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Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Chilling Escape

About a month ago, the mini-fridge in my home office stopped working. I only realized it had died because a large chunk of ice fell from the freezer section into the main section, making a loud noise. I opened the door, grabbed the ice and threw it in the sink to melt. There was still a lot of ice left in the freezer; I hadn't defrosted in ages, and a solid block of frozen water nearly filled the freezer compartment to capacity.

Something distracted me and I forgot to take care of the rest of the ice. Naturally, it melted.

Yesterday, my parents and brother came over to help with some household projects, including moving out the old fridge and putting in the new one. My brother opened the door of the old fridge to an overwhelming stench, and discovered that a bucket of old, unused Halloween candy was full of water; the chocolate and nuts had rotted in the mire.

Miraculously, the melting point of the block ice must have been directly above the bucket of candy. The melting water was all collected in the bucket, preventing it from escaping to soil my carpet.

Sylvia and Sean were very annoyed that my forgetfulness and laziness wasn't punished; was, in fact, rewarded by fickle Fate. In my own defence, I had the good grace to be embarrassed. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Horrible Hat Song

A top hat
A bowler
A fedora and
A rain cap these are
Just some of the many kinds of hats

On your head you may wear a hat
Or you may be having none of that
But in fashion today all the experts say
That wearing a hat is where it's at

So cover your skull with cap
And the world will eat out of your lap!

Thursday, February 25, 2016


I'm not really keen on celebrating my birthday, especially as I get older, but here are four photos from my fourth birthday, which took place 43 years ago in Thompson, Manitoba. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Harry Potter and the Mid-Life Crisis

Several years ago, Sylvia presented me with a boxed set of the Harry Potter books for my birthday. I was delighted, for friends whose opinions I trust raved about the books.

I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone almost immediately, and while I was impressed by J.K. Rowling's worldbuilding and the sophisticated (for the genre) twist ending, I was left a little underwhelmed. It certainly didn't feel like a book that deserved such phenomenal acclaim. Perhaps I was comparing Harry Potter unfavourably to Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, which had tread much of the same territory some years previously.

The next few titles left me feeling much the same way; I appreciated them, but I didn't adore them. In fact, I read the books at a very leisurely pace, cracking one open every couple of years.

It wasn't until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I started to feel truly invested in the characters and the main story arc. Even midway through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I began to feel as though I was simply too old and set in my prejudices to embrace the books properly - just as I felt about the latest Star Wars film.

But, determined to finish, last night I came to bed and resolved to wrap up the series. And then, at about the point when Harry and his friends were finally starting to turn things around, the magic happened - so to speak. Suddenly I saw how carefully Rowling had constructed her fantasy world, how skillfully she developed her characters, their relationships, and the themes holding the story together. And when Harry learns the truth about everything, I had to keep myself from a little cry of exultation lest I wake up Sylvia.

I'm very grateful I managed to finish the series unspoiled, so I won't go into much detail lest I ruin the experience for others. In the end, the series is a triumph of children's and fantasy literature, and stands as a compelling, cohesive work. Not only that, it reminded me of how exquisitely felt are the emotions of adolescence and early adulthood. There's nothing quite as sweet as the pain and joy of young romance and the quest to discover yourself, and Rowling captured that experience masterfully. For a couple of hours last night, I felt young again.

Perhaps in a decade or two I'll read the series one more time, start to finish, with less jaded eyes. I think I owe Rowling that much. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reading the Campbells

Along with the Hugo and Nebula, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award is considered in some circles as one of the triumvirate of important SF awards. Since I'm tracking my Hugo and Nebula tallies, I figure I should add the Campbell to the list. Here, then, is the list of Campbell nominated works to date; the ones I've read are noted in bold.

Beyond Apollo, Barry N. Malzberg
The Listeners, James E. Gunn
Darkening Island, Christopher Priest

1974 (two winners)
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Malevil, Robert Merle
The Embedding, Ian Watson
The Green Gene, Peter Dickinson

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Philip K. Dick
The Dispossesed, Ursula K. LeGuin

1976 (no winner; special award presented to The Year of the Quiet Sun, Wilson Tucker)
The Stochastic Man, Robert Silverberg
Orbitsville, Bob Shaw

The Alteration, Kingsley Amis
Man Plus, Frederik Pohl
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Katherine Wilhelm

Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Roadside Picnic and Tale of the Troika, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

Goriana, Michael Moorcock
Altered States, Paddy Chayefsky
And Having Writ..., Donald R. Bensen

