Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Talk to the Hand

"DON'T...there. Now no one will no who I am by the time 2015 rolls around." 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mom's Students

Mom was a teacher before I was born, and this is a group of her students, raising the British flag. I wonder where they are now?

I both love and hate the way the colour has faded in all but the upper right quadrant of this photo. If I were better at Photoshop, perhaps I could somehow use the data in the pristine quadrant to fix the rest of the image. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Scary Claus

This shot may have been taken at the school my Mom taught at, sometime in the 1960s. The Santa Claus mask is pretty creepy; no wonder the child in the foreground seems hesitant to accept the brown-bagged present Santa is offering. Note the giant cigarette box on stage. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

@CO

@CO: We Make "At" Signs.

Workplace humour, arr arr. Works nicely for Twitter, though. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Carmudgeon

I do my best to drive defensively, though like any other driver I make mistakes due to distractions, fatigue, incomplete planning and the occasional bad judgment call.

So it puzzles me when many of the drivers around me speed through construction zones as if they don't see the signs at all. The phenomenon is especially bad on Highway 2 between Edmonton and Leduc; there's been an 80 km/h construction zone in place there for months, and yet I daresay most drivers barrel through at speeds between 100 and 130 km/h.

I honestly don't understand this behaviour. If it were one or two drivers, I could chalk it up to fatigue or distraction. But when it's almost everyone, I start to wonder if somehow I'm in the wrong, if I've missed some important secret driving rule. Is there ever a time when it's okay to race through construction zones as if they don't exist? What am I missing? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rude Awakening

The cat awoke me this morning, paws kneading my skull.

"I don't want to work all the time," said the cat, telepathically. At first this didn't amaze me, groggy as I was with uninterrupted sleep. I shoved the cat aside and brushed my teeth, chatting with Sylvia.

It wasn't until I stood under the shower's spray that the incongruities hit me.

"Hey, the cat was talking!" I thought.

And then, "And he was doing it telepathically!"

And then, "Wait a minute - when did we get a cat?"

And then, "Wait a minute - we can't have pets, I'm allergic."

And then, finally, I came to full consciousness and realized the cat was a dream, or a pet from a parallel universe briefly visited, its afterimage lingering for a short span of time after the transition. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Story Treatment: Bruce Lee vs. The Three Stooges

A couple of days ago Jeff e-mailed me about Bruce Lee Game, restless because he couldn't get the classic out of his head. Hoping to soothe Jeff somewhat, I responded by sharing my concept for the ultimate film:

Bruce Lee vs. The Three Stooges
Many years ago I imagined a movie called Bruce Lee vs. the Three Stooges. In the film, the Stooges have set up their own dojo as a get-rich-quick scheme. They develop a style called Prat Fu (in the screenplay only, the name isn't actually used in dialogue). Due to a misunderstanding, Bruce Lee comes to believe that an assault on his own dojo was orchestrated by the Stooges (it was actually executed by Evil Ninjas in Stooge costumes and carried out in Bruce's absence; it's Bruce's students who suffer the assault and name the fake Stooges as the assailants). Bruce Lee gets into a karate kung fu battle with the Stooges, with predictable results - in fact, the Stooges do more damage to themselves than Bruce does. Realizing the Stooges are too stupid and incompetent to have carried out the attack on his dojo, Bruce apologizes and enlists the Stooges in a plan to draw out the real culprits, using them as bait to lure the perpetrators out into the open. Bruce expects to have to rescue the hapless Stooges from the Evil Ninjas, but to Bruce's amazement the Stooges manage to overcome the Ninjas through completely accidental slapstick, plus a little sly behind-the-scenes help from Bruce - you can imagine the sort of thing I mean. After the fight, Bruce congratulates the bruised, dazed, but victorious Stooges on their prowess (with a knowing wink to the audience).

I like to think that as computers evolve, eventually I'll be able to plunk that paragraph into Make-My-Movie (TM) software and it'll spit out the finished film in a few minutes. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Batcopter Stall

Yesterday Sylvia and I spent several hours cleaning up the house, and during that time I straightened out the basement, which necessitated moving some Lego stuff from the theatre room into my office. Today I pointed at this and said to Sylvia, "Look! Batman landed his Batcopter on top of the apartment building."

