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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Indian Rice Capital of the World

Though I don't remember a thing about the trip, once we visited Whiteshell Provincial Park, Indian Rice Capital of the World. Maybe we had some wild rice for lunch.

Today I nearly burned myself while enjoying a beef dip for lunch. I thought to myself, "My au jus nearly became ow juice!" What does this have to do with Whiteshell Provincial Park or Indian Rice? Nothing. That's Sean in the photo.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Taqueria Tres Carnales

Tucked away just north of Jasper on 100A Avenue, just a few steps away from the north exit of the Central LRT station, lies a bustling little Mexican cafeteria: Taqueria Tres Carnales. When I arrived for lunch today people were lined up out the door, and I initially worried that I'd have to abandon my plans. But the invariably energetic and friendly staff ushered patrons through the queue with remarkable efficiency. Yes, I waited in line about 15 minutes, but the air of affable chaos and good-natured fun made the time pass quickly.
The decor complements the breezy illusion of carefree fun generated by the staff, who worked with such grace and good humour they seemed to glide around the cafeteria like accomplished figure skaters during a well-rehearsed routine.
With no small amount of trepidation, I decided to start off with a Mexican Cola. But my hesitation proved foolish, as the drink turned out to be superbly refreshing. Stronger and sweeter than our colas, Jarritos has a spicy bite - it's almost peppery. I'd happily buy a 24-case of these to take home.
I had no idea what to order, but the young businessman in line ahead of me raved about something called Al Pastor, so I ordered that. Al Pastor turns out to be a set of four pulled pork tacos served with lime, radish and mild salsa. With some consternation I noted that I'd been given no cutlery, but I managed to fold the tacos for ingestion with only a little mess, including a set of very greasy, orange-stained fingers. The tacos were spicy and succulent, with excellent texture and robust but not overpowering flavour.

Because of the long wait in line, I wolfed down my meal in about ten minutes - only to discover that the place was far less busy at 12:35 then it had been at 11:55. Next time I'll see if a slightly later lunch would give me more time to savour my meal.

My cola and tacos cost around $15, including tax and tip - an excellent value for a truly delicious lunch. The location is somewhat inconvenient and there's really not enough seating to handle the eager rush of diners, but Taqueria Tres Carnales is worth a little trouble. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 29, 2013

2312 in 12 Words

Robinson has great ideas, but his characters are drier than Mars pre-terraforming.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Manitoba Sunrise

I'm pretty sure my maternal grandmother shot this striking sunset sometime during the late 1960s using some kind of weird large-format film; I only have a few negatives like it in the family collection. (The negative is a square about five cm per side.) The foreground is underexposed, but I love the hues the sun casts over the sky, hills and snow. I hope Grandma didn't hurt her eyes shooting into the sun like this.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Desaturated Falls

Here's a photo of Dad overlooking northern Manitoba's gorgeous Pisew Falls. Since the falls are obscured by the trees at right, Dad becomes the real subject of the photo. In order to enhance that truth, I selected Dad and desaturated everything else. I think it's a pretty cool technique. I've done the same thing to another of Mom's photos from the same trip here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Space Mutiny Mystery

Space Mutiny, the movie mocked late in the eighth season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, provided ample fodder for Mike and the Bots to mock. It's one of the series' best episodes, one I enjoy revisiting from time to time.

And yet there's one thing about the show that's bugged me for years. Space Mutiny features many stock shots of the Battlestar Galactica from the 1970s television series of the same name. In Space Mutiny, the Galactica footage is meant to portray the exterior of the starship upon which the titular mutiny occurs.

And yet not once do Mike or the robots deliver a riff to draw attention to this very obvious use of stock footage. Their failure to mention the Galactica's dissonant presence is a distraction throughout the whole episode: audiences are left wondering "Where's the Battlestar Galactica gag? It's gotta be coming soon."

These things bug me. Was it some kind of complex licensing issue? Could the writers simply not think of a funny gag? Argh!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hi-Q Haikus

'Neath hot studio lights
Soft fingers on hard buttons
Buzzers do battle

Analog camera
Its unblinking eye gazes hard
Framing nervous teens

Quarter finals, hooray!
But Canadian game shows
Have such crappy prizes

Monday, July 22, 2013

In-Laws on a Summer's Eve

For no other reason that this is a nice picture and for my gratitude to the Bouchers for bringing Sylvia into the world, here are my in-laws as they were on Saturday night. Still a fetching couple.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

From Cairo to Cape

Ever since I first heard about the concept, I've been fascinated by the never-completed Cape to Cairo railway project. Today, on a whim, I decided to see if it's theoretically possible to drive from Cairo to Cape Town, and to my surprise Google Maps claims the feat is indeed possible, though it would take a staggering 165 hours to complete the nearly 11,000 km journey.