On Wings of Song, Thomas M. Disch
Engine Summer, John Crowley
The Unlimited Dream Company, J. G. Ballard

Timescape, Gregory Benford
The Dreaming Dragons, Damien Broderick
The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe

Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban

Helliconia Spring, Brian W. Aldiss
No Enemy But Time, Michael Bishop

The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe
The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, John Batchelor
Tik-Tok, John Thomas Sladek

The Years of the City, Frederick Pohl
Green Eyes, Lucius Shepherd
Neuromancer, William Gibson

The Postman, David Brin
Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
Blood Music, Greg Bear
Kiteworld, Keith Roberts

A Door into Ocean, Joan Slonczewski
The is the Way the World Ends, James K. Morrow
Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card

Lincoln's Dreams, Connie Willis
The Sea and Summer, George Turner
The Unconquered Country, Geoff Ryman

Islands in the Net, Bruce Sterling
The Gold Coast, Kim Stanley Robinson
Dragonsdawn, Anne McCaffrey

The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman
Farewell Horizontal, K.W. Jeter
Good News from Outer Space, John Kessel

Pacific Edge, Kim Stanley Robinson
Queen of Angels, Greg Bear
Only Begotten Daughter, James K. Morrow

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, Bradley Denton
The Difference Engine, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Silicon Man, Charles Platt
Stations of the Tide, Michael Swanwick

Brother to Dragons, Charles Sheffield
Sideshow, Sherri S. Tepper
A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge

1994 (no award)
Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress
Moving Mars, Greg Bear

Permutation City, Greg Egan
Brittle Innings, Michael Bishop

The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter
The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
Chaga, Ian McDonald

Fairyland, Paul J. McAuley
Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell

Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
Slant, Greg Bear
Secret Passages, Paul Preuss

Brute Orbits, George Zebrowski
Starfarers, Poul Anderson
Distraction, Bruce Sterling

A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge
Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
Greenhouse Summer, Norman Spinrad
The Silicon Dagger, Jack Williamson
Starfish, Peter Watts

Genesis, Poul Anderson
Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle
Calculating God, Robert J. Sawyer
Infinity Beach, Jack McDevitt
The Fresco, Sherri S. Tepper

2002 (two winners)
The Chronoliths, Robert Charles Wilson
Terraforming Earth, Jack Williamson
Probability Sun, Nancy Kress
Dark Light, Ken MacLeod
Deepsix, Jack McDevitt
Fallen Dragon, Peter F. Hamilton
Hammerfall, C.J. Cherryh
The House of Dust, Paul Johnston
The Meek, Scott Mackay
Nekropolis, Maureen F. McHugh
Pashazade: The First Arabesk, Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Passage, Connie Willis

Probability Space, Nancy Kress
Kiln People, David Brin
Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer
Bones of the Earth, Michael Swanwick
Dark Ararat, Brian Stableford
The Golden Age, John C. Wright
Lion's Blood, Steven Barnes
The Separation, Christopher Priest
The Visitor, Sherri S. Tepper
Vitals, Greg Bear

Omega, Jack McDevitt
Natural History, Justina Robson
The X President, Philip Baruth
The Braided World, Kay Kenyon
The Changeling Plague, Syne Mitchell
The Companions, Sherri S. Tepper
Darwin's Children, Greg Bear
Jennifer Government, Max Barry
Memory, Linda Nagata
Red Thunder, John Varley
Sister Alice, Robert Reed
Star Dragon, Mike Brotherton
Storyteller, Amy Thomson
Untied Kingdom, James Lovegrove
The Wreck of the River of Stars, Michael F. Flynn

Market Forces, Richard Morgan
Air, Geoff Ryman
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
The Boy Who Would Live Forever, Frederick Pohl
The Child Goddess, Louise Marley
City of Pearl, Karen Traviss
Gaudeamus, John Barnes
Newton's Wake, Ken MacLeod
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
The Rebel, Jack Dann
The Well of Stars, Robert Reed
White Devils, Paul J. McAuley

Mindscan, Robert J. Sawyer
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
The Summer Isles, Ian R. MacLeod
Accelerando, Charles Stross
Child of Earth, David Gerrold
Counting Heads, David Marusek
Learning the World, Ken MacLeod
The Meq, Steve Cash
Mind's Eye, Paul J. McAuley
Seeker, Jack McDevitt
Transcendent, Stephen Baxter
The World Before, Karen Traviss