"The arrogance," Sylvia replied. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day on Ice

Here's Dad and Sean and me sometime in the early 1980s climbing a glacier that's probably melted by now. It may even have been close to Father's Day. Mom and Dad might be seeing some glaciers even now, decades later - they're touring Alaska to celebrate their upcoming 50th anniversary. Happy Father's Day, Dad - hope you're having fun! 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The HR Manager

Sylvia's Certificate of Human Resources Management from Grant MacEwan University came in the mail today! She crammed a full course load into just a few months and worked so diligently that she achieved an A+ average - a spectacular result. I'm very proud of her, not just for scoring near perfection, but for completely switching career gears with utter fearlessness. Great job, Sylvia! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Scenes from un film de Earl J. Woods

INT. HIDEOUT, NIGHT. MARK, SVEN, LIEPOLD and GREGOR are planning a robbery. SVEN has brought their masks.

SVEN: I've brought our masks. Try them on!

MARK: Good work, Sven. With these masks, no one will know who we are. We'll get away clean.

The men put on the masks. There is a BEAT as they regard each other. SVEN has decorated each mask with a painterly, very accurate representation of each of the men. 

MARK: Sven...Sven, why did you paint our faces on the masks?

SVEN: I thought it would look nice.

MARK: You fool! You've entirely defeated the sole purpose of the masks!

GREGOR (timidly): I have an idea.

MARK: What?

GREGOR: Well...what if we switched masks? So that we were wearing each other's faces?

MARK holds his hands over his masked face.

FADE TO

INT. HOSPITAL DELIVERY ROOM. A mother sobs as she gives birth. Nurses look on in awe as the doctor lifts the crying baby, holding him upside-down.

INFANT: At last - I'm free!

FADE TO

EXT. CATTLE FARM, MIDDDAY. A YOUNG MOTHER and her SON are walking together near some cows; the boy points to a large pink cube lying on the grass.

SON: What's that?

MOTHER: It's a salt lick?

SON: A salt lick? What's that?

MOTHER: It's for the cows. They lick it.

The boy immediately kneels and takes a long lick.

MOTHER: Don't lick it!

SON: Ewwww! It's so salty!

SMASH CUT TO

EXT. CONSTRUCTION SITE, the high steel, where WORKERS are assembling the frame of a new skyscraper.

WORKER: Where did I put that bucket of bolts?

WORKER 2: Look out below!

The bucket of bolts has been accidentally kicked off a beam. It seems to float gently down to earth, until crashing into the centre of an ice cream vendor's cart. Bolts and Popsicles fly like shrapnel; a Fudgsicle flies right into the mouth of a screaming bystander. A bolt plugs itself into the navel of a burly shirtless man. 

WITNESS: (pointing at the man who has a Fudgsicle crammed into his mouth): Ice cream!

BOLT-WOUNDED BYSTANDER: I...scream!

(he screams)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Somewhere in Seattle...

I don't remember where this was taken - does the Space Needle have an open catwalk? Is it that close to Puget Sound?

One thing I do recall about this trip: it was the last time we used the Super 8 camera. I shot some footage of our trip on the ferry. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mad Masterpiece: The Fury of George Miller


Our species' hold on civilization is tenuous. On some level, every human being knows we live on the edge of disaster, but we carry on regardless, for it seems there's little any one person can do to forestall it. The Cold War may be over, but it's still possible that nuclear fire could rain down on our heads, and even if that never happens, there is still climate change, resource depletion, disease. The Fermi Paradox hints that few civilizations last; we may very well be doomed.

And yet we fight. Every day, millions of idealists toil for a better world, sacrificing lives of comfort and ease in order that they may help build a brighter tomorrow. And great artists, meanwhile, remind the rest of us how eagerly we drive, at breakneck speed, toward catastrophe.

George Miller is such an artist. Since 1979, when the first of his apocalyptic Mad Max movies was released, the Australian director has, over the course of four films, created a war-torn landscape of oil-starved, bloodthirsty savages at war with the tattered remnants of civilization. Miller's vision reaches its apex in the magnificent Mad Max: Fury Road.

