Thursday, April 30, 2015

Luika August 1972

This image is labelled "Luika August 1972." Looks like harvesting to me, though. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hard-Boiled Hardcovers

Long have my literate friends urged me to delve into the seedy neon realm of America's master of the two-fisted crime story, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. When these two collections went on sale a couple of months ago, I eagerly snapped them up. Now they await my pleasure. But where to begin? 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Barley Crop, 1971

Here's another mystery photo from the family archives. I'm tempted to assume this is from the Etsell farm, but the topography doesn't look quite right to me.

As you can see, the slide was dirty when I scanned it and needs a little more cleanup. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Road Construction, 1973

My parents may have shot this, or one of my aunts or uncles. The slide indicates the photo was taken in 1973, presumably during the summer. The (I'm guessing) father and son at centre of frame seem oddly out of place, as if they were on a drive somewhere only to discover that the road was still being built. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sometimes it Takes Time to Sink In

It was only during the last couple of years that I learned the difference between rows and columns in Microsoft Excel. Columns, of course, go up and down, like...columns. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alberta Leaders' Debate 2015

As I expected, tonight's debate wasn't particularly dramatic. No one made any lethal gaffes, no one landed any devastating blows. I thought the NDP's Rachel Notley fared best, with a warm, sincere performance; she painted herself as a moderate, sensible alternative quite effectively.

Premier Prentice was mostly pretty poised, though I found it interesting he focused most of his ire at the NDP. His condescending "I know math is hard" line was the low point of the night.

Brian Jean came off as hilariously robotic, but he stayed on-message the entire night, with few slips, and I was bowled over when he acknowledged the very real threat of climate change. Good for him.

My old friend David Swann showed a lot of compassion and handled himself well during the latter half of the debate, but his tendency to read from notes hurt him a little, I think; he didn't make enough eye contact with the camera, and knocking his own binder onto the floor at one point was a little awkward.

All in all, I think this debates helps the NDP a little bit, hurts the PCs a little bit, and leaves the Wildrose and Liberal parties right where they are. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Alberta Election Prediction 2 of 3

Click to embiggen Earl's wild-ass crazy election prediction map!

While part of me still believes that the polls must be wrong, they are at least consistent, giving the Wildrose and NDP an edge over the trailing Progressive Conservatives. It seems almost crazy to believe that Albertans might elect a government other than the PCs, but I suppose stranger things have happened in Alberta...if rarely.

In offering my second seat tally for Alberta's 2015 election, I'm also taking into account what I'm hearing from friends and family - and that is an exclusive determination to vote for anyone but the PCs, even from people that have voted Tory for decades. And finally, there is the failure of the Alberta Liberals to run a full slate of candidates, which leaves a substantial pool of supporters without Liberal candidates to vote for. If most of them decide to choose an NDP candidate as their next-best option, that could swing a few tight races.

This time around I reviewed each constituency before choosing a hypothetical winner and coloured in the map as I went. Green constituencies are Wildrose, orange NDP, Liberal red, blue PC and light blue Alberta Party. Even as I write this I have not as yet counted out the seats; I will do that right...now.

The Tally:
NDP: 32
Wildrose: 28
Progressive Conservatives: 21
Liberal: 5
Alberta Party: 1

As you can see, in this scenario the Wildrosers take almost all of the rural seats and score a handful in Calgary. The New Democrats dominate Edmonton and snag a couple of relatively progressive rural seats. The PCs hang on to Calgary and keep a small number of their rural seats. And the Liberals, somewhat improbably, wind up back where they started.

Wow. What a mess that would be, huh? I suppose in this scenario the PCs and the Wildrose would merge in order to hang on to government, infuriating half the population. In reality, I'm probably being a little too kind to the progressive parties here; the Liberals could easily wind up with two or even zero seats, probably losing them to PCs, and the NDs are unlikely to pick up those rural seats in western Alberta; these are my surprise/sentimentality picks. In reality they'll probably go Wildrose.

It's pretty foolish of me to throw this silly analysis into the world before the leaders' debate, but it was a fun exercise. One more prediction to go!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Chameleon Shield

On returning from a time travel mission to 1946 and 1985, I am transferred without notice to a remote testing ground somewhere in the Middle East. The United States Forward Force wants me to use my chameleon shield to assassinate certain enemies; I refuse. I'm an inventor, not a field agent. I compromise by showing how the chameleon shield can be used to make a cluster of ground vehicles invisible; the soldiers are amazed as the bulky olive-green transports shimmer into transparency, but the demonstration isn't enough to free me. I'm sent to the bunker. 

