Monday, October 23, 2017

Five Little Mobsters

As you can see, my painting still needs a LOT of work. While I've been trying to put some tips from Stephen and Jeff into practice, my clumsy hands need much more practice. So very bad. 

These are board game figurines for use with Fortune and Glory, in which players take on the role of adventurers trying to save the world while enjoying Republic serial-style cliffhanger escapades. I'm painting the included miniatures in an effort to make the game more immersive. As it stands, I'm afraid my lumbering incompetence may prove more of a distraction than anything, but we'll see how it goes. It's good to try something new, even if (perhaps especially if) it's outside my core strengths. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Early Computer Art

I made this sometime between, oh, grades 8 to 11, probably on some form of Apple - a II or a IIe. I have no idea what software I used to make it, or why I kept this printout. But here it is, my homage to Colossus: The Forbin Project

Friday, October 20, 2017

Wood Glue

The best way to stick two broken pieces of wood together -
Wood glue
It won't bring a tree back to life

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Good Place

Over the course of the last few evenings I watched the first season of The Good Place, in which a mean, spiteful young woman named Eleanor (the delightful Kristen Bell) dies and finds herself in--well--the good place, where good people go when they die. To say much more would be to spoil the fun, and there's plenty of fun to be had. I hope season two comes to Netflix soon, because the first season ended on one hell of a cliffhanger... 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Star Trek Continues

Here's the second-to-last episode of Star Trek Continues, the fan film effort that's done a pretty amazing job of capturing the tone and spirit of the original show. This time around Canadian Nebula-winning novelist Robert J. Sawyer wrote the teleplay, which depicts the end of the Enterprise's five-year mission by taking it back to the beginning...

Part one is extremely well done. I look forward to the finale, which hits the Internet in November. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Paperclips Part II

I didn't screenshot it for fear of spoiling the ending, but the Paperclips game I blogged about a few days ago turned out to be a very satisfying experience with very interesting hidden depths. It's a thoughtful piece of art, but if you try it, keep one thing in mind (thanks, Mike!): don't buy more than 33 processors until you get over the 70 memory threshold. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Learn How 2 Amazing Techniques Will Trick You Into Reading This Blog Post

1. Write a headline that sums up the topic and promises a quick, easy read
2. Deliver on the headline's promise

At least, that's what I learned at work today--some basic principles to optimize your content for search engines. I rarely use this approach on The Earliad, but as a service to the reader I'll put more thought into my headlines. I'm hoping for two outcomes: I'll be more respectful of the time of my readers, and I'll improve on a skill (that is, effective headline writing). 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Choosing Your Pain


"Choose Your Pain" reintroduces Star Trek fans to the irascible Harcourt Fenton Mudd, this time played not by Roger C. Carmel, but Rainn Wilson. Not only is Wilson's portrayal consistent with Mudd's character as we came to know him in three episodes of the original series (counting his one animated appearance), the creators also give us some of his backstory and even some justification for his famous attitude toward Starfleet.

Mudd's introduction here is smooth and well-integrated into this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, but as enjoyable as it is, there's much more going on. We get to know a little bit more about Captain Lorca's motivations, his friendships (and not) with Starfleet brass, and his response to stress. We also finally get to meet Ash Tyler, who joins the cast as an escaped prisoner of war who we are led to believe was raped by his Klingon captor.

In brief, the episode's story goes like this: after a meeting with the Admiralty on a Starbase, Captain Lorca is kidnapped by Klingons, who torture him in an effort to learn how the Discovery manages to be seemingly everywhere at once during the war. He's imprisoned with Tyler and Mudd; meanwhile, First Officer Saru has to find and rescue the captain before he can reveal any information. But there's a wrinkle: the spore drive is slowly killing the tardigrade, which means that each use of the drive brings the crew closer to the day they won't be able to use the drive at all.

Naturally the rescue is successful, but the episode subverts a couple of audience expectations - notably, mine. Last week I theorized that the mushroom drive would ultimately fail because the evolved human ethics of the 23rd century would make torturing an animal for such ends unconscionable. While that theme is developed in this episode, Stamets, Tilly and Burnham find a workaround: by gene splicing mushroom DNA into a human subject, they discover they can power the drive with a volunteer - in this case, Stamets himself. Burnham and Tilly release the tardigrade, neatly solving the ethical problem.

But now, of course, audiences are left to wonder why, since the drive now appears ethically viable, it doesn't appear in Star Trek shows set later in the franchise's internal chronology? I guess I'll have to come up with another theory.

The escape from the Klingon prison ship features a couple of very interesting choices: the weapons Lorca and Tyler steal vaporize their enemies, something rarely seen on Star Trek since the original series. I appreciated this touch, as vaporization always seemed more horrifying to me than the "kill" effect seen on The Next Generation and later shows; at least there was a body to bury in the latter series. Being vaporized means poof! you're gone, as if you never existed. And both sides, in the original series, used this technology. It's macabre, but I find it gave the original series a chilling edge, and I'm glad to see the effect come back here; lethal weapons should be horrifying.

I also found it horrifying - and revealing - that Lorca and Tyler left Mudd behind. They had some reason for doing so, but can you imagine Captain Kirk - who loathed Mudd - leaving him to such a fate? Never. Tyler I can excuse, being thoroughly traumatized by his experience, but Lorca had an obligation to rescue any civilian in that situation. I have a feeling this will come back to bite him.

This was another solid episode, perhaps my favourite of the series thus far. The Discovery's crew is starting to act more altruistically than in episodes past, more in keeping with who they should be, given the utopian setting (even in wartime). Saru gets some more character development. And there were a couple of delightful easter eggs, particularly the name-drop of Robert April and Christopher Pike; in fact, this episode brings Robert April into the Star Trek canon officially, as his one previous appearance was limited to the quasi-canon animated series. (Robert April was Gene Roddenberry's initial captain of the Enterprise/Yorktown early in the development of the original series.)

