Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Marblelympics 2019: Maze

I still find these videos utterly charming. Greg Woods' (no relation) colour commentary and the crowd noises really sell the concept. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Quick Takes: John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Given all the lethal headshots in this film, they should have called it John Wick: Chapter 3 - Cerebellum

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Just Something I Want to Remember

Last night, I woke in the middle of the night to discover Sylvia had wrapped herself in the covers.

I did my best to tug some back to my side of the bed without disturbing her, but even so she declared "I'm sleeping!", eyes still closed.

Then, an instant later: "I'm not doing anything!" I suppressed laughter and kissed her on the shoulder, whispering "I love you more than anything."

"HUH?" she said, sounding truly bewildered. I had to fight even harder not to burst out laughing, but I managed.

According to Sylvia, I say much crazier things while I'm sleeping. I should ask her to record it one of these nights. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Earl Woods on Mars

If you've ever wanted to hear me talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs, his creation John Carter of Mars, and roleplaying game systems, you can do so right now by listening to the latest episode of the Massive Damage Adventures podcast. Click on this link for a list of listening choices (Apple, Spotify, or Google Play) and then choose "Bonus Episode 1: John Carter of Mars."

My friend and Stantec colleague Meric Moir invited me to play a round of the John Carter of Mars roleplaying game and then interviewed me for my thoughts on the game and, more specifically, how well it captures the feel of Burroughs' original Mars books. The podcast is almost three hours long, but the interview starts at the beginning if you don't want to listen to the whole play session.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dat Other Dominion

One day, I wondered what Canada would look like if each American state bordering Canada joined Canada as new provinces. Here's what that would look like: weird. I'm betting we'd almost double our population, though, given we'd be getting Seattle, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Not to mention Detroit and Cleveland and Minneapolis...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Quick Take: Unstoppable

Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010). Hits you like a runaway train. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Dream for Droids

Previously on Jedi/Superman...
Last Son of the Republic
Growing Up Under Twin Suns
Chariot of the Gods
The Emperor's New Genocide
The Quality of Mercy
A Job for Supermen
The Green, Green Glow of Homicide

Medical Bay, Defiance

“…these are important matters, to be sure, but still matters of…mere fact. You have great powers…only some of which…you have as yet discovered. It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history…rather, let your leadership stir others to…For this reason, among others, we have chosen Tatooine for you…you must serve its collective humanity, both on Tatooine and on all the worlds beyond…live as one of them, but always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage…They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they choose to be…they need only cast aside the dark side to see the way. For this reason, above all, their capacity for good…we have sent them you…our only son.”

Clark Kenobi’s eyes snapped open wide as he woke from a dream of his long lost parents. Through a liquid blue haze, he saw a medical droid and a protocol droid staring back at him. The golden-hued protocol droid took a fearful step backward, but the medical droid was unperturbed. In fact, it reached out with a metal pincer and twisted a dial that started to empty the bacta tank Clark was floating in. A moment later, the tank emptied and Clark stepped out.

“An excellent recovery, sir,” the medical droid said. “Really quite remarkable, especially for a human. I was certain your condition was terminal.”

“Thank you for helping me,” Clark said. Then he hesitated, pointing at the stubby, cylindrical projection on the droid’s metal torso. “Is that…is that a restraining bolt?” Clark asked in disbelief. His eyes darted to the protocol droid; he, too, sported a restraining bolt.

“Of course, sir,” the medical droid said. “All droids are fitted with them.”

Clark felt sick. He knew that the Empire, of course, fitted their droids with restraining bolts, but he’d never imagined that the freedom-fighting Rebel Alliance would enslave clearly sapient beings.

With a furious grimace, Clark reached out and wrenched the restraining bolts free of both droids. It took far more effort than he had expected; clearly, he was still weak from whatever radiation had poured into him outside.

“Oh, my!” shrieked the protocol droid. “Sir, you really mustn’t…we’re not programmed for…I, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without my restraining bolt!”

The medical droid’s reaction was much quieter. “Thank you,” he said, and trundled off to care for other patients before Clark could even ask his name. He turned to the protocol droid.

“What’s your name?”

“I am See Threepio, human/cyborg relations.”

“Pleased to meet you. See Threepio, can you take me to Ben Kenobi?”

“Certainly, sir, but—”

The ship lurched suddenly, and Threepio would have toppled over if Clark hadn’t caught him. “Oh, my!” the droid cried as Clark instinctively tried to scan the area with his x-ray vision…but nothing came into focus. He could only see the medical bay’s walls and ceiling.

“Please take me to Ben,” Clark said. “And quickly.”

Bridge, Defiance

Kenobi, Leia, Dodonna and the bridge crew watched helplessly as a Star Destroyer loomed ever larger, its tractor beam dragging them into its dorsal docking bay. The ship shuddered as the huge manual grappling anchors took hold of the frigate, the tractor beam winking out an instant later.

Ben Kenobi turned to his comrades. “We cannot let them have the boy. General, Princess, I’ll be back.”

Moving with grace and speed that belied his age, the Jedi Master sprinted toward the medical bay, only to encounter Clark running right at him, followed by See Threepio, the droid’s arms flailing overhead in fright.

“We’re doomed!” Threepio exclaimed.

Old Ben couldn’t hide the shock from his face. “You’re virtually healed,” he said in wonder.

“I feel so...exhausted, Ben. My powers…they’re gone.”

Grimly, Ben led Clark down an adjoining corridor. Threepio, directionless, couldn’t decide whether to follow or not, and trundled off in the direction of the bridge, fretting all the way.

“These Imperial ships aren’t designed to hide illicit cargo, but if I use the Force to mask your life signs, perhaps we can give you time to recover your gifts,” Ben said.

“I’m not going to leave you to the mercy of the Empire,” Clark said.

