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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

That Day in Math Class

One day in high school - or perhaps it was junior high - during one of those rare moments when the teacher was out and we were free to talk, my friend Keith engaged me in conversation. He talked for a few minutes and I listened and nodded, and then I turned away, thinking of other things.

"Earl," Keith said. "EARL."

Startled, I returned my gaze to Keith.

"I wasn't finished talking."

I blushed beet red, as was my wont in those adolescent days, and nigh unto now I feel bad that I wasn't giving Keith the undivided attention he deserved. He usually had something intelligent and interesting to say, so the fault was entirely mine. I can't explain this bout of uncharacteristic rudeness, and it haunts me still. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Best Lootcrate Ever

It also came with a tribble and a poster of Han Solo in carbonite. I can't decide what's coolest: the tribble, the retro Alien action figure, the Firefly currency, the vinyl Malcom Reynolds or the Empire Strikes Back meets Asteroids magnet. As for the pop rocks, I'm afraid to eat them. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Next Year I'm Going

I thought about heading to the Edmonton Expo this weekend, but in the end inertia took hold and I stayed at home to read and play Civilization instead.. Sometimes you should leave the house, though, for by staying home I missed what sounds like a very cool presentation on Edmonton's future by Mayor Don Iveson.

Fortunately Stephen Fitzpatrick was there and provided comprehensive coverage of the event on his blog, Confessions of a Middle-Aged Adolescent. If you're interested in geek culture and/or municipal politics and you missed Iveson's lively presentation, you should definitely read Steve's report. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Eyes of Hitchcock

The Criterion Collection, every film lover's favourite publisher, just posted Eyes of Hitchcock, a short video that shows how effectively the master of suspense used the windows of the soul to tell his stories. It's well worth a watch, especially if it introduces new audiences to Hitchcock's amazing oeuvre. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Calandra's Apology

I was a little surprised by today's news that Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra had apologized for his behaviour in the House the other day. I am not surprised, sadly, but CBC's reports that Calandra's talking points had been arranged by the PMO prior to that infamous question period.

As much as I'd like to believe Calandra is truly sorry, it's hard not to think that the PM, sensing a story blowing up in his government's face, ordered the apology, forcing Calandra to fall on his sword. I am heartened, however, by the news that several Conservative MPs actually were upset by Calandra's behaviour...although I'm so cynical now that I find myself struggling to believe those claims, too.

This is why Canadians are disengaging from politics. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mission to Gibbons

It took me about 35 minutes to drive there, and yet the video is only 22 seconds long. A math whiz could probably figure out my hypothetical speed if that 22 second video were real-time instead of time-lapse. Mike, Pete..? 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inartful Dodging

Having worked in politics for nearly seven years I've seen a lot of disgusting performances from parliamentarians, but this exchange really takes the cake. You'd think the ruling party could answer a reasonable question about Canadian troops in Iraq, but instead the Minister transparently attempts to smear the NDP. I suppose I shouldn't expect anything better from this government, but the tiny core of hope and optimism left inside my heart dies a little each time I see something like this. Mulcair was right to call out the Speaker for failing to censure or at least caution the government side on relevance. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Batman: Day One

Tonight Sylvia and I watched the first episode of Fox's Gotham, the first of a half-dozen shows based on comic books set to debut soon. 2014 is the year of the superhero on the small screen, and as first superhero out of the gate, Gotham sets a high bar for Constantine, The Flash, Agent Carter and Supergirl to come.

Pilots present a special challenge for television producers; they have to carry a heavy burden to capture audience interest, presenting a compelling setting with interesting characters and providing an easily comprehensible backstory, motivations and dramatic throughline in one (or sometimes two) hours. With all that work to do, it's no wonder that sometimes the actual stories presented in pilot episodes seem a little weak in comparison to the more solid episodes that often follow.

That being said, this is a pretty good pilot, perhaps helped along because almost everyone in western culture already knows the basics of the Batman story: young Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger, and the trauma convinces the boy to fight crime as a dark avenger of the night...the Batman.

Gotham's job is to make Bruce Wayne's formative years interesting. Whereas in the original comics of the 1940s Batman's origin was related to a few panels, Gotham will spend dozens of hours exploring both Bruce's boyhood and the city that shaped him. It's fertile ground for good stories.

The pilot's first story, then, is straightforward: it depicts the murder of Bruce's parents and introduces Jim Gordon as the young detective who must solve the case. But solving homicides in Gotham presents unique challenges - the city is pretty much owned by the mob, and most of the police force is corrupt. Jim Gordon is the one beacon of hope Gotham has right now. Even his partner, rough-edged Harvey Bullock, while well-meaning, has been tainted by the city's rot.