The plot is simple. Mad Max, a lone road warrior haunted by the deaths of those he loves and his entire fallen civilization, is ambushed by a pack of car-worshipping cultists and turned into a "Blood Bag," a source of fuel for the radiation-diseased maniacs. He is ultimately, though incidentally, rescued by Furiosa, a former disciple of the cult leader, Immortan Joe; her mission now is to rescue a small group of women from Immortan Joe's clutches. A frenetic car chase begins, a long action sequence with only brief but critical pauses, followed by a final confrontation and the hope of not only redemption, but reclamation of what little good is left of the world.

A plot synopsis cannot do justice to Miller's richly textured world. The characters inhabit a landscape blasted to bare sand and rock by nuclear fire, a place where little grows, where pathetic wretches scrabble for poisoned water in dank swamps. Immortan Joe's followers and slaves live in one of the rare oases of relative beauty and wealth; they have access to fresh water and even grow crops. The elites of this damaged society are bleached pale, living "half lives" of slow radiation poisoning, bald, thin, lips chapped; they look like skeletons. They worship the chrome, symbolic of the heavily tricked-out cars they drive, spray-painting their lips silver before going into battle or performing a particularly dangerous stunt; each driver has his own Wheel, which he carries to his vehicle and snaps into place before driving off.

In the shattered, diseased world they inhabit, Immortan Joe and his crew chase the perfection of humans unblemished by radiation poisoning; they jealously hoard the few undiseased women, breeding them in the hopes of raising a generation untouched by mutation. But it rarely happens, and when one henchman's mouthless son is born and dies on the road, he cries out defiantly to the other road warriors:

"I had a brother. I had a baby brother, and he was perfect, and he was beautiful."

How many other screen villains are portrayed with this level of sympathy or understanding? Mad Max and Furiosa and their band of women are unquestionably the heroes of the film, but their struggles are all the more compelling because the villains they face have genuine, heartfelt motivations that anyone could understand. Yes, they're barbaric; yes, they enslave people; yes, they murder. But after the apocalypse, what choice do they have?

There's a brief respite in the long chase sequence. Max, Furiosa and the freed slaves encounter Furiosa's old family, a group of aging, kickass women. Resting by starlight, they watch as a satellite passes overhead. One of the elders points and explains what the satellite was for. I paraphrase:

"Back in the time of plenty, there was no war, there was no hunger. They just relaxed and watched their shows. Everybody had a show."

More than any other scene, this moment illustrates why Fury Road is an important film, because it shows us, in the starkest possible terms, how lucky we are and how much we have to lose. The great tragedy here is how the elder misinterprets or misremembers the past; we do indeed live in a time of plenty, and there should be no war and no hunger. But there is, because we are foolish and wasteful, fearful and selfish, and that's why we stand to lose it all, to stumble blindly into the abyss, into a world very much like the one Miller envisions.

It's delightful that this is a film driven by women. They have agency; they take the initiative, moving the plot forward, making the hard decisions. Mad Max himself is the catalyst for the story, but he exists almost outside it, a temporary sidekick to Furiosa and her valiant crew.

The film is also, it must be said, wildly entertaining. The action sequences are crisp, beautifully executed and edited, with incredibly imaginative setpieces enhanced by cinematography epic in scope and scale. The art direction is spectacular; the vehicles in this film are like characters themselves, particularly the rock-concert-on-wheels, a flamboyant contraption that includes massive stacks of speakers, a full percussion ensemble, and a flamethrowing electric guitar.

Max Mad: Fury Road stands so far above modern action movies that it creates a class of its own - the thinking person's blockbuster, the action message film. Long after this year's crop of "important" Oscar-bait movies is forgotten, Mad Max: Fury Road will withstand the test of time, remembered not only as a genre classic, but a film worthy of critical analysis for decades to come.