One final note: I was a little stunned to hear two f-bombs dropped on tonight's episode. I'm not opposed to the use of earthier language in Star Trek, but were it me, I would have saved it for a more dramatic moment - something earned, rather than thrown away for shock value. But all in all - a strong installment.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


This is interesting: a game in the incremental genre that asks you to manufacture paperclips. I think I've already messed up, because I'm having a hard time making my computer powerful enough to complete the projects listed in the middle column. I seem to be doing pretty well in the stock market, though.

The game reveals itself as you play; I get the feeling that there's some kind of creepy undertone to all this, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

You can try it yourself here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pizza in a Glass

Yesterday's post about bad movie nights in the early 1990s reminded me of the time the same group of friends went to Pizza Hut for their incredibly cheap all-you-can-eat pizza night. I don't remember which of us this happened to--was it me?--but while the waitress was making her rounds, the grease-laden pepperoni pizza she was doling out skated across the surface of her platter and landed, point first, in a full glass of Coke, rendering both inedible and messing up someone's shirt. We all got a good laugh out of it, though. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Wrong Turn

Many years ago--sometime during the early-to-mid 1990s--I was out with my friends Jeff, Susan, Tony, Steven and Ron. Carrie and Allan may have been there too. We were out searching for films to play for our semi-regular bad movie night. Back in those halcyon days, we would visit video rental stores and pore over racks and racks of VHS cassettes. Sometimes the trip itself was as fun or more than the movies themselves.

In this particular instance, we spotted a video store in the Oliver district of Edmonton, in the strip mall that hosts a Brit's Fish & Chips now. We sauntered in and started browsing, and within a few minutes we all realized that the entire store consisted only of the porn was, in fact, an adult video store, a fact that all of us somehow missed. We skittered out, tittering nervously, faces flushed with embarrassed laughter. We were all close, but not so close that we had any interest in perusing pornography together; we were not nearly so hip.

I don't recall if we regrouped to find another video store or if we wound up playing board games or something. It's funny how some memories stick, while others flutter off into invisibility. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grey Industries

On the long weekend, I spent some time finishing my Lego Assembly Square modular building. I divide the pieces by colour before assembly, sometimes sticking them together so they don't roll off the table. Quite accidentally, I created what looks to me like a future industrial development in miniature. Not long after, I went to see Blade Runner: 2049, and while my impromptu creation looks nothing like the stunning industrial visuals in that film, I do find the thematic similarities evocative. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Wheel of Infamy

Back in the pre-Internet days, software piracy was still a thing - people would make copies of floppy discs and trade games. Naturally software companies did their best to defeat these nefarious fiends, using creative copy protection devices packed into the game boxes. I don't remember ever having a pirated copy of Battle of Britain, nor do I even remember the game at all, but I found this  copied copy protection wheel in one of my old high school binders while doing some cleaning yesterday. Someone was industrious, and I'm sure it wasn't me; I've never had the manual dexterity  necessary to cut out those little windows. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wielding the Butcher's Knife

for episode four of

In "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry," we begin to see more explicitly what Star Trek: Discovery is about, at least in my still-hopeful view: the rocky road to finding a civilization's soul.

In this episode, Captain Lorca and the Discovery crew are still trying to perfect their mycelium drive, which, I presume, uses quantum entanglement to transport the ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously. It turns out the key to the drive is the tardigrade creature that wound up leading to the demise of the USS Glenn last episode. The only problem is, the tardigrade doesn't have any say in the purpose it's being used for, and so far only Michael Burnham seems to have a problem with that, though she does go along with it. It's been established in other Star Trek shows that future humans don't use animals for food, labour or other purposes anymore (though they do ride horses and keep pets). Here, ten years before the original series, most humans don't seem to be so high-minded. The episode's title is a pretty big clue that we can expect to see two conflicting views expressed by the characters in the near future: those who argue that using the tardigrade is immoral, and those who argue that winning the war with the Klingons is well worth the life of a perhaps non-sapient creature. Captain Lorca and mycologist Paul Stamets are the butchers here, while the tardigrade is the lamb and Burnham the lost soul torn between duty and compassion. Hey, it's not like Star Trek has ever been particularly subtle, right? White side on the left good, black side on the left bad!

This episode also includes some pretty interesting character reversals and departures, all of which caught me by surprise - again, definitely a new direction for Star Trek, and, so far, a welcome one.

Character-wise, it feels very real and honest to see Michael Burnham in a state of deep mourning for all she's lost, an advantage of this Trek's deliberately arc-based, rather than episodic, format. I'm also enjoying the further development of Sylvia Tilly, Paul Stamets, and Saru; each has significant character notes this episode, and the performances are excellent. Lorca is a bit one-note this time around, but the story demands it in this case; his job is to be the at-all-costs warrior at the moment, and he certainly sells it.

One final kudo: I love the mycelium drive special effects, including the silly but very retro, very fun spinning saucer section. It felt like a callback to the kind of pulp SF I love.

I suspect that we don't see the mycelium drive (I think I'll call it the mushroom drive, actually) in later series because of the animal rights aspect. An episode of Star Trek: Voyager features a very similar scenario, and Captain Janeway and her crew were horrified by the spectacle. I imagine the mushroom drive will be banned after this first season, in tandem with the completion of Burnham's inevitable redemption arc. Of course, that means they're going to have to come up with an entirely different arc for season two...