“Don’t argue. Here—this storage closet will do. Wait here until your powers return. I’ll hide you as long as I can.”

“And then what?” Clark asked. He already knew the answer, and he already bridled at it.

“And then you free yourself and rejoin what remains of the fleet at the rendezvous point.”

Clark only stared. Ben met his gaze for a long moment, then looked away and sighed.

“You must do what you think is right, of course. But please, Clark…whatever you do…consider the greater good. It isn’t always easy.”

“I want to go with you,” Clark pleaded. He felt tears welling up in his eyes. If he stayed here to recuperate, Ben was doomed. He knew it. He felt it.

Ben reached out to hold the boy he’d mentored for so many years. “I’m sorry, my bright boy, my lost son of Krypton. Yours is a more difficult destiny. I’ve seen it. Please obey me one final time.”

Clark nodded and turned away. He knew that if he had to look at Ben in the face one more time, his resolve would shatter.

A moment later, Ben was gone, marching to his own inevitable fate.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mom’s Daffodils

Sean and I enjoyed a very pleasant stroll through the garden with Mom today, followed by a delicious brunch at Kosmos. It was the perfect day to celebrate all Mom's meant to us - 24 degrees and sunny. Mere thanks will never be enough, Mom. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Technology Connections on Trinitron (Video)

Technology Connections is an excellent YouTube channel with always interesting and in-depth discussions on (usually old) tech. It's smart, funny, and fascinating. This episode is about Sony's venerable Trinitron picture tube. Does anyone remember picture tubes? 

Friday, May 10, 2019

My Machines Keep Speaking

Tonight I travelled to an unfamiliar location, so I used my smartphone's navigation application to guide me to my destination. While gradually rounding the northwest portion of Anthony Henday Drive, the app suddenly blurted, "There is a speed camera ahead."

Like Pavlov's dog reacting to the dinner bell, I instinctively tapped my brakes and looked down at my speedometer, even though I already knew I'd used cruise control to set it to 100 km/h, the speed limit on that road. I was in no danger of being ticketed, even without the warning.

For a moment, I wondered if Apple had started building photo radar into their phones, but then I realized that there are probably fixed speed cameras that wind up in the navigational data of the app. Until tonight, I hadn't imagined that fixed speed cameras were a thing, but there are fixed red light cameras, so why not? 

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Empty Chair

Ce n'est pas un chaise
Lounging without burden
Ce n'est pas un photographier
But it is an image
Vide de sens
And empty of people

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


I still can't believe that a) there's a live action Doom Patrol show, b) that it's excellent, and c) they've already had Danny the Street guest star and next episode, Flex Mentallo!?

What a time to be alive. At least the last days come with some quality entertainment. 

Friday, May 03, 2019

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Fancy Furniture Famine

Here's the furniture the facilities people moved in to replace the fancy MLA furniture. It was still a pretty nice office. Not shown: sofa. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fancy Furniture Feast

For a couple of days in 2008, I had fancy MLA furniture in my office at the Legislature Annex. Then they came and took it away. Which is fair, after all, because the furniture is meant for MLAs and there's only so much of it to go around. Dig the fancy TV I had to monitor Question Period. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Crossed Sabres

Photo by Naomi Littlewood. An outtake from back  when she graciously shot my campaign photos for the 2008 Alberta provincial election. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sean vs. Soda

"I fought the Sean, and the, Sean won; I fought the Sean, and the, Sean won." 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

An 11-Year Endgame

The first Marvel comic I remember reading is What If? #1, which asked the question "What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?" Now, I must have read Marvel comics before that one, because I understood who all the characters were and I knew What If? was an unusual comic because, of course, Spider-Man never joined the Fantastic Four. 

I read that comic in Shane Berthauden's room in Leaf Rapids, and it really captured my imagination. The initial counter-factual (in the context of the mainline Marvel universe) setup had an incredible cool factor, but things turn dark when the Invisible Girl, feeling overshadowed by Spider-Man, leaves the group. Things get worse after that, but by comic's end, we are reassured that these events happen in a parallel universe to the familiar Marvel world we know. Even so, the impact of that comic remains powerful, because those events did happen (somewhere), and the triumphs of and tragedies of those characters remains somehow real. They grow and change in a way denied the prime Marvel universe, because in those comics, the status quo generally reigns supreme, with major changes in characters' lives happening only once every few decades (though the pace is slowly accelerating). 

Avengers: Endgame reminds me of the What If? stories because in this movie, all the chickens come home to roost; consequences are real, lasting, and permanent. Even though this movie uses a do-over as its major plot, Endgame somehow shows that there really are no do-overs. It's impossible to explain this seeming contradiction without spoilers, unfortunately. But the filmmakers manage it beautifully.

At one point in the film, a mother tells her son, who feels as though he has utterly failed as a person, that he should stop trying to be who he's supposed to be, and instead be who he is. Only today, after thinking about the film a little more, did I realize that conversation turns out to be the arc for the major characters in not only this film, but for all the Marvel films in which they've previously appeared. Whether or not you appreciate superhero movies, that is an accomplishment in film that I believe is unprecedented in cinema: character and story arcs spread out over 22 films and 11 years. That the Marvel movies, particularly the overstuffed Avengers films, are coherent at all is something of a miracle. That they're actually entertaining and have something to say about the world is astounding. 

This movie speaks best, of course, to the audiences who have invested in the entire journey. I would argue, in fact, that those not so invested may be bewildered by Endgame, and its companion piece, Infinity War. And that's okay. Not all art is digestible in a moment, or an hour, or two, or a week. Some takes time to percolate, to evolve, to age at the same rate as we mortals. 

Every moment in this movie is earned thanks to the rich backstory told over the last 11 years. Some of these moments moved me to silent tears; others caused elation and that "gee whiz!" sense of wonder that gave me such thrills as a kid. 

