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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Robot Suit

For my sixth grade Halloween I decided I would be a robot. I made the costume out of two cardboard boxes; one was large, for my body, the other small, for my head. The small box was stapled to the top of the big box, with a hole cut out of the big box so I could stick my head into the smaller box. I cut out two rectangular slits for eyes, and holes for my arms, which were covered with tin foil. The two boxes were also covered in tin foil, which I stapled to the cardboard with the family staple gun.

There were three problems with this costume: I couldn't sit, the costume was boiling hot, and the staples constantly poked me, especially during the school dance. By the end of the day I was punctured in several places and close to passing out from the heat.

Sadly, I don't have any photos of this debacle. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Double Header's Double Header

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Legion Subs that day:
The score stood four to none, with but one inning more to play
And then when Bannin died at first, and Wentim did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game

A straggling few beamed right back home in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought "If only Frenk and Dyvud could get a whack at that -
We'd put up even credits now, with Double Header at the bat."

But Jath let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Bez, then much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occured,
There was Lydda safe at second and Chee a-hugging third.

Then from nine thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through Metropolis and rattled in the dell;
It pounded on League Mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Header, Double Header, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Dyvud's manner as they stepped into their place;
There was pride in Frenk's blue eyes and a smile lit each pale face.
And when, responding to the cheers, they lightly doffed their hats,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt two champions shared one bat.

Ten million eyes were on them as they rubbed their hands with dirt
Five billion tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the Durlan pitcher ground the ball into his mass,
Defiance flashed in four blue eyes, two arms waiting for the cast.

And now the hard Inertron sphere came hurtling through that space,
But Double Header only watched in snooty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy Substitute the ball unheeded sped -
"That ain't my style," said Dyvud. "Strike one!" the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a mighty hiss,
Like the beating of great Darkseid on poor Apokolips;
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Frenk raised up his hand.

With a smile of Kolkerite charity great Header's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun steel flew;
But distracted he ignored it, and the umpire called "Strike two!"

"Fraud!" cried the maddened millions, and echo answered, "Fraud!"
But one scornful look from Frenk and Dyvud and the audience was awed.
They saw his faces turn to look each other in the eyes,
For once there was no bickering, for once no cracking wise.

The sneers are gone from their taut lips, their teeth all clenched in hate,
They pound with cruel violence their bat upon the plate;
And now the Durlan holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Header's blow.

Along the cosmoturf the ball drills deep to center field
Jath and Bez both round the plate, shiny boots on Super shield
But Header scores a double, stranded there at second base
And up comes Stone Boy to the bat, and freezes there in place.

Three strikes whiz by the boy of stone as the fans file out the gates;
The third out done, the Legion subs surrender to the fates.
The Double Header did his best, the fans must give their due
But there's no joy at the home plate; the final score, four to two. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

It Needs No Explanation

One day long ago Sean or I found a rubber Spider-Man abandoned on a road somewhere. We abused poor rubber Spider-Man for a couple of years until we decided to burn him atop the Star Wars Droid Factory playset seen here. Naturally we included an amy of cultists, represented here by a variety of action figures from different fictional universes. Obviously there's nothing funny about people being burned alive, but we were laughing pretty hard as we shot this photo and the others in the series; it was an absurd thing to do. I believe Dad came downstairs as we were frantically waving the smoke away and said something like "What are you two heathens doing?"

Well, the Internet wasn't a thing yet, and we were bored...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reflections on a Las Vegas Ceiling

When metaphor solidifies
Like sand that's slowed to glass
Is a poem still a poem
Or merely memory turned to mass? 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

In the Chimney's Shadow

Here's another partially restored image from the Woods family slide vaults. That's Dad holding me up in the shadow of a chimney with a plaque on it, meaning this must be some kind of historical ruin. It's pretty cool and might be worth a road trip to see, if it still exists. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

September 2015 Review Roundup

As part of my effort to read more women and Canadian authors, I've returned to the works of Margaret Atwood. In September that included her 1993 novel The Blind Assassin, a tale of two sisters, one who died young, one in her final years looking back on a turbulent life. The Blind Assassin itself is a novel within a novel within another novel, a soft-SF scientific romance at that; I find it interesting how Atwood users SF tropes here for her own purposes. She's clearly fond of the genre, despite some grumblings from that community about her supposed attitude to science fiction.

