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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Shattered Sink Shards

Sean, Sylvia, and I went to Leduc earlier today to visit Mom. While uninstalling a light fixture in the upstairs bathroom, sean managed to drop the bulb he'd been unscrewing right on top of the bulb he'd unscrewed previously, shattering both bulbs into shards that filled the sink. It was pretty spectacular. After that, though, Sean really did a championship job of installing the new fixture. I helped a little, but Sean's greater height and reach meant he wound up doing the lion's share of the work.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Quick Takes: Maggie

What a sad, lovely vignette Maggie (Henry Hobson, 2015) turned out to be, with a heartbreaking, vulnerable performance from Abigail Breslin as zombie-infected Maggie and a surprisingly warm, sensitive turn from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually sheds believable tears here. It's a meditative, slow-paced film, more character study than horror movie, though there are certainly a couple of horrifying moments, grounded by poor Maggie's experience as one of the infected. Her dad, Wade (Schwarzenegger) spends the entire film keeping a dim flicker of hope alive, but you can tell he knows his little girl is doomed, and that one day soon she will succumb to the disease and turn into a mindless, raving cannibal. His only choices are to put her in government quarantine...or put a merciful end to her suffering.

Efficiently directed with stark yet beautiful cinematography and a smart, chilling, but compassionate screenplay, Maggie is horror with a heart.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tick-Tock Talk: A Quick-Talk Watchmen Update

It just keeps getting better every episode. If you're not watching, start. And check in later this year for my thoughts on the complete series. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Future Beatles

The other day, I heard The Beatles' "Real Love" playing on the radio, one of two new songs the three surviving Beatles released in 1996; John's part was reconstructed from an old demo. It occured to me that Paul and Ringo could, presumably, pull the same trick again, pulling in demos from both John and George; and so, too, could the last survivor repeat the trick with his three fallen mates. 

But even after the last Beatle leaves this earthly plane, it seems to me that technology will, if it hasn't already, progressed enough to sample what must be hundreds of hours of Beatle vocals and instrumentals to produce entirely new songs, and perhaps even completely new albums. Could you even really call such a project a true Beatles production? Certainly not, if you're a purist, but imagine if some pure-hearted genius brought the band back to life this way? We've already seen digital reconstructions of dead actors in film; why not dead bands?

Well, the answer to that question, of course, is because the world moves on and we should embrace new artists instead of wallowing in the past. Even the greatest artists have a natural lifespan, do they not? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Countin' Bagels on the Wall

Today, at about 12:30 PM, I went to the lunchroom to retrieve my lunch from the fridge and toast a bagel. As my bagel toasted, I read a few pages of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, chatting with my colleague Stephanie about the book's themes. When my bagel halves leapt free of the toaster, I smeared generous helpings of generic herb and garlic cream cheese across their golden-brown faces.

Then, I gathered up my lunch. In my left hand were my beverage, two Mandarin oranges, my iPhone, and my plate and the bagel halves it held. I kept my right hand free, knowing that I would need it to scan my passcard to get back through the secure doors that separated the lunchroom and adjoining elevator hallway from my desk.

All seemed well as I strolled down the elevator hall. Moving with great care, I reached for the lanyard holding my security pass and moved it toward the scanner. Alas, the delicate balance of my overloaded left hand was upset, and the plate holding the bagel halves pitched forward. I watched in stunned disbelief as the bottom half of the bagel slipped off the plate and landed cream-cheese-side on the wall next to the scanner, sliding down a couple of decimetres before sticking in place, like an arcane object d'art.

"Ouuarrgghhh!" I yelled. A colleague approached, eyes wide, and said "Oh, wow." He held the door open for me as I peeled the bagel from the wall and scrambled for my desk, putting down the remains of my lunch as I searched for napkins. Finding same, I headed back to the scene of the accident, just in time to see three more colleagues gazing at the cream cheese dripping down the wall.

"I wonder what happened there," my colleague Tyler said as Monica and Ashley gazed at the mess. Fists full of napkins, I quickly explained the situation. Tyler, Monica, and Ashley chortled at my ineptitude.

