Monday, October 31, 2016

Dulcet Dracula


One day in the early 1980s, while browsing through the record store in Leduc's one and only strip mall I found a compact cassette on sale for something in the neighbourhood of two or three dollars: Count Floyd is Back. As a fan of SCTV and Count Floyd, I figured I couldn't go wrong for a couple of bucks.

I wasn't wrong! The cassette features only a handful of tracks, but it's goofy fun all the way through. Some kind soul has uploaded my favourite to YouTube, seen above: "Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania." Happy Halloween! 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Apple of My I

If mine apple offend thee,
Pluck it hence from yonder tree;
Consider it a fruit for free
And never seek to bother me;
Nay, take thy apple now and fly
Use it to concoct a pie
Never ask the reason why;
It was the apple of my I. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Will I Build a Civilization to Stand the Test of Time?

Much as I love the various Civilization games, I must confess: I'm a terrible player. Throughout my career as a virtual head of state, victories have been few and far between. I continue that ignominious record with Civilization VI; so far, not only have I lost on Settler level difficulty (the easiest), I couldn't even defeat the single enemy found in the tutorial mode. I guess I'm just not cut out for shepherding my people to the promised land... 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Civ Weekend

Although my copy of Civilization VI appeared midweek and I did play for a couple of furtive hours on Tuesday night, I'm devoting this weekend to exploring the highly anticipated game in full as soon as I finish posting here tonight. It astounds me that I played the first Civilization on my Atari 520 ST back in 1992, when Ron and Allan and I were living in the Bleak House of Blahs. I wonder if I'll be around to play Civilization XII in about 50 years...well, not if I sit on my butt all the time playing Civilization, I suppose! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sunshine Around a Star

Sylvia has completed another trip around the sun! Happy Birthday, Sylvia! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The First Halloween

The earliest Halloween I remember is one that took place in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba. I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old, and I wore a simple ghost costume, created, of course, by Mom cutting a couple of holes in a bedsheet. Snow usually comes early to Leaf Rapids, and the snow that Halloween night was incredibly thick, the winds blustery, the temperatures bone-chilling. I carried a small plastic pumpkin that was quickly filled with the candy of compassionate neighbours. We didn't have to stay out long to get a good haul, thank goodness.

I can't remember if Mom escorted me and Dad stayed home to hand out candy, or vise versa. Whoever went with me got the raw end of that deal, as we came home shivering and soaked to the skin with precipitation.

My favourite treat back then were Kraft Softee Toffees, which seem not to exist anymore. Indeed, it seems few remember the chewy delicacies, if my fruitless Internet searches are anything to go by.

I remember three or four distinct flavours: chocolate (brown wrapper), coffee (green wrapper), rum and butter (pink wrapper?) and perhaps a simple "toffee" flavour, wrapper colour unknown. These things were even better than Kraft caramels, which now, sadly, only come in vanilla.

Does anyone remember Softee Toffees, or, for that matter, chocolate Kraft caramels? 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2001 Manitoba Farm Family of the Year

I shot this in 2009 while on a trip through Manitoba with my younger brother, Sean. It's one of a couple of dozen photos I shot with Mom and Dad's old T70 with black and white film. Unfortunately I didn't follow the rule of thirds, so the composition is flawed. I still enjoy the textures of black and white, though.

The Hodson family mentioned in the sign were the neighbours who bought the Etsell farm where our Mom was raised. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Long-Suffering Editor

I was the editor of our newspaper in high school, and I even had a cool newspaper-themed shirt to go with the job, which I'm wearing here, at the gathering that marked the end of our time in the Newspaper Club (and, incidentally, high school). I'm not sure why I'm covering my face, except perhaps to mourn the years I spent on the job, now forever left behind.

I wish I still had that shirt (and could still fit into it). 

Friday, October 21, 2016

All I Need is A Work of Art That Resembles a Tall Ship and a Star to Steer it By

...but alas, on the day this shot was taken on a summer day in 1986, it was cloudy. This is a photo of Expo 86, the World's Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia. There's no World's Fair this year; next year visit Astana, Kazakhstan, for Expo 2017. Oddly enough, Edmonton had considered a bid for that World's Fair. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Factory 1972

This photo was shot by Aunt Jean, Uncle John, or one of my parents. Something about it fascinates me. The image was shot from a vehicle, and captures some kind of industrial facility, perhaps a refinery or processing plant of some sort. It is very...of its time. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Enemy

While playing Fallout 4 the other day and dispatching of several foes with almost disheartening ease, I wondered about games of the future.

Many, if not most, computer games give the player character a number of advantages over the digital foes they must face. Players are inherently smarter than non-player characters (since we're humans with brains and AI isn't here yet), often stronger, faster, nimbler, and better equipped. The bad guys come in greater numbers, and some are more powerful than others. But generally speaking, if you play a computer role playing game long enough, eventually you will run out of foes to conquer.