September's other standout reading experience was Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, which I've reviewed here.

After a run of solid-to-sublime Philip K. Dick novels in July and August, I stumbled a little with The Unteleported Man, which is still a good book, but not quite up to the standards of his acknowledged classics. It probably doesn't help that The Unteleported Man is an incomplete version of another novel, Lies, Inc. I'll have to read that one to see how it compares.

September's reading also included the final two-thirds of Jo Walton's alternate history "spare change" trilogy, three Peanuts collections, a better-than-average Star Trek tie-in (J.J. Miller's Takedown), and The League of Regrettable Superheroes, which I thought was a little unfair to Doll Man, but still amusing.

In September I screened the rest of the films cut together from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. television episodes, along with a pretty eclectic collection of film noir, musicals and Best Picture nominees. The worst was certainly Super Fuzz, about a cop with super-powers; badly shot, badly directed, painful dialogue, the works. On the other hand, I found Arch Obler's The Bubble utterly mesmerizing; it's a 3D picture about three people trapped in a town suddenly surrounded by a glass bubble (see Stephen King's Under the Dome for the same concept). Obler does a lot with a small budget; the film is creepy, with an atmosphere of slow, creepy suffocation perfectly in keeping with the given scenario. Excellent 3D effects, too. 1929's The Broadway Melody, a Best Picture nominee, is frankly pretty dull by today's standards, and even I found it a bit of a slog, despite my love of musicals and slower-paced fare. Ishirio Honda delivers dependable Japanese giant monster/space adventure fun with The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space; I never get tired of his work. Murder, My Sweet is one of the best Philip Marlowe movies, with Dick Powell as the hard-boiled private dick in a story with plenty of wonderful noir dialogue, betrayal, fear and cynicism. Great stuff. The Italian Connection serves as an interesting ancestor to Pulp Fiction, given its pairing of ice cold black and white hitmen. Plus Henry Silva gets crushed by a junkyard grappler, which I found amusingly macabre. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

August 2015 Review Roundup

I was pretty entertained by Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One. I found it charming if lightweight, a nostalgic look back on the video game culture of the 80s. Unfortunately, Cline's followup, Armada, fails to recreate the same magic. If you've seen The Last Starfighter, you've essentially read this book already. Even throwing a lampshade on the recycled plot doesn't help, particularly when the climax boils down to one of SF's oldest cliches.

I had a far richer reading experience with the nine Philip K. Dick novels I read in August: Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, Now Wait for Last Year, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, A Scanner Darkly, A Maze of Death, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. You can read my reaction to Timothy Archer here. The rest were sublime in different ways; I'm very impressed by Dick's ability to tackle similar themes (the nature of reality and our place in it, essentially) with a wide variety of approaches. Nor did I expect to find Dick's characters so very sympathetic; I really cared about Dick's people, particularly the protagonists of Flow My Tears, A Maze of Death, VALIS, and the aforementioned Timothy Archer. I really regret that I came to appreciate Dick so late in life, but what a wonderful discovery nonetheless.

I also started Jo Walton's so-called "spare change" trilogy with Farthing, the first of three novels about creeping fascism in the UK in an alternate twentieth century. I'll say no more but that Jo Walton is great and she's been added to my list of must-read authors.

In film, I continued to torture myself with the rest of the Fast & Furious movies, each more ludicrous than the last. They're worth a laugh if little else.

The Star Trek fan film Prelude to Axanar surprised me with its faux-documentary format. Set in the days after Captain Archer but before Captain Kirk, Prelude to Axanar serves as a prequel to a more ambitious fan film about a war between the Federation and Klingons. With startling production values, professional actors and a decent script, this ranks among the best of the fan film canon.