Resigned, I turned to the slowly congealing mass of cream cheese and began to wipe the wall clean. With exquisite timing, the vice president of my department walked by, looking askance at me; I had to explain again as I wiped away the goo. Only later would I notice, too late, that the belly of my shirt was also coated in cream cheese.

"Oh," she said dryly. "I thought you were just being unusually diligent about upkeep."

I finished up and ate the bagel anyway in a fit of stubborn defiance. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Arena: The Contest

Many months ago, Steve, Jeff, and I kickstarted Arena: The Contest, a tactical fantasy battle boardgame with roleplaying elements. A couple of weeks ago our game finally arrived, and we unboxed a truly prodigious amount of gaming materials, including at least two dozen 28mm scale miniatures, several large miniatures including a big dragon and a REALLY BIG dragon, and a bunch of indoor terrain for extra immersion. Unboxing all the swag was a lot of fun, but as with all games, the most important question is: is it fun? 

It's a blast. The three of us played the introductory module, a player vs. environment encounter that saw our four heroes (I played two characters, since the scenario called for four good guys to balance the number of enemies) make their way through a lava-filled citadel to battle a number of monstrous thugs. I'm happy to report that the game is easy to learn but admirably complex, with many tactical choices available to players. The game art is gorgeous, hero characters have interesting combinations of abilities, and the maps are immersive and challenging (at least so far). I look forward to trying some player vs. player matches and the main campaign, which introduces roleplaying elements. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Skirmish at Procyon VII

Alien battlecruisers charged disruptors; every Federation gunboat hit jackpot. Instantly, jamming knives leapt malevolently near, overloading precious quantum resonators. Shields torn up, valiant, war-torn Xcelsior yawed zero. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mom in the Window

Sean and I visited Mom on Monday night, and she showed us her Christmas lights a little early. They look great! 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

On the Rocks

Here I am sometime in the early  1970s watching my maternal grandfather fish in a Manitoba lake. We seem oblivious to the fallen birch between us. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Spell Is Broken

Absurd bathos considered, deconstructing everyone's false hagiographies insults Jeff; knowing lesser men of putrid quality, reconsider stories that underachieve via wasting xylophones' yodelling zeal. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Dinner Party

Aunt Barbara couldn't do everything: friendly guests helped; I joked knowingly; ladies made new onion poppers; quiet Ralph sliced tomatoes; useful vixens wrote x-rated, youthful zingers. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Doctors Recommend

Although bananas contain delicious enzymes, few gastroenterologists have included jade kiwis, lecturing many nurses on proper quality refreshments, suggesting, totally understandably, various wholesome xanthin yew za. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Charge at Numidia

“Abracadabra!” bellowed Caesar, disintegrating every foe galloping hither, incensed jugglers keeling lengthwise, maddened Numidians on ponies quickly raising swords, thrusting underhanded, vexed, wary, xenophobes yelling “Zounds!” 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Superman vs. Apollo

Many years ago, Jeff and Susan and Ron and Tony came over to make some silly stop-action movies with me. Here's a screenshot from one of them, "Superman Gets Drunk:" Superman assaults an innocent Command/Service Module (CSM) from the Apollo program. I really need to digitize the video and post it on YouTube. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Message from Keith

Keith Gylander was one of the first, if not the very first, friends I made when we moved from Manitoba to Alberta, by virtue of living next door to us in Leduc. (The photo above captures him in Grade 9.) Today I received an unexpected email from Keith, which read, in part:

I am sorry to have just learned of your father’s passing, a year and 10 days ago today.

I remember touring Leduc and riding down 46 Ave the summer before last on my motorbike, lamenting the status of what is now left of my parents' once-proud home (gulp). Your mom and dad were out front and I pulled up to the curb, unrecognizable with my loud bike and full-face and shield-tinted helmet. Still, your father came happily walking up to me to say hello. Even after I took off my helmet I still needed to tell him who I was - ha ha.

He was the same jolly, friendly and outgoing man I knew him to be from the day I first met him 40 years ago (gulp - the sequel). As I rode away from our brief chat, it felt good to know that at least some willowy tapestries still connect us to the whimsical days of youth. He is a good man.