To make matters worse, Gotham is nurturing monsters who will eventually become Batman's rogues gallery. In the first episode we're introduced to young versions of the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy. This leaves the pilot seeming a little crowded, but fortunately the producers wisely focus mainly on the Penguin, and even he isn't presented as the story's main antagonist. That honour goes to more conventional criminals - the Falcone crime family, introduced in the seminal Batman: Year One comic book back in the 1980s.

Of the superhero dramas being offered up this year, Gotham was the one least anticipated by me, given my disappointment with Smallville, which shares the same basic concept as Gotham. That show's potential was so sorely squandered that I expected little from this variant take.

But as it turns out, Gotham is enriched by a superb cast, gorgeous production design, solid writing (workmanlike, but with touches of cleverness) and tons of atmosphere. Gotham has a lot of potential, and if, like many genre shows, it improves over time, I'll be a regular visitor to its mean streets.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Geekquinox: Redneck Rampage

Last night Sylvia and I met with friends at Pete's place for another of his mind-blowing Geekquinox meals. Summer may be behind us, but welcoming fall with a fantastic meal and great companionship softens the blow of cooler weather. This time around, Pete concocted a meat-heavy Redneck Rampage menu.
Since the weather was so nice, we started the evening on Pete's patio, enjoying these scrumptious green onion cakes with a sauce made of vinegar and some kind of spicy stuff.
Pete's green egg had been cooking beef brisket for many long hours the night before; here, Pete starts it up again.
I like that Pete starts it with a blowtorch.
Thanks to the magic of bad composition, it appears as though Mike is wearing one of Ellen's famous lime margaritas as a hat.
It would be pretty tough to describe any of us as rednecks, but Steve and Jeff attempted to get into the spirit of things.
Heather is too elegant to be a redneck, but I did notice she was sporting a new (to me) platinum blonde do.
Scott and Margaret were a study in contrasts.
Indoors, Heather and Audrey feasted on pickles and lime margaritas.
Sylvia came dressed as a Daughter of Anarchy.
Ellen and Scott had the best redneck outfits.
A better look at Scott's costume.
Pete's beef brisket was astounding - incredibly moist and juicy. Ellen's authentic Boston baked beans, cooked in an actual bean pot made for the purpose, were an excellent side.
Of course you can never have too much meat at a redneck rampage, so there was also pulled pork. I had a hard time deciding which meat dish I preferred.
Of course there was a vegetable dish - in this case, succulent squash creole. Delicious, and I don't even like squash. Apparently the key to enjoying vegetables is to smother them in cheese, garlic, butter and bread crumbs.
The drinkers among us enjoyed a strange but apparently flavourful combination - bourbon and pickle juice.
The Texas Whiskey Cake, inspired by a dining experience Pete had in the Lone Star state, was served up with saucy decadence, with caramel sauce and spicy pecans.
Late in the evening a van crashed into a police car just outside Pete's house, necessitating a detour when Sylvia and I finally made our way home, bellies fit to bursting. It wouldn't be an authentic redneck experience without a police presence! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Whither ImPark?

Today I took my car in for servicing and used the courtesy shuttle to commute to work, saving me $13.50 in parking plus the hassle of driving downtown. It was a nice change of pace.

Then I started thinking how nice it will be when driverless cars hit the market. We could program the car to take me to work, then Sylvia, and the car could park itself at APS and come pick me up at 4:30. No parking fees! I'd save $300 every month.

If everyone starts doing this, I wonder what will happen to parking prices downtown. Will they plummet in an attempt to delay the inevitable, luring folks with manual-drive vehicles to put off buying driverless cars? Or will they shoot up in an attempt to milk as much cash as possible while there are still a few people who need to park downtown?

On the other hand, what will the city do? If cars are driving themselves back and forth to work, that's a trip in the morning plus a trip in the afternoon - both ways. Will the city dump a levy on driverless cars to help pay for increased road maintenance?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but the more I think about autonomous vehicles, the more I realize the ripple effects of the technology are going to be enormous. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rocket Taps

I first spotted this amazing faucet in a movie or television show some years ago, and I was determined to find the make and model and purchase one for every bathtub and sink in the condo, even if I had to retrofit the sinks and tubs to make them work.

Imagine my shock when I discovered that these taps range from $2700 to $3200 each. For taps! I couldn't believe it. Is an affordable rocketship faucet too much to ask? Those price tags certainly signal "Taps" for my rocket taps ambitions.

