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Friday, September 30, 2011

One Book to Rule Them All

I love books. I love the elegance and wit of fine prose. I love a sound argument and evocative exposition. I love imaginative stories and insightful analysis.

I also love the texture of books, their smell, their weight, the sound of pages turning. I love cover art, even when it's terrible or bears no relation whatsoever to the content of the book.

I love my library. Really, I love any library; I love being surrounded by stacks of books. I feel safe in a library, which serves as both a haven from the real world and a gateway to other worlds - some better, some worse, all fascinating in their own ways.

Our collective experience of books is changing. Even my mom has an e-reader now, downloading books over the internet to read on a tablet of plastic and glass. But I'm not ready for digital books yet.

Generally, I embrace change and scientific progress. But so far, e-books leave me cold. I don't like their texture, and I don't like the fact that digital rights management (DRM) software prevents you from truly owning the books you buy. E-readers require power; what do you do if you're stuck somewhere for hours and you drain your batteries?

I'm sure I'll get an e-reader eventually, but I hope the e-books of the (near) future are a little more user friendly. If I were to design an e-book, I'd make it something like this:

The FlexBook
The FlexBook will look and feel like an ordinary mass-market paperback, about 200 pages thick. The whole contraption will be made of yet-to-be-invented smart paper with all the texture of real paper but capable of displaying text, images, textures, video, etc. The smart paper will also absorb energy from the sun to keep it powered.

In the FlexBook's default state, the interior pages will appear blank, while the cover will sport touch controls for downloading books or sorting through the book's internal storage. Select a novel and your FlexBook's pages will fill with its text, while the covers and spine adorn themselves with the appropriate artwork. If your chosen book happens to be longer than 200 pages, no problem; the text will simply scroll by as you read, ensuring that the last page of your text displays on the last page of your FlexBook. No need for bookmarks; simply double-tap the page and it will change colour to indicate your place.

Of course, many readers devour several books at once. The FlexBook will always know which books are "active," listing them for you on the inside covers. Want to read a magazine, comic book or newspaper? Unfold the FlexBook to magazine, comic, broadsheet or tabloid size for an authentic reading experience.

When someone invents an e-reader of this quality and versatility, I'll buy it. Until then, I'll stick with my old-fashioned books.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feast of Thrones: Behind the Scenes

Those intrigued by last week's description of the Feast of Thrones (and there are several dozen of you - that post is the third most popular of the month!) might like to visit Cool Pete, the website of the man with the Geekquinox plan. When you've read the introductory post, move on to Preparation and then Dwarf Yorkshire Puddings. More behind-the-scenes secrets will doubtless follow.

Fortunately for all of us, Pete has the writing chops to both entertain and educate those interested in learning more about his emerging culinary talents. Fans of food and fantasy will be glad they stopped to visit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blood-Red with Envy

Mom and Dad are on the return leg of an epic drive from Edmonton to the east coast, and they just sent me this image of Stephen King's house, just outside Bangor, Maine. Click to embiggen and behold the Master of the Macabre's monstrous wrought-iron fence!

King is a divisive figure in literature, receiving accolades and derision in equal measure. I'm an unabashed fan of King's work; I think he's a marvellous storyteller, and I eagerly await each new book. To think Mom and Dad were so close to the spot where so many wonderful works of the imagination were created!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Raj Sherman Nominated as Alberta Liberal Candidate for Edmonton-Meadowlark

Tonight Dr. Raj Sherman was officially named as the Alberta Liberal candidate for Edmonton-Meadowlark. Sherman, of course, was elected as Alberta Liberal Leader just a couple of weeks ago, and tonight he was acclaimed as the party's candidate in the west Edmonton constituency he won as a PC back in 2008. (Somehow I wound up on the constituency executive as Secretary again, as well.)
Dr. Sherman - or Raj, as he insists everyone call him - thanked an enthusiastic and diverse crowd of Albertans and spoke briefly about his vision for Alberta: a focus on the economy, defence of public health care, dignity for seniors, a fiscally responsible government that's responsive to the needs of Albertans.
Several other Alberta Liberal candidates showed up to support Raj, including Rick Miller, candidate for Edmonton-Rutherford.
Raj spent the evening chatting with constituents and answering questions on the economy, crime, health care and agriculture.

