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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Art of Friendship, Part I

On June 18, Sylvia and I travelled to visit some old friends in Vancouver - Jeff and Susan Shyluk and Steven Neumann, Susan's brother. Though these friends weren't aware of it, there was a special reason for the journey, a reason that connects themes of friendship and art across two decades.

On our first day, Jeff took Sylvia and I to see his painting "Hyde Creek" at the Green Revolution Art Show in Port Coquitlam's Leigh Square Gathering Place. As an art critic I make a pretty good blogger, but I think it's a marvellous piece and I'm thrilled that Jeff secured a place in this show. For more on the Green Revolution, check out Jeff's blog on the subject here. And here's a better view of the painting itself.

Sylvia and I had to pose with Jeff's work, which is available for sale, by the way.

Since taking a graphic design class from Jeff via electronic correspondence last year, I've tried to pay closer attention to the patterns in nature and art - the straight lines, the curves, the play of light and shadow. (If I'm not mistaken, Jeff's frame appears to be a Golden Rectangle...) I'm never going to be a visual artist, but I still find it challenging and fun to stretch the limits of my talent in that regard. While touring the Gathering Place and nearby Hyde Creek, I kept an eye out for interesting shapes and lines, and shot the following:

The ceiling of the Gathering Place.

Stone sphere in Port Coquitlam. If you look at this for a while, it begins to look like the flag of some imaginary nation.

Sylvia and an outdoor art installation made of old mailboxes.

Sometimes art is a happy accident. Jeff had his hands full so I attempted to perform an extended-arm couples portrait - no easy feat with a bulky digital SLR. I caught this image of half a Sylvia.

Tilting the camera over a little created some interesting diagonal lines.

Port Coquitlam is beautiful, but like any industrialized city, it has its share of urban ugliness. From a construction site behind Hyde Creek, I call this "Cyclopean Scream."

An untitled compantion piece.

I met Steven (pictured), Susan and Jeff during my first year at the University of Alberta (1987-88) - we were all members, Geek Alert, of the U of A Star Trek Club. This detail will become important later on!

Jeff and Susan were excellent hosts, making me feel bad about the insidious trap I'd laid for them and would spring upon them the following night.

Sylvia was aware, but sworn to silence.

Aside from his talents in painting and drawing, Jeff is also a student of the culinary arts. I was amazed by this dough-rolly-thingy, which Jeff used to make homemade pasta. I am amazed that such a thing is even possible. And yet, there was Jeff, creating dough with his bare hands, flattening it and shaping it into...I think he called it rota. Whatever it was, it was delicious.

Like Sylvia and me, Jeff, Susan and Steven enjoy board games. I brought along my newest favourite, Last Night on Earth, a very cinematic survival horror game that pits a quartet of heroes against a gaggle of hungry zombies. Afterward, Jeff had me draw, from memory, the layout of the Bleak House of Blahs, a house I shared with three friends for about a year and a half in the early 90s. Jeff is working on a board game adaptation of our Toilet Chase screenplay, which features the Bleak House of Blahs prominently. Creating board games is an art too, and I'm extremely eager to see the fruit of Jeff's labours.
The next day, we walked around Jeff and Susan's immediate neighbourhood. Susan, Sylvia and Jeff were dwarfed by the trees just a few metres away from their doorstep. I was consciously attempting to follow the rule of thirds in several of these photos, with middling results. Clearly having a light pole coming out of Jeff's head is pretty poor composition.

Another attempt at following the rule of thirds, and I've cropped the photograph in an attempt to create a golden rectangle. Rather than properly measure the ratio, I eyeballed it, wanting to test Jeff's assertion during the graphic design course that such estimates are usually closer to correct than one might expect. I'll leave the judgement to others.

This photo is too dark even after my feeble image correction, but I like Susan's gesture and I think it illustrates how the rule of thirds draws the eye of the viewer from one subject to another.

Again, a little dark. But Sylvia was fascinated by the soft, silky texture of this tree's needles.

I'm a pretty terrible macro photographer (I'd probably be better with the right lens), but I'm still pleased with this image of Susan's hand.