Rocket Taps

I checked the prices out last night
Was expecting fifty bucks
But I had to cry at the sight of the price tags there

I want these taps so much, so does my wife (maybe)
Is this too much to ask?
A set of Flash Gordon faucets
Is my hopeless task

But I think it's going to be a long long time
Before I have enough green to make these faucets mine
I'm running hot and cold for them oh, no no
Rocket Taps

Rocket Taps
The gleaming chrome and retro styling turns me on
Your fins promise bath adventures far from home
But you're so very expensive I can't believe
Rocket Taps...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sean's Cheek Forking

From the late 80s onward, though with diminishing frequency in the 21st century, I've whiled away idle moments conjuring up Minions of C.H.A.O.S. and Paladins of O.R.D.E.R., some of which have made appearances on this blog. One such miscreant is the evil Cheek Forker, a minion whose only super-power (such as it is) is to painfully jab the fork he carries into the hapless cheeks of Paladins of O.R.D.E.R., or, failing that, innocent bystanders. As threats go, Cheek Forker falls into the z-list "troublesome annoyances" category - at least in the world of metahuman fiction. In real life, getting forked in the cheek can be quite painful, as my brother discovered last month when he absent-mindedly forgot about a fork he'd put prongs-up in his shirt pocket; when he looked down, he impaled his cheek on the fork.

When Sean told me about this, I asked him to re-enact the event, and he complied, though by this point you think he'd know better. Sylvia, as usual, wondered what in the world I was on about when I gleefully related the tale.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Space: 1970 and DVD Late Show

For my friends who are fans of vintage 1970s SF TV and film and B-movies from any decade, I heartily recommend two blogs I just discovered: Space: 1970 and DVD Late Show, both written by Christopher Mills. Mills has a breezy, engaging style and his research digs up fascinating new insights about genre film and television. Check them out! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Bolian Web

Nothing can protect Starfleet from the terrifying new Romulan weapon, which adds Photoshop's "glowing edges" effect to all ship systems and personnel!

Actually, I was merely playing with layers again when I accidentally stumbled upon an accidentally cool use of the effect. I think my eyes are particularly haunting in this image. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


A few days ago I watched all four Underworld films back-to-back, an act of cinematic masochism made bearable by precisely two elements: Kate Beckinsale in a skintight leather catsuit and one amusing moment in the prequel film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, in which 14th-century werewolves struggle against the tyranny of their vampire masters.

During the film's second act, the werewolves, assisted by a sympathetic vampire who falls in love with the werewolf leader, escape from the vampire castle. They make camp in the woods, awaiting their rendezvous with the female vampire lead. The swarthy werewolf hero awaits his moon-crossed lover patiently, but his pack is restless. One approaches and suggests that perhaps the vampire isn't coming, or even worse, that she might not really be on their side after all and could be leading the other vampires right to the werewolves.

The werewolf leader takes umbrage at this, slamming his tribesman into a tree and growling his assurances that his vampire love would never betray them, she's coming, and the pack will wait. The werewolf leader stalks off in a huff, leaving his underling shaken.

And then, from offscreen, a moment that made me laugh out loud:

"I told you you shouldn't have said anything!"

That laugh wasn't worth eight hours of my time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Palace Theatre Opens

It took several days to build this 2,200-piece monster, but it was fun every moment. Now I have to stop myself from building the other parts of the street...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Under the Skin Gets Under Your Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johanssen as a woman...well...more of a creature, really...who drives around Scotland in a van picking up men. She's a beautiful but terrifying predator, but as she dispatches her lonely male victims one by one, it seems as though she begins to struggle with a growing conscience - with tragic consequences.

That's all I can really say about Under the Skin, one of the creepiest films I've seen in years, without spoiling the experience for others. (I feel it only fair to warn people, though, that the film includes one terribly disturbing sequence featuring a callously abandoned baby. There's also a moment of casual violence that's displayed with such frankness and realism that it's far more effective than any given gore-stained horror or action movie.)

Glazer delivers a moody, surreal experience that requires the viewer to piece together what exactly is going on; the narrative is somewhat opaque, but not so much that you can't grasp the sense of what's happening if you work at it. It also raises interesting questions about sexual politics and whether or not women, or even simulacra of women, can enjoy their own agency in popular culture, even in works of speculative fiction, which should, in theory, be more progressive than the mainstream (notwithstanding the large cohort of libertarian/free market fundamentalist SF authors).

Though not without issues, Under the Skin is an engaging, thoughtful and weird film that rewards the attentive viewer. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

When You're Rich, it's Easy to Win The Game

This afternoon Sylvia and I watched David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game, starring Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker who gets caught up in the twists and turns of a labyrinthine conspiracy that turns his world upside-down.


I enjoyed the film's good performances, taut pacing and creepy atmosphere. And I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, where it turns out that "the game" was a plot engineered by the lead character's family and friends to save him from an isolated life of self-inflicted depression. I was half expecting a double-twist at the end, revealing that "the game" would continue after all, but the film plays it straight and the happy ending retains its integrity. It was even a little heartwarming.