Of course that assumes you can get all the travel visas you need and have an incredibly durable vehicle that can make it through the many unpaved sections, not to mention river crossings. I think I'd probably only want to do this in a custom iteration of the Batmobile. I imagine it would be a spectacular trip, though.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Gravel Pit

There was at least one gravel pit somewhere near Leaf Rapids, for I have happy memories of allowing myself to tumble into the pit, head over heels, sliding through the sand and rock as I rolled to the bottom. Climbing back to the lip of the pit was excellent exercise. It's a wonder I didn't smack my head silly on some of the larger stones.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hi-Q Boo-Boo

Today Mom phoned to tell me that she saw me on television this morning, during Global Edmonton's live broadcast of the Klondike Days Parade through downtown. I'd half suspected I might appear in the coverage, because Mike Sobel hopped into the crowd an interviewed a mother and child about a metre away from me. I, of course, coolly stared into space, offhandedly observing the floats drifting by.

Mike's appearance at my side reminded me of my first encounter with the man, sometime during 1983, back when Global was still ITV. My social studies teacher, Mr. Istvanffy asked me to join the Leduc Junior High School Hi-Q team; back in the 80s, Hi-Q was ITV's answer to shows like Reach for the Top or Jeopardy...quiz shows. I agreed, and my classmates and I showed up for a series of tapings. Mike Sobel, his face unlined and his hair jet-black, was the host.

Our team did well enough to advance to the quarter-finals, which means I appeared in three episodes. During the taping of one episode, Mike started to read from one of his cue cards: "Name an orgasm which..."

The entire set burst into laughter; how could be not, being 14 or 15 years old? Even the cameraman was doubled over behind his mammoth rig. Sobel laughed too, his face flushed, and he managed to stammer out "...organism! Okay, we'd better do that again."

The second take went off without a hitch.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Klondike Days, 1982

In 1982 my I attended Klondike Days with my next door neighbour Keith Gylander. I took this photo with my little Kodak from the top of one of the Ferris wheels. What wonders could be found in the Coliseum of Thrills? I can't remember.
This Tidal Wave boat ride didn't go high enough to fully invert, at least not that I recall. I wonder what those machines at the left are excavating?
This photo's pretty bad - I was thirteen! - but it captures the gaudy colours of the midway.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some Songs I Never Get Sick Of

If you're anything like me, you've loaded up your digital music player or smartphone with hundreds of songs - only to skip track after track until you randomly hit one you really want to hear.

I like all of the music on my phone; why would I keep it there if I didn't? But 80 percent of my music needs a particular mood, a time and place that suits it. Only a select number of songs force me to stop and listen. Here are just a few of them:

"The Shape of Things to Come," Bear McCreary

"Like Flames," Berlin

"Wide Awake," Katy Perry

"The Rockford Files," Mike Post

"Love and Anger," Kate Bush

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," The Beatles

"The Big Rescue," John Williams

"More Than This," Roxy Music

"Don Quixote," Gordon Lightfoot

"Shadows of the Night," Pat Benetar

"Leaving Drydock," Jerry Goldsmith

"Roll With the Changes," REO Speedwagon

"Heroes," David Bowie

"All I Want," Lightning Seeds

"Barnaby Jones," Jerry Goldsmith

"UFO," Barry Gray

"Dream is Collapsing," Hans Zimmer

"Baba O'Riley," The Who

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Trouble with Tarzan

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I've read the first twelve of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. And while I still love the fantastic landscape of Tarzan's Africa, with its magnificent lost cities and vividly painted wildlife, there's no denying that these are books very much of their time - and that time was outright sexist and racist.

Aside from the noble Waziri tribesmen, black Africans are described in the most appalling terms - to Burroughs and Tarzan, they are savage, stupid brutes, superstitious children, or at best, kowtowing servants. And even the Waziri, though they do give Tarzan a little help from time to time, are placed unfailingly in a subservient role. Women sometimes display gumption and bravery, and indeed Tarzan's daughter-in-law Meriem is a warrior in her own right, but most of the time women are merely prizes in Tarzan's world, to be stolen and rescued by men time and again.

