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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gaming & Guinness X: The Second Day

Each day of Gaming & Guinness features one or two "marquee" games with breaks for meals and smaller-scale gaming. day Two of G&G X started off with a new game, Legends of the Old West, which allows players to send gunfighters into tactical-scale skirmishes. Here, Jeff, Mike and Mike look over Steve's exquisitely designed town, Serenity Gulch.
The villains holed up in a store, forcing the lawmen to chase them inside. The results were bloody.
A bandit snipes from a hotel balcony.
Looking down main street at Mike, who sported an old-west mustache for the event.
Pete, too, came dressed for the period.
Superfight came for free in one of my LootCrates, and we tried it out between marquee games. The object of the game is to pit characters from popular culture against each other and argue about who would win in a fight. Actually, I don't see why we need a formal game for this, since we spend a lot of our time making exactly these arguments...
This year Pete handled the swag, and each of us received an awesomely comfy and personalized G&G X commemorative jacket.
Scott, Island Mike and Steve model their jackets.
Pete and Mike in their new attire.
Scott shows off his personalized jacket.
And here I am in mine.
Here's a shot of the Batcan, built especially for G&G X.
Here some of the boys down something called a Car Bomb, which is Guinness and something else in a second shot glass contained within the larger glass. Those who drink at G&G stay the night, while the teetotalers in the group (including me) handle any driving, if needed.
Colin looks somewhat bemused by his first game of Pimp. I don't blame him.
Scott brought over Red Dragon Inn, a fun high-concept game in which players pretend to be medieval adventurers settling down at a tavern for some carousing and gambling. Gamble away all your money or pass out from too much alcohol consumption and you're thrown out of the inn.
I came pretty close to triumphing in our first game, but Island Mike edged me by a beer or two.
We ended the night with Formula De, one of our perennial racing games. It was a close race throughout the game, but in the end...
...Colin emerged triumphant, taking away a Formula One keychain as a prize.

Coming up on Day Three: X-Wing and Mad Max: Fury Road! 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Out of Gas

Sean came over last night to help me pick up and assemble my new office desks, a task that wound up taking six (!) hours. I'm profoundly grateful for Sean's help, and I was very excited to finish my office at last today...but I ran out of gas. Between Gaming & Guinness, the funeral, spring cleaning and work I just don't have the gumption to take apart the computer and set everything up again. But tomorrow is another story...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Wayne and the Windowsill

With grim countenance the unmasked knight watches o'er his city
Though shades of grey surround him, he sees in black and white
No colours in his world, save the blood-red of vengeance
And the purple bruises of justice wrought roughly
In Crime Alley and environs beyond

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: Amy's on Second

Amy's on Second in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, offers homey decor, excellent service and hearty, flavourful meals. Sean and I shared a pair of sandwiches - a Cajun lobster po boy and a California chicken with cherry bacon and avocado. Sean's fries were of the standard to be found at any number of roadside attractions, while my beef barley soup was a little on the thin side. The sandwiches themselves, however, were delightful, though Sean, sadly, managed to spill mayo all over his crotch. 

Before heading out on the Hanson Lake Road to Flin Flon, stop in at Amy's on Second before the five-hour journey. You'll be glad you did. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gaming & Guinness X: The First Night

Ten years ago, Stephen made an impromptu suggestion that a bunch of his friends gather at his place to play board games and drink Guinness to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. That event went over so well that it's become an annual tradition, hosted by each of the gang's members in turn, introducing our own branded promotional items and customized board game accessories as the years have gone by. For example, Mike Parlow (right), created his own Gaming & Guinness Anniversary Edition of Wits & Wagers, featuring trivia from across G&Gs I-IX.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, we reconvened at founder Steve's this year. The first night of any G&G event is typically pretty casual, as out-of-town guests may not have arrived yet and others are just leaving work. Casual games, then, are the order of the day, and we started things off with some of Steve's amusing PlayStation contests, such as Fribbage XL, above, and Drawful. Try drawing on a tiny iPhone screen and you'll imagine how well I did at that.
Cards Against Humanity (above) and Pimp are casual card games best suited for audiences with a sick sense of humour, so much so that even mentioning them probably means I'll never run for office. (Again, that is.) I don't remember who won these games, although in a sense you could argue that humanity lost.
Having Colin (far left) back for the first time since the original G&G was a highlight this year, and I'm glad he could make it, even if it did result in massive carnage at the chariot race...but that's for day four. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Val Head

