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Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Knowledge Bomb

Last night I dreamed I was in a gigantic classroom. The walls, floor and ceiling were sterile white, but each desk was fashioned from rich old oak and wrought iron. I took notes feverishly as Leslie lectured in the distance at the front of the class. She spoke clearly, but though my ears heard her words, my mind translated them into a kind of electronic mishmash of whirrs, beeps and clanks. I knew, however, that she was giving me my next assignment.

I went home and phoned Mike, who told me that he wouldn't be in the office for the next two weeks, but that he could give me everything I needed over the phone and via email. I thanked him and went in search of Pete; I needed his help to complete my assignment. I found myself wandering through downtown Toronto, when Steve appeared and helpfully pointed to the top of the CN Tower, where Pete was break dancing. His movements and his clothing - jeans, t-shirt and toque - gave me the final pieces I needed to complete my task.

I used my mind to assemble all the information I'd gathered into a schematic. I projected a holographic image of that schematic into the centre of a darkened auditorium. It resembled a cutaway diagram of a hydrogen bomb, but only superficially, for this wasn't an H-bomb, but a K-bomb, a Knowledge Bomb.

It was shaped like a giant teardrop. The outer shell was made of chocolate syrup, like a dipped cone from Dairy Queen. Inside there were two layers of cake; the outer layer chocolate, the inner layer yellow, each layer again teardrop-shaped.

"It isn't really cake, of course," I explained to the massed audience hidden away in the darkness. "The K-bomb's construction is purely metaphorical. When detonated, enlightenment spreads from the epicentre of the blast in a spherical wave. The bigger the payload, the broader the enlightenment. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, it's a true smart bomb."

I woke up and realized this is probably the most easily interpreted dream I've ever had.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Night Settlers of America

I visited Sean today to play board games, emerging victorious at Railways of the World and Puerto Rico but losing very badly to Jeremiah Pitts at Settlers of Catan spinoff Settlers of America. Despite being confined to a static map of the lower 48 U.S. states, I think I enjoy Settlers of America more than the basic version of Catan, though not as much as that game's Seafarers expansion. Whereas the original Settlers encourages players to rack up points via building cities and roads, the object in Settlers of America is to deliver all of your goods to competitors' cities, a dynamic that requires a lot of planning and investment. "Go West, young man," is essential advice for winning this game - advice I could have used instead of building cities on the Gulf and east coasts. 

Of the three new games we tried today, though, I think Puerto Rico is my favourite. Sean's anniversary edition includes high-quality playing pieces (such as "doubloons" made of real metal coins) and gorgeous artwork on heavy card stock. The game's rules are elegant and easy to learn, requiring players to choose a role (settler, captain, mayor, prospector, etc.) each turn to develop his or her island and promote economic growth for the colony as a whole. More often than not, your choice of role will benefit your competitors as much or more than yourself, but if you're clever you can choose the right role at the perfect moment for yourself and the worst possible time for the other players. This is a gorgeously rendered, very rewarding game.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Sentimentalist, Version Three

Back in February I submitted my short story "The Sentimentalist" to the editors of Tesseracts 17. Today I learned the story wasn't picked for the anthology, but in a very kind note the editors informed me "The Sentimentalist" made it to the second round of choices, so at least they didn't reject my work out of hand. 

Before submitting the story I gave it one final polish. Here's the third and final version of "The Sentimentalist," as submitted. Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing will release Tesseracts 17 in October.

