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Monday, April 30, 2012

"Outer Space" by Sander van den Berg

Sander van den Berg is a Dutch video editor. He created "Outer Space" from old NASA images of Saturn and Jupiter taken by the Cassini and Voyager space probes, stitching together still photographs to produce the illusion of motion. If old black and white photos from decades past can be used to create wondrous works of art like this, just imagine what future artists will do with higher-resolution, full colour photography from more sophisticated probes!

Berg's Vimeo page boasts only one other video, a short travelogue of his (her?) trip to Egypt. It's also worth a look, well-edited and insightful.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wanderlust 2012

Despite last year's somewhat disastrous trip to Alaska, I'm already feeling the urge to drive somewhere new. Here are some places I may go:
Portland, Oregon, because it's the only west coast state I haven't visited, and because I don't remember Seattle all that well.
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, because, well, it's Mount Rushmore and probably looks pretty cool.
And finally, Chicago, Illinois, because I've never been that far east in the USA and because I could attend the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. And see Lake Michigan. Alternatively, I could take a little more time and visit Mount Rushmore on my way to Chicago...

I'll have to see what Sylvia thinks. I have a feeling she might prefer to fly somewhere. Maybe I can convince her to go see the space shuttle Enterprise at its new home in New York City...

Friday, April 27, 2012

5000 Pageviews!

Goodness knows this sort of inside baseball is kind of obnoxious, but I'm pretty excited that My Name is Earl (J. Woods) has finally surpassed the 5,000 page views per month threshold. I honestly never thought that more than one person (i.e., me) would be interested in the ramblings I offer here, but apparently some of  you kind folks out there find at least some of the content amusing. I appreciate all my readers and visitors very much!

And just so this post isn't completely annoying, here's another amusing (?) look at what Captain Kirk thinks about during quiet moments on the bridge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kan't Stop the Kanger

Darshan Kang (centre) at his swearing-in ceremony in 2008. Also returning to Legislature are (from left) Kent Hehr, Bridget Pastoor and Laurie Blakeman - though Pastoor returns as a PC MLA. Hehr sometimes affectionately refers to Mr. Kang as "The Kanger."
 Last night I reported that it appeared as though Albertans had elected at least three, possibly four Alberta Liberal MLAs. I'm gratified to report that not only did Raj Sherman indeed emerge victorious in Edmonton-Meadowlark, Darshan Kang has also been reelected by the voters of Calgary-McCall. So by night's end, Albertans re-elected all five Alberta Liberal incumbents. Given a media narrative that pitted Wildrose against Tory while virtually ignoring the other parties, I think that's a pretty good result.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strategic Terror

Well, yesterday's thoughts on strategic voting created the heaviest traffic flow this blog has ever seen, but it seems few of you agreed with my argument. It would seem that many progressive voters decided to forgive the PC government's many sins rather than take the chance of allowing a Wildrose government to form.

The Alberta Liberal vote has pretty clearly collapsed, reducing our caucus by half for the second election in a row. That's a tough pill for me to swallow, having served the Alberta Liberal Caucus for six years. But the will of the voters trumps my personal disappointment; progressives simply have to work harder and smarter if we want to earn the right to form government.

On a personal level, I'm very happy to see that Albertans have re-elected Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr, David Swann and - hopefully - Raj Sherman, who is currently 11 votes ahead with a few polls to go. While we may no longer be the Official Opposition, I have no doubt that these four MLAs will continue to serve our province with distinction. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Strategic Error

I've been a strategic voter since the federal election in 1993, voting Liberal or NDP depending upon who had the best chance of defeating the Reform/Alliance/Conservative candidate. Since I started working for the province's Official Opposition, I have of course voted consistently for the Alberta Liberals - not merely out of loyalty to my employer, but because I admire and respect the three leaders I've served and their caucuses, and I support the policies they've developed over the years.