Val Head has died, and I'll be going to Cranberry Portage to pay my respects on Monday. Val took care of Grandma for many decades - longer than I've been alive. Val took us boating and fishing on the gorgeous lakes of northern Manitoba, taught me how to perform a moose call and in many ways acted as a surrogate grandfather, since unfortunately Dad's father died before my brother and I could meet him. Val always impressed me with his toughness, and frankly I'm shocked and saddened that he passed only a few months after Grandma. But I'm grateful that they shared many happy years together, and I'm sorry he's gone. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Not a Bird...

The reaction to the first look at CBS' upcoming Supergirl series has been pretty mixed; even folks whose opinions I trust have expressed their disdain, writing off the show as too "Devil Meets Prada"-esque; my brother cleverly remarked "Super New Girl in the City." Perhaps that's fair based on this trailer, but frankly I think it looks pretty charming - and what's wrong with a genre show targeted at women and girls? Lead Melissa Benoit is adorable, and it looks like the show's creators are staying true to the mythology, even though it will complicate their storytelling. I respect that, and I have faith in the producers, who are already responsible for Arrow and The Flash, two very different but very entertaining shows.

I think Supergirl has the potential to be another The Bionic Woman for young women, and I hope she soars. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Gaming & Guinness X-Wing

In just a few days I'll join a select group of friends for Gaming & Guinness X, and appropriately enough, one of the marquee games this year will be X-Wing Miniatures Game. (Atypically, I did not deliberately coordinate the pun when I suggested X-Wing for this tenth anniversary event.)

Since only a couple of us have played the game before, I figured I'd point the guys to this tutorial video. Even using the advanced rules, the game goes by quickly and easily.

Still, a nine-player game could get a little hairy. A little research reveals that the easiest way to accommodate this number of players is to give everyone 35 points to build a single ship, and then it's every man for himself. While that might be amusing, it's lacking the good-vs-evil simplicity and flair of the original films. I suppose the 35-point method works just as well if we have one team of five and one of four, one side the Rebels, one side the Empire. Perhaps the side with one less player gets an extra 35 points for upgrades to one of their ships...? Yes, seems reasonable.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Edmonton Sprawlway

That's my new name for whatever overpass they're building on the outskirts of Edmonton, which may as well be the outskirts of Leduc, really, considering how far the city has sprawled. Why call the Anthony Henday a ring road when there's already so much development outside it? Crazy. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Earl J. Woods and the Mystery of the Missing Library

Panel 1: "Hey - a bunch of books!"
Panel 2: "Wait a minute...something's not right here."
Panel 3: "These are fake! It's just a painted backdrop!"
Panel 4: "Who would do something like this? And where are the REAL books?" 

Monday, May 11, 2015

April 2015 Review Roundup

It's time once again to review a sampling of the books and films I enjoyed (or not) last month.

Having read Ursula K. LeGuin's most famous works earlier this year, I decided to finish off her Hainish cycle by reading the works that bookend the series, including her first three novels (Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions) and the last novel of the cycle, The Telling. While none of these books match the power and beauty of The Dispossessed or The Left Hand of Darkness, they remain solid SF, and really, middling LeGuin is better than the best work of many of her peers. I quite enjoy how LeGuin doesn't clutter her stories with exposition or world-building; she has a point to make, and she makes it succinctly in each work, leaving readers to fill in the blanks about her setting and its internal chronology. Of the four LeGuin works I read in April, City of Illusions is the most interesting; it's the only Hainish novel set on Earth, and within its pages LeGuin offers a mysterious, brooding man-out-of-place tale against the backdrop of a scary but ultimately fleeting dystopia.

I had high hopes for Mad Skills by Walter Greatshell; it's the story of a young woman subjected to an experimental procedure that gives her amazing new mental and physical capabilities. It's a well-worn premise, but the opening chapters promised - or seemed to promise - a fresh new take on an old idea. But about halfway through the book it becomes clear that Greatshell didn't know where to take his story, and as a result it meanders to a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion.

