate properly.

Sean and I re-watched John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness last month; it remains one of our favourites, fearsome and funny at the right moments. Like a lot of Carpenter's work, the film is somehow both dumber and smarter than it looks.

Sylvia and I watched David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl in January; she's read the book, while I haven't. Sylvia says the film improved on the book's ending. I can't make the comparison, but I did enjoy the film even while squirming at the walls pressing in on Ben Affleck's hapless protagonist.

That was January. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Earl and the iMac

From the spring of 1998 to the fall of 2005, I wrote gardening books and articles for Hole's Publishing in St. Albert. Most of that work was done on this first-generation iMac. (I never took to the Mac OS even after working with it for half a decade.)

This photo was probably taken by Bruce or Akemi, and quite early in my tenure at Hole's for as you can see my bald spot has yet to appear. This image required a lot of cleanup, scanned as it was from a pretty dirty, beaten-up slide; it could still use some work. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"TOO CLOSE"

On the drive home yesterday it occurred to me that given advances in proximity detection technology, it should be relatively easy for car manufacturers to devise a new safety feature for vehicles. I envision a "TOO CLOSE" sign installed on the rear of vehicles which would light up when another vehicle, approaching from behind, breaches safe stopping distance. You'd need a computer to calculate speeds, of course, but it seems like this could be doable. I wonder if this is a good idea, or if there are factors I'm not considering that would make it unsafe or unfeasible? 

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Poofy Shirt: An Alternative to Constrictive Formal Wear

I've often said that were I in charge of cultural norms, every human being would be free to wear whatever clothing they'd like, no matter the setting. Tuxedo for a trip to the garbage dump? By all means. Sweats and a t-shirt for the workday? Only in Earltopia, for the moment.

Since my radical fashion manifesto is unlikely to be widely adopted anytime soon, I propose a compromise: the poofy shirt. Poofy shirts (or "renaissance" shirts) are billowy, comfortable and dashing, far less restrictive than the sweat-inducing dress shirts men are forced to wear in many corporate settings. The poofy shirt's comfort technically meets the requirements of many workplaces in that it is long-sleeved and has a collar. I have not yet had the occasion to raise the issue with my manager, but when the time is right I'll present my proposal.

Besides being comfortable, the poofy shirt also offers the opportunity to leap into meetings with a brash "A ha!" while waving an imaginary sword. Sylvia says I should restrain myself. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sean and the Adventure People

They were among my favourite toys as a child, but I have very few photos of my Fisher Price Adventure People. Here's a photo of Sean with a few of them - I can make out the boat and the kayak-carrying van, along with half of Mork from Ork's "eggship" (not part of the Adventure People line). I can still remember rolling the vehicles through the pine needles and cones that carpeted the campground at Suwanee River.