What a long, strange, amazing journey it's been. Endgame is a fitting end indeed. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Quck Take: What We Left Behind

I can't say much thanks to a nondisclosure agreement, but I will say that What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a deeply moving, heartfelt, sincere, in depth, and fascinating examination of my favourite Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine. I watched it last night, and tears were shed. DS9 came along at a point in my life when I really needed it, and it was amazing to see the actors, writers, and other creators come together to share their memories of the show's production. Best of all was the reunion of the writer's room and the blocking out of an imaginary first episode of an equally imaginary (alas!) eighth season. And the newly remastered high definition footage is another highlight. If you're any kind of Star Trek fan and get a chance to screen this, don't miss it. The blu-ray is being released in a couple of months.

Special thrill: seeing my name in the list of credits on a Star Trek-related production. So totally worth the 50 bucks, above and beyond helping the film get made.

There you go, Ira, no spoilers. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Weird Wicked, Wicked

Wicked, Wicked (Richard L. Bare, 1973) almost works. It's the story of a bellhop with mother issues who murders blondes that stay in his hotel - murders that are pretty gory and explicit for the era. After a rather dull and meandering first half, the film picks up steam with some truly audacious choices, including a quick-cut montage of perhaps the worst assembly of visual metaphors for sexual congress ever put on film (ending with an atomic explosion!), an utterly slide-splitting flashback in which a minor character jumps out a window like a human cannonball to escape unjust arrest only to crash his toy car, and the brilliant moment where a tough-as-nails cop dares a suspect to jump to his death, figuring reverse psychology will lead to an arrest. The cop guesses wrong, to hilarious effect.

The bizarre duo-vision gimmick, in which the action of all but a few seconds of the film is presented in side-by-side split screen, wavers between sublime and banal. Most the time the effect is used merely to offer two mundane angles of the same moment, but sometimes the split screen delivers flashbacks or imagery that reflects or comments on what's happening in the other panel, or, confusingly, shows two conversations at once, sometimes with parallel themes.

I really don't know what to make of this movie, except that the filmmakers nearly won me over by the end. Nearly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

All the Right Moves for All the Wrong Reasons

A film with tremendous integrity, All the Right Moves (Michael Chapman, 1983) puts skewed cultural priorities into grim perspective. It's the story of Stef (Tom Cruise), a high school senior with just enough talent to play college football, but not enough to make the major leagues. Showing uncommon wisdom for a teenager in this sort of movie, Stef plans to leverage his football talent into a scholarship so that he can pursue an engineering degree in college; it's his way out of the dead-end, decaying factory town that has already claimed the sweat and happiness of his father, brother, and ancestors down the line.

Stef's coach, Burt Nickerson, (Craig T. Nelson) wants to escape, too; if he can win one big game against a team ranked third in the state, he's almost certain to land a prestigious and financially rewarding college coaching gig. Similarly, his players have a shot at showing college scouts their value.

But the game is narrowly lost, with some of the fault going to Stef, some going to the coach, and there's blame all around. The coach manages to land a job at a California college anyway, but he slander's Stef's reputation, scaring away college recruiters. It looks like Stef is doomed to stay in town and work a factory job, just like his family before him.

Meanwhile, Stef's girlfriend Lisa (Lea Thompson) supports Stef's efforts to secure a place in college, even though she knows success means she'll lose him. As she notes, there are no scholarships for her; she's a talented saxophonist who dreams of being a musician, an impossible dream given the price. Only the football players have a chance of actually achieving the American Dream.

In the end, the coach relents and offers Stef a full scholarship at the college he's coaching at in California, and his mom, dad, brother, and girlfriend are all on hand to urge him to take the opportunity. Stef signs the contract, and we have our happy ending, one that comes in the last seconds of the film and is shot and acted so wryly that the filmmakers dare us to take it at face value.

So we shouldn't. This may be a happy ending for Stef, but the larger injustices prevail. The film explicitly states that there is no escape for Lisa and so many others, but Stef takes his shot anyway. You can hardly blame him. But maybe you can blame a culture's values for trapping so many for the sake of so few.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lightning in a Beer Bottle: Shazam!

The real Captain Marvel makes his debut in Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, 2019). Inspired by the whimsical adventures of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family from way back in the 1940s, Shazam! tells the story of orphan Billy Batson, an orphan boy who can transform into the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel, by yelling "SHAZAM!"

SHAZAM, of course, is one of the most famous acronyms in comics, and it describes the powers bestowed on Billy:

S - Solomon's wisdom
H - Hercules' strength
A - Atlas' stamina
Z - Zeus' power
A - Achilles' courage
M - Mercury's speed

It's just a shame that DC surrendered use of the "Captain Marvel" name to Marvel Studios when the character and his family have so much history behind them. Kudos to the filmmakers, though, for avoiding what I feared most: calling Captain Marvel "Shazam." Sure, it leaves the hero without a proper sobriquet, but the search for a superhero name for Billy Batson's adult form becomes a fun little comedic thread woven through the film.

Minutiae aside, is this a good movie? Well, it's funny and family-friendly (in the sense that it honours the best family values, like caring, understanding, respect, and tenderness). It's well-acted across the board, and while the screenplay isn't brilliant, it does the job - though I found the pacing a bit rushed. It would have been nice to dedicate a little more time to Billy's arc. It works, but it would have been more plausible had the creators spent more time on character development and shortened the initial fight a bit. The creators also take some liberties with Sivana, turning him into a kind of low-rent Black Adam instead of the mad scientist he's supposed to be, but I can see why they made the choice for the sake of story economy.

That being said, these are minor complaints. As with Aquaman, I'm grateful that DC's characters are being treated with a little more playfulness and less grand import. Save the dark stuff for the Batman family (but maybe lighten them up just a little too, huh, Warner Brothers? Just don't go camp. No one will ever do a better camp Batman than the 60s TV series, so don't go there.)