Saturday, October 07, 2017

1987 Fish Haiku

Blurry and blue fish
Twitching his way to freedom
At the toilet's bottom

Friday, October 06, 2017

Jeff's Personal Fame Meter

As is my wont, I sometimes write "as is my wont." But also as is my wont, I also sometimes, and not just because I'm feeling sick or lazy, use this blog to advertise the work of other bloggers. In this case, I'd like to direct Earliad reader's to a JSVB post from a couple of days ago, in which you can view the current status of Jeff's Personal Fame Meter. Not only is the Fame Meter well executed, I quite enjoy the dry wit evidenced in the work. Oh, and there's some football stuff there for sports fans, and an "I'm Nearly Famous" callback to my days when an actor gave me a button with those words way back in 1985 when I appeared in a pilot on CBC. Still nearly famous, never quite getting there...thankfully. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Not Much Energy for Jawing

I had to have a small chunk of bone removed from my jaw the other day, and my reaction to the anesthetic and painkillers has been less than ideal. But boy howdy, was I ever impressed by the professionalism of the doctors, nurses and support staff at Kingsway Oral Surgery. They really went the extra mile looking out for my health, even beyond the fix I was there for. I'm very grateful for their expertise, experience and compassion, and to Pete for picking Sylvia and me up after the operation was done I feel lucky to be Canadian this week! 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Keep ‘em Laughing

Yesterday I had some minor surgery on my jaw, and the doctors knocked me unconscious for the duration of the operation. When I awoke, I felt something stuffed into my mouth. I couldn't open my eyes or move my body to see what it was, but I could bawl out the question: "Hey! Wash ish thish im my mouff?"

"It's just some gauze to stop the bleeding, sir," someone answered.

"Well, that's gauze for concern!" I retorted, laughing hysterically. "Gauze for concern!"

I don't think anyone else laughed.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Cornet Blue

Last weekend, I finished watching one-season wonder Coronet Blue, a short-lived 1967 television series about a man who survives a murder attempt and awakens an amnesiac, remembering only the words "Coronet Blue." While the premise is great, the episodes themselves are a bit underwhelming; "Michael Alden" (the name taken by the main character) makes a coffee shop his home base, and his adventures are funded, for no good reason, by the coffee shop owner he meets in the pilot episode. I guess he just feels sorry for the guy? Michael spends thirteen  episodes dodging the occasional assassin and halfheartedly pursuing leads to "Coronet Blue," whatever that might be.

Years later, series creator Larry Cohen revealed it was the name of a Soviet spy ring; "Michael Alden" was set to defect to the United States when his buddies tried to kill him. Cohen is better known for the much more successful The Invaders, the It's Alive movies, and the infamous God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, among other cult genre oddities. I was expecting more from a Cohen creation, but compared to his other work Coronet Blue is pretty pedestrian. (To be fair, according to an interview with Cohen included as an extra on the DVD set, he didn't have much to do with the show's actual production.)

Catchy theme song, though! 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Discovery Episode Three: "Context is for Kings"

SPOILERS for "Context is for Kings." You've been warned!

Star Trek: Discovery continues to hold my interest with "Context is for Kings," the first episode to feature the titular starship and its captain, the driven and mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Michael Burnham, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her actions in the show's first two episodes, winds up on the Discovery as a consultant to Captain Lorca, a situation that discomfits most of the rest of Discovery's crew.

Through Burnham's eyes, we meet Lorca early on, introduced in shadow with a really beautiful  special effect: eyes full of stars. It's one of a couple of interesting directorial touches from Akiva Goldsman, who I've disparaged for his by-the-numbers writing efforts; he seems to be a better director than screenwriter. The other touch occurs in a lab and shows the passage of time by fading crew members in and out of invisibility. Historically, Star Trek shows haven't used visual metaphor much, and it's nice to see the producers experimenting with these techniques. Lorca's starry eyes hint (perhaps deceptively) at his vision for the future, and highlight dialogue that explains he's suffering from an eye injury incurred during the war. "The doctors told me I had to stay in the shadows a bit if I wanted to keep my own eyes...and I do."

Burnham is brought aboard to help Lorca and the Discovery research a new means of propulsion, one that could change the tide of the war in the short term, and open up the whole galaxy to much faster exploration in the long term. But something's gone wrong on the USS Glenn, Discovery's sister ship, and Burnham and an away team board the stricken Glenn to discover what happened to her crew. A very effective horror sequence kicks off, and naturally Burnham plays a key role in recovering important information and helping the boarding party escape with their lives. But she's not redeemed yet - nowhere close.

Aside from the visual touches, I appreciated Burnham's response to her situation in this episode. She's genuinely remorseful and committed to serving her time for her crimes. She doesn't make excuses or get defensive; she accepts that former colleagues and new associates fear and mistrust her. She only accepts posting on the Discovery because Lorca makes a convincing argument that she can, perhaps, help end the war she started with the Klingons, and therefore save lives. I also enjoyed the care and attention paid to production design, from the Discovery's interior and exterior details to the very believable prison shuttle craft. We get to see a little more Saru, so far the show's breakout character, who's been promoted to First Officer of Discovery and remains more than a little wary of Burnham, while recognizing her talents. We also meet the prickly genius Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), whose endearing nervousness and enthusiasm are quite refreshing given the more serious dispositions of the show's other players. Already, I want to see more of these characters - a good sign.

Star Trek: Discovery has, so far, improved with each episode. If they can keep this up, it could transition from good to great.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Personalized junk mail! Nice try, Kia West Edmonton, but no, I'm not trading in my car for the sake of having a newer model. I will drive it until it wears out. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Genocide in the Catacombs

I have locked myself in the bathroom, leaning hard against the bucking door. The two blonde thugs on the other side are doing their best to kick it down with their jackbooted feet. It is my last, desperate stand.