I'll be very surprised if this doesn't turn out to be the very best film of the year. It is triumphant. It is sublime. And with every gorgeous frame, it shows us how much beauty there is in the world, and how easily we could lose it all.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Mountain in Montana

On a trip through Montana in 1983, while visiting this landmark, we were redirected on our way out of the parking lot by Secret Service agents protecting then Vice-President George H.W. Bush. It was a little surreal. The family's green Ford station wagon can be seen behind Dad. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I Want to Ride My Tricycle, I Want to Ride My Trike

I used to really get around on this tricycle in Thompson. I can still feel the texture of the hand grips. Sure, that I remember, but not playing mini golf in Calaway Park a decade or more later...

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Plastic Earl Man

This shot may have been taken the day I returned a volleyball serve by bouncing it into the basketball hoop on the other side of the court. I earned no points. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Fifth Hole

Sometime in the early 1980s Mom and Dad took us to Calway Park in Calgary. We played mini golf. And yet, even though I'm right there in the picture with my brother and father, I have no memory of it. I remember the roller coaster...but that's about it. It astounds me that we forget most of what we've done and where we've been. It seems a crippling disability to me, and yet we just live with it. 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Jeff vs. the Doom Patrol

Sometime in 1995, Jeff wandered into my living space and started to read an issue of Doom Patrol. His nonplussed expression was common among readers of the title. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

May 2015 Review Roundup

Oof, May was a brutal month in terms of books read - a mere five. I haven't read that few books in a month for years, but then G&G and an out-of-province funeral ate up over a week. Still, not great. 

The five I did manage to finish were Connie Willis' All Clear, The 10th Victim and Victim Prime by Robert Sheckley, and Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. As I suspected when reading Blackout, that novel and follow-up All Clear could easily have been condensed into one book half the size of either volume. Willis is usually a tighter writer than this. It's not that both books weren't enjoyable, it's that for the first time in my experience of Willis she belabours a theme nigh unto death. She's still better than 90 percent of writers working in the SF field today, of course. 

Ann Leckie is new to me and relatively new to the field; her two novels of artificial intelligence and gender ambiguity are fun and interesting, but a bit lightweight. As for Sheckley's Victim novels, both are rich with mordant humour and predict reality television by several decades. We haven't gone quite as far into bread and circuses as Sheckley imagines, but it can't be far off if things keep going as they are. 

Somehow I managed to catch over a dozen movies in May, though, partially due to marathoning my way through a gangster box set over a couple of weekend afternoons. In theatres I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road. The former is an entertaining but noisy, messy and predictable Marvel movie; you get exactly what it says on the tin, superhero action laced with humour. Mad Max: Fury Road, on the other hand, is a genuine masterpiece, one destined to be one of my favourites of the decade; in fact, it might very well be my favourite film of the 21st century thus far. But more on that in my in-depth review. 

This month's other big surprise was Kung Fury, a 30-minute love letter to 80s action movies crowdfunded via Kickstarter. It's the movie with everything: a renegade cop, laser raptors, Thor, Viking warrior women with chain guns, Nazis (led by Hitler, Kung Fuhrer), a robot arcade machine, time travel, and David Hasselhoff. While I was entertained by the film's trailer a few months back, I doubted the humour would hold up at feature length. Well, that hasn't been tested yet, but I laughed all the way through the short film's half hour, and I hold out hope that the planned full-length feature will be just as entertaining. 

It was only as I started typing this sentence that I realized with David Ayer's Fury, I wound up watching three movies with "fury" in the title in May. This was an accident, but a fortuitous one; Fury is a powerful World War II drama - intense, disturbing and poignant. Having seen Fury, I have high hopes for Ayer's Suicide Squad, being filmed now. 

Over the last couple of years I've been working my way through the Woody Allen canon, and in May I screened Crimes and Misdemeanors, perhaps my favourite of his works so far. Martin Landau is amazing as a successful but adulterous man who finds himself pushed into a corner - and sanctions murder as a result. It's moving, funny, suspenseful, and the ending will show you how powerful film can be when creators are brave enough to make difficult choices. 

Early in the month Sean and I watched The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It's a terrific thriller of the Cold War, a down-to-earth look at spies and the ugly, morally corrupt world they inhabit. We were both shocked by the ending - in a good but somewhat queasy way. This is a film that makes you uncomfortable, and art should do that from time to time. 

