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Monday, July 29, 2019

That Thing That Someone's Probably Already Thought Of

SPOILERS for Cast Away

Today I was thinking about Cast Away, the movie in which Tom Hanks is stranded on a tropical island with a bunch of FedEx packages that he opens in the hopes of finding tools to help him survive. He opens all the packages but one, vowing to deliver that one package if he ever escapes. 

In the end, of course, he does indeed escape and deliver the package. The recipient thanks him and Tom Hanks goes off to to whatever happens next in his life in the world of the film. 

With dark amusement, I imagined an alternative ending: the recipient of the package, excited by its arrival, opens it up...and it's a satellite  phone. Tom Hanks goes "D'OH!" End of film. 

Yeah, I'm sure someone's thought of this already. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

My Favourite Legionnaires

The Legion of Super-Heroes, a DC comics superhero team first introduced in 1958, will be relaunched later this year. The concept is pretty simple: a thousand years from now, a group of super-powered teenagers, each with a unique ability (with some exceptions) and hailing from different worlds of the United Planets, protects the galaxy from all manner of strange threats.

With more than 60 years' worth of stories, the Legion is infamous for its tangled continuity (featuring multiple reboots), storylines that range from the ridiculous to the sublime, a dedicated fandom, and one of the largest rosters of characters in comics at nearly 100--not counting alternate versions from parallel universes and reboots.

As you might imagine, I'm a big fan of the Legion, having first stumbled across them during the early 1970s on the spinner rack of the drug store at Leaf Rapids, Manitoba. I was wowed by Mike Grell's art, the colourful costumes, and the Star Trek-like environments and spaceships.

But it was the characters that drew me in: their distinct personalities, interesting power sets, and personal relationships. And while I appreciate each Legionnaire, some became favourites over the years. After much consideration, here are my dozen favourites, in no particular order: 

Ultra Boy (Jo Nah, planet Rimbor)
Ultra Boy has the entire range of Kryptonian powers, but he can only use them one at a time by shifting around his "ultra energy" to fuel one power or  another. This makes him almost as powerful as heavyweights like Superboy, Supergirl, and Mon-El, but with a really interesting limitation. He also has an interesting backstory: he grew up on a very rough-and-tumble world, but transcended his hardscrabble life to become a hero. He's sometimes been portrayed as a bit of a loveable lunkhead, but other stories play this off as a affected personality trait Jo uses to encourage enemies and teammates alike to underestimate him.

Phantom Girl (Tinya Wazzo, planet Bgztl)
Tinya Wazzo is a daughter of privilege from planet (sometimes dimension) Bgztl, where everyone exists as immaterial phantoms. Tinya can phase from solid to immaterial form, giving her the ability to walk through walls, reach inside bodies, and so on. Despite (or maybe as a reaction to) her upbringing, Phantom Girl is one of the most down-to-earth Legionnaires, serving as best friend to many other of the Legion women.

Matter-Eater Lad (Tenzil Kem, planet Bismoll)
Matter-Eater Lad can eat anything; that's it. He's the Legion's comic relief and knows it, but he's saved the team's bacon on more than one occasion. His Legion career was interrupted a couple of times: once because he ate the Miracle Machine to save the universe and the act drove him temporarily insane, and once because he was drafted by his home planet to serve as a senator.

Shrinking Violet (Salu Digby, planet Imsk)
Shrinking Violet is a formidable martial artist who can shrink to subatomic size. At first depicted, as her name suggests, as a shy wallflower, over the years Salu gains confidence to match her abilities. She's also an early LGBTQ+ character, though it took creators a while to make that characterization overt.

Chameleon Boy (Reep Daggle, planet Durla)
A shapeshifter, Reep leads the Legion Espionage Squad (which also includes Phantom Girl and Shrinking Violet) and often serves as the team's voice of reason and caution. Over the years, artists and writers have given Reep a pretty interesting range of transformations, from tiny insects to monstrous beasts, depending on need.

