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Monday, May 31, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - Game 6

This week's Liberators game was rained out! Instead of a report on a nonexistent game, here are a couple of photos of the Earl of the past preparing for a ball game in Leduc, Alberta, circa April 1981. My brother Sean seems to be wishing me luck. I don't remember if we won the game or not, though.

Two-Pun Meeting

We just finished our morning meeting, during which we go over the political news of the day. One colleague mentioned that the company that owned a condo which burned up last year (no injuries!) went bankrupt.

"Maybe they'll have a FIRE sale," I quipped.

Minutes later, another coworker mentioned that we should keep an eye on an upcoming report on the cattle industry in Alberta.

"I hear there's a lot at STEAK," I said.

I don't make a habit of such puns - these issues are, after all, serious business - but I've found that a little humour is vital to handle the pressures of political life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do Not Mess With The Great Canadian Bagel

Shot while getting ice cream in the Terra Losa neighbourhood in west Edmonton.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - Game 5

Liberators 16, Meatitarians 9

Victory at last! This was the Liberators' second win of the season, and the first I was present for. At first I was a bit disappointed with my performance, striking out once (with bases loaded, no less!) and getting tagged out at first twice during my initial at-bats, but late in the game I earned my first RBI by slamming a weak drive into a convenient hole in coverage. I even crossed the home plate myself shortly thereafter, something I haven't accomplished since junior high school.

Here are a few shots from the game:

Keeping my eye on the ball.

Should I swing at this or not? Wait, whoops...d'oh!

Zounds! I actually managed to hit the ball...time to run!

Earl races the ball the ball to first. The ball won this time.

A dramatic play at first - our runner Jamie is safe!

As usual, Steve had a terrific game.

Lisa slammed the ball with considerable might on more than one occasion... did her fiancee, Matt.

As usual, team captain Tanara motivated the team with encouraging words and peerless performance.

She even brought along her boyfriend AJ to help us out with a home run or two.

At first I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about playing at the tail end of a long weekend, but I'm glad that I showed up. Not only did I get another good workout, for the first time I was able to contribute to a team victory. Hopefully this win gets us out of the standings cellar!

EDITED TO ADD: Having checked the standings, I find that we're not in the cellar at all, but in the middle of the pack. Go Liberators!

I also forgot to mention that during my run from second to third, I collided with the opposing team's third basewoman. I felt terrible, but she was unhurt - and I was safe. Slo-pitch isn't for the faint of heart...

Lost Opportunity: How the Finale Could Have Been Redeemed

WARNING: SPOILERS for the season finale of LOST

On Sunday night, cult TV series Lost ended with dozens of mysteries unanswered and a happily-ever-afterlife that felt arbitrary and tacked-on for the sake of giving beloved characters some measure of reward for their sacrifices.

Like many other viewers who have followed the show with devotion since 2004, I was disappointed with "The End" (the finale's title). The conflict between the smoke monster and the castaways was resolved clumsily, with character motivations unclear and a plot full of holes - why, for example, did the smoke monster and Jack have any reason to believe that lowering Desmond into the source would benefit either of them and not the other? I guess Jack just got lucky that Desmond's act of pulling the island's plug robbed the smoke monster of his otherworldly powers, allowing the climactic...fist fight. Hooray. Jack gets stabbed during the fight, kills the depowered smoke monster, plugs the hole Desmond made and wanders, mortally wounded, back into the jungle, dying in the very spot the crash flung him in 2004. Poetic, yes - but unsatisfying on many levels.

The revelation that the season six flash-sideways plotline was nothing more than God's waiting room is, quite simply, a cheat. All season long, viewers were led to believe that what happened in this alternate timeline (or at least, we thought it was an alternate timeline) mattered; that the gradual awakening of the characters would have some impact on the prime storyline on the island. But no. In the final minutes of the finale, we discover that perhaps thousands of years have passed, and Jack is in purgatory, waiting for all his friends to be together so that they can move on to heaven.