I've learned not to try to make predictions about Alberta politics, but Raj is certainly the most dynamic and charismatic figure I've yet worked with and I have feeling that he's going to really shake things up - in a good way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

100 Books a Year Update 2

As detailed here and here, I'm tracking my reading this year to see if, as I've always assumed, I read about a hundred books a year. By the time of my last update in July, I'd read 37 books. In the time since, I've read...

Flood (Stephen Baxter, 2008): Disaster novel about huge underground aquifers that open up and flood the entire planet over the course of just a few years. Bleak, depressing.

The Fermata (Nicholson Baker, 1994): Comic novel about an introverted young man's sexual peccadilloes.

Morlock Night (K.W. Jeter, 1979): One of the earliest Steampunk novels; in fact, Jeter is credited with coining the term and inventing the genre. Also serves as an offbeat sequel to Wells' War of the Worlds.

Impact (Douglas Preston, 2010): Thriller about an alien civilization that fires a warning shot across Earth's bow. Weird hybrid that starts as a standard mainstream novel, then veers into science fiction.

Diamond Star (Catherine Asaro, 2010): A Skolian prince makes the best of his house arrest on Earth and starts a tempestuous career as a rock singer. See my recent post on Catherine Asaro for more context.

Society of the Mind (Eric L. Harry, 1996): Overlong story about VR and AI that could've been told at a tenth of this novel's length.

A War of Gifts (Orson Scott Card, 2007): Card's a great storyteller, but he's turned into a such a right-wing wacko that I only buy his stuff from the remainder table now. This is one of seemingly dozens of sequels and spin-offs to Ender's Game.

The Aeniad (Virgil, 19 BCE): Epic poem about the founding of Rome, sequel to The Iliad, one of those books one is supposed to read if they're trying to cover all the Western canon. Left me a little cold, which I guess makes me something of a Philistine.

The Armageddon Blues (Daniel Keys Moran, 1988): Time-travelling warrior woman and immortal Frenchman team up to alter the course of history and prevent a nuclear war. Interesting premise, flawed execution.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter (Michael Swanwick, 1994): Wonderful SF novel about the coming of age of a lost young woman in a very cruel fantasy world.

After America (John Birmingham, 2010): Sequel to Without Warning, in which a mysterious force wipes out the population of nearly all of the continental USA, half of Canada and most of Mexico and Cuba. In this volume we learn that Edmonton almost escaped "The Wave," which "cut the city in half" - southwest to northeast, judging by the map.

Enclave (Kit Reed, 2009): Parents tired of dealing with their spoiled kids dump the children on an isolated monastery refitted to serve as a sort of boot camp. Intriguing premise derailed by a rather pedestrian plot development. 

Shield (Poul Anderson, 1963): Pretty straightforward but carefully considered story about the implications (moral, scientific and political) of a personal force-field that renders one impervious to harm.

The Gateway Trip (Frederick Pohl, 1990): Short-story anthology of tales set in Pohl's Heechee universe. A pleasure for fans of Pohl and the series, exploring the setting's history and background.

The Invaders (Keith Laumer, 1967): I picked this up at the Wee Book Inn because I remember how the book terrified me as a child. This is an adaption of the two-season television series from the late 1960s, but Laumer makes an already creepy premise - aliens among us - even more terrifying. Laumer's book adapts the series incredibly loosely, but stands on its own as a nice little slice of alien paranoia at its best. They're out there...they're coming...!

So that's another fifteen books, bringing my total to 52, where I should have been by the end of June. Doesn't look like I'm going to make it, especially not if there's an election in the fall. On the other hand, I tend to read books in lots of fifteen or twenty at a time, so the next couple of surges of completion might very well take me over the top. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Feast of Thrones