From time to time Burroughs flirts with more progressive ideas; in The Son of Tarzan, Tarzan's son Korak falls in love with an Arab girl and Tarzan and Jane bless the coming marriage - but in the final pages it's revealed that Meriem isn't a poor Arab after all, but a lost French girl of noble birth. Burroughs comes so very close, but in the end he just can't countenance an intercultural marriage. (With exactly two exceptions so far, Arabs in the Tarzan novels are depicted as swarthy, lying knaves, interested only in poaching and slavery.)

Even Tarzan's choices are informed by racism. He goes out of his way to rescue white men and white women, and indeed the text makes it explicit that these are the correct and proper choices. It's old-style chivalry and tribalism at its worst. Tarzan is kind to his Waziri warriors but they are *his warriors in a very real sense. They are not slaves, but they are, explicitly, servants, with no agency; they exist to tend to Tarzan's vast African estate and to haul gold from the lost city of Opar whenever the Greystoke estate is running low on cash.

In a way, Tarzan is the ultimate expression of the Victorian form of racism. The white man comes to Africa with nothing; Tarzan arrives as a babe, born on the continent. (His parents are shipwrecked English nobles who die shortly after Tarzan's birth.) Raised by apes, Tarzan is quicker, faster, stronger and smarter than anyone in the jungle, even (perhaps especially) its natives. He grows up, takes and American girl for his wife, starts a plantation, staffs it with black servants, and literally steals the wealth of the continent to enrich himself. To Burroughs, all is as it should be, but to modern eyes he's accidentally created a literary indictment of the era's blinders.

And yet Burroughs' work still has value. Despite the overt racism and sexism, despite its colonialist attitudes, not to mention the wild plot contrivances and coincidences and overused tropes (Tarzan seems to get knocked unconscious by a glancing blow and tied up at least once per novel), these are still crackling adventure stories. I still can't help but get carried away by the romance of Tarzan's Africa, its great unspoiled natural beauty, its hidden dangers and yes, its beautiful damsels in distress. For sheer pulp adventure, Burroughs remains tough to beat. But these novels have to be read with a careful, critical eye.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Exploring X-Com: Enemy Unknown

Yesterday I felt a little run down, so a gift from Sean came just in time: a copy of X-Com: Enemy Unknown in my Steam mailbox. Too weak to do much more than use my mouse and keyboard, I lost myself for a couple of hours in an interactive tale of alien invasion.

Enemy Unknown is a sequel/reinvention of a series of very popular turn-based tactical squad shooters from the 90s. Heavily inspired by the early 1970s Gerry Anderson television series UFO, X-Com asks players to oversee the construction of an underground armory/hangar/research base and send out squads of soldiers against any aliens who make it past interceptor defences.

It's a great game. Managing your budget, expanding your base and researching new technology is just as fun as sending your soldiers out to fight the aliens. I find myself regretting every soldier's death, in part because they're reasonably fleshed out: they have names, home countries, different skills, and you can even customize their look. It's kind of heartbreaking when a soldier who's made it through seven missions perishes on the eighth. It's even worse when civilians are killed; yesterday the aliens invaded Ottawa and killed nine innocent people before I managed to complete the mission. I saved only two, and lost one of my own men...a dark day for the X-Com team.

In terms of time invested, I have a feeling this game might rival Fallout: New Vegas and Civilization V. It's that good.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Scott!

Scott is quite a ham, which I appreciate as a ham myself. I keep thinking he's in his 20s, but Scott actually turns 40 today - quite a milestone. Have a good one, Scott!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Colin Dunn's Jovial Chronicles

Tonight Colin Dunn stopped in Edmonton for a whirlwind visit with his old gaming buddies. Scott Friel came up with a great way to  honour Colin's visit: he designed a short mini-adventure for Jovian Chronicles, a game that Colin ran for us before he moved to Vancouver Island, and one for which he's actually written assorted game books. Scott created characters for Steve, Colin, Jeff and Dustin and Mike and I (not pictured); we all awoke in the prison cells of a starship, aware only of our own motives, forced to work together under mysterious circumstances. (I played a space pilot with an addiction problem and conflicted morality.) It was great to see Colin again, and I'm certainly impressed by Scott's ability to pull together a clever adventure in a matter of hours.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Time Won't Let Me

Yesterday I went out for lunch with my friend Scott. We had an interesting discussion about film, feminism, child-rearing and, toward the end of our designated hour, time.

Our talk about the duties of family flowed naturally into a discussion of time - or rather, its quantity. Having just returned to full-time work, I'm now once again cognizant of the immense amount of time we spend just paying the bills - eight or nine hours a day, plus a couple of hours commuting. This leaves little enough time to spend with Sylvia and complete everyday chores and errands. As we considered the problem, I began to list a few of my hobbies and interests. And like the proverbial light bulb flicking off over my head, I realized why I'm often so scattered and stressed: I just don't have enough time to do everything I want to do.