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation almost reaches the heights of Ghost Protocol, and leaves audiences wanting more, assuming they can keep up this level of quality. More than just a string of action beats strung together, Rogue Nation sets the IMF against the Syndicate, an old enemy from the TV series. Unlike that old television staple, this film possesses a sense of humour, and kudos to Tom Cruise for injecting that humour into the proceedings without distracting from the thrills. Another smart action film in a series that's getting better with age.

I rounded out the month with six movies cobbled together from various two-part episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The TV series is generally better than the films, but these alternate versions are interesting for their historical value if nothing else. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back in Time

We've finally arrived at Back to the Future Day, October 21, 2015. While Marty and Doc Brown were travelling through time, I made my own tiny, tiny contribution to the world of film and television by co-hosting CBC's If Your Parents Split, a pilot that won a couple of awards but wasn't picked up, forever altering my career trajectory. It was a fun gig; I was pretty natural in front of the camera, if I do say so myself, and I really enjoyed interacting with the studio audience. The show was broadcast in February 1985, a few days before my sixteenth birthday.

Audience really didn't get to see much of October 21, 2015 until Back to the Future II, of course. I don't remember if I had any opinions on which crazy predictions might come true or not, but in retrospect I probably wouldn't have believed in hoverboards, side-by-side neckties or Jaws 19. Well, hoverboards are a thing, and if you count the various Jaws-inspired killer shark movies, I'm sure we're well past 19. Thank goodness the double necktie hasn't taken off, at least.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Congratulations Kent and Darshan

As everyone knows by now, in the end Calgarians decided to send my old bosses Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang off to Ottawa to represent them in Parliament. I couldn't be more thrilled for either man, and I know they'll represent their constituents very well indeed.

Sometimes I still feel a little sad that I've mostly pulled away from politics, particularly at election time. I did a tiny bit of work for Kent's campaign this time around, mainly handling some correspondence, and I'm very grateful I had the opportunity to do so.

I know Darshan and Kent will have a million things to do as they slip into their new roles, but I do have a few requests, in no particular order:

  • Renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and stand up for fair copyright terms.
  • Protect net neutrality.
  • Repeal C-51. 
  • Launch an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
  • Un-muzzle Canada's scientists.
  • Fund the CBC properly, so they can do their job. 
  • Get serious about fighting climate change. 
  • Move us toward a transferable ballot before the next election. 
  • Increase contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, a good Liberal idea that died before it could be implemented. 
  • Bring back the mandatory long-form census. 
Of course none of this can happen overnight, and I know both Kent and Darshan have plenty of their own ideas to build a better country, and there's lots of good stuff in the Liberal platform. But a few additional ideas can't hurt. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mixed Emotions

While I'm glad to see Harper shown the door and very happy to see Darshan Kang elected in Calgary Skyview, I'm sorry the New Democrats were hammered so hard and that it looks like Kent Hehr has not won in Calgary Centre. I will of course not count Kent out until all the votes are counted, but at this moment it's not looking good. More on Kent tomorrow.

Whatever happens, I hope the Trudeau government quickly gets to work undoing the damage of the Harper years.

EDIT: looks like Kent is catching up. Come on Kent!


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Spirit of '77: J.J. and the Firebug

J.J.'s official theme song. 

Last night I got together with Mike, Steve, Scott, Jeff and Pete to embark upon our latest adventure in roleplaying: Spirit of '77. Conceptualizing the game is pretty easy: imagine a world in which 1970s action/adventure television - shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man, B.J. and the Bear, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Charlie's Angels, S.W.A.T., Starsky & Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard and so on - were real. Nixon served two full terms, Gerald Ford is president in 1977 and Saigon exists, West Berlin-like, as an American enclave in Vietnam. Against this backdrop, 1970s archetypes such as ex-cops, ex-cons, private eyes, glam rockers, good 'ol boys, vigilantes, gonzo journalists and others pursue their hopes and dreams while sticking it to The Man and, perhaps, uncovering the truth behind the vast web of conspiracies that are the foundation of 1970s America.