I should make it clear that the scene itself was moving and well-written. My only problem is that it makes the entire island storyline, the one we've followed for the last six years, meaningless; everyone winds up in heaven (or near enough), so what were the stakes? Why was it so important that the island be protected?

Here's how the finale could have been saved. When Christian reveals the truth to Jack, he tells him that his time on the island was the most important time in his life. But he doesn't say why. It's just a given, and it's why he needed all his friends together in purgatory to achieve closure and "move on."

Christian needed to say one more thing. He needed to say,

"Jack, your time on the island was the most important time in your life...and in the lives of all these other people. Because the sacrifices you made on that island made all this [gesturing to the afterlife] possible...not just for you and your friends - but for everyone, everywhere, for all time. Without you, after death there would be only darkness."

If it had turned out that Jack and company were fighting for an afterlife for all humanity...wouldn't those stakes have been worth all they endured? Wouldn't that have made the unresolved mysteries at least a little more bearable? I would have been quite content never to learn who made the drain and the plug at the heart of the island if I had reason to believe that they had a very good reason - the best possible existential reason - for doing so.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For Gaming, For Guinness, For Good Fellowship

Gaming & Guinness V
May 6-9, 2010

Stephen Fitzpatrick has already blogged about the latest iteration of Gaming and Guinness, but I had such a good time that I'm compelled to add my thoughts on what has become one of my favourite annual traditions.

Stephen created the G&G festival to celebrate his friendships, his love of games of all kinds, and his appreciation for fine alcohol. It's an opportunity to bridge the gaps of time and space that grow between friendships as people grow older, and to forget about the trials of the adult world for a while.

In years past I've been too busy with my work at the Alberta Legislature to offer more than token participation, but this year the House recessed early enough for me to book some time off and camp out at Mike Totman's place for the whole event.

(Mike, by the way, was a soliticious host, offering not only comfortable sleeping arrangements, but arranging some excellent meals - he and Pete cooked up homemade chili in bread bowls and absolutely divine spaghetti with meat sauce. I ate better at Mike's than I do at home!) 

When I arrived on Thursday, Mike Parlow, Stephen and Scott Friel were already knee-deep in a Warhammer 40,000 engagement. I don't pretend to understand the mechanics of this game, but the modelmaking is really something to behold. Armies composed of hundreds of individual units - from tanks to robots to demons to helicopters to a soaring fighter-bomber -  clashed on a battlefield with dozens of shattered buildings, a river, craters and treees. Mike, Steve and Scott must have invested countless man-hours to create this impressive tableau.

Monsters from the Id battle in the ruins of a shattered cathedral.

While G&G has traditionally focussed on board games, the lowered inhibitions brought on by Guinness consumption prompted the guys to break out the Wii for Rock Band. (Being a bit of a ham, I need no alcoholic ingestion to risk making a fool of myself.) I shot video of a few of our performances, but discretion is definitely the better part of valour here, so a few snapshots will have to suffice.

Steve belts out a tune.

Pete and I jam. Pete is a far more accomplished Rock Band guitar hero than I.

Mike Parlow channels Robert Plant. Mike's a talented vocalist!

Jeff Pitts wails away on the drums while I try not to get us booed off the stage.

Totty really sold his performance.

Even the notoriously reclusive Dustin Friel showed up to twang out a few grooves.

As amusing as Rock Band was, boardgames are the true focus of G&G. I surprised myself by winning a round of Robo Rally, a game that doesn't exactly play to my strengths - strategic planning and programming. It's an interesting game; everyone commands a robot, and you use cards to program your robot through an obstacle-filled maze. If you give your robot the wrong command, you could send it into the path of a laser beam, down a pit, or simply send it scurrying in the wrong direction. While Rock Band is all about emotion, Robo Rally demands a focussed mind.