What if, I wondered, you started a game of Fallout 6 or Elder Scrolls IX or Mass Effect 8 and these games had one or two enemies with the same advantages as a human player?

To use Fallout as an example, what if an enemy started at level one, just as you do, and began his or her own parallel adventure in the game, collecting perks, increasing his or her SPECIAL attributes, collecting loot and building hideouts just as you do? What if that mirror-foe had a personal quest in direct conflict with yours? Or what if, like you, it could choose to be good or evil within the context of the game? What if multiple paths for your enemy were possible? You might might him early in the game, or you might not meet her until the very end. You might discover each other while evenly matched - or not. You might fight to the death on first meeting or declare a truce. Maybe you could even be friends, and take on the wasteland together.

While I suspect gaming AIs aren't up to this task right now, I'll bet this idea or something like it will be implemented sometime in the next decade or so. The possibilities for richer gameplay are tremendous. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Westwoodsworld

The dying sun
Fat, swollen, red as a gunshot
Sinks into the ocean at dawn
While robot cowboys chase that lost light
On steeds of hot steel
No men remain

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moments Before the Moment

Slow angel
Falling from sphere to sphere
Layers peeling back
Whittled to the bone
And then even the bone worn down to shards
By the time it lands
There's nothing left
Except the sounds of ferals
Barking in the distance

Friday, October 14, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Spitting with Their Last Breath

Few people share my view that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the best of the Star Trek films, and I won't regurgitate my arguments for that view here. But I was just reminded of a small moment from the movie, something I imagine not many folks noticed or thought about, but that resonated with me nonetheless.

The picture opens with a trio of Klingon warships intercepting the movie's alien threat, V'Ger, a giant space cloud of unfathomable power. V'Ger easily wipes two of the three ships out of existence with giant bolts of energy. The surviving ship retreats, firing aft torpedoes in an effort to blow up the energy bolt pursuing them. One torpedo fails, swallowed up by V'Ger's implacable energy. At the very last second before impact, the Klingon ship fires one final torpedo, which is just as ineffective as the others. The last Klingon ship is obliterated.

I like a couple of things about this scene. First, the special effects, sound effects and music are handled marvelously. Second, I think it reveals something about the stubborn defiance of the Klingon character; to the very last instant they're fighting, even in the face of hopeless odds. It's one final attempt to poke their enemy in the eye.

For whatever reason, Robert Wise and his team went to the trouble to add another effects shot just to add a little extra flavour to an already fine scene. I appreciate that effort, even if it went mostly unnoticed by the majority of the audience. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cooking with the Clothes Dryer

Recently I've wondered if it's going possible to cook with the clothes dryer. Could you, for example, put a seasoned fish fillet in the dryer and run it for an hour, resulting in a juicy, hot treat? My mother is skeptical, but I'm tempted to give it a try. I can see cooking baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, and many other items in this manner. You could even dry your clothes at the same time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The First Priority

Last night I awoke on a sunny August afternoon in 1981. Realizing my good fortune, I ran to the nearest bookstore and hunted for as many desirable out of print books as I could find. But to my dismay, I already owned everything on the shelves.

Monday, October 10, 2016

McQuestionable

John Sturges made some great movies, including The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Eagle Has Landed, and The Satan Bug, among others. But 1974's McQ, starring John Wayne as a Dirty Harry-esque rogue cop seeking revenge for the death of his partner, is as limp and by-the-numbers an affair as I've seen in quite some time. As police detective and then private eye McQ, Wayne does his best to embody the spirit of the times, which rightly or wrongly seemed to assume the United States was slipping into a maelstrom of urban crime and corruption that couldn't be stopped. In the end it turns out that practically everyone has betrayed McQ, a twist that could have been interesting but instead just seems tired and overly cynical.

Still, if you want to see how Dirty Harry might have turned out had John Wayne accepted the role instead of passing it on to Clint Eastwood, this is worth a watch for curiosity's sake. 

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Legoland Fire House



Just a couple of hours ago Sean and I were talking about the stuff that's still being stored in Mom and Dad's basement, including a bunch of Lego, including the Legoland Fire House set I received as a birthday gift in the early 1970s. Coincidentally, one of the YouTubers I follow posted a video about that very set recently, and I just ran across it tonight. I can almost feel the plastic in my hands! 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

A Satisfying Knight

Tonight my brother Sean came over, and on a whim we watched the two-hour pilot episode of the 1980s action hit Knight Rider - in high definition, no less.

