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Monday, July 31, 2017

What Might Have Been, What Might Yet Be

Entertainment websites are reporting that rumours about Bryan Fuller's vision for the new Star Trek television series were apparently true: Fuller intended to produce an anthology show, with each season representing a different era in Star Trek's timeline. Apparently CBS reined in that ambition a little, so unless things change radically, Star Trek: Discovery will remain fixed in the decade or so before the original series.

Discovery will have to stand on its own merits, but it's fun to speculate what might have been:

  • A season set in the Star Trek: The Motion Picture era, with that decade's design aesthetic, measured pacing, and big ideas
  • A season set during the months leading up to the Eugenics Wars/World War III/the post-atomic horror, with a coda about First Contact and recovery
  • A season of Captain Sulu on the Excelsior
  • A season set in the far future, post TNG/DS9/VOY, perhaps about the beginnings of intergalactic travel
  • A season about ordinary non-Starfleet life on Earth/Vulcan/Andor/Mars (So many possibilities. Since the Federation is post-scarcity, you could focus on people figuring out what to do with their time, which might be a fun vehicle for some hilarity...) 
  • A season set during the Star Trek: Enterprise era, set during the Romulan War
  • A season about the adventures of Gary Seven in the 60s and 70s
  • A season set during the original series, with period costumes, sets, special effects, story conventions and (!) commercials (they could totally do this in the world of streaming binge television!) 
  • An anthology season within the anthology series, with each episode about a character (main or guest) from any of the previous shows
  • A season with Star Trek characters appearing on our world, and being amazed to discover that to us Star Trek is just a TV show (I know that this is an old trope, exploited most recently by John Scalzi in Redshirts, but I think this could be tons of metafictional fun.) 
It's possible that Star Trek: Discovery will turn out to be a fine show, one we might follow two or three or four or seven seasons in the traditional Trek manner. Or maybe Fuller will come back and realize his original ambitious vision. Wouldn't that be something? 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Today on JSVB: Sean Bruises His Shin

As is often the case, Jeff Shyluk's art has to be seen to be believed. I'm delighted that his latest work immortalizes my younger brother at a vulnerable moment. Check out "Sean Bruises His Shin" at Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Second Degree

Another episode of The Second Degree, the recurring dream that's haunted me half my life. This time, I was running an errand at SUB when I suddenly realized I'd completely forgotten about three final exams I should've taken months ago. This made me very angry, because it meant that achieving the second degree that I should have finished in the late 90s would be delayed by at least another semester.

In this particular dream world, time passes relatively normally, but I never learn why I'm pursuing a second degree, or even the nature of the degree. Education, perhaps?

I hope the Earl in that other world finishes at some point, because I'm getting very frustrated by his lack of progress. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How to Live with Envy and Ambition

As time marches inexorably onward, I notice that more and more of my colleagues are, inevitably, younger than me. This wouldn't be so bad, were it not for that they seem to have achieved more in less time. It leads to the inevitable question: what have I done with my life?

Sometimes I feel like I peaked early. My brief moment in the television spotlight began and ended at age 15. My only management role happened back when I was in my 20s. My first (ghostwritten) book was published just before I hit 30. Since then, I've been, in the parlance of the corporate world, an "individual contributor."

If I were a better person, this wouldn't irk me at all. I should be--and am--happy for younger people who achieve directorships, chairs and vice-presidencies. But it does make me question my own talent and ambition. What have I done wrong? Am I too late to make a difference? What qualities do I lack?