The Sentimentalist
Six hundred years after she lost her one true love, the young woman in the faded blue jeans and the tan leather jacket returned to Cherryville. She’d stopped to shed her last vengeful tears at the way station ten miles back; now, cheeks dried and eyes clear and hard, she was ready.
She rolled into town on a weathered black sociable, its left seat long ago removed and replaced by a battered old rivercane basket, currently filled with an assortment of dried fruits, nuts, jerky and a faintly glowing data tablet, resting languidly atop this humble bounty. 
Her tires kicked up dust and small stones as she braked to a halt in front of the first of three skyscrapers that loomed over Cherryville’s only street. In thirty seconds' ride she could put tiny Cherryville over the horizon behind her, but duty and destiny demanded their due.
She leaned her sociable against a hitching post and stepped onto the boardwalk, pausing a moment to stamp the dust from her black over-the-knee boots. She removed her black Stetson and with an offhand, almost lazy gesture flung it to land precariously balanced atop her sociable’s handlebars. For a moment it seemed a gust of wind would topple the battered old hat into the road, but the breeze subsided as if in deference to the visitor.
She gazed up at the towers of glass and steel before her. GENERAL STORE, pronounced the easternmost tower in bold block letters of carved and cracking obsidian. SALOON, read the middle tower in fading jade. And POST OFFICE, read the last in letters of worn marble. High above the skies began to roil, clouds of ochre and violet twisting impatiently beneath the silent glittering starscape waiting at altitudes incomprehensible, waiting on her and on Cherryville. Over the horizon other clouds rumbled their discontent, and she knew she’d allowed time to grow too short.
And yet she hesitated before the saloon doors and the murmuring voices beyond. One slightly callused but meticulously manicured hand brushed against the pistol holstered at her hip. Its deadly weight was cold comfort, leeching the heat from her body, a malevolent force pregnant with ugly potential. It had been her partner for half a century, and there was no ending their dark contract now. She took a breath and entered the saloon.
The skyscraper was mostly empty space, its one hundred fifty floors merely ringing the inner walls, ornate balconies of gilt stone open to the interior. On the ground floor hundreds of townspeople lined the bar or lounged at round oak tables as they dined, played cards, or, more commonly, ignored each other in favour of consulting their smart phones, eagerly devouring distractions that had ceased to matter centuries gone. There was no music, only the low rumble of conversation.
She stood at the saloon entrance until, one by one, all eyes were fixed upon her. At that moment she pulled her jacket open to reveal the large, polished black opal pinned to her blouse. The last echoes of conversation died away.
She spoke in the old formal tones, her voice initially cracking from long disuse.
“Hello,” she said. “At precisely noon today the extension granted you by the Confederation of the Living expires. Per Amendment Ten of the Articles of Final Exodus, you will now surrender yourselves for conversion in an orderly fashion.”
She attempted a smile, a way to soften the blow. 
“Congratulations on your perseverance. You are among the last corporeal –”
But the crowd didn’t let her finish. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the first terrified citizen drew his primitive sidearm, his blue eyes bloodshot and bulging with panic, beads of sweat glistening on his pale skin.
He was only halfway out of his chair before the young woman and her gun were one being once more, her arm extended, eyes half-open, her expression serene but sad. The first conversion slug burped from the barrel of her pistol and sailed across the room and through the citizen’s heart, its recording devices transmitting the sounds and sights of the man’s death to the young woman’s tablet on the street outside.
She would have preferred if the first violent conversion could have persuaded the others to surrender, but this crowd was too attached to this plane. Bullets, flechettes, darts and bolts crisscrossed the room in search of her flesh. She felt something bite sharply into her left side; an instant later another missile grazed her cheekbone, leaving a shallow gash that oozed a slow trickle of blood.
It wasn’t enough to distract the partnership. Her body moved with the grace of a dancer, long dark hair whipping in an arc as she pirouetted through the saloon, conversion slugs ripping through guts and brains and faces and lungs, every atrocity duly recorded. Once or twice an especially gifted citizen nearly managed to kill her, but her reflexes and the gun’s silent psychic warnings kept her injuries to a shameful minimum.
It was over in minutes. The carpet was soaked with blood that squelched under her boots as she left the saloon.
The Cherryville postman was standing beside her sociable, holding her data tablet, eyes agog. He looked up at her as she stepped down from the boardwalk, taking the tablet back.
“Anyone else in town?” she asked, gesturing with her chin at the post office and the general store. Her eyes were wet again, her vision blurred. Tiny rivers of blood dripped down her pale cheek to her jawline.
“Just me,” he said. “Everyone else was waiting for you in there. They thought maybe they’d have a chance if everyone...well. I thought I’d go with a little dignity.”
She nodded, wearing her mask of indifference through the tears. She reached out with her left hand, the polished black surface of her pointed nails shifting and whirling to reveal vast star fields, a universe on every fingertip. But before she could touch his grizzled cheek, he raised a hand to ask a question. She waited.
“Why do you take those awful pictures?” he asked. “Surely it’s not necessary, and who’s going to watch”
Her thin lips twisted in a sad smile. Tomorrow night she would indeed watch the replays, as she had watched all the others to remind herself of what she’d stolen, what she’d given, and what she’d sacrificed. When Earth at last was empty and everyone had moved on to the larger, truer world, someone must bear the burden of remembrance. Someone had to remember what it had been like to be meat scrabbling in the dirt for survival.
“I’m a sentimentalist,” she said.
The postman frowned, light years from understanding. Then starry fingertips graced his cheek and his body burst into wisps of silver smoke, lost on the wind.
A small smile brightened the sentimentalist’s features, and after a moment she mounted her sociable and rode off into the sunset, whistling to herself.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lake Driveway