For those too young to remember Knight Rider, it's about a man, Michael Knight, and his amazing car, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, or K.I.T.T., an artificially intelligent, indestructible, super-fast Trans Am with a wide range of James-Bondian special features. Together, Michael and K.I.T.T. fight crime.

The pilot introduces viewers to Michael Long, an undercover cop who is shot in the face and left for dead only to be rescued by the mysterious Knight Industries. His face is reconstructed and he lives again as Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff). In this first adventure, Michael, K.I.T.T. and his benefactors at Knight Industries track down the industrial spies who "killed" Micheael Long, bringing them to justice and setting the stage for four more years of adventures.

The show is every bit as entertaining as I remember from my teenage years. It's actually a little - just a little - smarter than I remember, at least in this initial outing. The car's technological feats are outlandish, of course, but a little less so today with self-driving vehicles on the horizon. Hasselhoff is an amiable star with narrow but serviceable emotional range, and the scripting is just as smart as it has to be for this sort of genre fare.

My favourite moment of the pilot derives from a sub-plot involving two car thieve who want K.I.T.T.; they think it's merely a very nice Trans Am. At one point, frustrated by their failure to break into the car with a lockpick, one of the thieves hefts a brick.

"Oh, please let it bounce off the window and hit him in the face," Sean said. And that's almost exactly what happens. The thief heaves the brick, and it bounces off the bulletproof side window and hits his partner squarely in the face. Michael Knight then arrives and drives off, blissfully unaware of the attempted robbery. Sean and I both howled.

As cheesy as action-adventure television of the 1980s could be, I find a lot to admire in them. The heroes are refreshingly unconflicted in their pursuit of justice and decency, the stories are simple but timeless, and the occasional clever thread of social commentary works its way into the narrative. It's also just plain fun to observe the fashion, architecture, design and technology of the times; at one point Devon, Michael's handler, speaks to him via a huge mobile phone held in a briefcase.

I look forward to screening the rest of the show over the course of the next few months. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Edmonton Skyline 1998

Back in 1998, I obtained permission to shoot some photographs from the top of Fort Garry House on Saskatchewan Drive. Bruce and Akemi handled the actual professional photography while I puttered around with my own camera, resulting in this underwhelming, backlit skyline of Edmonton's downtown as seen from across the North Saskatchewan River. I "fixed" the image as best I could with Photoshop, but it's still pretty bad. One day I'll learn how to be a real photographer...

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Snow Place Like Home

The author in a snowsuit in Thompson sometime in 1971 or 1972. 
There's a lot more snow there today. Wear your mittens!

I'm seeing reports on Twitter and Facebook that my old home towns of Flin Flon, Thompson, Leaf Rapids and Cranberry Portage are under siege from snow, with Leaf Rapids in particular getting at least 60 cm of snow with up to 15 cm more on the way by day's end. Winter always came thick and fast in northern Manitoba. I hope everyone's hunkered down with supplies and a good book or two. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sour Surprise

Our friend Steven visited for a few days. Early Tuesday morning, just before his scheduled departure, I found him in the kitchen sitting down to enjoy a bowl of Raisin Bran. And why not? I told him to help himself to anything in the fridge or pantry. Nonetheless, I was puzzled:

"We had milk?" I asked. Our fridge is often bereft of such staples.

"Yep," he said, laying into the cereal with a will.

"That's weird," I thought. "I was sure I drank the last of the milk a few days ago."

I thought nothing of it until late that evening, when Sylvia cried out:

"EARL! Did Steven have cereal?"

"Yes, he had it for breakfast just before he left."

"I think he used expired milk!"

Oh oh.

I checked the fridge. On the top shelf was the suspect container, and the Best Before date read September 10.

Sylvia and I were horrified. We'd poisoned our house guest! Our haphazard approach to throwing out old food had finally caught up with us!

I texted Steven to see if he was all right. He replied that there were no ill effects, save perhaps "...a little more gas than usual."

Saved by Steven's iron stomach! Still, we're very embarrassed. We don't set out to make our guests sick. We'd rather offer the milk of human kindness. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Petulant Pet Peeve: Sticky Stickers on Books and Movies

It's a first world problem if ever there was one: the ticklish task of removing stickers from books and DVD packages. Sensible retailers use stickers with light adhesive so that they're easy to remove. But some cruel miscreants use stickers with what seems like Krazy Glue, making them almost impossible to remove without damaging the cover/packaging. I HATE THIS. Stop preventing me from reading my back cover copy, sticker-putters-on-ers! 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday with Steven

It's always nice when old friends come to visit, and this weekend and I Sylvia and I have the pleasure of hosting Steven Neumann, who I met waayyyyy back in 1987 at a University of Alberta Star Trek Club meeting. I wasn't even 20 back then, and now we're closing in our 50s fast. Yikes.