Joe Haldeman's The Hemingway Hoax follows a similar pattern; he sets up an interesting premise only to have it falter near the end. But Haldeman is more skilled than Greatshell, and the novel holds up most of the way through, and even the ending isn't bad so much as slightly underwhelming for Haldeman, who's usually dependably excellent.

Thanks to a hand-me-down from Sean, I read Connie Willis' Blackout last month. I love Willis' work, but in this case she really should have curbed her impulse to pad out one novel into two (Blackout is followed by All Clear, which I finished in May). The latest in Willis' loosely-tied stories of time-travelling Oxford historians, Blackout depicts three such historians lost in London during the blitz, and all the misadventures they suffer trying to get back to the future. While the novel contains all the good-natured humour and drawing-room drama readers have come to expect from Willis, it does feel a bit like this was one trip too many to the well. Then again, the duology won both the Hugo and the Nebula for 2010, so what do I know?

In film, I started April with a pair of documentaries: the magnificent, sprawling Jodorowsky's Dune and the sinister, eye-opening Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Both are fine examples of the form, each with a crystal clear message. First, I sure wish that Jodorowsky had filmed his vision of Dune, which may have been the most off-the-wall mindbender of the 20th century, if perhaps not the transcendental experience the director imagined. And second, yes, Scientology is probably as bananas as you might have expected.

Sandwiched between these two documentaries I watched Murder by Death, Robert Moore's 1976 send up of pop culture's greatest detectives. Frankly, I don't remember why I ever thought this was funny; it hasn't aged well.

Paul Verhoven's Hollow Man was simply terrible, with none of the wit or satire of the controversial director's earlier films. This is just a slasher film with decent special effects. Poor Kevin Bacon turns evil simply because he turns invisible, which may have been believable if we'd been given any time at all to see his character fleshed out.

I knew Billy Wilder was a genius, but I really wasn't prepared for Witness for the Prosecution, his 1957 Best Picture-nominated courtroom drama. Wilder packs the film with superb performances from his entire cast, performances entirely essential to perhaps the best twist ending in cinema, a turn so brilliantly executed that I didn't see it coming even though I'd been warned something shocking would happen in the last act. The big reveal in The Sixth Sense has nothing on this, and on top of that you get a well-paced, fascinating murder mystery. This will probably stand as one of my favourite films of the year.

I also watched Wilder's The Seven Year Itch, my first Marilyn Monroe movie - can you imagine, at 46 I finally screen one of these? Anyway, Monroe is as charming as you'd expect, though I'll admit I was a little underwhelmed by the famous skirt-blowing scene. Still, this is a smart, wry little movie and does a great job of getting inside the heads of insecure males of a certain age.

I watched a bunch of 1930s and 1940s crime films in April, thanks mostly to simply working my way through a couple of Warner Brothers box sets. 1937's Black Legion was my favourite of the bunch, thanks mostly to Humphrey Bogart's performance as a working-class white man who falls prey to the (thinly disguised in this film) KKK. It's pretty heartbreaking to see Bogart destroy himself, and the movie packs a powerful punch even now...perhaps especially now, given continuing class and racial unrest in the United States.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

We just returned to Edmonton from Leduc, where we stopped in to visit for Mother's Day. In honour of the day, I present one of my favourite pictures of Mom. Here she's posing in front of a couple of her paintings - she took some art classes back in the 90s. I think her work turned out pretty well! Sadly, that particular talent didn't rub off on me, but I'm certainly grateful for everything she's taught me over the years. Happy Mother's Day, Mom! 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

If Sean Were King for Just One Day

Sadly no photo exists of the time I used masking tape to label a plastic pink pail with the word "King" and then placed said pail on my little brother's head, crowning him. "King!" I laughed and laughed. "King!"

Sean was good-humoured about it, but abdicated after a couple of minutes, signalling his resignation by flinging the pail aside. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A Bittersweet Victory, or: Orange with Envy

As a progressive I'm naturally pretty thrilled by Albertans' decision to elect an NDP government in Alberta last night. I believe new premier Rachel Notley has the smarts, compassion and grit to make Alberta a better place. 