But as the Wildrose Alliance surged during the current provincial election, I had a brief moment of weakness: was it time to return to strategic voting to stop a party even worse than the provincial PCs from forming government?

Living as I do in Edmonton-Meadowlark, Dr. Raj Sherman's constituency, there was never any question that I'd be voting anything but Liberal. But in conversations with progressive friends earlier this month, I admitted that I understood the reasons why they're considering holding their noses and voting PC. Indeed, my friend Stephen has crafted a very reasonable argument to that effect.

It's an argument the panicking PCs are using themselves, pleading with progressives to vote PC in order to stave off the horrifying spectre of a Bible-beating, fiscally libertarian Wildrose administration.

I believe that a Wildrose majority would be a bad outcome for Alberta. But is it really the worst possible outcome? Should progressive Albertans sacrifice their votes for the sake of a PC government that's intimidated health care professionals and municipal officials, consistently underfunded public education, mismanaged public health care into a state of ongoing crisis, solicited and accepted illegal political contributions and exposed teachers to being sued for discussing topics some parents are uncomfortable with? Can a Wildrose government really be worse than this?

Perhaps they can. But consider the consequences if progressive voters flock to the PCs and help re-elect the Redford administration: 

1) Progressive Albertans will lose their already tiny representation in the Alberta Legislature. What a tragedy it would be to lose Laurie Blakeman, a powerful advocate for human rights and the environment. Or Raj Sherman, who risked his career and gave up the cushiest job in politics (PC backbencher) for the most thankless (Leader of the Official Opposition). Or David Swann, a man who has entered war zones to help the world's most vulnerable people. Or Rachel Notley, Kent Hehr, Brian Mason, among others who have spoken out consistently to expose PC corruption, defend vulnerable Albertans and uphold progressive values. Do we really want to sacrifice these people to keep the PCs in power?

2) We'll be sending a message to the PCs that they really can get away with anything, without consequences. Send threatening letters to municipal officials, bully doctors, pass regressive legislation, continue the slow privatization of health care - that's okay with us, because we're afraid that Danielle Smith might be even worse!

3) We'll demoralize ourselves, perhaps forever. If progressive voters give up now, how can we ever believe that one day we might elect a Liberal, NDP, or Alberta Party government - any government that's at least a little more in tune with our values? If we deny the many brave and excellent candidates running for progressive parties our support, how can we expect future progressives to step forward? Running for election is expensive and risky for progressives; I know this from personal experience, having run last time.

Maybe the Liberal or ND or Alberta Party candidate in your riding is a long shot, but doesn't he or she deserve your support if he or she truly reflects your values?

One day, a progressive party of one stripe or another will form government in Alberta. It probably won't be tomorrow, and perhaps not 2016 either. But that day will certainly never come if we vote against our own interests instead of supporting the policies and people we really believe in.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You Can Dance If You Want To, You Can Leave Your Friends Behind

While it appears as though my teenage self was caught boogieing, I was really just photographed in mid-stride after entering the Visual Communications lab at Leduc Composite High School.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Eldritch Blasts

By now regular readers will know that I get together with friends on a regular basis to play Dungeons and Dragons. Two of my friends, Scott and Mike, have characters who wield the fearsome "eldritch blast," a magic bolt of energy used to fell foes. In this panel from an issue of Marvel Two-in-One, a magical miscreant uses that very power to assault an innocent bystander.

According to the Oxford dictionary, eldritch means "weird and sinister or ghostly." The spell's name is therefore thematically appropriate for Dungeons and Dragons and comic books alike; on the other hand, I'd hate to have to tell an ER doctor that I was hit by "weird, sinister or ghostly energy." It wouldn't give her much to go on. D&D clerics, presumably, would know exactly what to do.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dishing Out Advice

While preparing supper with Sylvia a moment ago, I idly wondered aloud about dish washing techniques.

"What would happen if you used the clothes washer to wash your dishes?" I asked.