From Neptune's hairy bosom wept the muck-laden waters of Lake Driveway
Those Aegean tears rose inexorably to creep along the pale cement of Earl's garage
But hale Vulcan looked up from his forge and saw beauteous Sylvia swooning with anxiety
And so granted her lover Earl a boon - the boon of the Vulcan Shuttle Shovel

With sneakers sodden, Earl braved the churning waters, a Scylla of piled snow on one side, Charybdis of packed ice on the other, forming a whirlpool of muddy waves

Again and again the shovel fell to scoop up the brown torrent, then rose to fling it beyond the ice berm that threatened home and thousands of comic books

Cursing his condo association, who assured him that the drain surely wouldn't get blocked again, frustrated Earl bailed and bailed until he bit the dust snow and could bail no more

But merciful Apollo, looking down from his fiery chariot, felt pity for the mortal
And with a wave of his stately hand, eased the sun's radiance, and lo the pace of melting did slow
And Earl, looking up from his snow-encrusted slumber, saw that the waters were receding.

With muttered thanks to all the gods he didn't believe in, Earl trod soddenly home, hung up Vulcan's mud-stained shovel, and retired to his blog. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last Word on Lens Flare

Yesterday Jeff posted a very entertaining, informative and succinct lecture on lens flare, in which one of his cartoon characters bemoans director J.J. Abrams' imagined penchant for shooting right into the sun. When that happens, you don't need to resort to Photoshop's lens flare filters at all, as seen here. Authentic lens flare, accidentally captured in the wild!

Monday, March 25, 2013

EJ Abrams

J.J. Abrams, director of Star Trek (2009), made lens flares trendy again with his unique artistic vision. Now Star Trek and lens flares go hand-in-hand, which is why I combined them in my last two posts. Of course some may claim that lens flares were a trifle over used in Abrams' Trek, but the tool is just so flashy and easy to use that it's hard to resist adding them to any old photo, whether it's appropriate or not. Lens flare and prosper!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rescue at Belcanto

In our second of two Starfleet: A Call to Arms skirmishes on Friday, Sean and I fielded two ships apiece: two still-unnamed mid-size Romulan cruisers versus the Federation's USS Encounter and USS Eris. For the first time we tried one of the scenarios included in the rule book, a rescue/salvage mission with victory awarded to whichever side has the ships with the most point value within six inches of the target derelict. In this case we put the crippled USS Edmonton in orbit of Belcanto to serve as the prize. The Encounter was wiped out in the opening salvo, leaving the Eris to fight two ships on her own. It didn't look good for the Federation.
Fortunately, luck was with me when it came to the crucial initiative rolls and critical hits. I managed to destroy the cloaking device of one of Sean's ship's and chased her down immediately.
As the crippled Romulan scout fled, Eris unloaded all her forward weapons, causing a chain reaction sensors revealed would lead to a massive explosion in seconds (or, in the real world, by the end of the next movement phase). Eris heeled hard about and escaped the shock wave (yes, there are no shock waves in space).