But then, about thirty seconds after the credits rolled, I considered the film's unintentional subtext. Yes, the banker is at peace by film's end, thanks to his loving friends and family and their amazing gesture. But the game of the film is amazingly expensive, requiring dozens of actors, elaborate stunts, props, location rentals - it's enough to beggar the imagination, really. Luckily the people involved are rich, so they can afford the game's unique therapy, carefully chosen to meet the needs of the main character.

Furthermore, like many (if not most) works of popular culture, The Game sells the American Dream very hard; the lead drives a beautiful car, lives in a beautiful home, works in a beautiful office. Douglas' character enjoys a lifestyle most of us can only fantasize about - and fantasize we do, so efficiently are we programmed to serve as consumers rather than to act as citizens.

For the vast majority of people who don't enjoy such riches, mental health options are limited. There are no Games personally engineered to provide ecstatic catharsis. The fortunate might be able to afford a therapist and medication, while most simply fall through the cracks, where games of any kind are a luxury.

Perhaps it's unfair to weigh down Fincher's film with such baggage, but the assumptions of any work of art reveal much about our culture and its growing inequities. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Strange Sean Stories: Manlift for Hire

While cleaning up my (somewhat vandalized) campaign signs after the 2008 Alberta provincial election, Sean and I spotted this sign. So something good came from that experience. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

High Hopes for High Rise

Today I learned that J.G. Ballard's wonderful novel High Rise will be adapted to film by British director Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston (better known as Loki in the Marvel films). It's the allegorical tale of the inhabitants of a modern skyscraper who self-segregate themselves into upper, middle and lower classes; the higher up you live, the higher your social status. Floor-to-floor class warfare erupts, with tenants fighting over the elevators, use of the pool, access to the best parking spots and so on. It's quite a macabre, satirical story, and it could make a really outstanding film - here's hoping!

The retro poster is a good start - have a look here

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Building the Palace Cinema

As I noted some weeks back, I've found much value in the meditative powers of building things with Lego. A couple of days ago I splurged and picked up the Palace Cinema set, mostly so that I can put it in the theatre room when it's complete. Tonight I managed to finish the first floor of this nearly 2,200 piece set. I'm quite charmed by the concession stand, which features a soda fountain, popcorn machine and various confections. The engineers who design these sets are geniuses. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Famous Friels

Mike pointed out that our friends Scott and Margaret and their children William and Elizabeth are featured in a back-to-school photo essay in today's Edmonton Journal. It was a reminder - as if I needed another - of how much I miss school. Were I independently wealthy, I could have been quite happy to keep earning degree after degree...well, you know, that's not true; let's peel away the distorted lens of my own self reflection. The truth is by fourth year I was ready to move on. I've never admitted this before, but by that final year the shine had started to come off the university experience; I was lonely, sad and eager to try something new.

I think part of my self-imposed delusion comes from my three unsatisfying years driving a parts truck around the city, all the while thinking I had the talent to do something more fulfilling. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't; now I look back and chide my younger self for feeling so entitled. Maybe those years were good for me.

I hope the Friel children have better experiences with school and their careers than I started out with. They look very excited and happy in the photos, which I'll admit warms my curmudgeonly heart a little. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Letting Go is Never Easy

Statistically speaking, I'm probably closer to the end of my life than the beginning, unless the nanotech revolution gets here before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Since that's unlikely, I find myself taking more and more time to consider the amount of clutter in my life and whether having a library stuffed full of books is really making me happy.

I do love having a library, but because I have so many books it's really more of a storage closet than a place to read and relax. So, prompted by a discussion with Sean, I've decided to prune my collection even more deeply than before. Today I filled a large Rubbermaid container with books, destined for the Wee Book Inn or one of the Little Libraries in the Oliver community, or perhaps the Cross Cancer Institute.

It wasn't easy to do this. Some of the volumes I put in that container have been with me since the 1980s. But since I'm only reading a little over 100 books a year, what are the odds that I'll read these books again? Almost nil.

It's still hard. Each book tells a story beyond that contained within its pages; it also tells a story about the reader, where and who I was when I first turned those pages, now yellowing.

But why try to preserve memory when I won't be remembered more than a decade or so after my death - if even that? Why not instead try to enjoy the new more fully?

Profundities aside, I'd be pretty happy if I can cull enough books to add a nice easy chair and maybe a gaming table to the room. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

McDonald's McNugget Sauces Ranked in Order of Flavour

1. BBQ
2. Hot Mustard
3. Sweet 'N Sour

Yes, this is possibly the low point of The Earliad's 11-year existence, but this is one of those the-bear-gets-you days and there are three unused packets - one of each flavour - sitting on my desk right now for some reason. If Hemingway had a blog I'm sure he could write a post of enduring beauty using the same inspiration. I'm not Hemingway. I'm not even Michael Butterworth or Ed D. Wood.

And now I'm  thinking Hot Mustard is actually tastier than BBQ.