My own chameleon shield is a bulky, thick-collared bodysuit of yellow foam and plastic. It's heavy and hot, and I'm sweating by the time I reach the bottom of the long flight of concrete stairs that march deep into the earth. The staircase leads to an underground strip mall and subway station; I'm about to stop for lunch when several troops run past me in a panic - the enemy is seconds away from infiltrating the base. I switch on my chameleon shield just in time; enemy soldiers in black and crimson armour swarm into the base seconds after I turn invisible. 

I make a break for the emergency hideout, slipping down a hidden stairwell and barring the door behind me. Actor Chris Hemsworth is already inside, ferrying huge pallets of boxed cereal deeper into the hideout. I nod in passing as I make my way to the control room, where actor Henry Cavill and chemist Walter White are arguing about something. As it turns out, White wants to flood the hideout with poison gas should the enemy breach the hideout, as seems inevitable. Cavill protests, noting that there are only three survival suits and at least twelve allies in the hideout. (Luckily, my chameleon shield also serves as a sealed earth-normal environment.) 

I try to broker peace, but my interference gives White the opportunity he needs to start the countdown to release the intruder control gas. With the enemy minutes away, Hemsworth and Cavill struggle to abort the countdown, but in the end they fail and don their environment suits. Seconds later billowing lime green clouds fill the entire hideaway, and the screams echo through my mind as I transit back to my resting reality, awakening with a heavy heart and sore muscles. 

Perhaps tonight's journey will be easier. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Building a BatCan


Yesterday I joined Scott, Pete, Mike and Jeff at the Fitzpatrick residence to build a second bathroom in the Fitzpatrick basement, promptly dubbed the BatCan since the basement has been known as the Batcave for many years. And since Stephen and Audrey and the girls have so graciously hosted us for innumerable nights of Dungeons & Dragons, boardgaming, Oscar parties and other occasions, we figured it was high time to give a little something back.
There's also an element of self-interest, it has to be said; because we game so often in the Fitzpatrick basement, we'll all be getting quite a bit of use out of the BatCan, especially when we gather for Gaming & Guinness X next month.
Unfortunately I possess only limited practical skills, so my contributions were limited to lugging things, holding things and measuring things. I also did a bit of drilling and mudding. But the lion's share of the work was accomplished by the other lads, particularly our project manager and engineer, Scott, and our foreman, Jeff (above), who put in a twelve-hour day despite suffering from tendonitis.
It was nice to spend a day labouring with my hands instead of my head, something I haven't done regularly since a two-month job in a warehouse during the summer of 1993 or 1994.
Scott handled the plumbing and electrical.
Jeff, Mike, Pete and Steve handled the lion's share of measuring and installing the studs and drywall.
Working from about 9 to 9, with breaks for deliciously BBQ'ed lunch and supper, we managed to build the walls, get the drywall partially mudded, finish the plumbing and electricity, install the toilet, install the light, get the sink in place and install the door.
All in all, a pretty good day's work, although for some reason I didn't take any photos near the end of the day; we got much farther than pictured here. Next Saturday we'll finish up. Tune in next week - same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Earl's Posse

This year Legends of the Old West will make its debut at Gaming & Guinness X, and Scott did me a huge favour by painting my posse of cowpokes, seen here in glorious sepia tones. I think Scott did a fantastic job, and I'm very grateful.

I met Scott tonight to accept delivery of the miniatures because we happened to be working on a project, which I'll write about tomorrow. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Hidden Film

For many years I've thought it would be immensely cool if some gifted filmmaker or team of filmmakers set out to make a film that spanned multiple decades and genres. The film would be told in short scenes embedded in other movies, background scenes that fit the genre of the film in which they appear but could be seen, in isolation, as mere background action.

The screenplay for the film-within-many-films would be a great secret, handed down from one generation of filmmakers to the next, all sworn to secrecy, hiding the hidden scenes from producers, actors, other screenwriters. The action would be spaced across 100 films and 100 years, until in the final hundredth film the climax of the 99-episode tale plays out, an epic saga of time and space and drama that somehow seamlessly melds the best of all possible genres.

Who knows? Perhaps the film is nearing completion as we speak, or maybe it's just begin. I only wish I were the genius who set the plan in motion, who wrote the ultimate screenplay. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dry Wit

Harmonius Shwang luxuriated in the fine spray of hot water that poured down from the shower head, a fine warm mist wrapping his body in bone-shivering comfort. Eyes closed, head tilted back, Harmonius exhaled, content, allowing the water to wash his cares away.

