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Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Animal! Aiiiieeearrrrrr

This classic image is from the equally classic Paranoid Production, Generous Nature. Here, Pliers (Ron Briscoe) tortures Roarke Norway (Jeff Shyluk). Directed by Earl J. Woods, this forgotten noir masterpiece will soon be available on YouTube, completely remastered with all-new digital effects - unless the players object strenuously.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Wings of Balsa

On April 25th, a fellow named Steve Eves broke a world record by launching the world's biggest and heaviest model rocket, a 1/10 scale Saturn V.

When I was younger, model rockets captured my imagination. I only wound up launching a few, with varying degrees of success, but I always had fun.

One day in 1983, Keith Gylander, Ron Westman and my brother Sean and I (Sean's the young one in the middle) crossed the street to East Elementary and launched a model X-Wing, purchased several years before in Leaf Rapids, assembled only days before this launch.

Unfortunately, I forgot to stuff the protective wadding into the nose cone, so the parachute flare damaged the 'chute and the model plunged to earth instead of floating down safely. So this rocket had one and only one launch. But for a few moments, we all slipped the surly bonds of Earth and rode in that tiny plastic cockpit, heading for the stars.

Earl J. Woodshol

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Earl: Total War

A few days back Jeff Shyluk was playing Empire: Total War when he noticed something interesting and took the screenshot above.

If you zoom in, you'll see that this bewigged fellow, one Earl Woods, is serving as Governor of a territory in northern Ontario. Sadly, Jeff tells me that my computer warlord namesake lasted only a few months in the position. That's longer than I'd last as a real-world warlord, I expect.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Graduation Day

I've completed my whirlwind 10-week graphic design course! For the last lesson, Professor Shyluk and I crafted this diploma, which I'll frame and display in my office.

I'm very grateful to Jeff for putting together a very well-designed, informative and challenging course. I learned a lot about Photoshop, design principles, and art history. Now the challenge is to see if I have any sort of talent to apply to graphic design! At the very least, I know what to look for and how to tell the difference between good design, bad design, and passable but uninspiring design.

Thanks Jeff!

Chocolate Defiant

I meant to make note of this a while back - for Easter, Sylvia found a chocolate USS Defiant, Captain Sisko's ship from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It's interesting that the chocolatiers chose this relatively lesser-known vessel; why not the Enterprise? Probably because the short, stubby shape of the Defiant is less likely to break into several pieces during shipping.

This thing is huge; two weeks later, I've barely managed to eat one of the warp nacelles.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Alberta Liberal AGM After-Action Report

Close to 300 Alberta Liberals - many of them new and/or young members - crammed into the Radisson Hotel today to elect a new executive and hear from Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann.

The biggest news of the day was Dr. Swann's crystal clear announcement that any notion of changing the name of the party is off the table, calling himself a proud Liberal ready to move forward under that proud tradition.

There was also a lot of good news on the fundraising front; in recent days, individual donors have come forth with donations worth multiple thousands of dollars, on top of a rising wave of donations that have turned the tide on the staff and office front, allowing the party to keep operating smoothly for several months.

Most executive positions were contested by at least two candidates, an exciting renewal of interest. The winners:

President: Tony Sansotta
Secretary: Nancy Cavanaugh
Vice-President, Policy: Dr. Avalon Roberts
Vice-President, Communications: Jody MacPherson
Treasurer: Stephanie Fuehreur

(My apologies if I've misspelled any of those names.)

Finally, party members voted to extend membership eligibility to Albertans 14 years of age and up, down from 16, recognizing the growing number of young adults who have been coming forward to help the party.

At the risk of sounding partisan, I was genuinely excited by the level of energy and spirit shown at this meeting. Hundreds of people travelled from across the province to handle some important business, and Dr. Swann really shone as he outlined his vision for a healthy Alberta - I wish I had a transcript of his speech. Sylvia and I are both very glad to have attended.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

At Long Last, a Little Love for Libraries

During my tenure as the late Lois Hole's speechwriter, I wrote dozens, if not hundreds, of speeches on the importance of libraries. Libraries were Lois' number one passion, so I have to give credit to the Alberta government for significantly boosting public library funding. I'm honestly surprised that the provincial Tories are doing this, but I'm nonetheless delighted.

For old times' sake, here's an excerpt from one of the speeches on libraries Lois had me put together, a celebration of the Wildwood public library's 50th anniversary back in 2004. I think she'd be pretty pleased by the government's decision.

...These people, in their quiet way, have maintained one of civilization’s great traditions: the gathering and dissemination of hard-won human wisdom. In this way, libraries have been and shall always be the engines of civilization’s progress.

In fact, without libraries, such progress would be impossible, especially in the modern era. These days, we all depend upon libraries, whether we know it or not.

Because in the library, those with sufficient drive and curiosity can uncover the deepest truths, using books to explore the thoughts and actions of others and to inform their own creativity.