Back in the late 90s, I wanted to write a book about the Shadow People. This was my name for those unfortunate souls illustrating the dangers of everyday life in the modern world. Here a hapless Shadow Person is electrocuted, presumably because he decided to play with a transformer. There's a lot going on here; the sticker is upside-down, adding to the drama of the Shadow Person's death pose. And the rusted-out state of the transformer and its arcane logo at upper right remind me of the post-apocalyptic aesthetic of the Fallout video games.

Jeff and Susan urged me to ingest a native berry. I did so, and took the opportunity to ham it up. I used Photoshop to create this dramatic sequence. Probably went a little overboard with the lens flare, but the stroke tool is awesome. Again, what little prowess I possess can be credited to (or blamed on) Jeff.

British Columbians are remarkably conscious of their impact on the environment. This fish symbol indicates that the drain here leads to salmon habitat. It's a warning not to throw crud down there.

Mock me all you like, for you are my puppets as as demonstrate once again the rule of thirds. Sort of. Well, there are three people in the frame...

As our short sojurn came to an end, I was already vibrating with anticipation for what was to come. Soon I would lure my friends and my long-suffering wife into a conflagration of art, angst, pop culture, geekdom, long-lost relatives and public humiliation. Stay tuned for Part II!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Record-Breaking Ride

Today Sylvia and I travelled to Calgary to join my parents in welcoming my brother Sean over the finish line of the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. Sean raised over $2800 for his 200 km ride, and thus helped participate in the largest fundraiser ever in Alberta - $7.3 million in new funding for the fight against cancer.

We're all very proud of Sean. It's also a pleasure to report that Mom's cancer treatment has gone very well, and that the doctors tell her that there's a nearly 95% chance that the cancer won't come back within the next 30 years. Pretty good odds!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - The Playoffs

Liberators 19 - Ticket to Slide 23
Liberators 15 - Meatitarians 9
Much to my regret, the Liberators finished the slo-pitch season without me; I missed our two playoff games thanks to meetings with our realtor and a trip to Vancouver (more on that later). The team split its two playoff games, with a close-fought loss against Ticket to Slide and a twilight victory over the Meatitarians, leaving us somewhere in the middle of the pack in the final standings. I'm particularly sorry I missed the Liberators/Ticket to Slide match, since our party leader Dr. David Swann came out to play. By all accounts he's still quite an athlete, and I wish I'd been there to snap some photos!

Despite my mediocre performance throughout this experiment, I'm very glad that Tanara organized our team and gave me the opportunity to get some much-needed exercise. I had a great time, using muscles long-dormant and recalling the ghost of the child inside.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sinking My Teeth Into the Job

Sometimes, my job provides exciting opportunities. For example, today Tanara and I travelled to Calgary to shoot some video footage of our boss, David Swann, the Leader of the Official Opposition. As an amateur filmmaker from way back, the chance to shoot some footage - and get paid for it - is a dream come true.

Since Tanara has experience as a television journalist, it fell to her to operate the camera. I had the less glamourous job of...clipboard.

Politics! The halls of power, the corridors of influence! This is what it's all about.

Yes, I should have remembered to pack the easel. Or used proper cue cards. But lacking these, holding the script with my teeth and using my hands to keep the paper from blowing all over the place in the high winds was the best solution. I give David enormous credit for keeping a perfectly straight face while delivering his lines.

Sadly, we had to stop shooting halfway through the job due to rain. My teeth, however, were grateful.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Call Me Out at the Ball Game - Game 6 Redux & Game 7

Fatz With Batz 21, Liberators 1
Sons of Pitches 22, Liberators 13

Last Monday's rain-soaked double header resulted in double defeat for the Liberators! Team Captain Tanara scored our only run against second-ranked Fatz With Batz, and while our effort against Sons of Pitches bore more fruit - including Carmen's first trip across home plate - we still wound up nine runs behind. As a result, we finish the regular season in eighth place (out of ten). Tonight is our first playoff game, being played even as I type - I'm waiting for our realtor to arrive to get some paperwork done on a new home purchase.