The Eris and Sean's remaining ship exchanged fire a couple more times, but since this scenario was limited to eight turns and the Eris was worth a few more points than Sean's vessel, I was able to claim victory for the first time. Huzzah!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Battle of Belcanto

Yesterday Sean and I met to skirmish in the Romulan Neutral Zone. In our first engagement the USS Excalibur faced off against an unknown Romulan warbird. But as seen here, the Romulan cloaking device made it very difficult for Excalibur's gunners to draw a bead on the enemy.
Having faced the deadly Romulan plasma torpedo in the past, the Excalibur's captain knew that he mustn't get too close to the foe. But the dastardly Romulans used their cloaking device to slip past the stalwart Federation ship and attack from behind. Crippled by a plasma hit at close range, the Excalibur had no choice but to go to emergency warp and cede the field of battle to the Romulans.

Somewhat humiliatingly, this retreat represented my best effort yet in Starfleet: A Call to Arms; at least my ship survived the confrontation. But victory awaited...

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Saliva-Based PCR Test for Malaria

Yesterday I learned that my friend Dr. Brian Taylor is competing for a grant from Grand Challenges Canada, a federally funded organization with a mission to support "bold ideas with big impact in global health." Brian wants to make malaria diagnosis cheaper, safer and more accessible - definitely a bold idea that could have a big impact, particularly in developing nations.

Brian explains the idea in a short, informative and entertaining video. Unfortunately I couldn't find a link to embed the video, but I hope you'll click on the link below and vote for Brian's proposal.

Dr. Brian Taylor's Bold Idea: A Saliva-Based PCR Test for Malaria

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

King of the Castle

Once again an old photograph dredges up memories long hidden. Strewn atop our kitchen table in Leaf Rapids are several plastic Roman soldiers and the pieces of their castle. Oddly, my strongest memory is the feeling of pulling the red tops off the towers and pushing them back into place again; it was pleasant to discover how the toy fit together. I don't remember the chariot at all, but clearly it's the coolest piece in the set. Perhaps the tactile sensation of assembling and disassembling the castle helped my brain retain the memory of those pieces, while the less interactive chariot is lost to history.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Wheels to Nirvana

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle once you learn. But they never mention the other unforgettable memories associated with cycling, to wit: crashing the first few times during the learning process.

I learned how to cycle in Leaf Rapids, on a small one-speed blue and white bike with coaster brakes and a triangular vinyl seat. I believe it was during my kindergarten year that Mom and Dad took me out to the back alley behind 8 Churchill Place and gently coaxed me into position. With a white-knuckle death grip on the handlebars and my eyes huge with fear, I waited for Mom or Dad (I don't remember who was holding onto the bike) to push me into oblivion.

On first release, I managed to pedal perhaps one full revolution before crashing sideways into the unforgiving gravel of the alley. Mom and Dad dusted me off for a second try, and that time, wheels wobbling all the way, I managed perhaps two or three meters' distance before slamming into the ground. A few tears may have flowed, but I stood for one more try.

This time the bike teetered port and starboard only a couple of times before my body found its balance, and like that I was off, pedalling down the length of the alley and circling back again in triumph. That kind of speed - I'm sure it was all of five or six kilometers an hour - was a revelation. What a joy it was to speed along the road unfettered, the power of my muscles multiplied so easily by a few simple gears. I imagine anyone who's enjoyed cycling remembers that first transcendent ride.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pyramid of Iforget

Saturday Night D&D, the game of kings! Or knights, at least. Squires, perhaps. Dogsbodies..?

Last night I noted that Jeff Pitts and his Dungeons and Dragons character Rilion share one important trait: both have a lot of hit points, and both lose them with astonishing regularity. And yet no matter how brutal the accident/beating, Jeff and Rilion always bounce back from unconsciousness to fight another day.

Background: Jeff slams his head into the table. Foreground: Jeff's character Rilion, with sword, faces off against a two-headed head-collecting ettin, with axe.
A little earlier in the evening I sent Sylvia this image of my character Timbre fighting off a pair of hammer-wielding dwarves. They were part of a dastardly ambushing party who jumped us while we were searching for the pyramid of...uh, I forget, I wasn't the one taking notes.

