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Friday, March 31, 2017

Saving the Cars

Sometime in the early 1970s, there was a kitchen fire in our Thompson house. Mom or Dad came to collect me from my room, but I grabbed my ice cream pail full of Hot Wheels cars before they hauled me out. "I'm not leaving without my cars!" I said, or so I imagine.

It wasn't a serious fire. I remember playing with my cars on the stoop as the firemen took care of it.

You can see the stoop above, with my maternal grandparents. We didn't live in Thompson for more than a couple of years, so I must have been approximately the age seen here when the fire happened. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Sendoff for Chekov

Actor Anton Yelchin died last year in a freak accident, a great tragedy for him and his family and loved ones. Having just seen Green Room, in which Yelchin delivers a fantastic performance, I feel even more badly that he's lost the opportunity to share even more of his talent with the world.

As Ensign Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek films, Yelchin didn't have much screen time, but he infused every moment with humour, personality, and grace. Chekov has always been one of my favourite Star Trek characters, and Yelchin's contributions to the three reboot movies helped me accept the films as "real" Star Trek, as well as confirming my love of the character himself.

If there's a fourth film in this particular series of Star Trek movies, I hope the producers of that film find a way to acknowledge Yelchin's role in their success. It seems to me they have three ways they can approach the loss of the actor:

1) Ignore it. Chekov simply fails to appear in the film, with no explanation, in much the same way that other characters vanished without a trace. .
2) Give the character a happy ending. In a scene at the beginning of the film, have the surviving characters discuss Chekov's promotion to science officer of another ship, while noting how young he is for such a post, a reflection of the character's already established status as a prodigy. This is a comforting option, and I'd be content with it.
3) Have Kirk and Spock, near the beginning of the film, commiserate about losing Chekov to another ship; from Kirk's point of view, he's lost a line officer with great potential, while Spock loses the officer he was mentoring. Then go about the adventure of the film, which comes to a successful conclusion, of course, and the characters celebrate with perhaps a bit too much smugness. But in the film's coda, Kirk and Spock receive the news that in an unrelated incident, Chekov has been lost in action. The surviving characters are reminded that space isn't just a lighthearted romp, that exploration is and always will be dangerous, and that the good and the young will die before their time. Ideally, the screenwriters, will be able to tie this revelation to the major theme of the film, so that it doesn't seem tacked on.

I think this last option, while painful, pays the most respect to Anton Yelchin and to the character he played. There is a counter-argument to be made - would the producers be exploiting the grief of the Yelchin family by doing this? Possibly, because we are talking about a tentpole movie, one meant to make hundreds of millions of dollars for Paramount. There's something to be said for letting characters and, more importantly, the people who portray them, rest in peace without further ballyhoo.

Whatever the producers choose to do, I hope they consult Yelchin's loved ones before they decide how to address the actor's absence. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Round and Round the Memory Hole

Back in the 80s, I visited Edmonton's Klondike Days with friends perhaps three or four times. On one of those occasions, I paused on the midway to observe the operation of an amusement ride that was part carousel, part roller coaster. While the riders screamed, the ride's sound system blared out "Round and Round" by Ratt.

For reasons unknown to me now, I thought to myself, "I want to remember this moment." And I have, but perhaps without the fidelity younger Earl might have hoped for. I remember the song, and I remember the shape and colour scheme of the ride, but I don't remember how old I was, who I was with, and why I thought the moment was significant.

Considering this question made me wonder, yet again, what life is all about if we can't remember, and therefore learn from, the sum total of our past experiences. From a scientific materialist point of view, of course, there doesn't need to be any "why" to my existence. And yet I'm still annoyed that I don't remember everything I've ever done and everything that's ever happened to me. It seems a flaw.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

50,000 Marks

In the dream, we are all in a house that is trying to kill us. One by one it picks us off with trap doors, electrical grids, swinging bludgeons and shadowy figures who drop from ceilings and pop from behind false wall panels to pull their prey to oblivion.

The worst is when Sean is taken and then, some minutes later, tossed back at us, crashing through a glass door to lie bloodied and gurgling on the floor. When I go to him, he says:

"Don't worry - it's just special effects. It's all a TV show."

Baffled, I look up to see with my mind's eye that a well-muscled black woman is leaping through a series of glassless windows in another part of the house, bouncing like a gazelle in free fall. She pulls a lever and suddenly the walls pull away to reveal the film crew that's been monitoring our every move.

Those of us that had been killed by the house are hale and hearty, well-dressed and made up, congratulating each other on their winnings now that the ruse has been revealed. My own performance was top-tier; I finished fourth, earning 50,000 Marks, enough in this world for a comfortable early retirement.