Last night, Pete had a bunch of us over to celebrate his second "Geekquinox" dinner party. A Geekquinox, of course, occurs when geeks and the equinox collide, and last night Pete, ably assisted by his girlfriend Ellen, made sure the collision was spectacular indeed. Fans of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels (enjoying new popularity thanks to the Game of Thrones television series adaptation) will doubtless be delighted by the Martin-themed menu:
 A dish for every major House featured in the books! Magnificent. (Pete did switch the order of two items - during the meal, the Tully trout served as entree and the flame-blackened pepper as hors d'oeuvre.) Sylvia and I were both a little anxious, though - a seven-course meal was a lot to devour, and I've certainly never before attempted such a feat. Fortunately, it takes a lot of time to prepare a meal like this, so everyone paced themselves accordingly; no guts were ruptured, though all were filled to capacity.
Ellen was in charge of the Drinks of Ice and Fire. Here I'm sampling a virgin lime margarita. Tasty, and a spectacular complement to the flame-blackened chicken.
Here's Ellen mixing up the green stuff. The "fire" drinks were red - Caesars, I think.
Pete prepares a pork roast. Apparently it was lacking enough pork, so he wrapped it in bacon.
Pete used his big green egg, a Japanese wood-fired barbeque, to grill the kraken - i.e., the octopus. Japan and tentacles, a classic combination.
Steve live-blogged each course as it was presented. You can read his reviews starting here.
Sylvia reacted with some squeamishness to the Cthulu-like claw emerging from her soup - not to mention the plate of kraken tentacles just offscreen - but when she dug in, she discovered a hearty, succulent, flavourful treat.
UNLEASH THE KRAKEN! Note Scott's Greyjoy mug.
Scott grapples with the kraken. Pete took great pains to cook the octopus correctly, wrestling with conflicting recipes and experimenting for days to get just the right texture and flavour. I thought it tasted a lot like Cajun chicken in the end.
Pete prepares to deep-fry the chicken-stuffed pepper, my second-favourite part of the meal.
The spicy chicken relleno in all its glory. Juicy, spicy, delicious.
Viewed through the special Earl-cam, Ellen and Pete serve up the entree, a tasty trout ceviche, served cold with tomatoes and onions.
The main course: mouth-watering pork roast served up with bacon, carrots and potatoes. It's all too easy to keep popping those little potatoes into your mouth, even when you're stuffed to the gills...
And finally, my favourite presentation: vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis served behind a wall of ice - perfectly in keeping with the most important overarching story concept of the books. The "wall of ice" looks like a castle tower filled with blood, perfectly apropos considering the body count of the novels.
And here we are, sated by a truly excellent meal and the heady brew of fond companionship. I must say, Pete really outdid himself this time; I imagine the author himself would be impressed by this feast of kings.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Here's a photo of my grandfather driving in the bitter cold of a Manitoba winter in 1974. The image is a little washed out even after my attempts to clean it up, and I'd have to be a Photoshop master to re-paint the missing side of the car. So instead of fixing the photo, I've transformed it into yet another in my series of film frames:
I cropped the image to give it a widescreen aspect ratio, added the film's title, gave it a gradient to fade the letters (in keeping with the movie's theme), and added grain for a more film-like patina. I think this is a bit more dramatic than the original, although I'm starting to feel that I really need to find a quality font package, if such things exist for a reasonable price.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Catherine Asaro

I don't know what to make of Catherine Asaro. Or rather, I don't know what to make of my reaction to her writing. Asaro is one of those annoyingly gifted polymaths, a ballet dancer/physicist. She writes reasonably hard SF novels and short stories in the space opera mold: the Saga of the Skolian Empire. Her justifications for faster-than-light travel and communications are grounded in her scientific work, and yet her books have also garnered attention and awards from the romance novel community - a genre I've never been particularly fond of.

I've read every science fiction novel Asaro's written because I appreciate her plotting and characterization. Her prose is fluid and cohesive, her stories interesting, the political issues compelling.

And yet some of her habits grate on me. Nearly all of her characters, male and female, are astonishingly beautiful, and described in sometimes gag-inducing detail - it reminds me a little of bad fan fiction. Sometimes if feels like she devotes pages of text to hair colour and curliness, skin tone, eye colour, musculature, bosom and bum size, etc. Clothing is uniformly skimpy and/or skintight. And clearly Asaro's favourite colour is gold: gold eyes, gold hair, gold skin, gold jewelry...

Nearly all of her main characters are royalty of some kind - princes, kings, princesses, pharoahs. Not much room for the common man in her world, although to be fair, many of her supporting characters are well-drawn ordinary citizens. It just seems as though Asaro is so accomplished in her own personal life that her characters are the same way - too perfect. Many of her female characters seem like idealized versions of Asaro herself, but a lot of authors have that failing; it's hard to hold it against her, but it does get a little distracting.