Frustrated Ambitions
I've thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. I think my failure to earn management roles can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • Ambition. Rightly or wrongly, I've always viewed ambition somewhat skeptically. Of course I understand that ambition is responsible for a lot of good, when applied to the right projects and causes. But naked ambition, pursuing power for the sake of it, makes me nervous. So I don't chase leadership opportunities, and thus fly under the radar. 
  • Self-confidence. I've never had a lot of self-confidence, even in my (supposed) fields of expertise. It's tough to manage people when you don't believe in your own ability. 
  • Leadership. Who am I to tell people what to do? In my own defence, I've experienced a couple of moments of crisis, during which I took command in order to get people out of a jam, but I found that easy because there were imminent (very minor) threats and the right path jumped out with crystal clarity. But in the longer term, with unclear outcomes, I struggle to offer leadership. 
  • Desire. I love storytelling, and I think, when it comes to my chosen career, that's where my strengths lie. If I moved into management, I'd have to leave all that behind. 
  • All the things I haven't thought of. Believe me, I have no trouble coming up with long lists of my own shortcomings, but those lists pale beside the true picture of my inadequacies, which may be for the best; I'm not sure I could take it if I really knew the full extent of my failings. There are doubtless many good reasons I haven't been earmarked for leadership roles. 
Paths Not Taken--or Started
Sometimes, too, I wonder if I should have just resolved to be poor and stuck with writing fiction as my ultimate career goal. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I'd finished the spec Star Trek: The Next Generation script I was working on and sent it to to the producers back during that golden era they were accepting material from writers without agents. The odds of anything coming of it, of course, were and are a million to one, but at least I would have known. There's a slim chance I might have found up with an accidental credit, because my (unsent) story, "Electric Sheep," explored what might happen if Data were hooked up to the holodeck and started dreaming. Elements of that story wound up in "Birthright" and "Phantasms" from the show's sixth and seventh seasons, which shows that an idea is worthless until it's executed. I failed to execute, so someone else made the sale(s). 

When Reach Exceeds Grasp, Be Happy with What You Have
Despite the trajectory of my life so far, I still feel as though I have the capacity to serve the public in a leadership context, but only if the opportunity is somehow thrust upon me. That sort of thing generally only happens in some kind of moment of crisis, so naturally I'm not going to wish for that. And perhaps I'm only rationalizing my own inadequacies. 

Most importantly, no matter what happens, I recognize how privileged I have been to work at all, and to do so in fields at least tangentially related to my true desires. I've worked with a great number of amazing women and men over the years, people who I consider friends and mentors. And with almost two decades to go until retirement, there's still much that can happen, and much that I can make happen if I ever find that reservoir of ambition and desire inside myself.

Be Brave Enough to See Your Own Worth. 
Maybe I haven't been a leader, but there are still achievements that I'm proud of. I try to do good work every day, I've been involved with a couple of projects that earned peer recognition, and generally speaking I feel and hope that my clients have been pleased with my work over the years. Maybe asking for more is asking for too much.

How do I live with envy and ambition?

By being grateful, by learning, by appreciating the people around me, perhaps by recognizing that there are many kinds of leadership. Some time ago, a supervisor told me I have leadership qualities that I wasn't recognizing or utilizing. Maybe I should take that advice in the spirit it was meant and start exploring.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mom's Big Birthday

Mom celebrates a big birthday today! We gathered in Leduc yesterday to celebrate over brunch. Here's to many more, Mom! 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

March of Doom

Sean and Sylvia and I went to visit Mom and Dad to celebrate Mom's birthday a day early. While chatting in the back yard, I photographed this parade of ants marching to devour the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder. The sugar water claimed victory by drowning many ants. 

Friday, July 07, 2017

Crushing Canadian Stuff on the Hydraulic Press Channel

Our Finnish friends at the Hydraulic Press Channel kindly celebrated Canada 150 by crushing some Canadiana in slow motion. I love these guys. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Batcave vs. The Fortress of Solitude: Which is the Better Target for Robbers?

While discussing some of the finer points of this post with my friend Jeff, our dialogue turned, naturally, to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and whether or not there's anything in it worth stealing. Jeff initially asserted that the giant key and door that guard the Fortress are somewhat unnecessary, arguing that Superman's home doesn't have any loot a sane criminal would bother with. I argued the opposite, and during our conversation another topic sprang to mind: if a criminal had the choice of robbing the Fortress of Solitude or Batman's Batcave, which should he choose?