Sylvia answered without hesitation, offhandedly:

"They'd break," she said, and with a tiny jolt of surprise I realized that she was right.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Laws 'n Things

Back in the 70s I was an avid collector of Marvel Two-in-One, the team-up book that paired the Fantastic Four's The Thing with other Marvel superheroes. In this issue Thing teams up with Matt Murdock, blind criminal defence lawyer (and also Daredevil). Jailed for causing tremendous property damage, Thing is at first resigned to his fate, prepared to wait in jail to stand trial despite his ability to break out at any moment...that is, until Matt lets some information slip suggesting Thing was framed. With that all bets are off and Thing uses his super-strength to bust out of prison.

I love Matt's rationalizations. "Technically, Ben is escaping. But he's also innocent - even if it hasn't been proven in a court of law." I imagine failing to alert the authorities about an escape in progress would probably get any lawyer disbarred, even one who represents superheroes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cabin in the (Earl J.) Woods

I can say little about first-time director Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods without spoiling the experience for those who haven't seen it. But I will say that this film is one of the most imaginative and enjoyable works I've seen in years. It's brave, innovative and will linger in your thoughts long after the house lights brighten.

Goddard - best known for his work as a writer on Lost, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer - takes all the most overused horror film tropes and inverts, subverts, turns them inside out and twists them into a Möbius strip. Cynical, nihilistic and unflinching, Goddard's work here will make audiences laugh out loud one moment, squirm in terror the next, and then make you question each of your emotional responses. Like no other, this film makes the audience understand our complicity in the horrors it serves up for our enjoyment. 

Like the best entertainment, The Cabin in the Woods holds up a mirror to society and asks us hard questions about the world we've made for ourselves. Is it just? Fair? Why is there suffering when it's within our power to put an end to it? Or do we have that power - is it possible we're just pawns in some cruel taskmaster's game? If there's a fate, should we embrace it or spit in its face? What is the true structure of the world?

Produced and co-written by geek auteur Joss Whedon, this film makes good use of a number of Whedon alumni - Amy Acker and Fran Kranz among them - along with rising stars like Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Star Trek, The Avengers) and veterans like Bradley Whitford (The West Wing). Whedon's scripts are sometimes less than subtle, but in this case his tendency to write dialogue that's just a bit too clever is wisely muted. While there are a few laughs, they're designed to build empathy with the characters and to underscore the film's message.

It's all well and good to create a film with some intelligence and meaning, but is it scary? Let me put it this way: for the first three quarters of the film, I thought this movie might be one of the rare horror films Sylvia could enjoy without freaking out. But once the climax began, I quickly realized that she must never see it, lest she spend the rest of her life in a straightjacket. It is that effective and horrifying in its monstrous implications. (I exaggerate slightly, of course - I don't think it would drive Sylvia mad, but I have no doubt this film would present her with an extremely unpleasant experience.)

Make a trip to The Cabin in the Woods. You may have nightmares, but they'll be worth it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Somebody Voting Liberal

Just a couple of days ago I discovered to my delight a new song by Australian artist Gotye, "Somebody That I Used to Know." Now Dave Anderson, Alberta Liberal candidate for Sherwood Park, has come up with a very clever and funny parody as part of his campaign to serve Albertans in the legislature. "Now I'm Just Voting Liberal" is worth a watch. My favourite bit:

Now a word about the Wildrose Alliance Party
The wheels abreast that bus will leave us leaning further to the right
And I'm sitting thinking what the heck
Are they trying to make us more redneck
Privatizing health care and conscience rights are bull
But it helps me understand that my best choice is voting Liberal

For context, here's the original artist. The song's only $1.29 on iTunes - well worth the purchase.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Time Looms at All Hours

After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1991, I said goodbye to my friend Parvesh by accompanying her to Vancouver. While touring that fair city, I shot this image of a clock tower on (I believe) the UBC campus. I was particularly conscious of the passage of time and my theoretically pending adulthood, so this clock felt very imposing. I think this image captures my mood of that trip very well.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Loopy New Trailer