"Your little man needs to stab more people," she texted, capturing the essence of the game in just a few words. I did my best, but as a bard I'm more about the lute (seen here in my left hand) than loot (ing bodies).

It had been four months since we last played, so a few of us couldn't remember where we were or what we were doing - Dungeons and Dragons campaigns are like that sometimes. "Do we have horses?" Pete asked, scanning his character sheet.

"Yes we do," I answered. "And I even named mine: Half-Note. It would BEHOOVE you to do the same," I quipped.

The chorus of groans was music to my bard's ears.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The 391 Shuffle

Manitoba Provincial Road 391 connects Thompson to Lynn Lake, and passes through Leaf Rapids on the way. In 2009, Sean and I stopped to indicate our direction of travel, north by northwest, an imaginary bearing for an almost-imaginary place...

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Car Whisperer

These posts depicting fictional shows on the equally fictional EW network are really just a framework that allows me to amuse myself while honing my Photoshop skills, such as they are. I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of how to manipulate layers and blending options, though nuances of lighting, perspective and a hundred other important techniques remain elusive. For this image to work, you have to imagine that there's an even brighter starfield in front of Earl and the cars; otherwise, they'd be backlit by the starfield behind them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Walking Dad

THE EW PROMO NARRATOR: On the next chilling episode of The Walking Dad...

DAD: Kids, Liz, I'm going down to the corner to pick up the mail. Does anyone have any mail for the mailbox?


THE EW PROMO NARRATOR: A journey of a million miles begins with a single step...

DAD: I forgot the keys! Now I'll have to walk back to the house.

THE EW PROMO NARRATOR: Wednesday night drama on The EW - an all-new Walking Dad, right after an all-new Arrow and an all-new Earl's Island!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Lynch List

Today I watched Lost Highway and Eraserhead back-to-back. I've now seen each of David Lynch's feature films, which puts me in position to create two lists of the master's movies: most-to-least comprehensible, and least-to-most favourite of mine. How will these two lists correlate..?

David Lynch's Most-to-Least Comprehensible Movies

10. The Straight Story
Lynch's most straightforward film is aptly named, for the eccentric director really does play it straight in this simple but heartwarming tale based on the true story of Alvin Straight, who travelled almost 400 km on a riding lawnmower to visit his sick brother. There's only one moment of Lynchian weirdness to be had, and even that is over in a flash.
9. Dune
Adapted from Frank Herbert's classic SF novel, Lynch's third film proceeds in linear fashion: Paul Atreides battles the corrupt Harkonnens for supremacy over the planet Arrakis, valued for the spice that makes faster-than-light travel possible.
8. The Elephant Man
Lynch's first adaptation of a true story explored the world of Joseph Merrick, a Briton with life-altering deformities. Probably best remembered for John Hurt's strangled cry of "I am not an animal - I am a human being!", The Elephant Man is a relatively simple (for Lynch), sentimental accounting of a difficult story. 
7. Blue Velvet
While nothing may be as it seems in the small town of Lumberton, it's not at all difficult to follow this offbeat coming-of-age story once you acclimatize to Lynch's signature foibles.
6. Wild at Heart
A love story with a happy ending - what could be more conventional? Well, leaving aside the over-the-top violence and the appearance of Glinda the Good Witch...
5. Lost Highway
This film seems pretty non-linear until you realize that all Lynch is doing is telling the story of a man driven insane by guilt - from the insane person's point of view. 
4. Mulholland Drive
Again, once you realize that everything up until the blue box is a dream, this story of love and regret becomes a lot less oblique - and even more moving.
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
This film is a lot easier to understand if you're already familiar with the television show on which it's based; without this background knowledge, the story of Laura Palmer's violent death comes across as a fever dream.
2. Eraserhead
Lynch's first film is a surreal doozy. Having seen it for the first time today, my first impressions are unlikely to be accurate. But if I had to guess, I'd say it's about male fears surrounding reproduction and responsibility and how those fears can unravel the structure of the safe, comfortable universe of the childless bachelor. But in a film where a man's head pops off and gets ground up into pencil erasers, your interpretation is as good as mine...
1. Inland Empire
Along with Eraserhead and Lost Highway, Lynch's last film is one of three I've seen over the course of the last couple of days, and definitely the toughest to interpret. The movie's narrative bounces back and forth temporally and in terms of point-of-view - it's often difficult to tell if a given scene is part of the film's framing narrative, or that of the film-within-a-film. The first third of the film is roughly linear, but after that point scenes are connected not by traditional story logic, but thematic connections.