Titan, Ben Bova
The Last Witchfinder, James K. Morrow
Blindsight, Peter Watts
Farthing, Jo Walton
Dry, Barbara Sapergia
Glasshouse, Charles Stross
Infoquake, David Louis Edelman
Living Next Door to the God of Love, Justina Robson
Nova Swing, M. John Harrison
Odyssey, Jack McDevitt
Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge
A Small and Remarkable Life, Nick DeChario
Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder

In War Times, Kathleen Ann Goonan
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon
The Execution Channel, Ken MacLeod
Axis, Robert Charles Wilson
Bad Monkeys, Matt Ruff
Brasyl, Ian McDonald
Deadstock, Jeffrey Thomas
HARM, Brian W. Aldiss
Mainspring, Jay Lake
The Margarets, Sherri S. Tepper
The New Moon's Arms, Nalo Hopkinson
Rollback, Robert J. Sawyer
Time's Child, Rebecca Ore
Zig Zag, Jose Carlos Somoza

2009 (two winners)
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod
The Philosopher's Apprentice, James K. Morrow
Anathem, Neal Stephenson
City at the End of Time, Greg Bear
Valley of Day-Glo, Nick DiChario

The Windup girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America, Robert Charles Wilson
The City & the City, China Mieville
The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling
Galileo's Dream, Kim Stanley Robinson
Gardens of the Sun, Paul J. McAuley
Makers, Cory Doctorow
Steal Across the Sky, Nancy Kress
Transition, Ian M. Banks
Wake, Robert J. Sawyer
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts

The Dervish House, Ian McDonald
How to Live Safety in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu
The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi
Anthill, E.O. Wilson
Aurorarama, Jean-Chrisophe Valtat
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis
C, Tom McCarthy
Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear
New Model Army, Adam Roberts
Veteran, Gavin Smith
The Waters Rising, Sherri S. Tepper
Yarn, Jon Armstrong
Zero History, William Gibson

2012 (two winners)
The Islanders, Christopher Priest
The Highest Frontier, John Slonczewski
Embassytown, China Mieville
Osama, Lavie Tidhar
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
This Shared Dream, Kathleen Ann Goonan
Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh
Dancing with Bears, Michael Swanwick
Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson
Home Fires, Gene Wolfe
Seed, Rob Ziegler

Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer, Adam Roberts
The Hydrogen Sonata, Ian M. Banks
Any Day Now, Terry Bisson
Existence, David Brin
The Rapture of the Nerds, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
Empty Space, M. John Harrison
Intrusion, Ken MacLeod
Railsea, China Mieville
The Fractal Prince, Hannu Rajaniemi
Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson
Slow Apocalypse, John Varley
Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson

Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux
Lexicon, Max Barry
Proxima, Stephen Baxter
The Circle, Dave Eggers
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
Hild, Nicola Griffith
The Cusanus Game, Wolfgang Jeschke
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
The Disestablishment of Paradise, Phillip Mann
Evening's Empires, Paul J. McAuley
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata
The Adjacent, Christopher Priest
On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds
Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson
Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Race, Nina Allan
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias
The Peripheral, William Gibson
Afterparty, Daryl Gregory
Europe in Autumn, Dave Hutchinson
Wolves, Simon Ings
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Defenders, Will McIntosh
The Bees, Laline Paull
Bete, Adam Roberts
Lock In, John Scalzi
The Martian, Andy Weir
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
Echopraxia, Peter Watts

To date, I have read 82 of 261 Campbell winners and nominees. That amounts to about 32 percent of the list. 

The Campbell lists seem a little more eclectic to me than the Hugos or the Nebulas, and while there is some overlap with the other major awards, on the whole the Campbells have a more cosmopolitan flavour, with what seems to me a good balance between popular, literate and weird choices - not that any of those are mutually exclusive. Perhaps that's because the Campbells are judged by a select group of jurors, rather than by fan vote (the Hugos) or the wider membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America (the Nebulas). 

Aside from recognizing good work, the chief benefit of literary awards is their ability to provide curious readers with lists of new books to read. Certainly in putting together this list I find myself curious about a number of writers that are new to me. These lists are also handy for carrying with you at used bookstores! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Favourite Games (Arcade Edition)

Over the years I've played a lot of games, and they've brought me a lot of joy. It only just occurred to me that I've never chronicled my appreciation for those games, so over the next few days I'll share some memories of my favourites.