Here are the pursuits that I'm accomplishing more or less successfully: 
Having fun with Sylvia
Seeing my parents and my brother on a reasonably regular basis
Visiting friends at least a couple of times a month
Working two jobs
Routine errands and chores (This was going way better when I was unemployed!)
Writing this blog
Reading at least 100 books a year
Seeing at least 100 movies a year
Catching up on the best of old television shows and new
Staying current on new developments in science, philosophy, politics and literature

At first blush this seems like a pretty modest list, especially since Sylvia and I aren't raising children. And yet these priorities alone are almost sufficient to fill my days and weekends. But on top of all that, I have a wide range of other interests:

Honing my photography skills
Learning graphic design
Writing, shooting and editing short films
Playing computer roleplaying games and strategy games
Building a comprehensive digital library of all Woods/Etsell family photos
Writing short stories, screenplays, poems
Playing board games
Playing tabletop role playing games (I'd play Villains & Vigilantes and Dungeons & Dragons twice a month each if I could)
Designing games (I've written or co-written three or four games)

"There aren't enough hours in the day." It's not just a saying!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mom's Birthday

Today is Mom's birthday! Here she is near what I believe are the Manitoba Narrows, close to her hometown of Virden. I imagine this was taken sometime during the mid-to-late 1960s, judging by the sunglasses.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Mystery of the Missing Magnet

I was nearly finished Tarzan and the Golden Lion this morning when I noticed something caught between the pages of the decades-old book. My eyebrows leaped for my hairline as I recognized my Star Trek: First Contract soundtrack fridge magnet, long thought lost. I slapped it onto my office refrigerator as soon as I returned home.

Star Trek: First Contact hit theatres in late 1996. My friend Leslie accompanied me to the film. She probably didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but I do recall she found it interesting that Star Trek's utopian vision required a nuclear holocaust as part of its backstory. (I find it pretty interesting too.) In the instant before Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix lifts off from Montana, I knew with absolute certainty that he was going to play Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride," and sure enough that's exactly what happened.

So impressed was I with this choice of music that I bought the soundtrack shortly afterward. When I opened up the CD package, I discovered the First Contact fridge magnet.

"That's odd," I thought. "Why would a CD include a fridge magnet?"

Not knowing what else to do with the odd bonus, I took the CD to work - coincidentally, the Western Board of Music, where I'd worked with Leslie only a year or so before - and stuck the magnet to a filing cabinet, where it stayed for the year or two.

Months later, I moved on to a new job at Hole's. And months after that, I realized that the fridge magnet had gone missing. Why I even noticed its absence I cannot say, but for years afterward, every few months, a small corner of my brain would ask "Whatever happened to that fridge magnet?" "I must have left it at Western Board," another part of my brain would reply.

Until today. My edition of Tarzan and the Golden Lion was printed in 1997. I must have read the book and used the fridge magnet as a bookmark. Or perhaps that's the book I was reading when I left Western Board and I tucked the magnet into the book for easy carriage.

This is probably the most inconsequential post I've ever offered here at The Earliad, and that's saying something. I wouldn't have written a thing about this event if the magnet's unknown status hadn't plagued me, in the mildest way, for years.

I didn't particularly care about the magnet; it's not some valuable collectible. I've lost plenty of things with far greater value, and I'm not particularly thrilled to have found this one.

And yet when I saw that magnet peeking out between the covers of my book, it felt like an accusation of some kind, like I'd deliberately abandoned the worthless geegaw. I could have thrown it away, but instead there it hangs, on my fridge, the baleful eyes of Picard, Data and the Borg Queen mutely watching me type this.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Sean Coke Zoom

Select a relatively slow shutter speed, hit the shutter release, zoom out while the shutter's open and you'll be rewarded with streaks of light dopplering into the distance. It would probably look better if I used a tripod and some kind of remote device to crank the lens. Still, I think the begonias look particularly cool.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Friday, July 05, 2013

Friendly Compromise

Once again I've fallen victim to a clever marketing scheme. This time, courtesy of Warner Brothers' Pacific Rim, you can design your own Kaiju-fighting giant robot. I call my trillion-dollar death machine "Friendly Compromise," because, well, maybe the giant Godzilla-like monsters can be reasoned with after all...
Here he is in a typical Canadian winter.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ice Cap-tastrophe

Once a week, Sylvia and I travel to Tim Horton's to replenish her supply of Ice Caps. Consequently, during the drive home her lap is home to a half-dozen of the chilly coffee drinks, perched there rather precariously. "One day we're going to hit a bump and those are going to fly all over the place," I've noted more than once.