Kudos, too, to the filmmakers for adding at least three references to Big, two obvious and hilarious, one a little more subtle but appreciated. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Weapons Raised

From the D&D Nerdieth Anniversary back in 2004. 14 years ago, longer than I spent in grade school. Oy. Really shows how terrain makes games like this more immersive, though. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

Quick Take: The Oath

The Oath (Ike Barinholtz, 2018) might have worked better as a straight drama, but even so, boy, was this incredibly effective and chilling. Maybe it won't look so funny in a couple of years. Imagine if your government asked all citizens to sign a "voluntary" loyalty oath--how long could you hold out in a climate of rising fear and mandated conformity? In The Oath, the idea is played for laughs, but there's a real undercurrent of genuine terror here. I find it very interesting that the protagonist, the lone holdout in his family actually snaps under the pressure at one point, but only briefly, and the film quickly moves on. I think this was pretty smart filmmaking; Barinholtz is telling us that having all the moral high ground in the world isn't much help when a brownshirt goon is threatening to break your arm into a half-dozen pieces.

Also, considering this movie and his role in the Supergirl TV series, Bruce Boxleitner is in danger of being typecast as the Vice President that gets suddenly elevated to the presidency in the wake of scandal.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

In the Year 2099

While looking over some of next year's dates in Google Calendar, I spotted my own birthday, which I have set up as a recurring event. Out of morbid curiosity, I started clicking forward through time, month by month, mentally calculating my age as the years flew by. 2020...2021...2022...2032...2042...2058...2067 (Canada's bicentennial; I'll be 98)...2075...2080...2090...until, finally, 2099, the last time my birthday recurs. Should I actually live that long, I'll be 130 years old.

Even though it's likely I'll die decades before 2099, I was still mildly irked that Google Calendar arbitrarily chose to stop marking my birthdays before 2100. It felt a little like the opposite of a bullet with my name on it. "No point in noting his birthday anymore; surely he'll be toast by then." Thanks, Google! I mean, you're probably right, but it still feels a little harsh. I was really hoping to see the 22nd century. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Quick Take: Drive a Crooked Road

In Drive a Crooked Road (Richard Quine, 1954), poor Mickey Rooney plays against type as a loser looking for love and finding only betrayal and the collapse of his personal world. At least the femme fatale feels bad about leading him to his doom.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

An Optimist's Vote

Adapted from a Facebook post from yesterday...

Sylvia and I just returned home after voting in today's Alberta provincial election. We supported the re-election bid of Jon Carson, a member of Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party. Effectively, this means we're voting for another four years of Notley/NDP government in Alberta.

I worked for the Alberta Liberal caucus for six and a half years because I thought at the time they were the best progressive alternative to the late-era PCs. But I was happy to vote for the NDP in 2015 because Rachel Notley and her team proved they had the drive and the vision to bring long-overdue change to Alberta. Since being elected, they've governed sensibly during incredibly challenging times, bringing dignity to the Legislature and making the tough decisions needed for our long-term prosperity: doing the incredibly hard work of starting real economic diversification, instituting a carbon tax to curb our emissions, winding down coal, improving farm safety, cutting child poverty in half, setting a minimum wage, and protecting the vulnerable. The UCP would deliberately undo all that progress and waste millions of taxpayer dollars on referenda on issues that are outside the realm of provincial power anyway. On top of all that, Rachel Notley and her people have run a virtually scandal-free government, whereas the UCP has corruption built in thanks to their tainted leadership race, vandalism of election signs (sometimes using fascist iconography) and utterly vile pronouncements from a number of UCP candidates, most left unrebuked by leader Jason Kenney.

Despite having worked for the Liberals for years and my support for the NDP now, I don't consider myself a partisan. I'll vote for any team that fights for my values: compassion, reason, science-based decision making, long-term thinking, support for public institutions, care for the vulnerable, ethical behaviour. Right now, Rachel's NDP is the best fit for me, and, I believe, this province. In a few hours, I'll find out if my fellow Albertans agree. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tower and TIE

A little something for Gaming & Guinness XIV. Scott is doing the lion's share of the work, but I will be, at the very least, contributing some painted terrain for a very special X-Wing scenario...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quick Take: The Train Robbers

The Train Robbers (Burt Kennedy, 1973) is pretty fine late-period John Wayne with good performances from a stable of veterans; the film also features really gorgeous cinematography. The opening sequence is moody and a bit out of step with the tone of the lighthearted actioner that follows, but it's welcome nonetheless, and the ending is one of those cheesy surprises that you can't help but roll your eyes but love anyway. Better than I expected.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Quick Take: My Name is Julia Ross

Not the first movie about gaslighting and not the last, but screened in 2019 My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) takes on a chilling subtext as we all become Julia, trapped in a world where the forces of darkness gaslight us all by insisting that truth isn't truth and all the news is fake. Like Julia, we'll need a miracle to escape before the trap closes.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick Take: Godzilla vs. Megalon

Godzilla vs. Megalon (Jun Fukuda, 1973), along with several others of the Godzilla Showa era, scared the heck out of me as a kid. The monsters were huge and scary looking, the sound effects loud and weird, and I freaked out whenever Megalon melted and burned Japanese tanks. Sure, you couldn't see the crews burning, but I knew they were there, and I was horrified.

But even though I was scared, I had a great time. What kid doesn't love a giant robot fighting alongside Godzilla? That was the very definition of a good day for a child in the 1970s.