This year I contributed a new game to the festivities: Last Night on Earth. It's beautifully designed, and convincingly recreates the feel of a zombie horror film, with an assortment of colourful heroes and hordes of malevolent zombies. The heroes of the game have only until sunset to complete a series of objectives, while the zombies chow down on their flesh. This game presents quite a challenge for the heroic characters, resulting in two very theatrical but unhappy endings for the human players. (I later played against Sylvia at home, taking command of the zombie side, but she shepherded her heroes to victory.)

Steve brought along his HMS Stadium, a diabolical Japanese game of spinning tops that accurately recreates all the blood, gore and mayhem of Roman gladitorial combat. All right, perhaps I embellish slightly - but only slightly! The object of the game is to ensure that your top is the last one spinning in the plastic arena. However, the heavy metal and plastic tops spin and bounce with such speed and violence that flying shrapnel is a genuine hazard.

Note Steve's reaction here, for example, as a whizzing top misses my camera lens by a few inches. This isn't a game for the lighthearted or risk-averse! We were still picking bits of metal off the carpet days later.

G&G climaxed with a chariot race, certainly the highlight of the entire event thanks to the work invested by Mike, Pete and Steve. The original Circus Maximus was published in 1979, with a small paper track and counters - fun, but not exactly epic in scope. Mike found some lead miniatures online, Steve painted them up, and Pete designed and printed a track to scale. Pictures really can't do justice to their work, but have a look anyway:

Steve designed and constructed this impressive trophy, to be engraved with
the champion's name each year.

Behind the trophy, the riders await.

The race begins! My charioteer, Ben Hurt, is in yellow - and at the back of the pack, where he remained all race long.

An anachronistic aerial view of the opening seconds of the race.

Jeff Pitts watches the riders roar around the first turn.

Calamity! Mike Totman took a turn too quickly, and his chariot overturned, leaving the charioteer dragging behind his team of horses! Mike Parlow quickly overtook the dying rider.

Ben Hurt, too, crashed. Unlike Mike's rider, however, mine was fortunate enough to survive. Scott's chariot overturned as well, but he managed to cut himself free of the reins and leapt to safety over the stadium wall. As you can see, the game does its best to recreate all the drama of the chariot race from the film Ben Hur. Steve even crafted miniatures to represent crashed chariots, dragged riders, and riders running to escape the stadium.

Jeff Pitts claimed victory, and he made it look easy with a calculated, professional strategy. The race did indeed go to the swift, and he did it wearing a Flash t-shirt for extra cool/geek points.

Caesar Fitzpatrickus of Eireium presents Jeff Pitts with the trophy.

Jeff celebrates his victory at the podium, while Pete and Mike settle for
silver and bronze, respectively.

There were other diversions at G&G V - we went out to see superhero parody Kick-Ass, played a round of Trivial Pursuit, played an amusing children's game of gambling and derring-do called Cloud 9 - but I think I've hit all the highlights here, with one exception: many raucous conversations between old friends, covering topics from the personal to the political. When I tried to explain G&G to a pal at work, she summed it up neatly by calling it a "friend summit." An apt description, and I'm looking forward to next May's friend summit on Vancouver Island. I'm very grateful to Steve for arranging these events, to Mike Totman for hosting this year, and to the whole gang for their companionship. It was a much-needed and very welcome break.

Friday, May 21, 2010

APS Wins Mayor's Award

A couple of months ago Sylvia nominated her employer, the Alberta Pension Services Corporation, for a Mayor's Award. The awards are handed out annually by the Mayor to Edmontonians who help improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Sylvia wrote an amazing nomination letter to the city on behalf of APS, explaining how the corporation has helped accomodate her needs. On the strength of that nomination, I'm happy to say that APS took home the award yesterday afternoon.

I'm very proud of Sylvia for stepping forward to ensure that a compassionate, progressive organization was recognized for their good work. And as her husband, I'm happy to offer APS my personal gratitude for making life a little easier for Sylvia. To be honest, I often forget that Sylvia has a disability and that simple, everyday actions I take for granted can sometimes present a challenge to her. APS has been excellent about knocking down some of those barriers.