Thanks to Stephen for alerting me to the imminent release of a new time travel movie, Loopers. Time travel stories can be sublime when well-crafted, painful when not, but director Rian Johnson has already been acclaimed for his high school noir film Brick, so I'm hopeful that this film will achieve some level of greatness. And hey, I'll see practically anything with Bruce Willis in it, even the upcoming G.I. Joe sequel.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Map of the Dead: Edmonton and Leaf Rapids

What will you do when the dead rise from their graves? I've always feared that I would die within the first few minutes of a zombie apocalypse, but thanks to Map of the Dead I feel a little better prepared. Simply type in your home address to discover zombie danger zones and the locations of your community's supply depots.

The map is a little thin - Edmonton certainly has more malls than indicated, and my own dental clinic is missing - but it's certainly a fun idea. Here's a closer look at my vicinity:
West Edmonton Mall would be a great place for supplies, but it's also a danger zone, and for good reason; crammed with tourists by the thousands, the mall could be a death trap.
On the other hand, Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, is nearly bereft of supplies, but with a tiny population there wouldn't be that many zombies anyway.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dice of Doom Redux

I've been remiss in pointing out that Jeff Pitts once again defied the odds during a Dungeons & Dragons session on March 31. A twenty is the best possible die roll in the game under most circumstances, meting out maximum damage to demons and demigods alike. Even Sauron himself would quake at Jeff's prowess.

Back in January I reported that Jeff had rolled double twenties to slay his foes with astounding finesse. Mike calculated that the odds of rolling two twenties on two twenty-sided dice is 1 in 400, or once every forty sessions or so. But as if to show that statistics can often clump together rather than average out nicely, Jeff's dice-throwing finesse brought up double twenties about four years earlier than one might expect. We're heading into the fearsome Proving Grounds this Saturday night - here's hoping Jeff's luck will continue to be "on a roll."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Trio of Batmobiles

Long, long ago my parents bought me a Batmobile. Sometime in 1975 or 1976 I became the excited owner of a die-cast Corgi crime-fighting hot rod, complete with tiny Batman and Robin figures. I don't remember exactly why I have three in my possession, but I'm pretty sure it went something like this: my parents bought me one set with a Batboat, one set with a Batcopter, and the other probably really belongs to my brother. Boat, copter and three Robins and two Batmen are long missing, probably lost in the sand pits of Leaf Rapids out behind the Acklands store managed by my dad; it was my favourite spot to play with toy cars and action figures.

This Batmobile is in fairly good condition, with its Bat-decals still intact, Bat-battering ram still functional and Bat-antenna present, if bent. Even the Bat-missile  launcher is in good shape, though missing its missiles.
However the trademark Bat-siren is missing, and both canopies have been shattered, presumably by villainous gunfire. Or perhaps Batman slammed into a wall and Robin went flying through the windshield, explaining his absence.
These toys brought me and my friends hours and hours of imaginative entertainment. I'm glad that I rescued them from Mom and Dad's garage last spring. Given their battered condition they're worth nothing on the collector's market, but the memories they spark are priceless to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bottled Opportunities

Having allowed our collection of empty soda bottles, cans and milk cartons to build up for several months, I decided that today would be a good day to haul them to the bottle depot.

Under grey overcast skies I pulled our little crossover into the parking lot of the west end's Centennial Bottle Depot. I nabbed a Jysk shopping cart from the depot's illicit collection and used it to transport six garbage bags full of bottles from the car to the redemption windows.

While waiting in line I noticed the usual mix of middle-class folks and homeless Albertans, the first group returning bottles out of a sense of environmental duty, the second out of economic necessity - at least if my stereotype-based assumptions were true. Such assumptions are always dangerous, of course; I didn't look terribly middle-class myself in my sweat pants and t-shirt, my typical attire for messy chores like this.