Making the choice requires a cost-benefit analysis. You have to first decide on the return you're likely to get on a successful robbery versus the likely consequences of success and/or being caught, either before or after the fact.

Target: The Batcave


  • One giant animatronic dinosaur, value undetermined, possibly worth something on the collector's market, but difficult to transport
  • One giant penny, value undetermined, possibly worth something on the collector's market, but difficult to transport
  • One giant playing card (a Joker), value undetermined, possibly worth something on the collector's market, but difficult to transport
  • Bat-computer with all of Batman's files, a priceless resource for criminals and probably worth tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars; also large and difficult to transport, though the data would be easier to move given sufficient hacking skills
  • The latest models of the Batmobile, Batplane, Batboat, Batcycle, Whirly-Bat, Batcopter, plus older models presumably in storage; easy to transport if your criminal gang includes members with the necessary skills to hotwire and drive/fly the vehicles
  • Assorted Batman and Robin costumes with their respective utility belts and weapons
  • Raw materials for Batman's crime lab


  • Conveniently located just a few miles from a major metropolis, accessible by road and underwater channel
  • Lies beneath Wayne Manor, which contains many art treasures, jewels, fine furniture and other more conventional loot than available in the Batcave below


  • Possible presence of one or more of the following: Robin(s), Alfred Pennyworth, Ace the Bat-Hound, Nightwing, Batgirl(s), Batwoman or Batman himself (worst case scenario)
  • Sophisticated security systems


  • Likely extreme, painful, crippling (though not lethal) punishment by Batman, followed by incarceration
  • Nightmares
  • Long-term disability

Target: The Fortress of Solitude


  • One giant animatronic dinosaur, value undetermined, possibly worth something on the collector's market, but difficult to transport
  • One damaged cruise ship, presumably worth millions in salvage, but likely a huge liability if the robbers decided to repair it
  • One space ark capable of ferrying several hundred humans to another star system in the event of the end of the world
  • Several alien animals kept in Superman's zoo, which he uses to save endangered alien species
  • Super-computer with far more computing power than any other on Earth, presumably worth millions
  • Giant statues of Jor-El and Lara holding up the planet Krypton, presumably worth millions as an object d'art
  • The Phantom Zone projector and its associated viewer for monitoring the Zone
  • A collection of Superman's Super-Robots, each with the powers of Superman, though at a lower level
  • The bottle city of Kandor, full of a shrunken Kryptonian city and its millions of Kryptonian survivors, of priceless value as hostages
  • Statues of Superman's friends, potentially valuable as objects d'art
  • A giant girder twisted out of shape by Superman, potentially valuable as an object d'art
  • Very powerful weapons confiscated by Superman from super-villains and aliens, stored in the Fortress' armory
  • Samples of all varieties of Kryptonite, priceless
  • Disintegration pit--impossible to steal, but good for disposing of evidence and bodies of murder victims
  • Superman's super-diary; impractical to steal due to its size and weight
  • Supermobile, presumably worth millions, and very useful for criminal activities
  • Superman's original escape rocket from Krypton, priceless as a historical artifact, could possibly be reverse-engineered


  • Remote location in the high arctic, expensive and dangerous to access
  • Giant door with a key that's so heavy it can only be lifted by Superman, Supergirl, and others with their level of super-strength
  • Possible presence of one or more of the following: Beppo the Super-Monkey, Krypto the Superdog, Supergirl, operational Super-Robot(s), Superman himself
  • Second and third floors accessible only by beings who can fly; no stairs or elevators


  • Stern talking-to from Superman likely to make the perpetrator feel deep shame
  • Incarceration

Should a robber overcome the obstacles involved in getting to and entering the Fortress of Solitude, he or she would end up with a treasure trove of advanced alien technology, weapons, and collectibles, not to mention millions of hostages should they carry off Kandor. And even if caught, they can expect humane treatment--perhaps even complete forgiveness--from Superman and/or his pals. Krypto might be a little rough with them, but he knows not to maim or kill anyone.