Inevitably, my strength gives way. I hop backwards, raising my hands in surrender as the door bursts open. One of the thugs, sneering, preppie-menacing in a white cardigan, grabs me by the upper arm and hauls me through the living room and out of the apartment, into the great underground concrete warrens I call home.

The second fascist is uniformed and rigidly formal. There is a lovely young woman with long brown hair waiting in the corridor; she’s frightened, and looks like she wants to flee. But the uniformed fascist hands her a large glass beaker, the size of a full-grown pumpkin; it’s filled with swirling, cloudy green gas. He orders the woman to take it down a short flight of steps to a furnace room. We follow, and the fascist in the white sweater directs the woman to pour the gas into an empty brick fireplace that’s connected to the air vents.

I suddenly realize what’s happening. “That’s nerve gas, you fools!” I scream. “You’ll kill us all!”

Already the young woman spasms in agony, her eyes wide, terrified, as she’s enveloped in the deadly cloud. I sprint away in a blind panic, expecting the fascists to give chase, but they only smile knowingly, not caring as they disappear into the spreading cloud of mist. I dart into a supply room and hastily cover myself in the blue fluid that offers some minimal protection from nerve gas, but I know it won’t be enough, and I charge down the corridors looking for an exit. Around me people gasp and stagger and fall as they’re overcome.

There! A ladder to the surface. I grab hold of the rungs and start to climb, but it’s too late; my vision flashes blue and green, and every muscle seizes up at once. Everything goes black, and I awaken into the darkness of our bedroom, wide-eyed. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Discovering Discovery

SPOILERS for the first two episodes of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

After a dozen years, Star Trek returned to television last night in its newest incarnation, Star Trek: Discovery. Set ten years before the events of the original television series, Discovery is the story of Michael Burnham, (Sonequa Martin-Green), a Starfleet officer and orphan raised on Vulcan by none other than Sarek (James Frain), father of Spock.

When we're introduced to Burnham in the first episode, "The Vulcan Hello," she's serving as the First Officer of the USS Shenzhou under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). After rescuing some friendly crab-like aliens from a drought, the Shenzou is tasked with investigating a malfunctioning relay beacon at the edge of Federation space. When Burnham discovers the cause of the malfunction and the familiar aliens behind it, the stage is set for what I assume will be the series' first-season arc: war with the Klingons, reimagined here as a brutish "Make America Great Again" analogue.

The two-part opener (comprised of "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars" gets the show off to a strong start. While burdened with some clunky exposition, moments of stilted line delivery, and one eye-rolling moment in the pre-credits teaser, Star Trek: Discovery succeeds where it counts, telling an interesting, meaningful story with flawed but sympathetic characters. Burnham makes a series of serious mistakes that arguably cost a great number of lives--and she faces believable consequences for her actions. The Klingons have an understandable motive for their actions, and they have depth; these aren't cookie-cutter cartoon villains. The supporting characters are well drawn, with the alien Saru (Doug Jones) a real standout.

As is usually the case with Star Trek shows, production design, costuming and special effects are all state-of-the-art for the era. The opening credit sequence is quite handsome and a real departure from those that preceded it.

Perhaps most importantly, the show takes chances. The two opening hours end without a trace of the titular USS Discovery or most of the show's main cast. Presumably they'll be introduced next week, in episode three, "Context is for Kings." Instead of a traditional pilot episode, we're given what amounts to two hours of backstory--but entertaining backstory it is, and should, in theory, add resonance to the show's first season arc.

Given the show's behind-the-scenes production drama and the involvement of Akiva Goldsman, my expectations for Star Trek: Discovery were very low. But I find myself pleasantly surprised. It's too early to say whether or not this will reach the heights of the original series, The Next Generation, or Deep Space Nine, I think it's safe to say it's already off to a more promising start than Voyager or Enterprise

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autumnal Geekquinox 2017

Yesterday Pete, with Ellen's sterling assistance, brought us yet another moutwatering, belly-bursting Geekquinox feast. "I can't break away!"...from the table, because I'm stuffed to the brink of drooling unconsciousness.
This is candied bacon, with brown sugar and a hint of heat. I've been somewhat skeptical regarding the candied bacon trend, but it works - this went down very smoothly.
I love seafood and I love bacon, so I wound up downing three or four of these delectable bacon-wrapped shrimp. Utterly heavenly.
The chili verde was my favourite dish; it was incredibly savoury, with generous chunks of tender pork. I may actually ask Pete for the recipe; I love this stuff so much that I'm motivated to try to cook it myself, since I can't very well ask Pete to come over and cook it for me once or twice a week.
A Facebook request from Sylvia, though she didn't know it, inspired Pete to create these remarkable prosciutto potato roses. Actually, maybe this was my favourite, the chili. But it's close.
I was too busy gulping down the main course to get a photo. For the record, it consisted of porchetta (very, very tender pork belly with some sort of incredible stuffing) bacon mashed potatoes (too delicious by half), grilled cabbage (surprisingly excellent), and green beans with...some kind of pork I can't remember. In lieu of dinner, here's a shot of dessert: ice cream with chocolate sauce, maple bacon and homemade toffee. The homemade toffee alone was delectable, but in combination with all this--exquisite.

Another incredible meal, another great evening with a group of dear friends. Thanks again, Pete and Ellen! As ever, I am amazed by your dedication and near-insane level of commitment to this event. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mirror Maniac in Colour

Today I painted my custom Mirror Maniac figure, my avatar for my adventures in the four-colour world of Villains & Vigilantes. As you can see, my brushwork is a little, er, crude. But at least it looks better than the unpainted original...I think? Argh, the flesh paint is pouring over his mirrorshades.
Here's the rear view. I tried to colour the shield so as to look wooden, but with metal parts. Results: decidedly mixed.