When I reached one of the redemption windows, a notice from a City of Edmonton bylaw officer taped to the wall caught my eye. It ordered the removal of all shopping carts from the premises no later than January 2010. They represented "an eyesore," according to the city. While the Centennial manager had dutifully posted the order, a herd of shopping carts remained in defiance of the municipal government's demand.

While I sympathize with the city's desire to keep Edmonton clean and neat, it struck me once again that shopping carts and abandoned bottles represent perhaps the only economic opportunity available to homeless Albertans. Bottle deposit fees, shopping carts and consumer willingness to throw cans and bottles in the garbage instead of recycling them has created an entirely new economy. Homeless Albertans take advantage of consumer laziness and spend their days collecting bottles, turning them in for dimes and quarters.

None of this is news to anyone, but it still astounds me that western culture has allowed itself to evolve to the point where our least fortunate citizens are forced to dig through garbage to earn a daily pittance. I turned in six bags of bottles today, earning about $75. It took about six months of normal consumption for Sylvia and I to generate that many empties. Perhaps an industrious homeless person might be able to collect an equivalent amount from the city's garbage containers in a day. But even if such a person could earn $100 a day, they're still risking disease and injury for an amount of money that might, barely, cover food and lodging. What a remarkably cheap way for society to pay for an essential service.

And yet we begrudge these bottle collectors even the meager dignity of this industrious pursuit. Grocery stores routinely demand quarters or loonies to unchain their shopping carts, business owners chase collectors away from their trash bins and bylaw officers sanction businesses for allowing shopping carts to accumulate. Of course businesses want to protect their property, and naturally it's in everyone's best interest to have a presentable community. But I wonder what options we're leaving for the people being left behind. For years and years Alberta's Auditor General has been begging the government to invest more in mental health services, a key factor in helping get people off the street. And yet the government response has been incredibly sluggish. And while the provincial government and Alberta's municipalities deserve kudos for the progress they've made on the ten-year plan to alleviate homelessness, we're now faced with the spectre of a government led by free-market fundamentalists, the Ayn Rand-loving Wildrose party. How will Alberta's homeless fare in an environment even further right-leaning than our current PC government?

I have a feeling Ayn Rand and Danielle Smith would probably say that homeless folks collecting bottles is merely the free market performing its magic once again. But shouldn't we aim for a society in which no one needs to rifle through garbage to earn some loose change?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Taste Test: Fentiman's Cherry Tree Cola

In early February I lamented the consumption of my last can of Cherry Coke. Since then I've tried to replicate the flavour with syrups, but my experiments have been unsuccessful. Today, however, I stumbled across Fentiman's Cherry Tree Cola at the Val-Mart in Leduc. As a cola connoisseur, I couldn't leave this beverage untried.

Sold in retro-styled glass bottles and made with cane sugar, Fentiman's is surely being marketed to those of us unfortunate enough to have develop a fondness for boutique sodas. "UNFILTERED: up-end bottle to gently invigorate for naturally superior flavour," suggests the packaging in delightfully cheery turn-of-the-century (the 19th/20th centuries, that is) style. Dutifully I did so, and while I'm not sure if turning the bottle upside-down really altered the flavour, this cherry cola certainly offers a refreshing, slightly spicy bouquet. It's not as strongly cherry-flavoured as Cherry Coke, but it certainly feels more organic on my tongue - though perhaps that's a psychological artifact of the packaging and ad copy as much as the flavour.

Whatever factors may have influenced my reaction. I find Fentiman's Cherry Tree Cola a spicy, satisfying brew of satisfyingly sweet but not cloying cola and cherry flavours. Three and a half cherries out of five.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Las Vegas Nearly Had a Life-Size Enterprise

Thanks to my friend Kyle for alerting me to this story revealing that Las Vegas was nearly home to a 1:1 scale U.S.S. Enterprise. As you'll read in the linked article, Las Vegas was one Paramount executive's approval away from going ahead with the project, which would have seen downtown Vegas as home port for an attraction physically larger than the Titanic and nearly as tall as the Empire State Building.