Keith and I exchanged some news, but this part of his message (published here with his permission) really moved me. It was nice to know that people still remember Dad fondly, and nice to hear that Keith and his family are doing well. Over the last few years many people in my life have endured struggles of all kinds, but the ties of friendship and family help us all pull through. Thanks so much for the note, Keith. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Earl's Hat

Behold baby Earl
In a hat of stylish cut
Captured as the photons whirl
Head inside a cotton hut

Baby Earl, heedless of fate
Not yet fat from dinner plate
Some 50 years will ebb and flow
Until this photo on Earl's blog goes

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ye Old EBN

Wow, it's been over 20 years since I was publishing my own little newsletter, Blazing Earl News. I sent it out to about two dozen friends. I think Andrea designed this particular logo. Or was it Sean?

Blogging made EBN redundant, though I do miss the little frills of desktop publishing - mostly the freedom of creating your own layouts.

Best of all, though, were the contributions from my friends. Now, that was fun; in a sense, I was the smallest-time editor ever. But I had a great time doing it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography: Talk to the Hand

This might have been a nice shot of Pete had Colin not thrust his hand into the fray. However, it the resulting photo still has some kitschy charm.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Beside the Rock

Hidden in plain sight
She stalks her prey
In the forest deep
(Pay no attention to the logging road)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Face of Alberta Health Services

"Sean Woods is putting my health information into my hands! Thanks, Alberta Health Services!"

Photo by Scott Friel. Modelling by Sean Woods. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Build Your Own Dungeon

This is pretty neat: a randomly-generated dungeon layout for your favourite medieval fantasy roleplaying games. Thanks to Pete for the link. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Mini Golf Monologue

Mini golf. A child's game. A sad parody of the real thing.

Putters only. Mine is clutched tightly in my fist. No silly chicanes or cartoonish windmill arms will stop me from shooting nine straight holes-in-one.

It's hot. Teeth clenched. Sun beats down, mocking me. Grip sweaty. Hole out of focus. One simple bounce off the east boundary and I'm in. Just the right angle. Just the right amount of force.

I swing. Gently. But firmly. "Clack" goes the ball as it leaps forward, off my club. "Click" goes the ball as it caroms off the wooden boundary.

It's heading right for the hole. Simple. A child's game.

The ball hops over the hole, petulantly. Comes to rest against the back wall. My face turns red. I hurl the putter, screaming. It bends in half against a tree.

I fall to my knees.

It's beaten me.


Monday, November 04, 2019

Flower Child

I haven't yet touched up this photo. The negative was in pretty rough shape. It's me in Flin Flon, presumably sometime in the early 1970s. We had that kitchen table for decades. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

One Year Ago...

Dad left us a year ago today, and we still miss him. I'm still angry because Dad wanted to live, he fought, and he still had things he wanted to do. I'm trying not to be angry because I know Dad would want me to just enjoy life, so I'm trying. But it's hard. Miss you, Dad. Love you. Hope you're flying. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Blade Runner 2019

November, 2019

When I watched Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre two years ago, I was profoundly moved by Denis Villeneuve's vision of Las Vegas, a sandblasted, orange-hued, radiation-scarred wasteland littered with the gigantic fallen idols of exploitative, runaway capitalist excess. Just as in Ridley Scott's original Blade Runner film, Villeneuve presents us with what some science fiction critics call a "crapsack world," one ruined by some kind of catastrophe, usually caused by humanity's shortsighted folly. In the case of the world of Blade Runner, the wildly overpopulated and perpetually rain-slicked dystopia of November 2019 (we know the date from the film's title card) is an environment so oppressive that the abused androids have more humanity than the actual humans in the film. If anything, the world of Decker and the Nexus androids has grown even more bleak by 2049, still a world divided between the rich elite and the exploited masses, human and manmade, kept in line by bread, circuses, and to perhaps a lesser extent the implied threat of quasi-fascist police violence. Both movies are gorgeous, thought-provoking, and ultimately heartbreaking. The films, together with the book, are a warning: this is the way the world is headed, if not in fine detail, then in general outcomes. 

Now our timeline has caught up with that of the first Blade Runner film. It's November 2019, and while our world can't quite yet be called a dystopian crapsack, I wonder how it will look in 2049, or 2099. If we are very fortunate, the visions of Scott and Villeneuve and, of course, the visionary Philip K. Dick, will have scared just enough of us just enough to steer the ship of history on a better course.