Here's how the award citation currently reads on the City of Edmonton website:
The Alberta Pensions Services Corporation for acknowledging the contributions of persons with disabilities and providing a work culture that promotes respect, consideration and appreciation for diversity.

Later on there will be video of Sylvia talking about APS. I'll link to it despite Sylvia's protests!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - Game 4

Airways Park
Doucheballz 22, Liberators 1

The boys and girls of summer did their best, but only the league mercy rule saved us from a drubbing even more humiliating than the 22-1 pounding we received at Airways Park just south of the old City Centre Airport.

We faced the #2-ranked team, and without question they deserved the victory. They displayed a take-no-prisoners athleticism, though they were good sports about it.

Despite the loss, I'm pretty happy with my own performance this time around - relatively speaking, of course. I managed to halfway field one ball in the outfield, and served a couple of innings as a reasonably competent backcatcher, coming close to catching fly ball that was coming down the inside wall of the backstop. My Hurculean effort even resulted in the loss of my baseball cap!

Rick Miller scored our sole run, brought home by, I believe, Steve of Laurie Blakeman's office. Or it may have been Rick's son Chris who drove in the run - these two are certainly the anchors of the team, in any event.

Kim Dewar managed a solid base hit, as did I, maintaining my average. Twice at bat, one single, one strikeout.

They say winning is always more fun than losing, but I really enjoyed this game. I worked up a sweat, made my muscles ache, caught the ball a few times and reached first base once. That's better than I ever did in grade school!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dishwasher Safe

Here is one of our glasses. It's a nice green glass that has always served us faithfully. Our dishwasher has also served us faithfully.
But when I emptied the dishwasher this morning, I discovered that our green glass had been sliced in two, with laser-beam accuracy.

I examined the glass carefully. I wasn't aware of any laser hardpoints in the dishwasher, so there had to be some other explanation. In the end, I decided that I must have had a frosty drink just before putting the glass into the dishwasher and starting the wash cycle. The temperature differential was too much for the glass!

Now it is art.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reflections on a Drop-Down Ceiling

It's good to live
to remember the heartache of unrequited adolescent love
to consider all you've accomplished and all you have yet to accomplish
to recall friends long gone and opportunities missed
to feel the rush of wind in your hair and rain on your face on a stormy summer afternoon
to fall asleep with your wife's head resting on your chest
to wonder why and how we're all here at all
to let go of old dreams and build new ones
to listen to a favourite song from twenty years past in the dark after midnight
to take a risk and succeed, or fail
to give your parents reasons to be proud
to reconcile and forgive
to harbour an appropriate measure of righteous anger
to do a bit of heavy lifting
to be surprised
to be wise
to be foolish
to have a few secrets that are yours alone
to strike out alone and see who you are
to look up at the stars in isolation
to stare at the ceiling and wonder who built it and what they're doing now
to do the right thing whenever you can, wherever you can, whatever the consequences...
...and to know that your judgment is imperfect...
...and to proceed anyway, because someone must.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - Game 3

Tonight the Liberators gathered on Edmonton's south side to face our next opponents. I was glad to be back on the field after missing the last game, hoping that this time I'd be able to help the team earn victory.

But it wasn't meant to be. By the end of the first inning, we were down 7-1, and managed to score only once more during the entire game for a final score of 16-2. Strangely enough, I felt like our fielding overall was pretty good; we held them scoreless for several innings, but they had another seven-run inning late in the game to put it away.

At bat, I struck out once and hit a single between third and fourth (Addendum: this should have read "second and third" - this just shows how little I know about sports - thanks Andrea!) at my second and final at-bat, but another runner was tagged out before I could advance any further.

On the plus side, I'm not nearly as sore today as I was after the first game, so perhaps my muscles are getting accustomed to being used again.

Here are some highlights from the game. As always, click to embiggen:

Catcher Lisa stretches before the game. Always a wise move.

Neil hit a solid single midway through the game.

Rick Miller wields his bat with incredible finesse.

Team Captain Tanara examines the batting order. Given tonight's result, it may need some revision.