Earl's Least-to-Most Favourite David Lynch Films

Keep in mind that I really, really love all of these movies save Dune - and even that, I can appreciate as an interesting failure. 

10. Dune
I enjoy the production design, art direction and performances of this lush adaptation of the novel, but the dubbed internal monologues of the characters, while true to the book, come off as distracting on film. Perhaps the longer Alan Smithee cut is an improvement, but as Lynch himself disowned it...probably not.
9. Inland Empire
Maybe I'll grow fonder of this film after I see it a few more times, but on initial viewing it leaves me a little cold relative to Lynch's earlier works. I do love the rabbit sitcom, though...
8. Wild at Heart
Goofy fun, but thematically light compared to Lynch's other work.
7. Eraserhead
I love the creepy industrial wasteland Lynch created in Eraserhead, and the eerie mechanical soundtrack inspires exactly the right amount of slowly building dread. But the baby is just too creepy to watch. 
6. The Elephant Man
I remember The Elephant Man as a profoundly sensitive film. Its Best Director and Best Picture Oscar nominations were well-deserved, but in the end it's not quite strange enough to be one of my favourite Lynch movies.
5. The Straight Story
Simply a compelling story from start to finish, one that not only shows our world's absurdity but embraces and accepts it wholeheartedly.
4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
While critical opinion remains divided on this prequel-and-sequel to the infamous television series, I can't help but be drawn back into the strange world of Agent Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer and the other off-kilter characters of America's weirdest town.
3. Lost Highway
Not since Kiss Me Deadly has film noir also doubled as horror so effectively. Chilling, creepy, bewildering and funny, Lost Highway is a perfect metaphor for people that lose themselves to madness and self-deception.
2. Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet wasn't my first Lynch movie - that was The Elephant Man - but it was my first Lynch movie with all the trademarks Lynch is now known for: a bubbly 50s veneer overlaid atop a writhing core of corruption, deliberately artificial dialogue, daylight horror, women in trouble, duality and a killer soundtrack. I very nearly bust a gut laughing when I first saw the hilariously fake bird chirping away merrily at the film's end.
1. Mulholland Drive
It was extraordinarily difficult to rank these last three films, but in the end Mulholland Drive comes out on top for a very personal reason: it captures so perfectly the compelling experience of dreaming, and how difficult it can be for certain people to distinguish between dreams and reality.

As you can see, there's not much correlation between my two lists; neither Lynch's most or least straightforward films dominate either end of my top ten favourites. In my case, at least, the perceived weirdness of Lynch's films isn't a reliable predictor of my reaction to said films. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dada Comics #1

I suppose the elements of a true Dada comic book should be assembled completely at random, but I found this a pleasing exercise anyway. The story almost makes sense...but not quite. I watched David Lynch's Inland Empire last night, so I'm feeling surreal. "The eyes have it," he said backwards.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Day the Saucers Came

I was sitting on a mountaintop the day the saucers came
I was posing for a photo that in retrospect seems lame
But I grabbed my laser rifle and I carefully took aim
To send the saucers home

Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
We'll send the saucers home

I was caught in the command post when the heat ray burned it down
I was dragged outside to safety by a servant of the crown
And when the flames subsided there was nothing left of town
But we gathered up our pistols and we fought another round
To send those monsters home

Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
We'll send those monsters home

On the sixteenth day of battle we flew into outer space
The alien invasion had jump-started our space race
We let fly the blaster cannons and we put them in their place
The aliens ran back home

Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
Glory, glory golly gee whiz
The aliens ran back home