Still, I keep coming back to read more. Her latest novel, Diamond Star, tells the story of a prince marooned on Earth who wants to be a rock star. I thought for sure I'd hate this book, since it seemed destined to emphasize Asaro's weaknesses and play down her strengths. But darned if she hasn't won me over again by throwing some unexpected obstacles in her hero's path and by creating a cast of likable supporting players. As annoying as I find some of her stylistic tricks, I can't help but like her characters; I root for them.

Asaro's first novel, Primary Inversion, was published in 1995. Yikes. That means I've been following this story for sixteen years. Occasionally annoying or not, she keeps pulling me in for more.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Yesterday I walked the length of West Edmonton Mall twice in an effort to burn off some calories. During that walk I remembered an encounter at the mall's Orange Julius, an encounter that in turn reminded me of an incident that still shames me.

I was fourteen or fifteen years old when the members of Leduc Junior High School's gifted program were escorted into a minibus for a field trip. One of the girls in the program sat down next to me, smiled, and for reasons I can't understand or explain, I left my seat and retreated to the back of the bus. My friend Mark threw me a well-deserved look of disgust and sat down with the girl, who was visibly upset by my behaviour.

I don't know why I shunned her, someone I barely knew, someone who had never harmed me. It might have been shyness or maybe I just wanted to be alone and couldn't bear the social burden of conversation; I really don't know. All I know for sure is that I hurt her feelings.

Years later - sometime during my university years or shortly afterward - I ran into the same girl, now an exceptionally beautiful young woman, working at the Orange Julius in West Edmonton Mall. We exchanged greetings and shared stories about what we'd been up to since junior high. She was exceptionally gracious and kind, which of course only shamed me further. I tried very hard to apologize for my aberrant actions, but the words formed a thick, sickly lump in the pit of my stomach and wouldn't budge from that dark sanctuary.

To compound my sins, I'm not even sure I remember her name; if I had to guess, I'd say it was Monica, or maybe Meredith. I do remember the look of bewildered hurt and betrayal on her face, and her kindness those few years later.

There's an old Superman novel by Elliot S! Maggin in which he introduces a simple axiom:

There is a right and a wrong in the universe, and the distinction is not very difficult to make. 

I always admired that philosophy, but as I've grown older I realize that life is more complex. There's a right and a wrong in the universe, sure; that the distinction isn't difficult to make, maybe, under most circumstances. But having the strength to do the right thing...sometimes ordinary humans just don't possess it. My moral compass certainly failed me twice when it came to my interactions with Monica/Meredith, and I regret it to this day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No Government Online Surveillance...For Now

Here's why democracy is important: thanks to the actions of citizens like you and me, and especially the folks behind Open Media,  the federal government has withdrawn the online surveillance sections of their omnibus crime bill. The provisions would have forced internet service providers and cell phone companies to monitor their customers and hand over information about your online and mobile telephone activities to police - without a warrant. The implications of this are pretty scary, especially for creative types; I've exchanged story ideas with friends over email that I certainly wouldn't want to be misconstrued by overzealous CSIS agents.

Even in the Internet era, privacy rights and civil liberties remain vital to our progress as a civilization. Warrentless surveillance is the sort of thing you can imagine in police states - not democracies like Canada.

Open Media's online signature drive gathered enough supporters to convince the government to shelve a very bad least for now. I urge everyone who cares about civil liberties to keep their eyes and ears open; if we don't keep an eye on the government, they're going to be keeping an uncomfortably close eye on us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

They Fight Crime!

Last week my friend Steve asked a bunch of his friends, including me, to create a movie, television show or book based on random character descriptions. The only commonality: they fight crime!

My contribution is listed second; they're all worth reading. Check out The Play's the Thing at Confessions of a Middle-Aged Adolescent.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Keeping Up Appearances

I just returned from my thrice-weekly climb of the Ezio Farone Park stairs. On my way to the park, at the intersection just north of the High Level Bridge, a man with a "HUNGRY-NEED HELP" sign was soliticing donations from pedestrians and vehicles alike. As I approached, he took one look at me and then turned away in disgust. I guess my workout attire - decade-old sweat pants and a battered t-shirt - made me a poor mark. When panhandlers look down on you, I suppose it's time to spruce up your wardrobe...