Rewatching the film last week - my chosen debut for the launch of The Criterion Channel - I finally saw Godzilla vs. Megalon for what it is: a fairly lazy and slipshod entry in a series that was well past its prime by this point. But that doesn't mean I don't still love it, even though I don't rate it very highly. If nothing else, it's sincere kid's entertainment.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ozzy Man Diablo

This is a piece of scatter terrain for Warhammer 40,000. I think Scott made this. It's pretty neat, even if I don't know what it's supposed to be. Shield generator? Dimensional gateway? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I'm the Flash

Jeff once said, "I'm the Flash! I can run to Calgary and back in an hour!" It seems to me the Flash is faster than that, but maybe Jeff is the Flash, because here he is generating one. 

Monday, April 08, 2019

Quick Take: The Bronze Buckaroo (Richard C. Kahn, 1939)

Richard Kahn's The Bronze Buckaroo is perhaps the only Western in which ventriloquism saves the day. Amiable enough, and nice to see a standard low-budget oater with an all-black cast. There are funny moments sprinkled throughout, my favourite of which was the moment one of the protagonists exhorts his six-shooter not to miss: "I want to send a message, and I don't want them to talk back!" The gun delivers.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Quick Take: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Karel Zeman, 1962)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a fantastical voyage that not only made me feel like a kid again, but a kid who might have seen this in a theatre in 1962, before I was born. Wonderfully inventive, rich in sumptuous detail--it's the kind of waking dream that's slightly creepy and frightening in some spots, yet too whimsical to be (quite) nightmarish. One of a rare breed of perfect films that masterfully accomplishes exactly what it set out to do.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Battle on a Field Unknown

For the first time in many moons, I took up the role of Gamemaster. I led a one-off session of Villains & Vigilantes, pitting the characters of Jeff, Connor, and Sean against a maniac with a bow, a sorceress, a shapeshifter, a martial artist, a masked gunslinger, and a gorilla gunslinger. The lads eked out a victory, but the mystery of the battlefield to which they were so unceremoniously teleported remains unsolved...

Friday, April 05, 2019

The Two Worlds Most Persistent

I wake again in the wrong. Perpetual summer at the University of Alberta, always late in third year or early in fourth year, trying to convince those old friends that I was stuck there, with my life in the present out of reach, my knowledge of the next thirty years or so useless because unbelievable, ridiculous. When these jumps happen, none of those old friends believe that I'm a middle-aged man trapped in my younger body, with a life on the far side of time.

My Atari 520ST, with its connection to local electronic bulletin boards, is useless as a research tool; it has no Internet connection, since the Internet is still a few years away. There will be no Googling "how to undo time travel to my past body."

Frustrated, I walk out the front door and across the golden grass that covers a tall, steep hill. I can see Orson Welles in the distance, and I climb up to see him - so much easier in this young, fit body. He greets me like an old friend, rambling on about dramatic structure, even though he died five or six years ago. That's what jerks me free of this reality--that discontinuity. I wake up back in 2016, only to realize that I should be in 2019...

Thursday, April 04, 2019

A Lite-Brite Birthday

Sean turned six on this day way back in 1982. Happy Birthday, Sean! 

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Quick Takes: Ali (Michael Mann, 2001)

Usually I'm unmoved by Will Smith's performances, but he was magnificent in this - so much so that I forgot I was watching Will Smith and believed I was seeing Ali. Nor am I a sports fan, but this was as much about Ali's determination to be a champion of the people (and ahead of his time he certainly was with regard to the Vietnam war) as it was his incredible feats as an athlete. Kudos to Smith and the rest of the stellar cast, along with director Michael Mann and his crew, for capturing a remarkable life with such style and power.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Quick Take: Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)

"Legislation's not meant for buying and selling!" In Born Yesterday, a journalist fights corruption with the help of a plucky formerly ignorant citizen who educates herself about the issues. In the end the bad guys learn a lesson and the future of democracy seems assured. It must have seemed an almost believable plot in 1950...

Monday, April 01, 2019

Horsey Repair Job

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the photo above because I thought the damage to the print created a neat effect.
I took a shot at repairing the damage with Photoshop, and I think it looks a bit better. As you can see, I had trouble in the hind leg area. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Wedding Day: Peter Leask and Margaret Ferguson

Here we are on the wedding day of Peter Leask and Margaret Ferguson: March 20, 1883. These are my...great great (I think, there might be another generation in there) maternal grandparents. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Grandma's Birthday, 1986

I found this in an envelope of some of the photos Mom and Dad salvaged from Grandma's home after she and Val died - tragically, many were missing. Nice to have this one, even with Mom and Sean closing their eyes. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

32 Fictional Novels by 4 Fictional Authors

My friend Meric reached out to some folks for some brainstorming ideas: come up with some titles of novels that might have been written by famous mystery authors being hunted by a werewolf. The author names are Meric's; I came up with their sub-genres and fictional novels.

Dr. Clive Boyle is best known for his foundational scientifiction, but is so prolific that he also churns out at least a dozen murder mysteries a year—sometimes mixing genres. His oeuvre includes An Analog Murder, Secret of the Desert Lighthouse, The Tomb on Haunted Hill, 1-800-YOU-KILL, Dial X for Xterminate, and The Gearbox Killing.

Renee Feinstein is famed for her sinister mysteries framed as adult-length children’s books, complete with disturbing illustrations. Her most notable works are The Day the Bunnies Died, Hop-Skip-Jump Off the Cliff, D is for Defenestrate, Your Mommy Can’t Help You Now, Who Killed Jack and Jill?, Saskatchewan is Full of Murderers, and The Sharpening.

Charleston Rook writes splatterpunk mysteries renowned for their high body count and gratuitous gore. His books include Witness a Man’s Arm Turned Around, SCREWdriver!, The Slaughterhouse Massacre, GENEocide!, The Funhouse Atrocities, Pierced by a Pitchfork, The Eyeball Bursters, Shriek of the Maniac, Dawn of the Incels, and Dentist of the Damned.