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Jellyfish '09

While visiting Jeff, Susan and Steven in 2009, I shot this photograph at the Vancouver Aquarium. The composition would have been better had I managed to capture a single jellyfish floating alone, but the creatures insisted on swimming in close proximity. This is as close as I came to the effect I wanted, and while it's not perfect, I'm reasonably pleased.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Rain of Light

I shot this image of the south Edmonton skyline from the top of the Bouchers' apartment building last spring. I suppose it looks like a million other nighttime long exposure shots, but I like the way this one evokes the spirit of a futuristic bar code from some Orwellian future society, perhaps an identifier laser-etched right onto the brain for telepathic sensor scans. See? Read enough into anything and it suddenly becomes art!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Aiieeee, the Jury

When I left the Alberta Legislature behind last May, I suspected that it might be a while before I landed another job. I've been fortunate enough to land some freelance writing assignments and a really wonderful online tutoring job for one semester at Grant MacEwan, but a full-time job still eludes me nine months later.It's been a frustrating process, but I remain grateful because I know other Canadians have far greater obstacles to happiness. I'll find the right position, but I have no right to expect it to happen overnight.

The purpose of this post is not to whine about my job search, but to highlight the little curve balls life tosses from time to time. This morning I confirmed that today's EI payment was my last. Alarming news, yes, but I knew it was coming, and Sylvia and I made plans long ago in the unlikely (or so I thought) event that my benefits ran out before I'd found another job. I filed away the news, returned to my job search, and found five positions that each sounded quite appealing. With another batch of applications bravely assaulting the fortifications of HR filtering software, I felt as though the day hadn't been a total loss.

A couple of hours later, Sylvia asked me to take her to Tim Horton's for her signature medium mocha ice cap supreme. On the way we picked up the mail, and...

"Why do I have a letter from Alberta Justice and Attorney General...wait, are you kidding me? Is this a jury summons?"

I tore open the envelope and there it was: a summons to appear at the Court of Queen's Bench for jury selection.

I can't decide if this is the best timing in the world, or the worst. On the one hand, I'm unemployed, so there's really no better time to do my civic duty. And it's a duty I take very seriously; if it turns out that I'm chosen during jury selection, I'm ready to serve. More than that; I'd be proud to serve.

On the other hand, what do I do if a prospective employer offers me a job while I'm sequestered? "What a great offer! I can't wait to start working for you! Er...can I start six months from now, once this trial is over?"

Of course I'm painting a very improbable scenario. The odds of being picked are very slim. The odds of the trial lasting more than a couple of days are slim. And the odds that an employer will make an offer at the worst possible moment are slimmest of all.

...this is exactly what's going to happen, isn't it...?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

On Rewriting

Writers who make a living from their novels and stories must, I imagine, work much faster than me. I can crank out a polished press release in minutes, keynote speeches in a couple of hours (or faster, when circumstances demand), op-ed pieces in a day and policy documents in less than a week, depending on length. So far, my employers and clients have been very happy with my work, so I must be doing something right.

But fiction, oy, that remains a tough nut to crack. I've been working, on and off, on a short story for the last several months. After about a dozen rewrites, I'm finally happy with, oh, about the first third of the story. But after that, despite my best efforts, I continue to break the "show, don't tell" rule of storytelling in a half-dozen different ways, and I haven't yet figured out an innovative way of fixing the problem. I've considered flashbacks, I've considered starting the story at a different point, I've considered paring away all the extra exposition. So far, nothing works.

Logically, I should gut the whole thing, keep the opening scene, and see if I can move the story in a more fruitful direction. But I love the last line, too. It's the meat in the middle of the story that's messing everything up.

According to conventional wisdom, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in whichever field you pursue. I've racked up my 10,000 hours and more when it comes to non-fiction, but I feel like I still have 9,000 to go when it comes to short stories, let alone novels. At this rate, I'll be ready for publishing in...huh, look at that, 9,000 hours is only about one year. That's assuming I don't eat, sleep or do anything but write short stories. I'd better get back to it...