Dawnstar (Dawnstar, planet Starhaven)
While some argue, with justification, that Dawnstar is a racial stereotype--she's of American Indian descent, with tracking abilities (and the ability to survive in outer  space and fly faster than light) and a buckskin costume--I can't help but enjoy her somewhat icy, curt personality, which serves as a nice contrast to the "aw shucks" contingent of the team.

Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox, planet Colu)
A "12th level intelligence," Brainiac 5 is the team's resident mad (sometimes literally) scientist, inventor of the flight ring that each Legionnaire wears and the impenetrable force field (which for some reason he doesn't share with the team, with one notable exception). Querl is moody, aggravating, passionate, and brilliant, qualities that drive his teammates from extremes of admiration to annoyance.

Shadow Lass (Tasmia Mallor, planet Talok VIII)
Born and raised as a planetary defender, Tasmia is a formidable warrior with the ability to cast impenetrable shadows, an interesting area-effect distraction she's used time and again to befuddle foes. Haughty but loving, she forms only a few close relationships with other team members, but those few bonds are unbreakable.

Wildfire (Drake Burroughs, planet Earth)
His body destroyed by an accident that transformed him into "anti-energy," Drake Burroughs exists bodilessly in a containment suit, through which he can release bursts of anti-energy or all of that energy at once in a tremendous explosion. Drake has the personality of the arrogant jock he once was, tempered by the tragedy of his existence.

Ferro Lad (Andrew Nolan, planet Earth)
A mutant with disfigured features and the ability to transform his body into living iron, Ferro Lad is perhaps best known for being one of the first and few character deaths that stuck. During his brief time with the Legion, Andrew was well-loved for his bravery and loyalty, traits magnified by his heroic sacrifice saving Earth from the dreaded Sun Eater.
Saturn Girl (Imra Ardeen, moon Titan)
One of the Legion's founders, Imra Ardeen is a powerful telepath from Saturn's moon Titan. Reserved and sometimes (unfairly) seen as somewhat cold, Saturn Girl was one of the first Legionnaires to marry and have children, roles that have given her some added dimension over the years.
Night Girl (Lydda Jath, planet Kathoon)
Lydda is super-strong UNLESS she's in direct sunlight, a limitation that relegated her to the Legion of Substitute Heroes for years. But with a can-do attitude and breathless optimism, she proved herself time and again to eventually join the Legion proper.

Honourable Mentions
Pretty much all of them, really, but with special affection for Supergirl, Superboy (often more interesting in their Legion appearances than in their mainline comics), Mon-El, Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Princess Projectra, Star Boy, Invisible Kid (I more than II), Lightning Lad, Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel/Duplicate Damsel, and Blok.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Fading Stones

Old photographs fascinate me. Here we have what appears to be a stone fence connected to a round stone building. Who shot this? Where did they shoot it, and when? What's the significance of the building?

Based on the other negatives on the strip, I can  limit the "who" to my parents or Dad's parents. "When" could be anytime between the 1950s to the 1960s. Beyond that...a mystery captured in silver nitrate. Or, since this is a scan, in photons, inconstant as memory.

UPDATE: Mom says this could be Upper Fort Garry, north of Winnipeg, sometime in the late 1960s. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

O Captain My Captain

By the time Star Trek: Picard debuts, it'll have been almost 20 years since we've seen any forward movement in the Star Trek timeline. I have to admit...I'm excited by this new trailer. And I have faith in showrunner Michael Chabon. If this show can capture what made Star Trek: The Next Generation work, I'll be over the moon. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Project Burger Baron: Tofield

Tofield's Burger Baron offers something I haven't seen before: the Baron Brute, a hoagie with cheese, pepperoni, and ham, presumably inspired by the Boston Brute.
Of course, no two Burger Barons feature the same menu--at least not in my investigations thus far. In Tofield, aside from the usual selection of burgers, they also offer a shrimp dinner, fish and chips, and flurries.
The exterior is as dilapidated as one hopes to see when visiting a Burger Baron.
I ordered the Baron Brute, fries, and a small chocolate shake, while Sylvia had the cheeseburger, fries and Pepsi combo from the kids menu. My Brute was quite satisfactory, perhaps better than Boston's, though not as good as the Loaf available at Leduc Diner. Sylvia's cheeseburger was oversized for a child item, and our fries were slightly above average, of the sort that require salt and vinegar. Service was friendly, though prep time was a bit slower than one might expect from a fast food joint. Luckily, we were first in line; the Baron of Tofield was quite busy this Sunday afternoon.
Outdoor decor includes this drill bit situated between two garbage cans.