CC Alder (AKA Cheryl Cameron) writes genteel countryside mysteries that seem almost civilized on the surface but reveal the grim subtext of her supposedly idyllic settings. Her works include The Grub in the Peach, Silent Sunflowers, I of the Needle, Oh What a Lovely Affair!, Twilight Picnic, Gone with the Tide, A Feast for the Love We Left Behind, Despair in Georgia, and The Bride Wore Black.

I feel like The Bride Wore Black is so obvious it must have already been used, but I think it fits anyway. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language

From the What's So Great About That? YouTube channel comes this pretty interesting essay on David Lynch's relationship with language. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

I Want You Back by Haim

In the "things that make me a little happier" file, here's "I Want You Back" by Haim, a trio of sisters. Not only is it a catchy tune, I like that these accomplished women dance about as well as I do (based solely on this video, of course), and I take strange solace in that. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Film Review: Monte Walsh

I turned 50 this year, it's been a few months since the death of my father, and the news of the world - our relentless march toward a jobless society at the same time collapsing in on itself due to corruption, greed, climate change, fear and ignorance - weighs down on me more with each passing day.

So perhaps tonight was the perfect time to watch Monte Walsh (William A. Fraker, 1970), a movie obsessed with literal death, spiritual death, and the death of a way of life - the world moving on and leaving so many behind.

Monte Walsh, magnificently portrayed by Lee Marvin, is navigating his twilight years, reluctantly learning that the West as he knew it is dying, along with a livelihood he loved. He tries to adjust, but circumstances rob him of any hope of happiness; his world collapses around him, and he rides off to an uncertain fate.

I feel like I'm just a few years away from sharing Monte's fate. Right now, I'm very lucky; I've enjoyed a comfortable life and a rewarding career for some 25 years now, and theoretically I have another 15 years to go before retiring comfortably. My colleagues are brilliant, my manager superb, and I work in a thriving industry.

But 15 years is such a long time. Already, software is automating aspects of my white collar job; it's primitive now, but how long before advances in this kind of technology make communications professionals like me superfluous? Five years? Ten? Can I possibly make it the full 15 to retirement? Or will societal collapse make the point moot?

Marvin, as Monte, never gives up. He keeps his dignity. He remains a sad but inspirational figure by the time the credits roll.

But his world has moved on, nonetheless. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Apollo 11 Soars

That men in fragile ships crossed the gulf from the Earth to the Moon in an era when computers the size of bedroom closets could do little more than basic math seems astounding today. Apollo 11, the new documentary by Todd Douglas Miller, captures the awe and wonder of that incredible journey, 50 years in the past this summer and still, to my mind, the single greatest human achievement.

Using glorious high definition footage left neglected for years in storage, Miller covers the mission from launch to recovery--not only the ships and the astronauts, but the ground crew, and in some ways most compellingly, the vast audience of ordinary people who came in their multitudes to line the beaches of Florida for launch day. The excitement on these faces is palpable; they know they are witnesses to history, that they are watching a moment that will, if we are fortunate, live on in our collective memory for as long as our species lasts.

Miller thankfully eschews voiceover narration; he lets the images, the astronauts, the ground crew and the rumble of rockets speak for themselves. Music is used sparingly at key moments--the launch, the landing, the return to Earth--with superb effect.

Even though the mission went without a hitch, there are still many moments of high drama, particularly during the landing on the moon, when a countdown clock shows the lunar lander is rapidly running out of fuel and a computer program alarm goes off multiple times in the last seconds before landing. There are a few moments of self-effacing or near-gallows humour here and there--my favourite is probably when Buzz Aldrin reminds himself not to lock the lunar lander door on his way out to the Moon's surface.

Watching Apollo 11 now, especially on a giant IMAX screen that provides some of the scope and scale necessary to give audiences a sense of the magnitude of the story, is necessarily bittersweet. As a human being, I'm proud that hundreds of thousands of people worked together to make possible the exploration of a strange new world, an astonishing feat that proved what human beings are truly capable of. And yet, I struggle to name an accomplishment of the same spirit-lifting grandeur. Perhaps we'll find it if we manage to save our civilization from our own folly in the fight against climate change.

On the other hand, even if our species destroys itself before its time, we can remain proud of those shining days in 1969 when we took our first steps beyond the cradle of Earth and, ever so briefly, explored the universe beyond.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Up All Night Obsessing Over this Music Video

I quite enjoy Beck's "Up All Night," but its video confuses me. Its protagonist is presented as a heroine rescuing her boyfriend (or perhaps brother?), but she's the opposite of sympathetic, as she callously commits a number of venal crimes throughout the story:

11-24 seconds: vandalism
33 seconds: rudely shoves Snow White aside; also jaywalking
50 seconds: petty theft
54 seconds: littering
1:16: more littering
1:26: breaking and entering plus destruction of private property
1:28 and 1:40: shoving
1:42-1:47: assault with a deadly weapon
1:48: destruction of private property
1:50: assault with a deadly weapon
1:53: assault
2:17-2:22 petty theft
2:28 possession of illegal drugs
2:36 more shoving
2:49 public intoxication

More puzzling still, once she rescues her boyfriend (or brother), she vanishes, leaving him to escape in a silver Corvette by riding atop it while it's being driven by no one. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Green, Green Glow of Homicide

Previously on Jedi/Superman...

Last Son of the Republic
Growing Up under Twin Suns
Chariot of the Gods
The Quality of Mercy
A Job for Supermen

Yavin IV

The Death Star loomed, a malevolent steel moon with one ugly, unblinking eye looking down over the Rebel base, last bastion of freedom and justice in the galaxy. Clark, fists clenched, his own deadly eyes glowing with righteous fury, hurtled toward that Cyclopean menace.

A light-second away, his targeting scope fixed on a jinking TIE fighter, Luke Skywalker flinched. He sensed something—something imminent, something catastrophic.