I'm actually happier with the Zeppelin in the background; that's a game piece from my copy of Fortune & Glory, a board game. Mind you, it was a lot easier to paint. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Primed for Painting

Tomorrow, I will finally prime the many board game and RPG miniatures I've accumulated over the years. Then, I shall attempt to paint them, the better to create a sense of immersion while I game. Stay tuned for the results! 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Another Lost Video Project

Another two hours lost trying to create a video for the blog. I've tried to have fun editing video for years, but only rarely does the software - and I've tried many, many kinds of software - cooperate. Usually, my computer crashes and loses all of my work, as it's done yet again tonight. Tons and tons of raw footage and nothing to show for it because of this persistent curse.

Blogging while angry again. Never a good idea. Does anyone know of PC video editing software that can handle multiple file formats and WON'T CRASH? I bought a high-end computer precisely so I could do this stuff. ARRGGHHHHH.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Earl's ABCs

In 1971, Mom used our reel-to-reel audio tape recorder to capture my three-year-old voice. You can hear mom suppressing a laugh when I clearly fail to understand that she wants me to count to ten, but I make up for this initial obliviousness by making it all the way up into the teens. A somewhat garbled recitation of the ABCs follows, and then Mom asks me what I want for Christmas. "The aiport," I answer. I think I must have been talking about the Fisher-Price airport toy, which I did indeed receive, and loved. Thanks, Mom and Dad! 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Search My Blog!

Did you know that Blogger includes a search function? I just discovered it now, despite having curated this blog for...zounds, over a decade! You can search The Earliad by typing your search terms into the little window in the upper-left corner of your browser, as illustrated above. This'll make it easier for me when I'm attempting to follow up on old posts!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

All About Alliums

At least, I think these are alliums. Shot at Hole's, St. Albert, Alberta, 1998. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Mirror Maniac

This is a plastic 30mm representation of my Villains & Vigilantes hero, the Mirror Maniac. He started out by calling himself Mirror Man, but his penchant for laughing at violent pratfalls during battle led the media to add the extra syllable. 

This is the first thing I've ever had 3D-printed; I used Hero Forge to design the character, and then the company printed and shipped it. I'll paint it soon. 

The Mirror Maniac is so named because of his ability to reflect the attacks of others right back at them, and his secondary ability to shape-shift, with perfect fidelity, into a wide range of inanimate objects. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Earl's Film World

Here's the last of the stats Letterboxd Pro currently tracks - a world map that reveals how many films you've seen by country of production. Unfortunately, the map includes a whole bunch of Hollywood films that had elements of production taking place outside the USA, which makes it look like I've had a lot more exposure to world cinema than it would first appear. I have seen my fair share of legitimately British, Japanese, Indian, French and German films, but this map should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Earl's Directors

According to Letterboxd, this is my list of most-watched directors. Having watched all but one of Charlie Chaplin's many films, it's no surprise that he's at the top. But who is William K.L. Dickson, you ask? He's one of the pioneers of film, and as I've been watching a bunch of films from the early days of the medium, folks like Dickson, Georges Melies, Louis Lumiere and William Heise wind up on my list. Of course, a bunch of their films are only a few minutes, or even just a few seconds, long.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Stars in My Eyes

Letterboxd Pro tracks the films I watch, and from that database it's generated a list of my most-watched actors. I'm dismayed that there are only two women and one actor of colour on the list, but I'm unsurprised by the rest of the tally, save perhaps for the inclusion of Dick Miller, who as it turns out was in a bunch of 80s genre films I've seen. (In fact, I've actually seen 25 of his films - reviewing his list of credits reveals that I forgot to log InnerSpace, which I saw in theatres way back in 1987. It's these haphazard connections that have helped me make my Letterboxd inventory more accurate as time goes by.)

I didn't recognize Bess Flowers when Letterboxd first generated this list. As it turns out, she's one of Hollywood's most prolific actresses, appearing in over 700 films, including 23 Best Picture nominees, five of which won the award. Bess probably appears on a lot of Most Watched Stars list for this reason - if you're a film fan, it seems you can hardly avoid her. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Life in Film: Genres and List Progress

A few days ago, I wrote about my Letterboxd Pro subscription and the cool stats it generates about my film-viewing habits. This is another set of my Letterboxd data: my genre, country of origin, and language breakdown, my progress on some notable lists, and my most-watched films, which comes with a huge caveat I'll explain below.

Friends of mine might be surprised that science fiction isn't at the top of my genre list, and indeed I'm surprised that it manages to rank only fourth. However, I don't know how Letterboxd assigns genres to films - there could very well be a number of films I would call miscategorized - and given my proclivity for attempting to watch all the films of certain directors like Hitchcock and Chaplin, who produced very little SFnal content, the results start to make a little more sense.

I seem to be doing pretty well on most of the lists Letterboxd deems important, though I clearly need to catch up with Sight & Sound's top 250, one of the most important of the film crit lists. I'd never heard of Edgar Wright's 1,000 favourites before these statistics were generated, but apparently I've seen nearly half of his choices.

The "Most Watched" list is only as good as the data any given user inputs, and even I'm not crazy enough to log every single instance of every film I've ever watched. I'll log re-watches now, of course, but I've resisted the temptation to go back and try to reconstruct every single time I watched Star Wars, for example.