Whenever I visited my cousin Darwin Jones in Devon, we'd head downtown to play Space War. I loved this game for its complexity; you could choose all kinds of variables, including inertia, gravity, how the edges of the screen behaved and so on. It didn't hurt that one of the ships looked like the Enterprise, and the other like its symbol.

Pac-Man seems pretty old hat now, but when Keith Gylander and I first encountered it at a fish and chips restaurant in Leduc one summer in the very early 1980s, we were hooked. Gameplay is simple but challenging, with the pace growing more frenetic with every level.

At the height of the video arcade craze, Leduc had at least three or four dedicated arcades, plus other machines scattered throughout the city (the roller rink, the used book store, the convenience store, etc.). I played Wild Western pretty obsessively in the arcade closest to Leduc Junior High school; it was nestled on the first floor of an apartment complex. I liked Wild Western for the music and its relatively complex gameplay; not only could you ride and shoot in all directions, you could jump atop the train and gunfight the desperadoes from on high.

I played Berzerk at the 7-11 on 50th street in Leduc. I was amazed by the robot voices, and fighting my way through the mazes gave me the feeling of being on a real adventure, though of course there was no way to truly escape the robots; eventually, you were doomed, as was the way of things in most arcade games.

I loved the movie Tron, and when the game came out I leaped at the chance to enter its world, user-like. Four games in one! You couldn't beat that in 1982. The lightcycle chase was my favourite, even though I wasn't very good at it.

Defender was probably the most challenging game I attempted back in the day; its multiple controls and relentless enemies ate up my three ships with astonishing speed. But having a noble mission - rescuing the spacemen trapped on the planet - provided excellent motivation for me to keep on pumping quarters into the machine. I played Defender in the arcade that used to exist on the top floor of the then-new theatre on 50th street, not far from the 7-11 where I played Berzerk.

Galaga had great audio effects and a really neat feature that kept me coming back: the bad guys could capture your ship, but if you managed to set it free with another ship, it would join with your second ship for double the firepower (and double the exposure to enemy fire, of course).

Star Castle wasn't as popular as a lot of other games, but I enjoyed its clean vector graphics and free-flowing gameplay.

Discs of Tron was played in a neon-lit wraparound cabinet that really drew you into the game. The immersive experience was helped by smooth controls and simple but challenging gameplay; just knock your opponent off his perch with your flying discs, while preventing him from doing the same thing to you.

If I had room for one arcade game in my home it would be the Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator; specifically, I'd want the sit-down version with the controls on the armrests. Star Trek has a hit-and-miss history when it comes to game adaptations, but this is a great-looking, great-sounding space shooter, with authentic effects and great voiceovers from Spock and Scotty. "Entering sector 1.6..."

Atari's Star Wars simulation was another excellent adaptation, this time giving players the chance to assault the Death Star itself, complete with emulated John William's music and character voices. The cabinet featured a very solid two-handed flight control stick that made you really feel like you were flying an X-Wing.

Of course I played dozens of other arcade games during those golden years of the 1980s, but these are the ones that stand out in my memory. I shudder to imagine how many quarters slipped through my fingers during those years, but they led to many hours of great entertainment. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

To Remember a Mockingbird

Another of the greats has fallen victim to the merciless march of time; Harper Lee is dead.

I was somewhere in my early 20s when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, mostly because, in the comics, Clark Kent said it was his favourite novel. I was transfixed by the book; it hit me in the heart like few other works have.

I have not yet been able to bring myself to read Go Set a Watchman, mainly because of the controversy surrounding its publication. I'm sure one day I'll crack it open, if only to see if it's really as disappointing as critics say, but I haven't reached that place yet. And even if Go Set a Watchman isn't as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, so what? Most human beings can only dream of leaving behind a literary legacy as fine as Lee's.

"It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived."

Edited to add: Umberto Eco died today as well. What a dark day for literature. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Brittle 10th Innings

I just finished Michael Bishop's 1994 Hugo-nominated novel Brittle Innings, the story of a teenager's experiences as a minor league ballplayer during World War II. Oh, and one of his teammates happens to be Frankenstein's monster.

It's a beautiful book, full of bittersweet pathos, pain and occasional moments of joy. So I hope I'm not inadvertently downplaying its many virtues by wondering what other sports famous monsters might play.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon seems limited to aquatic sports such as water polo, but I imagine he'd be the top player of all time.

The Wolf Man probably wouldn't have much luck in sports, for he's at his fastest and strongest only on a full moon. I don't know much about sports, but I know they're not often played by nightfall, and probably not only on full moons.