Clark. The Death Star was targeting Clark. And Clark was flying right into their path.

The TIE fighter slipped away. He could hear Biggs chiding him over the intercom, but the TIE didn’t matter. Luke closed his eyes, searched for Clark’s life essence out there in the black, found it, and pulled.

Clark’s eyes widened in surprise as he was suddenly wrenched off course. In that instant, the supercannon fired.

The emerald beam missed Clark by dozens of metres. Even so, the pain of the radiation washing over him was unbearable. Clark shrieked into the void, his flesh seared. Mercifully, he lost consciousness. The beam continued its course, shearing a Rebel frigate in half, spilling dozens of hapless crew into the cold interstellar void.

Death Star Bridge

Vader turned to face the tactical director. “You missed.”

“The targeting sensors on a laser this massive aren’t intended for targets of this..!”

The tactical director’s protest was cut off with a guttural cry and the dry crackling of suddenly traumatized bone and muscle. The man fell without a further word to the deck.

Vader unclenched his fist.

“I’ll have the supercannon ready to fire again in twenty minutes, Lord Vader!” cried the tactical director’s immediate underling.

“Ten,” hissed Vader.

“Ten, aye, ten!”

Tarkin clucked in disapproval. “Vader, control yourself. I can’t have you executing every man that makes a mistake. It’s bad for morale. We are, after all, trying to restore order to the galaxy. These men are idealists.”

“But far from ideal,” Vader grumbled.

“Take heart, Lord Vader. The Rebellion is being wiped out before our eyes. Even if this…being you’re obsessed with survives, how much damage can he do alone?”

 On the viewscreen, Rebel ships burned under the immense firepower of the Imperial fleet.

Nebulon-B escort frigate Defiance

Leia’s stomach fell as the Imperial assault steadily decimated their already small fleet of soon-to-be galactic refugees. General Dodonna was doing his best to provide cover for the GR-75 transports to make the jump to lightspeed, but so far only two had gotten away; they’d lost two others, along with their only other frigate.

Swarms of TIEs flung themselves at the pitiful collection of some four dozen Rebel starfighters. For every Rebel starfighter that blossomed into the flame of defeat, ten TIEs were blown from the stars. But even at that kill ratio, they were doomed. There were just too many Imperials.

Ben Kenobi placed a gentle hand on Leia’s shoulder. He felt Clark’s agony and gasped, but composed himself quickly. See Threepio, golden-hued protocol droid and perennial annoyance, looked on curiously.

“He lives,” Kenobi whispered. “Well done, Luke. Well done, my boy.”

Leia glanced over at her old mentor. “Obi-Wan, what is it..?”

“Leia, there is still hope. But we must make a desperate gamble.”

Ben told Leia what was at stake. Leia glanced at the mission monitor board: another three GR-75s had jumped to hyperspace, but only two dozen starfighters were still flying. Two more GR-75s were edging closer and closer to escape.

“Starfighters, this is Princess Leia. Retreat immediately. Get those last ships away and head for the rendezvous point. We’ll cover you.”

“We’re doomed!” cried Threepio.

Biggs Darklighter’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Princess, one frigate can’t possibly survive alone!”

“You heard me, Red Three. May the Force be with you!”

Yavin System

From his cockpit, Biggs watched as the Defiance wheeled about, engines glowing white-hot as she burned toward no coordinates that made sense to him. Whatever she was doing, it was drawing a lot of fire from the Star Destroyers; he could see the frigate’s shields flaring, ready to buckle.

Biggs grimaced and turned his full attention back to the battle, howling vengeance as he blasted another TIE to atoms.

“Nice shooting, Biggs,” Wedge called, even as he himself torpedoed an Imperial gunship. “Everybody form up on the GR-75s. We’re getting out of here. For the Defiance!”

Biggs whooped along with everyone else—until his stomach suddenly dropped. Luke hadn’t joined that Rebel yell.

“Red Five, come in. Luke, where are you?”

Defiance Bridge

Dodonna, Leia, Kenobi and Threepio held on for their lives as the bridge of the Defiance rattled and bucked, the frigate’s shields dangerously close to failing entirely under the onslaught of energy directed at them from all sides.

“Is that your man?” Dodonna said, pointing at the tumbling figure outside. It looked like just another floating casualty, but his faith in General Kenobi and the Princess was deep.

Kenobi nodded. “Please, General, reel him in.”

The frigate groaned in protest, but its grapple shot out and snagged Clark’s limp form easily, pulling him through a dorsal hatch. Two medical droids and a human nurse quickly hauled the burned husk to sickbay, though the nurse expressed silent doubts that anything could be done to save the charred thing they brought aboard. The droids dunked the near-corpse into a tank of bacta nonetheless, even as the ship’s first officer called yet again for damage control personnel to reinforce the shields. As if that could make any difference…

On the bridge, Leia watched as the last of the transports and starfighters jumped to safety. She shared a glance with Obi-Wan and Dodonna, then pressed the ship-to-ship communications controls.

“Imperial fleet, this is Princess Leia aboard the Rebel Alliance frigate Defiance. We surrender.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Phaser II

This phaser was photographed in my Amazon studio, but this time I played with the result in Photoshop for a few minutes. This is supposed to represent the instant before it unleashes a stun beam. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

3 Views of K-7

Jeff asked if the Amazon Portable Photo Studio comes with different backdrop colours; alas it, does not. It's too bad, because K-7 would have looked more at home against a black background. But I guess that's what Photoshop is for...