All told, Tofield's Burger Baron meets the humble standards established by the other establishments that carry the name. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fallen Eagle

Tonight I made the mistake of watching one of the live streams replaying the first human exploration of the Moon in real time. The moment itself, of course, remains momentus  even 50 years on; but I'm deeply saddened by the ignorance displayed in the commentary stream, where it seems perhaps 40 or 50 percent of people have signed on simply to decry one of humanity's greatest achievements as a hoax. 

Some days I weep for us all. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

You Must Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

Yesterday, I had to skip lunchtime D&D at work because of a medical appointment. My character had been badly wounded in a prior episode, and I was at  death's door.  I exhorted my comrades to remember that I had an extra inspiration dice to use if I failed a death save, saying that my next character might be a bard, and no one wants that.

"I think whenever someone dies their next character MUST be a bard," said one of the other players.

"I was just going to say, a party of bards would be fantastic."

Somewhat tickled by the notion, I came up with some party names for such a band/group:

Dungeons & Dirges
F Troupe
DJ XP and the MinMaxers
Lute Not Loot
The Beatdown
Cutte, Thrust, Slash, and Perry
I of the Beholder
Jewel and the Gemstones
That Other Ring
Exclamation Mark and the Questarians feat. Interrobang

And my favourite...

Miami Wound Machine

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Crazy 80s Games Plays Caverns of Kafkha

Sean and I used to play this game for hours in the early 1980s, waiting patiently for the game to load from the cassette-based Atari 410 Program Recorder into our 16K Atari 400 computer. Good times. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

An Evening With Dread Cthulhu

Pete Kickstarted a Cthulu game, and this "miniature" of dread Cthulu himself was the first piece to arrive. This photo doesn't do the piece justice. It'll look even more amazing when Pete paints it, as I'm sure he will. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Stantec Tower in Miniature

Here's a brick-build model of Edmonton's Stantec Tower, where I work. It's a pretty good representation--and quite a large model. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Gloom on the Horizon

Sylvia and I went shopping on Friday night, and during our excursion I finally succumbed and bought Gloomhaven, the well-reviewed but incredibly bulky board game of adventurous dungeon crawling. The box weighs 9 kilograms! 

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Over the course of the last few days, I have screened twelve films starring Sylvester Stallone: Escape Plan 2: Hades, all eight Rocky/Creed films, and today, Over the Top, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and The Expendables 3. Over the Top is hot garbage that will convince you civilization is unworthy of salvation. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot hurts the brain, but somehow manages to be (somewhat insufferably) endearing. The Expendables 3 is just sad, because it features a great cast of action stars of the past forced into a by-the-numbers revenge story. I can't help but feel The Expendables films would have worked far better back in the 1980s.

This experiment is not recommended. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

A River Unknown

This image of a rushing creek was on the same negative strip as the photo of Hope and William Woods I posted yesterday, so presumably it was shot at roughly the same time and place. I wonder what they were thinking when they shot this; what was significant about this torrent of water?

CORRECTION: Upon checking the negatives again, this photo was not on the same strip as the shot of my grandparents. Mom speculated that perhaps this was part of the road to Flin Flon back in the 1960s. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hope and William

Yesterday I scanned some very old black and white negatives for Mom, and among them was this photo of my paternal grandparents, Hope and William Woods. They both look quite young here, perhaps the youngest I've seen them; I have no idea where or when this photo might have been taken. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Another Birthday for Mom

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thanks for raising Sean and I, and for keeping us looking stylish in the difficult-to-navigate 1970s.

Mom looks great in this photo, and I love Sean's deer-in-the-headlights stare. I should clean up the dust and scratches. 

