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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Boxing Myself In

Several months ago, Sylvia and I stored some of our stuff at my parents' place to make our first condo less cramped and more attractive to prospective buyers. Yesterday, Sean and I travelled to Leduc to borrow Mom and Dad's truck and to pick up this first load of stuff. Unfortunately, I managed to box myself into the basement. Planning ahead is important when you move. (Sean rescued me after taking this humiliating photo.)

Sean and I are moving more boxes today. Sylvia is so excited that she's figuratively bouncing off the walls. Fun!

Friday, July 30, 2010

First Glimpse at Our New Home

Yesterday Sylvia and I took possession of our new condo! Thanks to Sylvia's excellent money management and our realtor's amazing negotiating skills, we have a beautiful new home with all the room I'll ever need for all my books.

I'd like to reiterate how pleased we are with Patrick Fields, our realtor. He was a model of professionalism and kindness throughout the entire process, and Sylvia and I have no hesitation about recommending his services to anyone looking to buy or sell a new home. He helped make an inherently stressful experience much more pleasant.

Of course, we still have to move our stuff, which will involve lugging around hundreds of heavy, book-filled boxes. This time, though, I thought ahead and borrowed a dolly, which should make the job a lot easier. Photos to come!

Garth's Teeth

I've always been fascinated by the relish with which my friend Jeff tells the story of Garth's Teeth. He's been telling it since I met him back in 1987 or 88, back in the days of the U of A Star Trek Club. Last year, when Sylvia and I visited Jeff and Susan in BC, I finally captured the story on video for posterity. I've also been experimenting with simple video editing, so this version of the story is embellished with some silly special effects.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fox and the Boxes

Jeff Shyluk writes, "I noticed that your Earl Default Character looked to me an awful lot like David Duchovny. I took the liberty of adding an Armani suit in PShop so you can see what I mean." So if I wore an Armani suit, would I look like David Duchovny? Maybe after I haul many, many, many boxes...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lister Hall and Rutherford Library circa 1989-1990

Posting that last video evoked some feelings of nostalgia, so here's another glimpse into my past at Lister Hall and the University of Alberta. One day Jeff Pitts came by for a visit and we went to the Ruthorford Library to do some research. Since those days, a new residence tower has grown at Lister and I'm sure the terminal I'm typing on in the video below has been replaced with something much more modern. Time marches on little cat feet...

A few months ago I managed to transfer all of my old home movies from Super 8 mm film, 8 mm tape, VHS and Beta to DVD. A fraction of that is available on my hard drive as easily-editable digital files. My long-term goal is to sort everything chronologically and clean it up as best I can, perhaps using some of the footage to create a few themed shorts. Why? I'm not sure. The images and sounds I captured will be of little interest to historians, and I will have no descendants that might want a family history. And yet I feel compelled to preserve these captured photons and wisps of other times. Perhaps, as postulated in more than one science fiction story, the people of the future will use these archives to rebuild a virtual Earl for purposes unknowable to us primitives, and my friends and I will live again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sean and the Boxes

Those of you who aren't on Facebook shouldn't miss Sean's clever vandalization of the grafitti I sent to him tonight. Ah, the wonders of moving into a new home...

The Haunted Elevator of Henday Hall

At left: a typical Lister Hall elevator and an unsuspecting pizza delivery boy (and friend).

Watching Inception last week reminded me of some of the dreamlike incidents in my own past - surreal events that have a natural explanation (as all events do, however odd), but an explanation hidden from my understanding.

For a few months during my last year at the University of Alberta, I took a one-night-a-week job as a pizza deliveryman at Lister Hall, the university residence. The pay was miniscule - perhaps five or six dollars an hour - but enough, at the time, to pay for Coke and comic books.

Every shift, I reported to The Marina, the in-house grill located in Lister Hall proper. Completed pizzas were placed on a cart, which I pushed from the main building down the underground hallways to Lister's residence towers - Henday, Mackenzie, and Kelsey - and our waiting customers.

Late one shift, I was pushing my cart toward the Henday tower's elevator. Just as I approached, the elevator doors slid open, even before I pressed the call button. I was a little nonplussed, but shoved the cart inside and turned to push the button for the eighth floor. Before I could do so, the elevator lurched upward, throwing me a little off-balance. Steadying myself on the cart, I impulsively decided not to press 8, instead letting the elevator take me where it might. My eyebrows lifted in surprise as the doors opened up to the eighth floor.

With a mental shrug, I left the lift, delivered the pizza, and returned to the elevator - only to watch as its doors opened again without prompting. I didn't hesitate; I had no thoughts of malevolent elevator demons delivering me to the depths of the earth. I just smiled, pushed the cart into the car, and remained passive as the lift plummeted gently to the basement. The doors opened once more, inviting me to leave, and slid closed behind me as I continued my rounds.

At the time I spent a good deal of thought trying to figure out why the elevator seemed so eager to please. No buttons were pressed; none were lit inside the lift; I saw no furtive pranksters setting me up for a gag. A mechanical malfunction seems unlikely, and yet it's the only rational cause I can come up with.

While I'm not a believer in the supernatural, sometimes it pleases me to imagine that there were unseen, unearthly forces at work that night, invisible jesters having fun with some mortal fool. My strange elevator ride added intrigue and mystery to an otherwise dull evening - and, it seems, to my memories of a mostly ordinary life. Whatever happened, however mundane the true cause, I remain grateful for my odd excursion to the outer limits of the twilight zone.

The Marina as it was back in the late 80s/early 90s.