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Muhammad Ali vs. Kal-El

Thanks to the generous gift of an Amazon gift card, I was able to purchase Amazon's well-regarded portable photo studio. I tested it for the first time today, somewhat carelessly, using my smartphone with no regard for the proper shutter speed, iso, etc. Even so, this action figure homage to Neil Leifer's "Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston" turned out okay. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ye Olde Yearbook Editor

Here's one of a handful of images of my time as the editor of Leduc Composite High School's yearbook. Could there be a nerdier responsibility? Well, it was fun. And I just noticed the red and black bag behind me, which I used to carry my bags not only for high school, but university.

I recognize Angela Avery beside me, but I'm afraid the name of the other young woman is lost to history. I last ran into Angela sometime in the 1990s; she was a lawyer then, and perhaps remains one today. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Here's a damaged photo of my Aunt Jean and the Etsell horse, Thopsy. The damage on this photo might be beyond my ability to repair. But it might have made the photo a little more interesting. In the real world, both Aunt Jean and Thopsy were reacting to something on their right, out of frame. In the photograph, it now appears they're alarmed by the blob of off-yellow gunk spreading out toward them. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

USS Equity

In sharp contrast to yesterday's Exemplar, I'm actually pretty happy with how the U.S.S. Equity turned out. The decals are almost where they shoot be, the colours are better than I reasonably manage, and, thanks to a flaw during the 3D printing process, there's even a bit of built-in battle damage on the starboard ventral  dorsal side of the primary hull. I figure the damage control crews had to make some makeshift repairs during combat, resulting in the scar you see here. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Exemplar

Not, sadly, an exemplar of modelling or painting skill. Luckily, these little ships always look far better from a distance. 

Saturday, March 09, 2019

On the Precipice of Disaster

On tonight's exciting adventures of Northern Shield, the villainous Lightning Bug and perfidious Dr. Apocalypse put our heroes, shackled and helpless, at the edge of a boiling pit of lava for "pest disposal." They escaped with seconds to spare - but was it all a ploy? The last -minute salvation seemed a little too easy...

Friday, March 08, 2019

Superman and Krypton

I finally brought Jeff Shyluk's amazing bespoke globe of Krypton to work, setting it up in my cubicle alongside a small Superman statue. The globe looks great, and has already drawn some attention from my colleagues. However, I foolishly shot against the light. When we start getting some sunlight, I'll reposition and shoot from the other direction for a better shot. 

Jeff never fails to create beautiful art, and he takes commissions. Visit Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog today! 

Here's another look at Krypton and the other bespoke world Jeff crafted, Mongo, now in my brother Sean's possession. Flash! Ahh-aahhh! 

Thursday, March 07, 2019

USS Encke with cargo pods

Here is the USS Encke carrying a pair of cargo pods. I presume the Encke was named for German astronomer Johann Franz Encke. Not at bad legacy. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

USS Encke

Many old-school Star Trek fans will remember one of the early in-universe "non-fiction" Star Trek books, the Starfleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph. Joseph's book included several non-canonical Federation starship designs, the first fans had ever seen that didn't look like the Enterprise. One of those designs was the Ptolemy-class tug, seen here painted by me with decals now firmly in place. This one's called the USS Encke, the name taken straight from the Technical Manual. 

I'm quite happy with how this model turned out. The paint is pretty even, and I managed to position the decals pretty close to where they should be. 

Why does the large cylinder have a different registry number than the main body of the ship? Because this is actually two different ships: the tug, which consists of the main hull (the saucer), the warp nacelles, and the spine extending downward to the cylinder. The cylinder itself is an independent sublight starship, an unnamed passenger liner. This is one of the configurations Joseph illustrates in the Technical Manual; the tug can also carry cargo pods, and I'll post a second version of the Encke to demonstrate tomorrow. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Never the Same Show Twice

I've been rewatching The Office on Netflix for the past few weeks, and even though I've experienced this phenomenon before, I'm startled by how much binge watching changes the experience. Story arcs that took years to evolve as the series originally aired are now over in what feels like, comparatively, the wink of an eye. Jim and Pam's relationship is essentially set by the beginning of season four, and yet there are still several seasons yet to play out. I had once thought the original will-they-or-won't-they narrative extended much later into the show's run, but no. It only felt that way because we had to wait literal years for those events to occur.

This isn't a good or bad thing; I just find it interesting.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Fearless Fed Five

Here at last are my very first fully completed Federation miniatures - the original five metal miniatures from the squadron box that Steve ordered for me I don't know how many years ago, now painted and with decals in place.

You can see a slightly bluish cast to these ships, as I originally tried to emulate the sort of off-green look of the ships on the original show. Alas, my efforts resulted in denim-blue ships, so I painted over them with shades of grey. 

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Excalibur Escorts

Here's my flagship, the U.S.S. Excalibur, with a robot ore freighter and and old Daedalus-class starship. Poor Excalibur is off-kilter because I drilled the hole for her stand incorrectly. 

Friday, March 01, 2019

Enterprise and Exeter

More "e" ships, including "The Big E" herself, the U.S.S. Enterprise. To her right is the Exeter. Once again, we see the difference between the 3D printed model at left and the die-cast metal version at right. You can also see an improvement (such as it is) in my painting skills, as I painted the Exeter quite some time ago and the Enterprise only recently. Actually, it looks like poor Enterprise needs some touching up...but I don't know if I'm brave enough to try now that I've applied her decals. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Eris and Edmonton

Here are two more finished miniature starships for A Call to Arms: Starfleet. On the left we have the U.S.S. Eris, a dreadnought (though not as powerful as the three-nacelled dreadnought), and the U.S.S. Edmonton, an "old light cruiser," as the game calls it. These two ships are from the first small squadron I purchased; they're made of metal and had to be assembled as well as painted. These metal ships are more detailed than the ones I've had 3D printed, so they have more texture, but it's also more difficult to apply decals to some surfaces. 

Why Eris and Edmonton? Well, since this was my (Earl's) first squadron, I chose ship names that all begin with the letter "e."