But at the same time I'm sad that I wasn't a part of such a historic moment - and I could have been. Back in 2006 I took a job with Kevin Taft's Liberals because I honestly believed that party stood the best chance of toppling the Progressive Conservatives. Even though I considered myself a New Democrat at heart, Taft's Liberals were progressive enough to pass muster, at least when factoring in the pragmatic desire to win government. 

Well, we all know how that turned out. During the six and a half years and two elections I stuck with the Liberals, we went through three leaders and lost a little less than half our MLAs with each passing vote. After the election of 2012 I'd finally had enough, and moved on. 

I'm proud of the work I did for the Liberals, and I don't regret my years with them. But today I wish I'd followed my heart and dreamed bigger. It would have been pretty amazing to be on Notley's team, to experience victory rather than defeat, and to know that victory meant a better tomorrow for Albertans - particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged, or so I hope and believe. 

While I'm disappointed in myself, my failure of imagination or simple cowardice - call it what you want - merely highlights the virtues of those stalwart New Democrat volunteers and perennial candidates who finally earned their richly deserved rewards last night. I'm very happy for the many Albertans who bled orange for years or even decades for their moment in history. 

Perhaps the most bittersweet moment for me was watching my friend Naomi's sister, Jessica Littlewood, win Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville for the NDP handily. When I ran there in 2008 against Ed Stelmach, he beat me by 10,000 votes. And in a strange coincidence, Naomi shot my official photographs for my campaign. Needless to say I'm delighted for Jessica and Naomi, but it doesn't take any of the sting out of that 2008 loss. 

What's important, though, is not that any particular person or party wins any particular election. What's important is that we govern ourselves with wisdom and caring, and there are people in every political party who really do have the best interests of the people at heart. That's why I'm so happy Liberal leader David Swann held on to his seat last night; he'll continue to be an important voice for public health care and farm worker safety in the Legislature, and this time around the governing party might be more sympathetic to his concerns. We can hope! 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

An Orange Alberta

The NDP forms a majority government in Alberta tonight. It's a day I thought I'd never see. My reaction is excitement tinged with a hint of bittersweetness. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Alberta Election Prediction 3 of 3

Well, here we are - if the polls are correct and people actually show up to vote and they vote the way they told the pollsters they would and if the anger I'm reading on the streets is real and not merely confined to Edmonton...than Alberta - Alberta! - could wind up with a majority NDP government sometime tomorrow night.

I can hardly believe the results myself, but I went through each riding, looked at the candidates, consulted a number of election prediction websites, compared that to my own knowledge (or lack of same) of particular ridings and incumbents, and then made my own choices, some of which (heck, many of which) might seem counter-intuitive to most Albertans, including me.

As you can see, I imagine an NDP breakthrough in the big cities, Edmonton's surrounding suburbs, the smaller cities and a few of the large towns out west. A few PCs escape the wrath of the voters in Calgary and rural Alberta, while the Wildrosers practically sweep the countryside. Alberta Party leader Greg Clark deposes Gordon Dirks, and my poor Alberta Liberals are reduced to two seats, both in Calgary. (I wouldn't be surprised if they wound up with anywhere between zero and four seats, though - Mountainview, McCall, Red Deer North and Edmonton Centre at best. But I think most traditional Alberta Liberal voters - like me - are going to back the strongest progressive choice, and at this point in time, that's the New Democrats.)

Interestingly, in my model all of the party leaders survive. I have the strangest vision of Jim Prentice losing his seat but...naaaaaah. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Force Lightning Sean

Here's an attempt to create the illusion of Sean projecting force lightning from his hands. It's not great. Perspective is hard. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Fisher Price Airport Blues

Here I am sometime in the early 1970s with one of my favourite toys: the Fisher-Price airport set. What fun I had sending the little people on their imaginary journeys and bringing them home again.

There's something interesting about this shot: there's a photograph leaning against the base of the lamp in the background. Even at maximum resolution you can't make out who's in the photo, but you can tell that it's a close-up of a single person. Maybe the negative of that print is somewhere in my files, yet to be scanned. It's almost meta.