Dracula shares this weakness; he can't play in the daytime, lest he burn up. He might be limited to indoor volleyball matches, where his supernatural strength and speed would give him a considerable edge. Wrestling would also be a viable career for Dracula; he could sink his fangs into his opponents and bleed them dry, or turn himself into mist to escape choke holds.

The Invisible Man would have to play naked for his ability to confer any advantage. Hockey is out, for his stick and skates would betray him. Football is also out, for running with the ball would reveal his position, and in any case how would the quarterback know where to throw?

The Phantom of the Opera has no special skills other than murder and being hideous; perhaps he could be an MMA fighter? 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Yellows and Blues

Said the child I was that Christmas morning
Amazed by his plastic snowmobile
And his matching pajamas
Whatever happened to these two?
(they rode into the soft falling snow, and faded to white)  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fading Wood

How many times did I visit the Etstell farm as a child in the 1970s and early 1980s? Perhaps not as many as I'd like to believe, for Virden was far away from northern Manitoba, and gasoline and vacation time were both dear.

Luckily, when you're a child time seems to flow more slowly, so the days (perhaps only a handful of them?) felt full indeed. My favourite place to play was the small building at right, which I believe was a chicken coop, though long abandoned by the beasts by the time I came along. It was mostly empty by my childhood save for some scattered tools and other odds and ends, but the sunlight coming through the windows made the tiny interior somehow magical.

There was also old farm equipment to play on, including an aging cutter with a bench from which you could pretend to drive horses. Three wooden granaries made excellent houses of mystery; they hadn't held grain for years, so I was in no danger of suffocating.

Today nothing remains but a lone steel granary, the trees, the fields, and a well with a pump. And, of course, the memories.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Honey & Turmeric

Sylvia wasn't feeling well today and took some honey and turmeric to settle her stomach. On a whim, I shot a photo of the remedy with my iPhone. I'm quite pleased with how the shot turned out, given the mundane subject matter and careless disregard for composition and settings. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day 2016!

It's Valentine's Day, and Sylvia is lounging in her pajamas and would probably be annoyed if I took a Valentine photo right now. Therefore, I present this shot of Sylvia cooking hash browns in our first condo. I love the way she squints when she laughs. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016


This Lego Pirates chess set is, of course, rated ARRRRR. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Dog in the Shadows

By now everyone knows that I'm not a dog person, but I find this image strangely evocative. This would be the dog of my paternal grandparents, shot sometime in the early 1960s. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cent from My Eye Foam

Whatever happened
To the humble symbol
That signified cents?
Pennies banished
Nickels worthless
A dime won't feed a pay phone
(If pay phones still existed)
Even a vending machine soda
Sets you back $1.25
The almighty dollar
Has at last abolished sense

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

60s Skunk

This skunk was presumably captured on film by one of my paternal grandparents in the early 1960s somewhere near Dauphin, Manitoba. Judging by the footprints, it sent some people scurrying through the snow. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Rejected Corporate Challenge Team Trivia Names

For the third time I'll be participating in the Edmonton Corporate Challenge Brain Freeze event. Since this year Corporate Challenge takes on a Western theme, I suggested several team names to my ATCO teammates:

The Magnificent Four
A Fistful of Trivia
A Team Called Horse
Little Big Team
Rio Saskatchewan
Electric Stagecoach
The Mild Bunch
Sober Noon
False Grit
The Team That Shot Liberty Valence
They Lost With Their Boots On

...and the winner...

The Good, the Bad, and the Trivial.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sweet Thai Chili Chicken Bacon Gouda Sandwiches

Okay, so I warmed up pre-made Thai chicken and added gouda slices and microwaved bacon. But still, that's almost cooking, and "Sweet Thai Chili Chicken Bacon Gouda Sandwiches" is rather poetic.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Grandma and Granddad Woods

I don't have many photos of Dad's side of the family, so I was pretty happy to see these shots of his parents on what might be their farm near Dauphin, Manitoba. Judging by the vehicles, perhaps this is the late 1950s..?

Edited to add:

Dad confirmed that this is the old Woods farm four or five miles north of Dauphin. He thinks this was taken around 1961 or 1962. Dad's first car, a Fiat 600, is in the background; it had "suicide doors," that is, they opened at the front. It was red with a tan interior, 4-speed standard transmission. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Brocast Begins

My brother Sean and his friend Dave have started a podcast: "The Guys Guide to Gabbing About Goals." Listen to the first episode here

Friday, February 05, 2016

How to Be a Geek

Sean's friend Laura suggested I offer some thoughts on how to be a geek; she further suggested these thoughts should come in the form of a top ten list.