I often tease Sylvia about her near-addiction to Ice Caps, if only because it rivals my own fondness for Coca-Cola. Sometimes the form of that teasing takes a macabre turn.

"What if," I speculated the other day, "We rolled the car while transporting a load of Ice Caps? Not an accident where we'd be hurt, but just one of those lucky no-injury crashes. We'd land wheels-up, but we'd both have Ice Cap goo all over us. We'd be drenched in it."

"You'd love that," she remarked, sipping her drink.

Well, aside from the expense of repairing the car, maybe. If nothing else, it might make a good scene in one of those Wes Anderson-style farces...


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Paths Not Taken

When I was small, I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Astronaut was my number one pick, followed closely by actor. Writer came in third.

You pretty much have to be a genius to be an astronaut, so that career was ruled out early on. I did make a go of acting, performing in school plays from grade school right on up to high school, staying active in the drama club and, encouraged by my Grade Nine drama teacher, auditioning for a television role in 1984. I didn't get the role, but I did become one of the show's two co-hosts.

One failed pilot later spelled the end of my media career. Sometimes I wonder what might have been different had the pilot been picked up, or had I pursued an offer to work on other projects for the network. Instead I went back to school and found that I enjoyed writing more and more. By the time I went back to the CBC, arts degree in hand, the recession of the 90s had hit and they weren't hiring anyone, least of all a rookie with barely any experience.

I no longer dream of being an astronaut (except literally every couple of months), but I still feel the acting bug from time to time. I don't claim to be good, but I wasn't terrible - at the very least, I was good enough to make it through a round of professional auditions and claim a closely-related job.

At the very least, it would be fun to gather some friends again, as I used to do during my university years, and gently coerce them into playing roles in my terrible home movies.

I'm the first to admit that I've been very fortunate; since the mid-to-late 90s I've enjoyed a wealth of rare experiences, and I can actually make a living doing something I love. But one can't help but wonder how things might have gone otherwise.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

When You're Hot, You're Hot

Whew! It's a scorcher in Alberta's capital today - enough heat to knock out power at the corner of 124th street and Jasper Avenue and to incapacitate my afternoon bus right at that very intersection. Dead bus + no traffic lights = cranky commuters, whether on public transit or private vehicles.

Fortunately another bus rescued the two dozen or so sweaty riders belched from the doors of our fallen carriage, and despite what seemed an interminable delay escaping the gridlock on the west end of Jasper, I made it to West Edmonton Mall in time to catch a transfer home. (Normally I walk from WEM to our condo, but today I was worried I'd catch heat stroke, as I so often have in the past.)

As a creature of the north, I still find Alberta's hot summer days uncomfortable, even many years after I should have acclimatized. Since my body refuses to accept that it doesn't live in northern Manitoba anymore, I've had to take precautions such as drinking lots of water and staying in cool basements or air-conditioned offices.

How Many Times Has Earl Suffered Heat Stroke? (not a comprehensive list)
"I'll certainly be cool enough next to this fountain!"
1. Namao air show circa 1988 and again circa 1990 (rendered unto incoherence to the nervous glances of friends, skin tone: Afterburner Glow)
2. Las Vegas 2004 ("Boy, you look like a boiled lobster!" exclaimed one helpful southerner; incapacitated for one day, skin tone: Three-Cherry Jackpot)
3. Honolulu 2008 while listening to a Barack Obama campaign speech (skin tone: Republican Rage)
4. Mexico 2012 while touring Chitzen Itza (rescued by helpful Mayans and Germans, skin tone: Abashed Tourist)
5. Nelson, B.C. circa 1973 (vomited up pink ice cream, saved by parents, skin tone: Tantrum Toddler) 

Stay frosty out there.
"Hey now, someone tell that Canadian kid to put on some sunscreen."

Monday, July 01, 2013

Rain of Fire

The last time Sylvia and I celebrated Canada Day I was unemployed. With nothing but time on our hands, we accepted our friend Neil's invitation to spend the long weekend at his cabin in Kenora. 365 days later I'm working two jobs, so Canada Day travel was never in the cards for 2013. It would be pretty hard to top last year's celebrations, anyway - watching fireworks explode over the Lake of the Woods from the perfect vantage point of Neil's boat. Here's one of my favourite fireworks shots from that night.