When Sylvia and I visited the Fremont Street Experience last year little did I know that we were standing where the Enterprise would have been, and that the Experience was actually the second-place finisher in the competition to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. The Enterprise project was first, but shelved because of one missing approval. Tragic! I would've visited every year.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Most Illogical

Earlier today Stephen directed me to this image of Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith offering the Vulcan salute in (of course) Vulcan, Alberta while on the campaign trail. "Please blog about everything wrong in this picture and caption of Danielle Smith in Vulcan," he pleaded.

Where to begin? Well, first things first: while the photo's caption claims "Danielle Smith shows she can give a Vulcan salute," she has, in fact, messed up; her thumb should be extended, not scrunched up along the blade of her hand. Other politicians are perfectly capable of giving the salute; see US President Obama saluting Spock-style just a few days ago

Of course no Federation citizen would hold this gaffe against Ms. Smith; that would be illogical. It's the gesture and the sentiment that are important: peace and long life, live long and prosper.

But Wildrose political philosophy runs counter to Star Trek's humanist ideals, making one wonder why Smith would associate herself, however briefly, with the show. In the world of Star Trek, we're presented with a society that is either slowly leaving capitalism behind or has already done so, depending on which of the various Trek TV series you're watching. There are no national borders on Earth, and people work not for money, but to pursue personal growth. Greed and the pursuit of money are seen as distasteful and outmoded, and universal human rights are fiercely defended. Health care is universal and fully accessible to all, based on need, not affluence. Science is held in high esteem.

Contrast that with Smith and her party, who continue to claim - for political reasons - that the science of climate change hasn't yet been proven. They believe in so-called "conscience rights" that would allow marriage commissioners to refuse to marry homosexual couples or health care professionals to refuse to give out birth control pills. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Picard and the others would be bewildered by these philosophies, though they would certainly be tolerant of Smith's beliefs...if perhaps privately worried about the prospect of socially conservative economic libertarians being put in charge of one of Earth's most advanced jurisdictions.

In other words, what we have here is a simple case of cognitive dissonance. It's not that right-wingers shouldn't like Star Trek; it's that it's hard to imagine why they possibly would. One of these things is not like the other.

In truth, I have no idea whether or not Ms. Smith is a Star Trek fan; it's quite likely that she was simply acknowledging that the town of Vulcan is best known for the connection it's fostered with the show. Any politician stopping in Vulcan would be pretty much obliged to mug for the camera flashing that salute. But it remains ironic that the leader of a libertarian, socially conservative party would so willingly associate herself, however obliquely, with popular culture's most enduring vision of a social-democratic utopia.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Ghoul Friday

Having the day off, Sean came over to play Last Night on Earth, a board game that pits a band of heroic small-town folk against a horde of ravenous zombies - or, as they were known as in the original Night of the Living Dead, ghouls. Since Good Friday is about the resurrection of the dead, it seemed an appropriate way to recognize the holiday. Sean won the particular scenario pictured above, finding the keys and the gasoline needed for the truck before driving away with all four heroes! Team Zombie was left growling for brains, their hunger un-slaked.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Roller Disco Forever

Yesterday's birthday post about Sean was pretty popular, so I figured folks might enjoy a closer look at his Roller Disco t-shirt. (The candy chaps on the cardboard cowboy tasted pretty terrible. Pure sugar. Mom made really good blue icing, though.)