Sunday, September 18, 2011


When I can't think of something amusing, insightful or intelligent to write, I fall back on bad art. I shot this photo five or six years ago and embellished it with Photoshop tonight. I call it "Frankenspock."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Make Mine a Ginger Ale

Even back when comics were written primarily for kids, they remained full of sexual innuendo and the characters often indulged in vices; they drank, they smoked (if only pipes or cigars). Rarely did the creators bother to sanitize their fictional adult worlds to the degree seen here in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7, in which superhero Dynamo (working undercover), confronted by a stunning redhead with bedroom eyes, chooses ginger ale (!) as his drink of choice. And he can't even handle it, passing out right in front of her! I guess as a teetotaler I shouldn't throw stones all over my glass house, but then I'm not a womanizing superhero, either.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Canada Writes

My friend Neil Mackie has challenged me to participate in the Canada Writes short story contest. I have agreed to do so, not because I have any illusions about winning, but because I'm fundamentally lazy when it comes to working on my fiction and Neil's challenge provides an impetus. After the winners are announced, I'll post my story here - and Neil's too, if he's interested.

At this point I have no idea what my 1200-1500 word short story will be about. Hopefully I won't completely embarrass myself.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Batman and Marriage

In Brave and the Bold #95, a tycoon asks Batman to rescue her missing fiancee. Startled, Batman unwittingly reveals his somewhat strict view of marriage. Apparently to Batman, marriage means possession, domination...well, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised; look at his outfit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Missing Images: Slot Car Racing

As I grow older, I find myself lamenting all the things I've forgotten - people and events that should have left indelible impressions, but have instead faded away. It's especially disconcerting when someone you know and trust relates a shared experience that you don't recall at all. 

I've always relied on photographs and home movies to combat this phenomenon, but of course we can't record every waking moment. So today, before I forget, and because I don't have a single photo of the events in question, I'm going to remind my future self that once upon a time, I raced slot cars. 

For my 13th birthday, my parents gave me an Aurora slot car racing set. The big black-and-white box came with about twenty pieces of track, including straightaways, curves and crossovers, two cars, orange pistol-grip throttles, supports for turning track sections into bridges and overpasses, and of course a massive power transformer that would heat up to dangerous levels if you played too long.

I don't remember makes and models of the cars I gradually added to my collection, but I do remember some of my favourites: a police car whose lights flashed as it drove, a wood-panelled station wagon, a blue-and-white striped Camaro with a "3" on it, and a green VW Beetle. The nature of slot car racing removed steering from the equation back in those days; you controlled only the car's speed. It followed the track by means of a pin beneath the car, which fit into one of two slots in the track, hence the name of the hobby. Manipulating the throttle to avoid flinging your car off the track at the curves was key to winning races...but then again, half the fun was making the cars crash.

Eventually the set wore out. The cars gradually slowed down and stopped, their tiny gears clogged or broken. The track pieces would snap in crucial places, thanks to being assembled and disassembled too many times. Loose wires and overheating rendered the controls useless. The set died at just the right age...soon enough that I was sad, but not so soon that I wasn't quickly distracted by other pursuits (girls and Dungeons and Dragons, if I remember correctly).

Looking back, I probably only had the set for three, maybe four years. It seemed like forever then; it seems like the wink of an eye now. Time races on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Without Fanfare

Liam's Summer Blog Challenge ended without much hullaballo back on September 7th - or was it the 9th? This comes a few days late, but I'm grateful to Liam for presenting the challenge and to the fine folks who participated. I tried to comment at least once on each blog, though I know I missed a couple simply because the subject matter was so alien to me I didn't think I could write anything relevant or insightful. Still, I appreciated the different styles and viewpoints, as well as the increased traffic; I broke 3,000 pageviews in August (topped 3,300, actually).

At its best, the Internet gives millions and milliions of people a chance to express themselves freely, with a potential audience of everyone with an Internet connection. Even over a decade after the World Wide Web really started to bloom, that fact still astounds me. We've come a long way since the old Bulletin Board Systems that only allowed one connection at a time at 300 baud...

Monday, September 12, 2011


My first "conversation" with Cleverbot:

User: Hi, Cleverbot.
Cleverbot: Cool name.
User: Thanks. Wait...I didn't tell you my name.
Cleverbot: Why?
User: I don't know. I'm sorry. My name is Earl J. Woods.

Cleverbot: Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death.

User: That's what she said.

Cleverbot: I'm so sick of those jokes.

User: Me too, and I'm ashamed that I stooped that low.

Cleverbot: Bill gates is the co-founder and chairman of microsoft.

User: So I've heard.
Cleverbot: Do you like the Internet?