Pete organized a series of Western movie nights in his home theatre to get us pumped up for Gaming & Guinness X; I only manged to make one screening: Tombstone. I've seen this early '90s Western several times before, but it loses none of its charm, wit or thrills. And that cast! 

Friday, June 05, 2015

Gaming & Guinness X: The Fourth Day

On the last day of G&G X, we brought out Jeff Shyluk's beautiful custom starmap for A Call to Arms: Starfleet for the second time. It remains a huge hit.
This time around Steve suggested a free-for-all, with each player, no matter were they nominally Klingon or Federation, with his own specific objectives. Pete and Colin immediately turned on me, which was only fair, as I was gunning for Scott.
Rob would make a pretty intimidating Starfleet commander.
A nine-player free-for-all made for a pretty chaotic battlefield.
Mike, Mike and Scott consider their options.

Circvs Maximvs, the chariot racing game, has evolved into the signature event at G&G, with its custom miniatures and track, home made trophy, statuary, and Mike Totman's able refereeing.
Colin was out for blood, and as a result there were casualties all over the track right out of the gate.
The valiant fallen.
Quite a spectacular way to start a race.
There were some more casualties, but the race went pretty well for me - second place, my best showing ever! Mike Parlow triumphed, while Scott finished third.
It's hard to believe that we've spent ten years doing this - that we're all a decade older, moving from our thirties into our forties (for the most part) while enjoying the fruits of deep-rooted friendships.
No matter where life leads us all, I hope we're still doing this ten, twenty, thirty years from now...perhaps even longer.
Thanks to everyone for coming out and making it special, as always. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

"The Game of Thrones"

One of my colleagues at work hand-crafted an Iron Throne for Corporate Challenge. I knew immediately it was just the right scale for Captain Picard. One bad pun later, and we have an homage to one of the cheesiest episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as A Song of Ice and Fire

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Fallout 4 Trailer



The Fallout games are among my favourite diversions, rich in choice, challenge, lore, irony, humour, tragedy, action and worldbuilding. I'm very, very excited about this, and I can't wait to play it. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Corporate Challenge Trivia 2015

ATCO Electric Transmission tied for sixth place with 75 points, a very respectable score but not quite enough to earn Corporate Challenge points due to our narrow loss in the tiebreaker. First place was a mere 81 points; we second-guessed ourselves at least four times, and could have come in second or third if not for that. Ah well...still a pretty good run, and I was surprised to see Iain Getty on my team, who of course lived in the Main K Dungeon during our years at Lister Hall. Talk about a blast from the past! 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Gaming & Guinness X: The Third Day

Day Three of Gaming & Guinness X started off with a new marquee game, X-Wing Miniatures. Apparently the game is designed for two people, but given the right scenario it would seem to support any number of players, given a large enough table and ample patience.
Since I suggested X-Wing this year, I felt obliged to come up with a scenario. I came up with "Revenge of the Empire," in which Darth Vader and his squadron of TIE fighters hunt down the Rebels responsible for blowing up the Death Star: Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, Han Solo, and those Y-Wing guys that survived (I played the Y-Wing guys).
The game moves remarkably quickly, so nine players were not a burden to pacing at all. Here Darth Vader chases down Luke and Wedge. Colin was a little too eager to command Darth's TIE Advanced, but I wasn't going to argue. He had that murderous gleam in his eyes...
The sides were pretty equally balanced, point-wise; the Rebels had more powerful ships and generally better pilots, but the Imperials had numbers - and Darth Vader.
It got pretty crowded toward the end.
You can see Mike making the motions and sound effects to match the movements of his TIE fighters.

We had to bring X-Wing to an early close to drive out to Windermere for the Mad Max: Fury Road screening, but the game came to a respectable conclusion anyway: the Imperials succeeded in killing Luke Skywalker, but having taken a few casualties of their own, declared victory and fled to hyperspace.

You can read Steve's review of Mad Max: Fury Road here. I'll post my own review after finishing up my Gaming & Guinness posts.