But alas! Just as Harmonious approached the zenith of delight, the shower head bucked violently, an ominous rattle emanating from the pipes, air burping from the depths to supplant the warm water. Blinking in stupefaction, Harmonious bellowed for his butler, groping blindly for a towel.

"Anklus!" he cried. "Where's my hot water?"

Gaunt, harried Anklus arrived momentarily, his perpetually sad eyes immediately grasping the situation.

"If you'll forgive me, sir, the shower's stalled," Anklus deadpanned. Harmonious, as ever, didn't get it. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Crackers

Crackers, saltine
Resting in cellophane
Pale and square like
A midwestern Congressman
Afraid of the days ahead when rivals will be
Puttin' on the Ritz

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Earl's Chili Insanity Version 2.0

According to the peanut gallery, yesterday's chili recipe isn't viable. Based on some vague suggestions from friends and family and my own seasoned second thought, here's an amended recipe:

2 kg extra lean ground beef
1 can corn kernels
2 cans tomato sauce
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tbsp chili powder
100 g sliced jalapeno peppers
100 g walnut pieces
100 g water chestnuts
100 g diced onions
250 g diced red, green and yellow peppers

Throw everything into a slow cooker and cook it at, um...medium..?...for eight hours. Top with sour cream, diced green onions and shredded cheddar, mozza and Monterey Jack.

Serve with deeply chilled bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola and garlic toast. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Earl's Chili Insanity

I don't know how to cook, but that won't stop me from imagining the best chili ever. I imagine something like this:

2 kg extra lean ground beef
1 can corn kernels
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp cumin
100 g sliced jalapeno peppers
100 g walnut pieces
100 g water chestnuts
100 g diced onions
250 g diced red, green and yellow peppers

Throw everything into a frying pan and fry it on, I don't know, 7? Cook until it's done. Top with sour cream, diced green onions and shredded cheddar, mozza and edam.

Serve with deeply chilled bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola and garlic toast. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Yorkton Follies

Here's another photo of our early 1970s trip to Good Spirit Lake near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. It's funny how I didn't mind getting dirty as a child, but I'm sure fussy about it now. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dirt on Good Spirit Lake

Here I am sometime in the early 1970s playing in the dirt at Good Spirit Lake near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Voice of Gravel

I wound up on TV again today, captured in one of those man-on-the-street interviews that sometimes capture unwary pedestrians innocently wandering about in search of lunch. When the CTV crew approached me I was sure they were going to ask about the election, a topic on which I could have expounded with a reasonable degree of eloquence.

But to my surprise, I was asked if I noticed the gravel in the streets.

"There's gravel in the streets?" I thought. Sylvia would have loved this, because she knows I'm the last person in the world to notice disorder of this sort. The reporter asked me what I thought about the condition of the roads, and somewhat nonplussed I answered "Well, there are a few potholes, I guess..."

Clearly I wasn't delivering the desired soundbite, so the reporter helpfully prodded me in the right direction with a couple of leading questions about street sweeping and dings in my windshield. I dutifully allowed that yes, the streets would look better once swept, and I did indeed have a crack in my windshield.

A couple of friends saw the story on the news, but I haven't seen it myself. I'd be interested to know what narrative they spun out of my responses. That's the magic of editing...

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Rockford Files: "Sleight of Hand"

A little over midway through the first season of The Rockford Files comes a surprisingly poignant and moving story, "Sleight of Hand." Told in flashback - an unusual device for the series - the story finds Jim Rockford steeped in regret and loss for reasons that only become clear as the tale unfolds.

As the flashback opens, we find Rockford on a sailboat with a vivacious divorcee and her young daughter. Rockford's usual cynicism and hard shell are absent; it seems he really likes Diana and her little girl - maybe even enough to establish a permanent relationship. But seconds after Rockford drives them home, Diana vanishes - and when the police arrive, they find the dead body of her next door neighbour. Rockford, of course, becomes the number one suspect, and he must dodge the police as he searches for his missing girlfriend.

Given the structure of episodic television in the 20th century, it will come as no surprise that Diana winds up dead, since in those days you couldn't give a romantic lead a steady partner, as it would preclude romantic entanglements in future episodes. And yet despite that, James Garner's performance really convinces audiences that he is wracked by guilt and loss, that he hates himself for failing her.

Diana's disappearance is very cleverly structured, and the payoff really delivers. In the end, Rockford and Diana were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time for one crucial instant, and that tragic moment changed their lives forever. It really is a classic tragedy.