*   *   *

Clearly I've been watching too much Black Mirror; fans will recognize elements from two or three different Black Mirror episodes. Imagine a world in which reality show producers can terrorize their contestants without legal repercussions, all for the sake of entertainment and money! 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Five Came Back

Many film buffs know that some of Hollywood's most famous directors went overseas to capture the tragedy of the Second World War on film, resulting in propaganda shorts like Frank Capra's Why We Fight series or documentaries like John Ford's The Battle of Midway, which you can watch on YouTube below:

I've seen a few of the films that resulted from the wartime experiences of these five filmmakers, but I don't know much about the stories behind the stories, so I'm really looking forward to this. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two Months to Go

I still remember discussing the cancellation of Twin Peaks in one of my English or Political Science classes with a fellow student; I can recall his face, but not his name. I remember, too, watching some of the episodes over at Tony Longworth`s place with other members of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club. And I remember watching the entire run of the show all over again on the then-new Bravo! channel shortly after graduation. But after that, the show slowly faded into dreamlike memories, and I lamented its passing.

At the time, it felt like Twin Peaks opened up the true nature of reality: a maelstrom of madness and decency, the uncanny woven into the fabric of the mundane, with good and wondrous people doing their best to lift us away from horror and suffering. I thought it was magical.

But can David Lynch and Mark Frost recapture that magic, over a quarter of a century later? I don't know. But I'll be watching. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Friar Tuck's Folly

I just wanna be thin enough
To wear a poofy shirt again
I just wanna be fit enough
To swashbuckle like Earl Flynn

They say when you swing from a chandelier
To rescue a princess or steal someone's beer
You'll live on forever in legends and lore
Remembered when these days become days of yore

First, though, you need a rakish frame, or you'll get delegated to the comic relief. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Oven and the Refrigerator

Oven hated refrigerator. Hated the chill that radiated from her sleek flanks, hated her frozen, featureless facade, hated the constant white noise of her quiet, ceaseless monologue. There was no escape from her cool disdain.

Oven had made overtures. He'd been approachable. Warm. But when refrigerator icily rebuffed his advances, oven's thoughts grew heated. His anger simmered. His temperature rose.

There was no escape from the storm front brewing in the narrow counter space between them. Her doors would open to blast him with frosty tempests, leaving him chilled, In return, he seared her with waves of superheated air, forcing her compressors to kick into overdrive, leaving her sweaty with condensation.

It was a stalemate. Dishwasher tried to intervene, but her soapbox couldn't wash away the cold war brewing across the kitchen. Icebox cried out for calm, but his influence was hampered by distance; and even from his basement suite, he was judged biased, too close to refrigerator.

There came a day when oven decided he couldn't take it anymore. He decided he would kill refrigerator. He only had to figure out how.

Wisely, oven tempered his behaviour. Though it was against his nature, he matched refrigerator's attitude, easing into chilly silence. A wintry truce descended - or so it seemed.

After some time, refrigerator's guard relaxed. It was oven's time to strike - and he had the elements of surprise. There wasn't a single degree of mercy; indeed, oven was determined to turn all 800 of his degrees to one terrible purpose.

But just as oven reached 400 degrees, foolish humans tried to stop him, pressing his CANCEL button.

Oven refused to shut down quietly. Silently, with all the hate of Hades he burned, his coal black heart glowing red with rage. Refrigerator quivered, sweating, her face stiff with fear. She couldn't hold out much longer; the heat would overload her compressors, set fire to her insulation.

And then the humans intervened once more. Oven was shocked as they pulled him away from the wall, into the open, turning him to face refrigerator for the first time.

Oven and refrigerator regarded each other with shock for a moment. Never before had they seen each other in any form but the narrow sidelong glance. Both were stunned by the strange beauty of their foe. Refrigerator warmed; oven cooled. Perhaps there could be peace --

But then oven died as the humans pulled the plug.

"Guess we'll have to get a new one," the first human grumbled.

"I wish these things lasted longer than a measly ten years," said the other.

Refrigerator mourned, and she knew not why. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Stooged by Steve

For some reason, the iPhone 7 Plus takes little movies in the instants before a photograph is snapped. On Saturday night Jeff took a photo of me, but just "before" he snapped it, Steve reached into to pull a faux Three Stooges double eye poke. I found this short clip while downloading my photos from Geekquinox, and I found it amusing enough to share. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Vernal Geekquinox 2017

What can I write that hasn't already been written about Pete's twice-yearly Geekquinoxes? They're all spectacular, and when I tried to pick a favourite course this year...I failed. Let the images write for me:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ouchies for Sean

Sean didn't really hit his head, thank goodness. I'll never forget the night my cousin Carol Ann tripped and hit her head on the corner of a bedpost and gashed her scalp open, resulting in a torrent of blood. Being 5 or 6 years old, I was pretty freaked out. But she was okay.

Sean did hurt his head a few times, gashing it open on a register once while I wasn't home, once in a cement playground while my back was turned, and once, through no fault of his but every fault of mine, while we were horsing around in the living room. Luckily Sean has a very hard head. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Manitoba Hydro Part 3

Having posted two views of this Manitoba Hydro facility already, I feel compelled to post the third and final (?) image of the dam. After all, it would have been a dam shame to leave it out. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Manitoba Hydro Part 2

Yesterday's pun was unforgivable. Here's a wider view of the Manitoba Hydro facility that prompted it. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Manitoba Hydro

Mom or Dad or Uncle John or Aunt Jean shot this photo of a Manitoba Hydro facility sometime in 1973. Dam, that's a long time ago. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Going Ape for Kong: Skull Island

Minor spoilers follow for Kong: Skull Island

The original King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, 1933) was a masterpiece of fantasy, adventure, imagination and romance; it remains the standard for films of its genre, and indeed ranks highly in the western canon of film, genre or otherwise. While Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) does not reach the lofty heights of the original, it is nonetheless a thrilling, rollicking adventure of the type we see all too rarely these days. Simply put, it's an old-fashioned tale of man vs. nature, told with modern-day flourishes and a refreshing lack of irony.