Our first session served as prologue to the actual gaming sessions to come; without rolling a single die, we worked together to craft our characters and their interrelationships. It played out very much like a really good improv session, and by the end of the night I'd come up with a character I'm pretty proud of: Johnny James Columbia, a good ol' boy, former stunt driver, now paired up with a talking VW Beetle. Here's an extended version of the introduction to the concept I rattled off last night (imagine this as voiceover narration to a typical 1970s adventure show):

"My name is Johnny James Columbia, but my friends call me J.J. I used to be a stunt driver in Hollywood. But then I met O.S.CAR - a souped-up VW Firebug who thinks he's the next big thing. Now we drive across America. I test his limits. He tests my patience. That's why they call us J.J. and the Firebug."

J.J. himself is a lanky, cocky twenty-something from California, chasing thrills and chasing women without asking too many questions about F.I.S.T., the shadowy organization that hired him to put the Firebug prototype through its paces. Never seen without his trademark mirrored sunglasses and leather bomber jacket, J.J. has an uneasy relationship with O.S.CAR, (Operating System: CAR, voiced by Vic Perrin) the artificial intelligence incorporated into the Firebug. O.S.CAR takes the form of a bulky 1970s style PC mounted on the Firebug's console - think a beige box with a low-resolution six-inch amber CRT. O.S.CAR is annoyingly self-assured and full of himself; F.I.S.T. engineers claim they're still "working the kinks out" of the personality algorithms.

The Firebug itself is a black 1975 VW beetle with a sweet flame paint job. Aside from being faster and tougher than the typical bug, the Firebug is also submersible and comes with a full set of ejector seats.

Once a week, J.J. must report in to Colonel Oscar P. Oscopy of F.I.S.T., a military man with a personality eerily similar to O.S.CAR. J.J. is somewhat frustrated that F.I.S.T. won't even tell him what the name stands for, let alone what they're going to do once the Firebug trials are complete. But J.J. is happy as long as he gets to put the car through its paces.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun coming up with this ridiculous scenario, and I look forward to playing it out with the guys over the course of the next decade or so. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cheesecak Remembrance

How oft the memories drift
Like whipped cream launched betwixt bearded lips
Or coffee spill'd into hapless laps;

We were once a cheesecak league
Wand'ring in search of a cayfee
Until time tore us asunder.

Until tonight we knights of the dessert fork
Gathered round to once again square the circle
And chortl'd of cheesecaks past;

And having supped, broke bread and hearts
And drove off into the night
Until time's arrow should fork once more
Somewhere beneath the giant staple

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alice Etsell

Mom just sent me this photo of her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Alice Etsell washing clothes on the Etsell farm near Virden. The shed in the background survived for many years; in fact, Sean and I saw it back in 2009, shortly before it was destroyed. Mom thinks this photo was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s - almost a century ago. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy Red Planet

Mars has loomed large in human storytelling for thousands of years. As with any popular setting, Mars has inspired tales of wildly varying quality, particularly when it comes to film. Mars Needs Women, The Angry Red Planet, Mission to Mars, Mars Attacks!, Total Recall - all entertaining films, but flawed to varying degrees. Ridley Scott's The Martian is just as (or more) entertaining as all of those movies, but without the flaws. It arguably stands as the best of the Mars movies to date. 

Thanks to the film's clever in-universe viral marketing, most moviegoers knew the Martian's story before they ever stepped into theatres: astronaut/botanist Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars and forced to rely on his own wits for the months and years before a rescue can be mounted. 

It's a simple story, but told with wit, tension and real human drama. There are no villains in this film, not even Mars itself; there is only a set of unfortunate circumstances, bad luck, and the immutable laws of physics. Set against that is Mark Watney's education, experience, intelligence and determination. It's a film where brains are more important than brawn, a celebration of science. 

It's also a great testament to the importance of working together, from small teams to entire nations. I choked up a little at certain points in the film, particularly the points when good-hearted people on two continents work themselves to exhaustion for the sake of helping  a person in need. 