The episode guest-starred Jackie Cooper and Lane Smith, one playing a cop, the other a hoodlum. Both men, of course, played Daily Planet editor Perry White - Cooper in the Salkind Superman films of the late 70s and early 80s, and Smith in the 90s television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Cooper was, of course, an Emmy-award winning television director, and helmed at least one episode of The Rockford Files

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Alberta Election Prediction 1 of 3

Albertans go back to the polls on May 5. The upheaval in Alberta politics over the last couple of years makes predicting the outcome a mug's game; the closest thing to a sure bet is another Conservative government, and even that's not a rock-solid guarantee, though it's the closest thing you'll get to one in Canadian politics.

I thought it might be fun if I tried to guess the outcome on three days: today, as the writ is dropped; at the halfway mark; and on election day, before the polls close.

My guesses - and they are merely guesses - are based on my reading of relative party strength, the mood of the electorate, the distribution of seats and the possible effects of vote-splitting on both the left and the right.

I've been wildly wrong before, and I expect to be wildly wrong again.

So, if people were going to the polls today, here's the outcome I'd expect:

Progressive Conservatives: 60
New Democratic Party: 14
Wildrose Alliance: 11
Alberta Liberals: 2


Monday, April 06, 2015

The Highwayman



I can't believe I missed this during its short broadcast life, because it seems like I would have loved it. That cast! Sam Jones! Jacko! Jane Badler! And Tim Russ as "D.C Montana!"

According to Wikipedia, the series lasted for just ten episodes in 1987, and followed the adventures of a group of mysterious highwaymen who fight for law and order in the near future - sort of a "Mad Max"-lite. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

March 2015 Review Roundup

As noted previously, once a month I'll offer some thoughts on a selection of the books and films I've enjoyed (or not) the previous month.

In film, March was a month of nostalgia and exploration. Turner Classic Movies showed a beautiful high definition presentation of When Worlds Collide, the George Pal SF classic; it really looked marvellous, probably better than when I first saw it on the big screen in Leaf Rapids on a double-bill with War of the Worlds. (For some reason the movie theatre in Leaf Rapids made a habit of showing films that were decades old, a quirk of fate that gave me pop culture tastes probably more appropriate for my parents or even grandparents.) Drawing heavily on Christian mythology - specifically the story of the flood - When Worlds Collide is by today's standards slow-paced until the final fifteen minutes or so; I prefer to think of the pace as stately, taking the time to give you reasons to care about the film's plucky band of determined survivors. And that last quarter-hour is thrilling indeed, as the giant space ark is rushed to completion and launched with only seconds to spare. The model work and final matte painting aren't convincing to modern audiences, but I find they fire the imagination in a way that CG still cannot (yet).

I also watched robots-gone-wild thrillers Westworld and Futureworld in high definition for the first time (well, the second time for Futureworld; I saw that on the big screen in Leaf Rapids, too, during its first run). Westworld still holds up as experimental 70s SF; Futureworld, while reasonably entertaining, tries to take the concept in a new direction and falls on its face with substandard execution. I'm really looking forward to the new HBO Westworld television series; the original concept of a hedonistic amusement park filled with robots programmed to serve every perverse human whim is rich with dramatic possibility.

At long last I finally screened anime classic Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988), but I reluctantly confess that as with most Japanese animation, it left me a little cold. The animation itself is gorgeous, with many dreamlike and/or nightmarish sequences particularly compelling or even harrowing, but the exaggerated acting took me out of the story. I'll keep trying, but anime just might not be my particular thing.

I'm trying to watch more comedies, so last month I viewed Best Picture nominee Father of the Bride and its lesser-known sequel, Father's Little Dividend. I always find it a little strange when I screen pictures that feature a young Elizabeth Taylor, especially in these films, where she plays, at best, a supporting role to her screen father Spencer Tracy. The comedy in both films is exceedingly gentle, perhaps even dull for modern audiences, steeped as it is in the cultural foibles of the 1950s; these are movies in which old-fashioned (to us) family traditions are made light of, but in the end rigidly respected and enforced. There's nothing subversive in these films.

Spencer Tracy's character would probably be horrified if he lived to see Woody Allen's 1979 romantic comedy Manhattan, which features a lesbian couple, cheating husbands and wives, and a relationship between a 42 year old man and a 17 year old girl/woman, all notions that are still controversial today. Indeed, aside from, perhaps, the lesbian couple, the other relationships in the film are, in North American culture at least, less acceptable today than they were in the 1970s. Whether you think of this as progress or regression will depend on your particular perspective, of course.