Books are the gateway to a better tomorrow, for books challenge us to use our minds, to find better ways of conducting ourselves and managing the great problems of human existence.

In the library, we can find the resources to examine and confront our most difficult social problems.

Or we can find solace there in times of stress, indulging in the great works of literature, or even the not-so-great – whatever suits your particular taste.

Libraries are as crucial to our survival as schools, hospitals, farms, or any other institution you can name, because they ensure that we need not learn the same lessons over and over again, from scratch. Unlike our stone age ancestors, we can learn from the experience of those who came before.

And that gives us a remarkable power to change and grow and do things better.

But sometimes, because Canada enjoys such a high rate of literacy, we take libraries for granted. Well, we can’t afford to do that anymore.

In an age where giant media conglomerates try to shape our opinions with sound bites, we need books more than ever before.

Good documentaries and news programs have their place, but when you really need to understand an issue in depth, you’ve got to turn to books.

And because books are so expensive these days, libraries have become even more important, to ensure that reading doesn’t become a hobby for the rich.

Without true literacy, democracy itself becomes impossible; the real battle of the 21st century, I believe, will be between those who would use ignorance to serve their own greed, and those who selflessly open the doors of knowledge to anyone who cares to listen.

By building a culture that venerates the principles of literacy, we may yet save ourselves from a grim future of literary haves and have-nots.

Libraries are the cornerstone of civil society, of the liberal democracy that we’ve come to cherish. We must not allow them to crumble into disuse.

...Our libraries require all the love and care we can give them, for libraries don’t just preserve the wisdom of the past; they contain the seeds of a better future.

For fifty years, Wildwood’s library has performed a mission that’s absolutely critical to Alberta’s continued prosperity: maintaining and improving the literacy of our people.

And we cannot underestimate the importance of that mission, for learning to read is the first duty of every citizen; teaching another to do so is the second; using that ability to maintain your education and the education of others is the third. As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

With those words in mind, I think we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to serve others by keeping learning and literacy alive. One day, hopefully not so very far in the future, everyone on this Earth will enjoy the gift of literacy, and when that day arrives, we’ll be one giant leap closer to building a more just, more peaceful, more prosperous world.

The future of our country absolutely depends upon a literate population, and attaining that goal involves not only vigorous support of our public schools, universities, and public libraries, but also public health care and the fine arts.

All of these institutions, when taken together, form the foundation of a prosperous, literate culture, and we must not neglect any one of these institutions for the sake of another.

As I grow older, I've been thinking more and more about what kind of future the next generation can hope to expect.

While human beings have made a lot of progress, especially in the last hundred years, we also have a long way yet to travel.

Some of the problems we face—hunger, crime, disease, poverty, racism, war—seem almost insurmountable.

It's no wonder that many of our young people have cynical attitudes about their future prospects for employment and a good life.

But we can bury that cynicism if we work together, young and old, to fight poverty, injustice, and racism.

And the best way to build a better world for our children is to fight for our public libraries and public schools.

If I could bestow one gift upon young people, it would be a good education, an education rich in literature, science, mathematics, history, crafts, sport, and the fine arts. It would be an education with no shortage of excellent teachers and a full supply of the world's best books.

And part of that ideal education would include teaching youth about community responsibility, public awareness, trustworthiness, respect, and compassion for their fellows.

Education doesn't just provide the next generation with the knowledge and skills they need to prosper; it also gives them the tools they need to make ethical choices.

Whenever I wonder why we’ve been put on this Earth, the example of the men and women I’ve known gives me my answer: we’re here to help, and to make the world a better place. Any chance we have to make a positive difference, as you have by supporting your library, should be taken: it’s a blessing.

...We all have a very personal stake in libraries, and so we have a responsibility to take a more active role in their maintenance and growth.

In a world of changes, contributing to the health of your library is one of the only legacies that really lasts.

And in building a legacy for your loved ones, you’re also investing in a more literate, more enlightened world.

Thank you, and enjoy your library.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Wont of a Nail

Saturday gave me a lot to think about.

It was my brother's 33rd birthday, and I was regretting my inability to find a Black Belt Jones poster for him, hoping that the Robby the Robot bank I found would be interesting and unusual enough to amuse him.

Sylvia and I rose early so that I could load a bunch of cardboard into my car for recycling and hit an ATM for some cash for our new housekeepers, who were to arrive that morning.

I stopped the car to dispose of some garbage and found this painting. I paused, because I'm currently taking a graphic design course from Jeff Shyluk, and art history is a major component of the course. I'm scared to critique this because I can't identify it. Could someone have abandoned a master's work by the trash?

I drove to the recycling station near SuperStore and disposed of my cardboard. Then I entered SuperStore to purchase some Pepsi for Sylvia, and found, to my delight, six-packs of Coca-Cola in glass bottles. But the contents of my groceries shifted in the trunk, and when I opened the lid to retreive my booty, one six-pack of Coke fell to earth and two bottles smashed upon the asphalt.