The five films you see on this list are there because once I saw the data was being generated, I figured I may as well try to nudge it in a reasonably accurate direction. For example, I know I've seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture:

  • During its original run
  • At the Paramount Theatre during the 1991 Sit Long and Prosper event
  • When it was first released on VHS
  • When it was released again on VHS in a box set with the other films
  • When it was first released on DVD
  • When it the Director's Cut was released on DVD
  • When it was released on Blu-Ray
Of course I watched the VHS tape many times in the 80s, and I've seen the DVDs more than once. The same is true for the other films in this section. But trying to reconstruct this particular movie ephemera is hardly worth the effort. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Return of Villains & Vigilantes

Some months ago, Sean and I and Jeff and Jeremiah Pitts supported a Kickstarter for the third edition of Villains & Vigilantes, a game we'd all enjoyed back in the - gulp - 1980s. Last night we gathered, along with Jeff's son Connor, for the first game of V&V we'd played in many years, save for a short one-off adventure back in 2007, part of my bachelor party. My character, seen here in the foreground, is the Mirror Maniac, a young man with reflective powers and the ability to turn himself into different inanimate objects. (I'm using a HeroClix Invisible Kid to stand in for my character while I await my custom-built miniature in the mail.)

Last night's short adventure saw the four of us attempt to stop a robbery on Whyte Avenue. I was in my civilian identity, shopping at Chapter's, when the call for help rang out. I quickly changed into my costume and dashed across the street--but I failed to look both ways, and was hit by a passing car. I was flung 30 feet and lost six hit points. It was an ignominious debut for the Mirror Maniac, but we managed to capture the villains and recover the artifact they'd attempted to steal. Huzzah! 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Some More Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return


In my last post about the return of Twin Peaks, I neglected to mention some of the factors that contributed to my admiration for the third season:

  • Each episode completely captured my attention, holding me riveted to the screen. It's been ages since any television show achieved that feat. 
  • Miraculously, the production team kept the show's secrets held very close; no episodes were spoiled. 
  • I never knew what was coming next. Having watched countless hours of film and television, I've gotten very good at spotting formulas and predicting character and story arcs well before their conclusion. I utterly failed to predict anything about Twin Peaks
  • I didn't dare hope for it, but Major Briggs' beautiful vision about Bobby's future from season two actually played out in season three. Bobby's redemption and growth were beautiful to see. 
  • I absolutely love that several important characters from the show's first two seasons had pivotal roles to play in the unfolding of season three, particularly Deputy Andy, probably my second-favourite character, who has a great extended moment in one of the later episodes. 
  • I loved the many touches of quirky, absurdist humour, most especially Sheriff Truman's pop-up wooden computer and Carl Rodd's superheroic action van. 
  • Episode 8, in which Lynch and Frost take the audience inside a nuclear explosion to witness the birth of evil, is perhaps the most insane and spectacular thing I've ever seen on television.
  • This season of Twin Peaks frankly captures the passage of time and refuses to gloss over its impact on the aging original cast. How could we ever have expected Dale Cooper to just pop out of limbo and join his law enforcement buddies as if only days had passed? He spent 25 years in there, while in the outside world people got old, died, or otherwise moved on. It's easy enough to wonder why Donna Hayward, for example, rated not a single mention on the show (save for one line of dialogue in archival footage), considering her importance in seasons one and two. But there's a simple explanation: she left Twin Peaks behind and built a new life. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, I appreciated the show's unflinching refusal to compromise its own artistic integrity. There were no easy solutions or lazy storytelling choices to be found, even when making the hard choices upset the audience, including me. 
Twin Peaks can be utterly confounding, baffling, frustrating. But it is, without question, a singular work of art that people will be debating for a long time to come. I'm just grateful it exists, and that I lived to see it return. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

A Life in Film...So Far

About a year ago, I signed up for a Letterboxd account to track the films I've seen, from the first film I saw as a toddler (to the best of my recollection) to today. More recently, I shelled out a few dollars for a Letterboxd Pro account, which adds some cool features including year-by-year stats. Here's a sampling of my all-time stats as of today: 3,727 films from 1,736 directors in 58 countries. My highest rated decades are the 1930s, 1940s and 2000s.

I also found it interesting that I've seen more films from 1984 than any other year, and that 2016 comes in at a close second. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Best Pictures 2016 Update

It's been a while since I last wrote about my quest to see every single film nominated for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) Best Picture award, and I've made a lot of progress since that last update.

66 of 103 nominees: 64%

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
The Crowd
The Hollywood Revue of 1929
The Patriot (lost film, so I'll never really finish this list)
All Quiet on the Western Front
East Lynne
The Front Page
Trader Horn
One Hour with You
A Farewell to Arms
Smilin' Through
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Flirtation Walk
Imitation of Love
One Night of Love
The White Parade
Alice Adams
Broadway Melody of 1936
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Les Miserables (1935)
Naughty Marietta
The Great Ziegfield
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
The Story of Louis Pasteur
A Tale of Two Cities
Three Smart Girls
Dead End
One Hundred Men and a Girl
A Star is Born
Alexander's Ragtime Band
The Citadel
Four Daughters
Test Pilot
Love Affair

41 of 70 nominees: 59%

The Letter
Blossoms in the Dust
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Hold Back the Dawn
One Foot in Heaven
Kings Row
The Pied Piper
Random Harvest
The Talk of the Town
Wake Island
The Human Comedy
Madame Curie
The More the Merrier
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine
Since You Went Away
Anchors Aweigh
Mildred Pierce
The Best Years of Our Lives
Henry V
The Razor's Edge
The Yearling
The Bishop's Wife
Johnny Belinda
The Red Shoes
The Snake Pit
The Heiress
Twelve O'Clock High