The Art of Friendship - Epilogue

The Raven and the First Men, Bill Reid

The next day, Jeff and Susan went to see a BC Lions game, so Steven took Sylvia and me on a short tour of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. I enjoyed the current exhibit, Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, particularly a simple but shockingly effective short film depicting the stark reality of an industrial landfill. The film is a simple loop, about twenty minutes long, of train cars rolling past the dump, debris being added to the dump, and a crane shifting refuse back and forth. The bleak desolation, the lack of any life or humanity, paints a very effective portrait of the hidden costs of our industrial society. Even the nuclear-blasted apocalyptic landscape of James Cameron's Terminator films looks more appealing than this glimpse of an ugly reality most people never see or even consider.

That's the thing about art; it reveals truths, creates truths, questions truths - all in the hopes of helping humanity understand itself and the world around us. Our weekend in Vancouver reminded me that even though I'll never be an artist, I still benefit tremendously from the creativity of the people all around me - my friend Jeff, my cousin Keith, the clever creators of Star Trek: Chains of Betrayal, the artists ancient and modern featured at the Museum of Anthropology, and the millions of other artists around the world who are generous enough to share their talents with the rest of us.

Jeff, Susan, Steven, Keith - thanks for an inspiring weekend.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Art of Friendship, Part II

Just a few hours later, we gathered at the Western Front, on trendy East 8th Avenue. Steven had already started to figure out what was going on, pursuing clues I'd dropped. Jeff and Susan, however, weren't quite as quick to figure it out...probably because they were suppressing the horror of what was to come.

When my cousin Keith Langergraber showed up to greet us, the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place. We'd journeyed to Vancouver because Keith is an artist and a fan of science fiction. Knowing that I, too, was a fan, he asked me to provide some supporting materials for his exhibition, The Society of Temporal Investigations, a mixed-media work that uses drawings, films, writing and modelmaking to examine the relationships between fans and the shows they follow. I was only too happy to offer Keith a selection of appropriately-themed articles from this blog and a fan film I directed nearly twenty years ago...Finger Puppet Star Trek.
Jeff and Susan were instrumental in the creation of Finger Puppet Star Trek; they designed and built the sets, costumes and "makeup" (i.e., they drew the faces on our fingers). They also served as voice actors. Needless to say, when we filmed Finger Puppet Star Trek back in the early 90s, we never expected it to have a premiere in front of several dozen people. But that's exactly what was about to happen. Watch as the implications start to set in...

Jeff and Susan - and for that matter, Sylvia - managed to fortify themselves with enough alcohol to get through the evening. Steven, cool as a cucumber, prepared for a night of amusement at his sister's and brother-in-law's expense. (He was fortunate enough to be unavailable during the Finger Puppet shoot.)

Before the screening, we gathered in the gallery to see the show's foundation, Keith's impressive array of modelwork and drawings. I was quite impressed with Keith's presentation. Through his work and his remarks, Keith showed how some fans of science fiction are not merely consumers of culture, but active participants, reinterpreting the science fiction canon to suit their own vision and desires. Keith started the festivities with a brief talk about his work, referencing Robert Smithson's essay "The Shape of Future and Memory" and his work, Spiral Jetty. Keith's own work is littered with spirals, as befits a genre preoccupied with stars and galaxies and whirling tunnels to other times, other dimensions.

This is the centrepiece of Keith's exhibit: The Battle of Procyon V. Keith kitbashed many Star Trek model kits to create this impressive tableau. The pictures really don't do it justice. The battle, by the way, is a canonical event from Star Trek: Enterprise. Keith's work here both extends and comments upon one of the most common fan phenomena: our propensity to extrapolate and reinterpret relationships, events or ideas only touched on in the original works. We become authors in our own right, shaping our own personal canon - if indeed there can be such a thing as a "personal canon," a concept hotly debated in fan circles.

Steven watches the battle. Clearly I fooled around with some Photoshop effects here.
Here's Keith, with some of his artwork in the background. Keith is not only an artist, but a teacher at Emily Carr University and Thompson Rivers University.
Keith and Steven discuss the exhibit. In a moment of synchronicity, Steven discovered that Keith had included an old USS Bonaventure/Edmonton Star Trek Society publication in his collection of fan works - a publication that several members of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club, including myself, had worked on. Keith said that he found it at a thrift store in Trail. You never know where your work is going to end up...
After Keith's well-received talk, we retired upstairs for the screening.

First up was "Chains of Betrayal," a fanmade episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode starts off a little slow, but the laughs get better and more plentiful as the show goes on. I'm extremely impressed by the work of these young men and women, who clearly have an excellent grasp of the correct pase and structure of a typical ST: TNG episode. Aside from the sometimes-primitive green screen work and the haphazard costuming, this could almost pass for a real episode...

Next to "Chains of Betrayal," Finger Puppet Star Trek looks quite primitive. On the other hand, our film is much older and was created in five hours, as opposed to the five years spent on the more polished episode. Still, I offer no excuses...

I think "Chains of Betrayal" deserved all the praise Keith heaped upon it. He was also very kind - quite probably too kind - to our film, pointing out how interesting it was that we chose to adapt the most cerebral of the Star Trek features. During the Q&A session, I admitted that there was no deep meaning behind our choice; it was simply the first of the Star Trek films, and we were proceeding in a linear fashion. No spirals here, except perhaps the spinning of Jeff's head when he saw the film projected on a big screen...

The audience was quite kind as well, and asked good questions about both films, which I and the Vancouver filmmakers attempted to answer. I think everyone had quite a good time.

For another take on Keith's show, read Jeff Shyluk's analysis.

Thanks very much to Keith Langergraber for inviting me to participate in his show, and for allowing me to post images depicting his art. Keith's show is on the road now, so if it comes to your neck of the woods, check it out!

Here are a few more images from the show...

Jeff noted that if you stood in the right place, the lights looked like a string of photon torpedoes. I wasn't quite tall enough to photograph the effect properly, so I faked it...

Next: the epilogue.