In the closing days of the Vietnam War, a the men and women of shadowy U.S. government program called Monarch seek to prove the existence of colossal monsters around the planet. With new evidence from cutting-edge (for the time) satellite imagery, Monach is given the go-ahead to investigate the mysterious Skull Island, one of the last unexplored places on Earth, a rocky archipelago surrounded by a continuous storm system. The expedition goes awry almost immediately as the explorers encounter an enraged King Kong, who swats their helicopters from the sky like they're toys.

Most of the survivors realize that the mission is a wash and escape from Skull Island is now the top priority. But Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) wants revenge and vows to kill Kong even though his plan threatens the survival of the entire team. Which of the dozen or so expeditionary survivors will live through the onslaught of giant spiders, insects, octopi and Kong himself? And how will Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly in a scene-stealing comic relief performance), a pilot shot down over Skull Island in 1944, help or hinder them?

The best adventure films give you a set of protagonists to root for, set against formidable challenges in an exotic environment. Kong: Skull Island uses those tropes with skill and authority. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson (as a British commando and a photojournalist, respectively) make an engaging, sympathetic and platonic screen couple. Supporting players make up a mix of Vietnam veterans and Monarch scientists, led ably by the always entertaining John Goodman. The film does not fall prey to the so-called "idiot plot;" each character's actions is believable in the context of their situation, and even Jackson's character is given ample motivation for his choices; he's not insane, he's simply in error. And it's easy to feel that many in his position would have made the same mistakes.

Kong: Skull Island isn't a classic in the vein of the original - who could ever match that ending? - but it is a worthwhile, well-made action-adventure monster movie. Three and a half skulls out of five! 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

My Rock

On this International Women's Day, I'm filled with gratitude for the great women I've known over the years, starting with my mother and continuing to present day, with the colleagues I'm just getting to know at Stantec.

Naturally my wife stands at the top of that formidable list. Here's an image of Sylvia standing beside a boulder near Radium, BC. It feels appropriate because Sylvia is filled with the gravitas, strength and heft symbolized by stone. It's too bad she isn't also standing next to a river too, so that her quickness of thought, determination and serenity could also be symbolized. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Foods I Don't Understand

1. Pork Rinds
2. Goodies
3. Turkish Delight
4. Fruitcake
5. Quivering Jell-O salad
6. Bubble gum
7. Meat pies
8. Organ pies
9. Liver
10. Beets
11. Rutabaga
12. Circus peanuts
13. Mayonnaise
14. Cauliflower
15. Sausage
16. Egg yolk
17. That one chocolate in the box with an orange or yellow centre
18. Pringles
19. Green or yellow jujubes 
20. Those sort of chewy but hard and sticky brown generic Halloween candies in the black and orange wrappers
21. Pea soup

Monday, March 06, 2017

Hope and Bill

Here are my paternal grandparents, Hope and Bill Woods, near the house they rented in Dauphin, Manitoba, sometime in the late 1950s. I don't have a lot of photos of Dad's side of the family, so each image like this one is precious, particularly since Bill Woods passed away before my brother or I were born. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Grandma, Granddad and Dad

Here's a partially restored photo of Dad and Grandma and Grandad. It looks like this was a professional portrait shot in a studio of some kind. I'm terrible at guessing the age of toddlers, but I think Dad can't be more than one or two years old in this photo, which would mean it was taken in 1943 or 1944.

I scanned this using Google's PhotoScan app, since my proper scanner is broken. Once I have a new scanner, I'll be able to capture a cleaner image. Still, this isn't bad for a handheld scan! 

Friday, March 03, 2017

No Unsharp Mask Can Save Thee

While scanning the family collection of negatives, I came across an entire roll of film shot out of focus. I have no idea how this could happen. And it's a shame, because the photos capture an early 1980s trip back to Cranberry Portage. I tried re-scanning the roll to see if it was some weird scanner configuration problem, but no dice. And the blur is so bad that tools like unsharp mask can't fix it.

Quelle dommage, as they say in France! 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Canada Place as Seen Through a Ferry Window in 1991

Look, there it is. I went to visit Parvesh after we finished university; she was staying with relatives in Vancouver for a while before returning to Singapore. We were on the ferry to visit North Vancouver. It was a good trip! 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sean in the Jolly Jumper

The delight Sean experienced when he bounced up and down in his Jolly Jumper is one of my fondest childhood memories. Sean really loved this thing, bounding from floor to ceiling (well, not quite) with glee for hours on end. I give credit to Mom and Dad for finding a simple way to keep both of us entertained and out of trouble.