Here are a few highlights from the game:
Tanara and Rick prepare for battle on the ball field.

I knew we were in trouble when I saw the intimidating headgear and professionally printed t-shirts of Fatz With Batz.

Andy makes a daring slide into third base.
Carmen smacked a solid single right through the hole between the shortstop and third base to take first.

Speaking of double headers, it's a shame that the folks at DC comics never thought to have the Legion of Substitute Heroes' Double Header play a baseball game. For those unfamiliar with the character, Double Header was rejected by the Legion of Super-Heroes proper because his super power - having two heads - wasn't deemed useful enough for the team. (The two heads also had a tendency to argue.) But the Substitute Heroes readily accepted him.

I wonder how our team would have fared if Double Header had joined us? Somewhere in a parallel universe, it happened...

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Sylvia and I have really enjoyed our time at The Pointe West on the Lake, but we've outgrown it. It's time for something bigger and better. Fortunately, our realtor Patrick has been a wonderful resource, full of excellent advice. Our unit has sold, and we're sure the new owners will love it as much as we did.

Now we're hunting for something new - a bungalow-style condo with a finished basement somewhere on the west end. There aren't a lot of properties out there that fit our specific needs, so I'm hoping that we'll have a new home before we need to move out of The Pointe West. Otherwise, we'll have to move into my brother's apartment! Fortunately, I've calculated that all of our stuff will fit if we use the entire volume of Sean's place - stacking boxes from floor to ceiling, piling the furniture like Tetris blocks. It'll be an adventure!

In all seriousness, our realtor Patrick Fields has done an incredible job, and we feel lucky to have him. Thanks Patrick!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sometimes Buttons are Better

I love my iPod Touch, but there's one thing about it that really bugs me: I can't easily skip tracks while I'm lying in bed in the dark listening to music.

As a teenager and young adult, I played three or four Walkmen to death, usually by staying up late at night and listening to music in the dark while reclining in bed. When I came to a song I wasn't in the mood to hear, I used the fast-forward switch to skip past it...a process that could take several seconds to minutes if the cassette tape was gummed up or the batteries weak. And of course hitting "play" at the right moment was pure guesswork. But it worked, if inefficiently.

The Touch should be a dream when it comes to this kind of listening, with its ability to skip tracks instantly and accurately. Unfortunately, there's no physical button that allows you to skip tracks forward or back; you have to use the touch screen. So each time you want to skip a song, you have to lift the player to your face, hit the big "does everything" button to reactivate the screen, slide your finger across the screen to enter the iPod interface proper, then hit the "next track" icon. This makes what should be a simple task that takes only an instant into a cumbersome process that takes seconds. When you have a large library of music on your iPod, those seconds add up.

It also spoils the mood. The darkness surrounding you gets interrupted by the glow of the screen. You have to shift your head and arms to manipulate the device, just when you were comfortable The glow and the movements are especially bothersome when you have a partner sleeping next to you; I've accidentally awakened Sylvia a few times this way, no matter how careful I am.

I picked up a pair of Apple's expensive add-on headphones because I learned they came with "skip track" buttons. Unfortunately, the buttons are located way up high on the headphones, practically next to your ear, so you have to lift your arm up instead of leaving it resting comfortably at your side, where my iPod rests when I'm listening to music in bed. To make matters worse, the buttons serve a dual purpose: they're redundant volume controls as well as skip track controls. Press one button to raise the volume, another to lower it. To skip a track, you have to "double click" the controls. To go back a song, you have to triple click. The number of clicks doesn't always register, so sometimes nothing happens, sometimes the song pauses, sometimes it goes back when I want it to go forward and vice versa.

I'm no engineer, but this design is completely useless for my purposes. The iPod Touch already has a dedicated volume control on its side, just as it should. Adding another volume control is both redundant and silly. At the very least Apple should have made single-clicking the default for navigating your tunes.

Apple, I know you want to eliminate buttons entirely and create a world of touchscreens for us. But for some activities, good old analog buttons are better. If your next iPod comes with dedicated, physical volume AND track skipping controls, you'll make me a happy man.