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Be Still Life

A still life on the wall at Grandma and Granddad's house, and a thwarted "Be still!" moment during a family portrait. Mom looks great, but Dad is clearly stunned that I shifted position at the last moment to prop a plastic cowboy on his head. Check out the funky Mount Rushmore collector plate on the wall and the issue of Newsweek on the coffee table. Note too the package of Rothman's cigarettes, Mom and Dad's brand before they quit smoking in 1979, coincident with our move from Manitoba to Alberta.

I find it interesting that Mom and Dad look quite stylish here in black and white, and yet I'm stuck with plaid pants and a purple shirt. Actually, I'll bet I'd be quite a hit if I dressed like this for my next social gathering...

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Tricycle Summit

Here's blonde Earl again at the far left. This photograph was taken sometime in the early 1970s in Thompson, Manitoba. I barely remember the house, and I don't remember the other children at all. Who were they and where are they now, I wonder?

I do, however, remember the tricycle. I was very fond of it. If it were midsummer and I suddenly came into possession of an adult-sized trike, I'd quite happily ride it 'round the park, legs pumping perhaps not quite as quickly as they once could, but pumping nonetheless with great nostalgic enthusiasm.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

How Fortunate and Glorious!

 Sean bought me Fortune & Glory for my birthday, and today we tried out this game of 1930s derring-do for the first time. It's the perfect game for anyone who loves Republic serials and pulp adventure.

Each player in the game takes on the identity of a hero or heroine and attempts to gain fortune and glory by exploring ancient ruins and discovering valuable artifacts. Along the way, they'll face dangers such as deadly snakes, zombies, Nazis, mobsters and other nefarious menaces. In a competitive game, each player races to accumulate as much fortune (gold) as possible. In a cooperative game, players work together to defeat either the Mob or the Nazis, who of course are trying to take over the world.
In our first cooperative game, Sean and I randomly chose the characters of Jacques Moreau, a tomb raider, and Duke Dudley a British Lord. Each character has special attributes and abilities that will influence the player's approach to winning the game. Duke, for example, starts the game with one Fortune (represented by a plastic gold coin) and one piece of Gear, chosen randomly from the stack of Gear cards. I wound up with a bullwhip, useful as it adds +1 die to combat rolls. Here, Duke and Jaques meet up in Egypt, where we attempt to find the Helmet of Medusa. Each artifact has a danger level associated with it; in this case, we had to pass three randomly chosen Tests, or challenges, before securing the artifact. Unfortunately, we failed to discover the secret of the Ice Caves, represented by a randomly drawn Danger card, and our failure compelled us to flip the card over to reveal its accompanying Cliffhanger result:
Yeti Attack! But just as in the old movie serials, cliffhangers aren't resolved right away; you have to wait until your next turn. It's a great mechanic that adds a lot of suspense and fun to the game.

Meanwhile, the Nazi villains (represented by red figures) were successfully retrieving artifacts, earning infamy on the Villain Track and moving them closer to global domination. And all the while the Nazi Secret Base and War Zeppelin were depositing soldiers across the globe.

Sadly, Sean and I were overrun in our first playthrough, securing only one artifact before the bad guys took over the world. But we played enough to obtain a solid grasp of the rules, which was our chief goal today.

Fortune & Glory is a fun, fast-paced game of strategy and high adventure. It was great fun with two players, and I have to imagine that it would be even more riotous with more adventurers. The wide assortment of Adventure, Artifact, Gear, Villain, Location, Event and other cards provide immense replay value - no two adventures are the same. Supports 1-8 players - yes, you can play solitaire. 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

McN Bear

Sometime in the 1960s it would appear that Mom got pretty close to a bear. I'm pretty sure she wasn't shooting with any telephoto lenses in those days.

I wasn't sure what to make of the shack in the background, so I added cartoon facial features to reflect my emotional state had I been there to see Mom shooting the photo.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Sideways Snowbirds

I photographed these Snowbirds at the Namao air show of 1986. Naturally the image should be rotated 90 degrees clockwise to place the AWACS radar dome visible at right at the bottom of the frame, but I think the image looks more dramatic this way.