Leduc had a roller rink at the time, and I still have brief but vivid memories of roller skating (badly) while Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" blared over the sound system. I don't remember if there was a disco ball, but there were certainly rainbow-hued spotlights dancing over the roller-skating teens, brief flashes of polyester winking in the darkness. Too shy to approach the girls - how beautiful and terrifying they were with their big hair and leg warmers and painted-on jeans, and perhaps worst of all, their unpredictable inscrutability! - I rolled alone over the cold concrete, completing just a few clumsy circuits before quickly retreating to the rink's coin-op video arcade. Easier to shoot asteroids and jump over bouncing barrels flung by a deranged gorilla than ask a girl to roller skate!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Baby Brother Birthday Badgering

Sean turns 36 today, meaning I shouldn't really refer to him as a "baby" brother, but hey, alliteration. Here we are celebrating Sean's 5th birthday back in 1981. I love the Mickey and Minnie Mouse "Roller Disco" shirt Sean's wearing - and my green pants. Sean still has far better fashion sense.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Free Tom Riker

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Defiant," we learn that Thomas Riker - the transporter clone of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D's Will Riker (don't ask) - joins the Maquis and winds up getting taken prisoner by the Cardassians. Major Kira Nerys promises that they'll come back for him, but the show ended before the rescue was ever mounted. So as far as we viewers know, poor Tom is still stuck in jail.

I suppose optimistic fans could assume that Tom was liberated during the collapse of Cardassian civilization caused by the Dominion War, but it's just as likely that he was one of the hundreds of millions of victims of those tragic events.

In the meantime, well, here's some more Photoshop tomfoolery. If you look closely, you can see that my use of the selection tools leaves something to be desired - they're a source of constant frustration. I always wind up with ragged edges, even after using the feather tools. Time for another course, I think.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Implications of Immortality

Recently I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Icehenge, the first of his Martian novels featuring humans who live hundreds of years but retain only about 80 years of memories. The concept raises important questions about future technology and personal identity.

In Robinson's world, many folks write autobiographies about themselves so that they'll retain the basic facts of their lives, if not vivid memories, as they grow older. Just as most of us know our birthplace thanks to our parents or good record-keeping, future humans who live hundreds or thousands of years may only know which jobs they've held or degrees earned because someone made a note of it.

In one of Robinson's Martian stories two ancient characters meet. Decades ago they shared a romance, but only one has any memory of their shared history; the other mistakenly thinks this is their first meeting. While not a major plot point, I found this detail at once fascinating and horrifying. If we don't remember our romances, can we really claim to be the same people we once were? Or do new personalities form as the centuries pass, rewriting our minds just as new data replaces the old on a computer hard drive?

Without wishing to become morbid, I've often wondered if my past self, the child I was, ceased to exist long ago. The being known as "Earl J. Woods" hasn't died yet; I'm still here, even if my cells have died and replicated themselves hundreds or thousands of times over the years.

Of course this is merely a reiteration of the old "grandfather's axe" problem: if you've replaced the handle and the head of an axe many times, is it in any sense still the same axe?All the physical components have changed, but it may nevertheless still feel like the same axe because of its associations in space and time.

I'm certain my parents consider me the same person I once was, for they've seen me grow up and I imagine certain character traits have remained relatively consistent over the years. I feel the same way about them, of course.

But without these associations, which would certainly fade over centuries given limited memory, could or should I really be considered the same person if Robinson's life-extension technology comes early enough for me to live to the age of 1000? Or might I be considered ten or fifteen different people over the course of a millennium? If I committed murder at age 500 but the crime remained undetected for 200 years, long after I've forgotten it happened, could or should I be charged?

A brain is not a hard drive, but perhaps humanity will address this problem by modifying minds in such a way to expand our capacity for memory to keep pace with our new longevity. Without persistence of identity, of what value is immortality anyway? It would almost be like slowly dying several times over the course of a lifetime, without even realizing it's happening. What a chilling fate!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fool On the Hill

I don't have any good April Fool gags, but I've certainly played the fool often enough over the years. Almost 21 years ago (sigh) I graduated from the University of Alberta. Unfortunately I didn't know how to wear the collar of my graduation gown, so this otherwise pretty good photo was ruined by my incompetence.
 Upon reaching the Jubilee Auditorium it quickly became apparent that I was wearing my getup backwards. A hasty switch stopped me from looking  a complete dolt.