Monday, July 08, 2019

Slash and Burn

Yesterday I made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. The grilled cheese is perhaps the simplest of culinary exercises, and yet somehow I managed to burn two fingertips and slash two knuckles during the preparation of this repast. I can explain the fingertips; I flipped one of the sandwiches too suddenly, and to prevent it from leaving the frying pan, I held one edge of the bread up to shift its centre of gravity, tipping it back into the pan. Doing so burned my fingers on the hot toast.

I am at odds to explain how I slashed my knuckles, though I note that each knuckle slashed is on one of the burned fingers. 

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Rocky Weekend

This weekend, I screened the Rocky films from Rocky to Rocky Balboa. My quick impressions:

Rocky: Just as good as I remember.
Rocky II: Better than I expected.
Rocky III: Better than I remember.
Rocky IV: As bad as I remember.
Rocky V: Not quite as disappointing as I expected.
Rocky Balboa: Far better than I expected.

Were I to rank these, I'd say Rocky, Rocky Balboa, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky V, Rocky IV (which is to Rocky movies as Rambo III is to Rambo movies; hilarious but embarrassing Cold War propaganda).

Having watched these pretty much back-to-back, I find it amazing how Stallone and his co-creators managed to milk a very specific formula to create four good-to-great films out of six. I look forward to Creed and Creed 2

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Aldon Gray

Mom sent me some old pictures of her first cousin Aldon Gray (left), of whom she says: "He landed at Normandy and walked all the way to Germany with the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He was lucky to survive, as he was in the infantry and was under fire a lot. As he was single, he stayed in Germany to help with the displaced people until he came home in 1946. He was a quiet person, but very smart. He died in Deer Lodge (a military hospital) in Winnipeg at the age of 97. Your dad and I went to his funeral."

I appreciate Mom letting us know this slice of family history. I cleaned up the photograph she sent a little bit. I wonder what that piece of equipment is to Aldon's right; it looks like either a spotlight or one of those signal lights with the shutters. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

Old Colony Ink Bottle

Here's the bottle of ink itself, removed from its box. I should see if I can find myself a fountain pen to match. 

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Old Colony Ink

When Mom visited Manitoba last month, she bought me a present: this fountain pen ink. The packaging is in great condition, considering its age. I didn't realize Rexall was such an old company; this packaging looks like it might be been designed in the 1940s or 1950s. It's appropriate, though, because I work in Edmonton's Ice District, right next to Rexall Stadium. Pretty nice gift for a writer! Thanks, Mom! 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Quick Take: Spider-Man: Far from Home

Far from home, far from home, shinier than burning chrome
Entertain? Yes indeed; Meets all of your cinema needs
Go out! Go see Far from Home

Is it good? Yes, you bet; you'll be caught in this spider's web
Hey there! Best of the MCU?

Like a fresh ingenue Tom Holland really shines
And Jake Gyllenhaal is a master of crimes

Far from home, far from home, has a thought inside its dome
A pertinent message to give your brain a thought to chew
Look out! Is anything out there real? 

Far from home, far from home, stay until the credits are done
Or you'll miss a surprise that'll make you spit your fries
To me, this is a real good movie; yes it's a real good movie
Hooray for Spider-Man! 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Quick Take: The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout (Tony Scott, 1991) is loud, brash, treats women like props, and it's ugly. But somehow it works, and I think because the creators understand the toxic masculinity on display is, in fact, toxic. Sure Joe Hallenback (Bruce Willis) gets his wife back and wins the respect of his daughter in the end, but there's no undoing the havoc wrought earlier in the film; Hallenback has still lost his best friend, Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) isn't getting his murdered girlfriend back, the football players ground down by the professional sports machine aren't escaping their fates.

Willis is really great in this as perhaps the bitterest private eyes I've ever seen, and his dialogue (courtesy of Shane Black, I suspect) is hilariously cynical. The action is intense yet just on the right side of believable, well-shot and edited, with gritty, violent, believable consequences. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. 

Monday, July 01, 2019

Shut Up & Sit Down Reviews Crokinole

I really enjoy crokinole, and my dad and his dad were really good at it, playing in tournaments together. So in their honour, and to mark Canada Day, here's the Shut Up & Sit Down review of one of Canada's most popular gifts to the  world, crokinole.