35 of 50 nominees: 70%

Born Yesterday
Decision before Dawn
Quo Vadis
Moulin Rouge (1952)
Julius Caesar
The Country Girl
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Friendly Persuasion
The King and I
Peyton Place
Auntie Mame
Separate Tables
Anatomy of a Murder

38 of 50 nominees: 76%

Sons and Lovers
The Hustler
America America
Cleopatra (1963)
Lilies of the Field
My Fair Lady
Zorba the Greek
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns
The Sand Pebbles

45 of 50 nominees: 90%

Love Story
The Godfather Part II
Bound for Glory
The Goodbye Girl

42 of 50 nominees: 84%

The Color Purple
Prizzi's Honor
The Mission
The Last Emperor
Broadcast News
Hope and Glory

47 of 50 nominees: 94%

Dances with Wolves
The Godfather Part III

50 of 55 nominees: 91%

Gosford Park
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Finding Neverland
Goodnight, and Good Luck

2010s (so far)
62 of 62 nominees: 100%

425 of 540 nominees: 78.7%

115 films to go!

So far this year I've watched 35 Best Picture nominees. Of those, my favourite is the deservedly acclaimed French masterpiece La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion, 1937), a World War I drama by Jean Renoir; the most forgettable may be Here Comes the Navy (Lloyd Bacon, 1934), a pretty standard romantic comedy set, somewhat chillingly knowing its eventual fate, aboard the USS Arizona.

As you can see, most of the gaps I have to fill come in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s. Still, I have most of the missing films on Blu-Ray, DVD, or my PVR (thanks, Turner Classic Movies)! I'm betting I can finish this list (excepting, of course, lost nominee The Patriot) by the end of the 20teens.

Monday, September 04, 2017

That Gum I Like Never Went Out of Style


Last night, Sean and I watched, bewildered, as David Lynch and Mark Frost stayed true to their most genuine and frustrating form, refusing to provide Twin Peaks audiences with closure and instead ending the series - probably forever - on a shriek of confused, helpless horror.

Like Sean, I was disappointed by what felt like a meandering and almost cruel final hour, especially after the tease of the penultimate episode, which seemed to promise a reasonably happy, if strange, ending for characters I've loved for nearly 30 years. In that second-to-last hour, our heroes converge on Twin Peaks to rid the world of the malevolence of BOB. It's as funny, surreal, and thrilling as anything in Lynch's ouvre - but it's not enough. Dale Cooper, aided by the mysterious figures of the White Lodge, travels back in time in an effort to prevent poor, sad, lost Laura Cooper from being murdered on the fateful day of February 23, 1989. And at first, it seems to have worked. But just as Dale is leading Laura home to her mother, she slips from his grasp, vanishing with a scream, presumably whisked away by Judy, the Mother of Evil. And this is where the show failed for me last night on an emotional level - but with the benefit of a night's sleep and some difficult reflection, I have to admit that the last hour of Twin Peaks is thematically consistent and supports a dark, difficult vision that I didn't want to recognize on first viewing.

It's pointless to summarize the plot of the final hour, except to say that Dale never gives up trying to save Laura, and that is what dooms him. He finds himself, apparently, in a Texas of a different time, or a parallel world, or perhaps just a different dream state; in any event, gone is the confident, pure-hearted FBI agent we saw return so briefly in episodes 16 and 17. In the final act, Cooper is adrift, he's given a different name, and he's lost much of his joy. He uses excessive force on a trio of goons, holds an innocent at gunpoint, and shows not a flicker of delight when presented with a cup of coffee. He's not evil, but he's not the same man we knew and loved. (How could he be, after all he's experienced?) In this reality, in fact, he seems to be Richard, a callback to the very first moments of this season, in which the Giant and Dale converse in the White Lodge.

Cooper finds Laura, though she doesn't seem to think she really is Laura at all, but a woman named Carrie Page. She agrees to go with him to Twin Peaks anyway, as things seem to be bad for her here; there's a recently-murdered body in her house. Even after Dale has supposedly saved her, it appears Laura can never escape violence and darkness.

Much of the episode is spent on the long drive from Odessa, Texas, to Twin Peaks. There's barely any conversation; at one point, Carrie wonders if they're being followed, but the anonymous headlights of the vehicle behind them merely pass by.

Eventually, Dale and Carrie arrive in Twin Peaks, which is strangely devoid of traffic, though the episode doesn't call attention to this. They park in front of the Palmer home, and Dale, still intent on a quest that should have ended 25 years ago, insists on knocking on the front door and delivering Laura home.

But Sarah Palmer doesn't answer the door. It's a woman we've never seen before: Alice Tremond. Confused, Cooper wonders if they bought the house recently from someone else - the Palmers, he's certainly thinking. But the homeowner says she bought the house from Mrs. Chalfont...who, fans will remember, was the strange woman who lived with her grandson above the evil convenience store of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Cooper and Carrie walk back across the street. But after a moment of though, Cooper suddenly asks "What year is it?" And then someone - presumably Sarah Palmer - screams "LAURA!" from inside the house. Carrie screams, and I think this is where she realizes who she really is and the awful fate that's in store for her. She's awakened to the horror of her new reality, and her terrorized cries reverberate as the lights of the Palmer house flicker off, plunging all into darkness; roll credits.

Though presented obliquely, like much of Twin Peaks, the plot is really pretty simple after all; Judy, the Mother of Evil, won't let Laura go, perhaps, as revealed earlier, because Laura is the embodiment or avatar of good in the universe, as shown earlier this season. Dale Cooper is, perhaps, her White Lodge-appointed guardian, and has been all along.