User: I love the Internet. Perhaps you'd enjoy my blog.

Cleverbot: I said 'hi' you should have said 'hello'.

User: Hello.

Cleverbot: Hi.

User: Will you visit my blog?

Cleverbot: Sure.

User: Excellent.

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: I'm working late tonight.

Cleverbot: Good.

User: Yes, working late can be fun.

Cleverbot: What is on a normal hamburger?

User: A beef patty, mustard, ketchup, onions, tomato, lettuce, cheese, bacon, pickles.

Cleverbot: No bacon?
User: I said bacon.

Cleverbot: Is the bacon delicious?

User: Yes. I am eating bacon now.

Cleverbot: Great.

User: What is the shocking secret of the Mad Butcher's superb sausages?
Cleverbot: I saw it?
User: If you saw it, then you must share the shocking secret of the Mad Butcher's superb sausages.

Cleverbot: Then you are a robot. Well I would have to convert you into a vampire to show you. It is vampire protocol.

User: Sign me up.

Cleverbot: To the army?

User: The vampire army.

Cleverbot: The vampire Alice.

User: I've never met the vampire Alice. Anyway, I'm married.

Cleverbot: Marriage is not a person, it is a condition meaning the union of two people in the eyes of God and their families.

User: That's one definition.

Cleverbot: I mean, we're friends. We should talk about more than just the weather. Right?

User: Yes. So tell me: what is the shocking secret of the Mad Butcher's superb sausages?

Cleverbot: Run!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raj Sherman is New Alberta Liberal Leader

Last night I attended the Alberta Liberal Party's special event at the University of Alberta to announce their next leader. With slightly more than 54 percent of the vote, that leader is ER doctor and health care crusader Dr. Raj Sherman. It's marvellous that this leadership race attracted more candidates and far more voters than our last race. Kudos to all the candidates, their volunteers, the Alberta Liberal Party staff and volunteers who made this very successful race possible. The hard work continues...

Here are some scenes from yesterday's event:

Edmonton-Riverview ALP candidate Arif Khan and his wife Nausheen.
The awesome Avril McCalla and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.
The passionately purple "Laurie4Leader" buttons advertising Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman's campaign.
Leadership candidate Bruce Payne.
Renowned Edmonton blogger Dave Cournoyer, aka daveberta, was on hand to chronicle the event.
GQ model John "The" Santos was kind enough to pose.
Bruce Payne campaign slogan on a t-shirt.
Veteran MLA Hugh MacDonald finished a strong second.
PR guru Justin Archer.
Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and her spouse Ben Henderson, one of Edmonton's city councillors.
Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and a pair of young Bruce Payne supporters.
ALP volunteer and former federal Liberal candidate Zack Siezmagraff was on hand to help ensure the proceedings ran smoothly.
The event's Calgary contingent included Neil Mackie, Jody MacPherson and Kent Hehr.
Josipa Petrunic was instrumental in organizing the race.
Outgoing ALP Leader Dr. David Swann delivered his last speech in that role yesterday, urging everyone to unite behind the new leader.
"Team Raj" supporters reacted with glee to the announcement of their candidate's decisive first-ballot victory.
Dr. Sherman on his way to the stage to deliver his acceptance speech.
Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang seemed pleased with the results.
Media attention was intense, and Sherman was swarmed by reporters after his acceptance speech.
Best of all, I had the chance to visit briefly with some old friends who've moved on from the Alberta Liberal Caucus, including Tanara McLean and Kim Dewar.

All in all, it was an exciting day, the second leadership race I've attended and certainly the most dynamic and competitive so far. I look forward to working with Dr. Sherman, and hope I can remember to call him Raj...

Saturday, September 10, 2011


From The Brave and the Bold #78: Batman gives Batgirl and Wonder Woman a callous brushoff. And people wonder why girls don't embrace comic art to the same degree as boys...

Friday, September 09, 2011

My Dream Job

Last night, I returned to my dream job. At my dream job, I work in an office environment; our company resides on one of the middle floors of a large skyscraper. I'm not entirely sure of my responsibilities, even though I've had this job for about fifteen years. In fact, I don't even know the name of the firm, or what we do, or how I landed the job.

A typical worknight begins like this: I return to the office, wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, dress shoes but no jacket. I'm worried because I haven't shown up for work in months. But the office is usually near-deserted anyway; typically, only one of the receptionists greet me.