The successful Batcave robber can expect to make off with a haul of expensive and powerful Bat-vehicles and fence-able treasures from Wayne Manor. However, if captured, the robbers can expect an extremely painful comeuppance/punishment from Batman, along with prison time.

All things considered, it seems the Fortress is the more desirable target. A successful heist is unlikely, but richly rewarding, and failure comes with relatively minimal consequences. Time to upgrade the security system, Superman!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Pen and Paper Tank Battle

In grade school, friends introduced me to something I hadn't experienced in Manitoba: a simulated tank battle played out with pen and paper.

The game went something like this: each player controlled a tank, one represented by a circle, the other by an x. The x and the circle would start on opposite sides of a sheet of paper, moving toward each other in turns; each turn, the player could move their tank up to five spaces, represented by dashes about 5 mm long, thusly:

x-----x                         o-----o-----o

You didn't have to move in straight lines, of course.

Eventually, when the tanks are close enough, players are allowed to shoot at each other at the end of their moves. This was accomplished by holding the pen vertically in place with your finger, with the writing end pressed down against your tank. By applying judicious force in the proper direction, you could cause your pen to skid across the page, leaving a line on the paper; if this line crossed through the enemy tank, that counted as a hit, and the tank was destroyed.

More complicated versions of the game started on pre-drawn maps with obstacles such as trees, bunkers and hills that couldn't be shot through. You'd have to get your tank in just the right position to take a shot, without being shot yourself.

Did anyone else play this game? Or was it a uniquely Albertan thing?

Monday, July 03, 2017

Abandoned Review of Transition, by Iain M. Banks

Back in October 2009, I started writing a review of Iain M. Banks' Transition, a novel about parallel universes and, tangentially, eclipses. For reasons unknown to me now, I abandoned the review; only four short paragraphs remain. I post them here because the review opens with a recounting of a conversation I had with my friend Allan back when we were roommates in the Bleak House of Blahs. That conversation has always lingered with me, now more than ever, for reasons that will soon become clear. What the conversation had to do with Transition, I don't recall.

Here's the text:

Sometime during the summer of 1992 or 1993 - one of the summers, at least, during the time of the Bleak House of Blahs - Allan and I talked about the times. He was sitting in front of his Commodore Amiga.

"For all we know," Allan said, "Even with all the terrible things that are happening in the world, a hundred years from now people might look back at the 90s and think of them as a golden age."

"Or they could think that way even ten or fifteen years from now," I said.

This conversation with Allan has stuck in my mind for some years now, and it was brought back to vivid life as I read the opening chapters of Iain M. Banks' newest novel, Transition

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Saturday, July 01, 2017

How We Spent Canada Day

Sylvia and I decided to do something different on Canada Day; we travelled south to Wayne, Alberta, a ghost town just outside Drumheller. Nestled deep in the badlands, you have to drive across eleven narrow bridges to reach the town and its last remaining business, the Last Chance Saloon. 
This old coal miner guards the road to Wayne. According to the signs posted around the town, Wayne used to have as many as a couple of thousand people; now there are only 28 permanent residents. One of them, Jim, shared some stories while we ate a very enjoyable lunch at the saloon. 
Here's one of the eleven bridges. 
Here's the saloon, and the associated Rosedeer Hotel. 
Here's a panorama of the interior. 
The bar. There were no bar brawls during our visit, thankfully. 
The heat nearly laid us low; it was a sweltering day. 
For a ghost town, the place is pretty active. There's an annual convention of Harley-Davidson afficionados, and an annual "Waynestock" music festival. 
In fact, Denny Eddy showed up just before our meal. He's a charismatic entertainer, and treated us to a selection of original songs and well-executed covers. His Johnny Cash impression is uncanny. 
I love the badlands. Such a breathtaking landscape. 
Sylvia and I had a great, low-key Canada Day thanks to the fine folks in Wayne. Hope yours was just as enjoyable!