Even before this finale, I realized that this third and final season of Twin Peaks was rich with layered commentary on the state of the world as it is today, as it was in some imagined Golden Age, and the nature of artistic creation itself. For example, throughout this season, Lynch and Frost teased their audience with meandering scenes of hyper-reality that seemed to have little purpose. To wit: several minutes spent watching a nameless custodian sweep the floor of the Roadhouse, the finale's endless scenes of night driving, side conversations from several characters about trivia that leads nowhere, the false foreshadowing of a young woman's underarm rash, Big Ed drinking coffee in his garage. These moments stand in stark contrast with the many episodes of horror, violence, hilarity and surreal quirkiness that define the show. I believe Lynch and Frost deliberately create this contrast to make their audiences squirm, to force us to feel the discomfort and loss of control that the characters in the show feel.

In the real world, nothing makes sense; only in constructed drama do stories pan out neatly, with satisfying conclusions and narrative closure. For all its madness, Twin Peaks is, in this way, perhaps the most realistic story ever told on television. We, the audience, feel like we deserve, if not happy endings, then at least some kind of ending we can understand and put in a comfortable box. I'll admit that I was, even if unconsciously, hoping for that, too, last night. I didn't get it, and I was disappointed.

But on reflection, even though I was hoping for better days for Dale Cooper and his friends, I realize that would have been somewhat cheap, and perhaps even monstrous in light of what I think Lynch and Frost are really trying to communicate: evil is forever with us, but we fight it anyway, with love, even if in the end it's hopeless.

Twin Peaks is full of warmth and love, even in the midst of unspeakable horror and tragedy. The show is full of people of genuine goodness, epitomized by Dale Cooper and his fellow agents in the FBI and by Sheriff Truman and his deputies in Twin Peaks. Even the show's villains, from BOB on down, are sympathetic in some way; troubled pasts are inferred, and even BOB himself didn't ask to be born; as revealed in this season's mind-blowing episode 8, human beings, through the atomic bomb, unleashed BOB and his cohorts into the world. BOB and Judy are forces of nature as much as they are villains.

But the suffering they cause is all too real. Laura Palmer's long arc of horrifying inevitability is all the more heartbreaking with the show's final revelation: Laura is doomed, was always doomed, is forever doomed, despite the valiant efforts of all the good people who try to help her.

And yet those good people keep trying, even after she's died.

It's possible that I'm rationalizing the finale somewhat, that I've overthought the ending to compensate or wish away my initial disappointment. I hope that's not true, because the disappointment is still there, but I've shifted the blame to my own perceptions rather than perceived deficiencies in the work. I think it's important to remember, too, that all along I've been utterly delighted by this third remarkable season; I admire its determination not to pander to a nostalgic audience, to create an entirely different sort of television show. Say what you will, but there is nothing else on TV like this, and maybe there never will be again.

When Twin Peaks went off the air back in 1990, I was rueful. In just a few months, that show became as important to me, if not more so, than Star Trek, not just as television entertainment, but as a lens through which to make sense of a troubled world. I never expected it to return, and I regard this season as a tremendous gift. It will haunt me for a long time.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

How's Annie?

I'm not necessarily asking for closure, but...ouch, David and Mark. Really?

More thoughts tomorrow. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Frustration of Lost Projects

I just spend the last two hours editing a new short video for tonight's blog post, and my computer crashed and erased all of my work. Now I am angry. Never blog while angry, and never ignore your own advice.

I was pretty happy with it, too. Insert cursing here. jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mike T's Big Birthday

This is probably the best photo I've taken of my friend Mike. Mike is an exuberant sportsman and often gets injured, which is why you see him here in a cast. Today Mike celebrates a milestone birthday, which seems as good an occasion as ever to say how fortunate I feel to have known him for lo, the last 25 years or so. Mike's integrity, loyalty and sense of humour never fail to impress. Since we're both shy guys, I'll refrain from embarrassing both of us further. Suffice it to say - Happy Birthday, Mike, and here's to many more! 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Earl 2020

I enjoy travel, maps, and politics, which is why I started to wonder, after our most recent road trip, if I'd visited enough states to win a US Presidential election, assuming I'd win each state I've visited (and assuming a parallel universe in which I'm eligible to run, not being an American).

I added 10 states to my existing tally on this trip, but as you can see above, that's not enough to reach the 270 votes required for victory by the American electoral college system. On the other hand, Sylvia and I are planning to visit New York next year, and that would give me another 29 electoral votes - enough to eke out a narrow win in 2020.

Given the state of American politics today, it's pretty hard to imagine any two candidates delivering this map. Somehow the left wins Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alaska and Indiana while losing the election, and for some reason the reliably Democrat New England - including Washington, DC - chooses the Republican! But then, I suppose practically anything is possible in this bold new era.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Superman vs Muhammad Ali

I picked up this set of action figures in Metropolis, Illinois on our road trip to see the 2017 solar eclipse. It's so cool to see an iconic story translated, after over 40 years, into three-dimensional form. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Shadow Over America: Epilogue

My mental state after spending countless hours driving through 11 states and three provinces. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shadow Over America: Antumbra

Fargo bustles, but we are too tired and short on time to explore. For us, it's a way station, our last stop before heading home.
The road home is long but familiar. We're treated to a particularly gorgeous sunset over Saskatchewan before pulling over for a few hours' rest in the car. After that fitful sleep we push on for home. And just like that, it's over - a once-in-a-lifetime experience we'll carry with us forevermore.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shadow Over America: Hello, Wisconsin!

Wisconsin turns out to be quite lovely. We stop for a break at Moe's Diner, a place steeped in 1950s nostalgia:
Wisconsin is famous for its cheese, so we feel obligated to stop for samples. Foster Cheese Haus does not disappoint, with dozens of exotic varieties.
Hours later, we arrive in Fargo. Our time in the USA is drawing to a close.