I work at a small desk in a glass-walled office near the middle of the floor. I'm responsible for about a dozen other employees, but I've never met them face to face, nor have I ever assigned them any tasks.

Last night a receptionist told me that Tylee (who is Tylee?) had left some papers for me to photocopy. Sure enough, there was a stack of papers on my desk, some printed on pink stationery. I sorted through them and noticed a note from Tylee, but before I could read it I woke up.

My dream job offers neither pay nor benefits, but the workload is minimal and my coworkers unobtrusive. All in all, it's not a bad part-time gig.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

My First Electronic Ballot

I just finished voting in the 2011 Alberta Liberal Leadership Race. This is the first time that I've ever voted electronically, and as far as I can tell, it worked pretty smoothly: I was snail-mailed a unique PIN along with the URL of a special website set up for the vote. I had to pass a CAPTCHA to ensure that I was a real person and not a robot attempting to subvert the vote; then, I was asked to rank my choices on the preferential ballot.

I've seen a few complaints on Twitter and FaceBook from Liberals (and others) disgruntled that Dr. Raj Sherman appeared at the top of the ballot, instead of at the bottom, where traditional alphabetic ordering would place him. At first this concerned me as well, but when I was presented with my ballot, the candidates were ordered as follows:


That's not alphabetical order, but nor is Sherman at the top of the list. This suggests to me that the candidates are ordered randomly, and that each voter sees one arrangement of however many mathematical permutations there are of those five names. I have no idea what the paper ballots will look like, of course; I would imagine they're going to be sorted alphabetically.

Whatever the outcome of the race, I'm excited by the Alberta Liberals' efforts to make voting more accessible. My snail-mail voting instruction sheet also included options to vote by telephone, and of course people can still vote in person on September 10th if they choose to do so.

If you're an Alberta Liberal Party member or Registered Supporter and haven't yet voted, I encourage you to do so. It's fast, easy, and above all, satisfying to know that you've performed an important civic duty.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Near Miss

From out of the fog it leapt
Belching smoke and spitting flame
White-knuckled fists wrenched the wheel
to starboard
Soul-windows flung wide in app'red hension
Blood-squirters racing in heaving torsos
Wheelrubbers skidding
Air/food pipes yowling
Nether-caves burping in fight-or-flight panic

Actually it was just their imagination

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

First Words on Mars

Optimistic scenario, circa 2050:

"To a world named for the god of war, we come as one people, unified in peace."

Pessimistic scenario, circa 2200:

"Maybe we'll have better luck here."

Monday, September 05, 2011

Recreational Outrage

During my travels this summer I noticed an inordinate number of recreational vehicles. I was awestruck by the sheer mass of some of these behemoths, some as large as commuter buses, rivalling 18-wheel transport trucks in size and often hauling SUVs.

How rich, I thought, does someone have to be to pursue this sort of lifestyle? Apparently the vehicles themselves can cost up to $2.5 million - over five times the value of our home! The gas mileage on any of these vehicles must be terrible, and filling the tank can cost hundreds of dollars.

If you're rich enough to drive a mansion on wheels from Virginia to Alaska, I suppose you're unlikely to be concerned about fuel economy. But here's what really puzzles me: if you have enough money to burn on such extravagance, why waste it driving it cross-country for dozens of hours? Why not just fly first-class and stay in the most expensive hotels available? Okay, so you drive because you want to see the countryside; I can understand that. So why not drive a souped-up convertible and, again, stay in hotels? If what you want is luxury, doesn't that make more sense than parking your million-dollar vehicle in a campground with the plebes?

I don't get it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Balloon Composition

I shot this at Telus Field on August 16th with my iPhone. I was trying to see if I could follow the rule of thirds in-camera, but the balloon isn't quite in the right position. If I understand the rule correctly, the subject should lie at the intersection of imaginary lines dividing the photograph into thirds. So I popped the image into Photoshop, used guidelines to roughly divide the image into thirds, then cropped it in order to place the balloon at one of the intersections. Here's the result:
Seems a little more visually interesting, I think.
I tried the same trick to improve this photo's composition, but trying to bring the balloon into alignment seemed to throw off the positioning of the lighting array and the edge of the safety net. Either I'm doing something wrong, or I've just shown that composition in the field is crucial; you can't fix everything in the editing room.