Aside from its merits of storytelling, direction, special effects and acting, The Martian offers something that many films fail to deliver: hope. For The Martian posits a world in which we once again boldly strike out for the stars, and do so in the spirit of international collaboration. I reiterate: there are no villains in this story, no shoehorned narrative of good versus evil. It's just a story of courage, smarts and the human need to explore new frontiers and do the right thing for our fellow people. Three and a half Burroughs out of four. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Daredevilled Eggs

The first season of Daredevil was surprisingly satisfying thanks to engaging characters, good to great performances and a richly realized Hell's Kitchen. It looks like the show's second season will feature both Elektra and the Punisher, as well as the return of the Kingpin. Were this a movie I might worry the cast was becoming overcrowded, but with twelve episodes to work with I'm sure the creators will weave a solid web of gritty crime/legal drama.

Now that Marvel Studios has some of the rights to Spider-Man back, I wish they'd arrange for a cameo; Spidey and Daredevil have  fun, tense, almost-friends relationship in the comics, and a shared history with the Punisher. That's probably too much to hope for, though. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The October Province

Squashes orange, yellow and green
Fruiting inside our Thanksgiving dreams
The clocks jump forward, or do they jump back?
A festival of sweet caloric attack

A false cornucopia barfing up gourds
A James Bond movie marathon for all the nerds
Prairie utopia, a bountiful feast
Bubbling up from the earth on a bed of black yeast.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Geekiest Photo Ever?

If not, it's certainly in the running. I don't even remember who shot this, or how the reflection of the S was achieved. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Kent's Story

It was a great pleasure and honour to work with Kent Hehr for several years during his time as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. If you live in Calgary Centre, I hope you'll vote for Kent to be your Member of Parliament. In a time when it's all too easy to be jaded about politicians, Kent stands out as a true champion of the people, of evidence-based decision-making, of critical thought, of human rights and compassion and respect for everyone. No matter who wins the federal election, if Kent is one of the 338 men and women Canadians send to Ottawa, the level of thought and discourse in Parliament will be considerably elevated. Good luck, Kent! 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Teaser Trailer for Tomorrow's Kent Hehr Video

Kent Hehr is running to be the next Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre. Tomorrow his campaign will release a video that will give voters a closer look at the man. The above clip touches on a moment of violence that damaged Kent's body, but his spirit emerged stronger than ever. I look forward to seeing more of the story tomorrow. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Gotham Rising?

I watched every episode of Gotham's first season last year, but the experience grew steadily tedious. I'm not sure why I tuned in for season two, but I'm glad I did, for just two episodes in Gotham feels like a different - and much better - show.

The fine production design of the first reason remains, as does most of the first-season cast. But the writing is sharper, the acting less melodramatic and more grounded (except in the case of the lunatics driving the plot in these first episodes, but here it's wholly appropriate), the pacing improved and the characterizations generally more believable.

In these first two episodes, we witness Jim Gordon's fall to beat cop and bounce back to detective, Harvey Bullock's adjustment to civilian life, a rending and reconciliation between young Bruce Wayne and his guardian/butler Alfred Pennyworth, and perhaps most importantly, the rise of the Maniax, a group of escaped lunatics whose only agenda is chaos.

Using the mentally ill as villains is a troubling and overused trope. While the cultural politics of this storytelling choice are still difficult to justify, at least this time around it's not boring; each of the Maniax have, if not depth, then at least interesting tics...and agency, which is somewhat ironic; in Gotham, only the mad are free.

It's too early to tell if the show has really turned around, but this is certainly a very promising second time at bat. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Woods Boys of Summer

A long time ago I played baseball. I don't remember much about it. Sean played too, though we were never on the same team. And I'm almost certain he was much better than me. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Autumnal Geekquinox 2015: Mm, Canada!

This feast was Pete's feast
He served up good chow
From Nova Scotia
To the western waters

We came to eat it
And chat with friends
Let's hope that Geekquinox never ends!