Grumbling, I gathered up the surviving soldiers and went upstairs to our condo for a broom and dustpan. Our housekeepers had arrived in my absence, and were busy sterilizing our home, much to Sylvia's delight.

I swept up the shards of glass and walked over to our condo's garbage bin. On the way, a man asked me, "Are you Quentin?"

"Nope. Just a guy with a bunch of broken glass," I replied, using my best smooth talkin' grifter voice. I flung the glass into the trash and returned to the condo to hand over the cash (to the housekeepers).

When the housekeepers left, Sylvia and I gathered up Sean's presents and drove south, along the Anthony Henday, to Joey's in South Edmonton Common. My parents and brother had already arrived. Sean performed a hat trick, flipping his hat through the air to land on his head. I asked him to do it again for the camera, but the second attempt was unsuccessful and Sean was unwilling to make a third.

We ate. Sean had a chicken thing, Dad had a beef dip, Mom had hot wings, Sylvia had blackened Cajun basa, and I had some kind of chicken thing. A thing on a bun.

We left. Mom and Dad handed over some Super 8 mm film, which I plan to tranfer to DVD using the services of Cine audio visual, or perhaps London Drugs. Sean went with Mom and Dad, and Sylvia and I went to IKEA.

We purchased BOOBLI curtains. Sylvia liked the colours; I liked the Tarzan of the Jungle pattern of leaves. We purchased a DAVE laptop stand, seen here:

We purchased a clay pot and saucer, for Sylvia's transplanting plants plan. The pot and saucer fell from the cart seconds after the IKEA teller rang the purchases through. She rushed out and told us she'd see we received replacements. Minutes later, the debris was disposed of (I cut my finger) and another IKEA person brought us a new ULBGORT and BOOGINK.

We left. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Today I smashed four things: two retro Cokes, a clay pot, and a clay whatever-you-call-the-thing-you-put-under-a-clay-pot-to-catch-the-excess-water.

We drove to the City of Edmonton Eco Station on 51st avenue and 99th street, where I disposed of my old Dell and VAIO computers. The Dell caused me problems from day one; the VAIO served faithfully and well for many years, and was in fact still fully functional until I ripped out its hard drives. Shades of Dave singing "Daisy."

We returned home. I built the (other) DAVE for Sylvia. I watched last week's episodes of 24 and Heroes.

Later, I gently stubbed my left big toe. That's the toe with a slightly ingrown toenail - nothing serious or even noticeable, except the flesh is tender if disturbed.

I looked down at my toe and wondered why I perceive of the toe as "my" toe, as a possession. My toe, my fingers, my chin, my back, my arms, my spine, my stomach, even my brain, my mind. These are the things, conceptually, I own.

I wondered: what is "me?"

I thought, not for the first time, that I think of myself as the bit up inside my skull that talks, the silent voice that is thinking these words as I type them into the "new post" window.

I wondered why it is that I should exist as a consciousness mapped onto the grey matter of my brain. I understand that there's a biological reason, but what's the metaphysical reason? If there is a reason at all, which I do not presume.

I wondered if perhaps my body was just an extension of some greater being, a universal consciousness using me to sense and experience and move through our three dimensional world in the same way that my brain directs my fingers to type these words.

I wondered if each human being - or every sentient being - is perhaps just a sensory organ of some greater thing, the universe itself using bits of matter to experience this reality we struggle to understand.

I wondered if Sylvia and I and our parents and our siblings and neighbours and friends and everyone else are actually just different aspects of that same being.

A being who, a long time ago, thought to itself, "I want to experience life as a Caucasian male born in Flin Flon, Manitoba in 1969 who becomes a moderately successful professional writer and breaks four brittle things on a spring day in 2009."

Maybe those shards of glass and clay, the ones I cleaned up yesterday, were the entire reason for my existence. Who knows?

I should really take care of this ingrown toenail.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Add Your Voice to the Alberta Budget Debate

As most of my readers know, I work for the Alberta Liberal Caucus, the nine MLAs who serve as the Official Opposition here in Edmonton, the provincial capital. Today our caucus unveiled what I believe is a pretty darn cool idea: a toll-free number and website Albertans can use to send us their questions, concerns and opinions on the government's budget, to be released this Tuesday.

If you haven't been following the news, you may not be aware that this budget may return the government to deficit spending, prompting speculation that the Tories will turn to their first and favourite solution: slashing public services.

As someone who cares passionately about public education, public health care, the arts and our social safety net, this possibility worries me quite a bit. That's why I'm so glad that Dr. David Swann, Leader of the Official Opposition, is making it so easy for Albertans to make their voices heard.

All you have to do is phone the toll-free number on the card I'm holding up: 1-888-886-2834. Or visit and fill out the simple form.

Our Alberta Liberal MLAs will bring the best questions into the Legislative Assembly, ensuring that the voices of Alberta's extraordinary citizens are heard.

It's our budget, too. If you care about fiscal responsibility, about public services, about caring for the less fortunate - give the number a call.