Of course, I cannot possibly speak for all geeks. If you think of yourself as a geek, you're a geek.

But for those people who don't consider themselves geeks but are curious about the subculture, I suppose some pointers on understanding the geek mind (or at least my geek mind) might be in order.

1) Read a lot. If you read a lot, you're likely to be exposed to something you can geek out about, whether that be a favourite writer, genre, style or subject. My own path to geekdom began with the printed page, starting with Superman comics and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

2) Pursue your interests with passion. If you're a geek and you like something, odds are you'll not only enjoy that thing, your hobbies may revolve around that thing. You might even start producing your own versions of that thing.

3) Find like-minded people to discuss your interests. Over the years, I've belonged to a number of organizations, both online and in the real world, geared toward bringing geeks of one flavour or another together. This usually leads to amusing debates such as "Who's better, Kirk or Picard?"

4) Don't be self-conscious about what you love. While it wasn't easy growing up as a bookworm, film lover and Trekkie who didn't care for sports, there's no sense in hiding your passions, even if you wind up getting teased. If I'd kept my obsessions to myself, I would have missed out on meeting countless friends.

5) On the other hand, don't forget to explore. While that thing you love may indeed be the coolest thing ever, the world is full of all kinds of other cool stuff. Broaden your horizons constantly. I read a romance novel a couple of years ago for the first time ever, and I found its construction and tropes utterly amazing. It hasn't made me a lover of romance novels, but the experience gave me a better understanding of that genre's readership and of its impact on the things I like.

6) Learn how to handle your computer. Your PC (or Mac) is your gateway to all kinds of geeky experiences, beyond merely surfing the internet. Gaming, writing, photo manipulation, video editing, podcasting, virtual reality, music composition and all kinds of other pursuits are facilitated and enhanced by computers, and knowing how to do more than simply turn it on will make those pursuits much more rewarding.

7) Respect and celebrate the indifference of others. Not everyone is going to get into My Little Pony or Game of Thrones or model rocketry like you do. And that's cool. They almost certainly have some very cool interests of their own.

8) Pay attention to politics. I know, what a drag! But being involved is important because in a democracy, the people we elect pass laws that can either facilitate or hamper our enjoyment of the pursuits we love. It wasn't so long ago that people were trying to ban Dungeons & Dragons; some jurisdictions continue to ban all kinds of books. The Internet is constantly under attack by corporate and government interests who want to make it slower, more expensive, more invasive of your privacy, and more censored.

9) Reassess, revisit and revise your pursuits every ten years or so. Take a break from one of your obsessions and then take a look through older eyes once some time has passed. I've done this a number of times and always appreciate what a new perspective adds to things I loved at a younger age.

10) Read, watch, play, experience, or at least read the Wikipedia article about the following: Star Trek, Star Wars, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Planet of the Apes, Big Trouble in Little China, Flash Gordon, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Lego, Kenner, Atari, Pac-Man, Intellivision, Nintendo, Space Invaders, Futurama, The Simpsons, Battlestar Galactica, Civilization, Tron, bacon, Fallout, Grand Theft Auto, Dungeons & Dragons, usenet, Electronic Bulletin Board Systems, Harry Potter, Alfred Hitchcock, Godzilla, The Terminator, RoboCop, Stephen King, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, board games, memes, Photoshop, Live Action Role Playing, MUDs, Mary Shelley, Ursula K. LeGuin, David Cronenberg, David Lynch...

Well. That last bullet could go on forever, couldn't it? In the end, though, it's not really important what geeky passion you pursue; all that matters is you love it. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Two Views of Spokane

Back in the early 80s, Mom and Dad and Sean and I went on a road trip through Spokane and Seattle. Here are a couple of images I shot of Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. Before this trip, I knew the city only via its PBS affiliate, which served Edmonton back in the early days of cable television. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Mystery Marshmallow Roast

That might be me in the foreground; on the other hand, it might be my cousin Keith Langergraber. Is that Darwin Jones, another cousin, roasting the marshmallow? Only my parents can say for sure.

Wait. I think that's our Ford station wagon in the background, at left. We didn't have that until at least 1979, which would make me a little too old to be either of the boys in this picture. Is one of them Sean? Is that Sean with the marshmallow? Can I not even recognize my own brother?