I confess that I appreciate Allen's genius at some remove; while I genuinely appreciate his films and recognize their artistry, I don't often find them as funny or moving as Allen clearly intends. But that's just my particular taste.

On the other hand, I was thoroughly entertained by 1980s ninja movies Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination, the second and third parts of a loose ninja trilogy starring Sho Kosugi. These films are utterly nonsensical, with absurd ninja fights, bad acting, pedestrian production design, direction and cinematography, not to mention writing that is passable at very best and ludicrous at worst. And yet, for those of us who love "bad movies," the ninja craze of the 80s provided some cinematic cheese of fulsome vintage.

March was a good month for gift books. Sean gave me Austin Grossman's second novel, You, a wonderful coming-of-age story that really hit home for me as its lead character was, like me, born in 1969 and grew up deeply enveloped in the emerging world of computer games during grade school in the 1980s. Unlike me, the protagonist and his friends transform that interest into careers, working in game design through the 1990s. It's a great story of young people trying to find their place in the world, of the fragility of friendships, the risks you take when you get close to someone and the risks you take by distancing yourself. Thoroughly satisfying in all respects.

Leslie gave me Peter Mendelsund's What We See When We Read, a gorgeously illustrated and deeply considered analysis of the very act of reading. When we're moving through a novel, how do the words on the page translate into images in our minds - or does this really happen at all? Mendelsund's argument had me nodding in recognition in many places, but he also gave me a lot of new ideas to consider. This is the sort of book that bears review once a decade or so, I think, as a refresher; and it's gorgeous to boot.

I also enjoyed Murray Pomerance's 2013 non-fiction work, Alfred Hitchcock's America. As the title implies, Pomerance reviews Hitchcock's Hollywood period and reveals how Hitchcock's British sensibilities informed his portrayal of American culture in his films of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The analysis here isn't particularly deep, but it provides a good introductory overview for new fans of Hitchcock who are curious about the master's American work and its subtexts.

Catherine Asaro released a new book in her Skolian Empire universe this year, Undercity, a prequel introducing a new set of characters, this time a nanotech-infused private eye and her bad-boy lover. Asaro is as much a romance writer as she is an SF author, and I appreciate the soft edges this gives her work. If you're familiar with Asaro's work, don't expect any surprises; this is her usual blend of military SF and star-crossed romance, full to the brim with beautiful, genetically and technologically-enhanced superpeople. Reading Undercity prompted me to pull out her 2006 novel Alpha, which explores the same themes but in the near future instead of hundreds of years from now. Again, this is SF comfort food, dependable if not challenging.

I continued to catch up on Ursula K. LeGuin, finally getting to The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness (despite Jeff's protestations, I really don't think I'd read it before now); shame on me for waiting so long to get to these really beautiful works of social-science fiction.

Some time ago Ron recommended Daniel Suarez, who writes near-future technothrillers that really are somewhat revolutionary in the way they deconstruct the failures of the capitalist surveillance state and envision a chaotic but potentially far more equitable future for humanity. His latest, Influx, is Suarez' most speculative work to date; he imagines a world in which a secretive government agency has been hiding technological breakthroughs like cheap fusion, functional immortality, artificial sentience and gravity control from the world in order to prevent societal upheaval, doling out new tech in dribs and drabs to keep the populace reasonably content but holding back general progress by decades. It's not quite as grounded in the real world as his other work, but the novel still raises some interesting questions while providing fast-paced, pulpy thrills.  

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Sean at 5

Here's Sean on his fifth birthday, all the way back on April 4, 1981. I'm not sure if Sean still enjoys roller disco, but I hope he has a happy birthday anyway! 

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Treachery of Brothers

I told Sean that if I was feeling well enough he should come over to play board games after his birthday. (I'm still pretty sick, but here's hoping...)

Sean feels as though sometimes I lure him over not for his company but to cook or do chores. While it's true that some projects have been scheduled, purely coincidentally, at times he happens to be visiting, the truth is I would never deliberately take advantage of my brother. But, in response to my texted invitation, Sean replied with the Admiral Ackbar "It's a trap!" meme and demanded I prove him wrong with an amusing image.

This was my attempt. Magritte I am not, but it seems to have done the trick. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Earlangelo

Sometime during the early 1970s, I painted this board with a nail sticking out of it. I wonder whatever became of that board. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sylvia Stares at the Survival Tree

Sylvia is looking at the Survival Tree, a gnarled lodgepole pine over a century old. But I found Sylvia's gaze more captivating than the tree.

(I took pictures of the tree, too.)