Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kodak Invents Time Travel

Earlier in 2010, my wife's grandmother passed away. She was likely the closest example of a 'pioneer woman' I'll ever meet: a bloody hard worker, found her joy in simple things, and had that suffer-no-fools attitude that I seem to run across in folks who hail from north of the French River.

Until shortly before died, she had spent the better part of her life in a thoroughly uncharming 100 year-old house on a side street in Parry Sound, Ontario. A solidly built structure, it was decorated in whatever struck the homeowner's fancy at any given time - a mish-mash of shag carpets and linoleum spanning several decades, all under the abundant, watchful photographic gaze of former pets and family. Repairs and renovations over the years were solidly executed, but favoured function over form without hesitation.

And so it was that we found ourselves in Vera's home sorting out the post-funeral details of her life. There were decades worth of showboxes and photo albums to investigate, catalogue, and pass along to other generations. In an ancient hutch we came across two rolls of unprocessed camera film - the cartridge styles suggesting something from the late 1960's and early 1970's. The geek inside me was just a little bit elated since it would inevitably fall to me to see about extracting any images of the past from these rolls.

This is where the story begins, I suppose. Over the next few weeks I would spend a few hours researching how I might get these old films developed and printed, assuming they were even salvagable. And I would come to the inevitable conclusion that no - and I mean almost no one - deals in still film processing anymore, with the possible exception of 35mm format.

Then I found a someone - an organization that goes by the name of Film Rescue International - who claim to specialize in processing of old films from still, disc, and movie cameras. They operate totally by mail order and Internet, and their process is simple. You send them your old films, which they process and put the proofs on a website for you to inspect. You then have the option of selecting which prints you'd like developed and/or copied to digital media and sent to you.

It seemed exactly what I wanted, although I was very, very leery at the prospect of putting Vera's films into an envelope and crossing my fingers. Without alternatives, however, that's just what I did - and it was the right decision. The folks at FRI are awesome, and everything is working as designed.

This past week, I got an email pointing to the FRI website where we can inspect our photo images. As I expected, time had been a bit cruel to the old film cartridges. Out of the 33 images that were lifted, only 15 or so are half-ways legible, amd even those are low-quality. But we've gone ahead and ordered our prints and CDs, anyways, and the folks at FRI will try to apply a little Photoshop magic along the way.

It's funny to me that the pictures look about right in how they show a small, Northern Ontario town of 35 years ago. Things should look like grainy black-and-white - everything so simple, so unremarkable. No one being pestered by the Internet, the cellphone, and the sticky produce of the paparazzi. There's a lot to like about these modern times, of course, and I'm sure those grainy black-and-white people wondered their fair share about the future. But looking at that old photograph above, a little part of me wouldn't mind playing a bit dirt-lot baseball now and again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Face for Radio

Pardon the dust - it's been awhile since the cleaning lady has come by. Most of the time, my days and weeks fly along with a pretty constant signal-to-noise ratio. Going to work, doing the home-things that need doing, remembering who goes where on any given night - it all whizzes by, the Remarkable made Unremarkable by time and speed.

But last week was different. Through the good and generous graces of my friend, Sean Twist, I was afforded the singular experience of becoming a radio personality for just a few minutes on busy Thursday night. While he's the linch-pin of the cult-classic podcast, All Your Basecast, Sean also graces the radio airwaves of London, Ontario every Thursday at 4:40pm on CJBK radio headlining a segment called Geek Corner - highlighting the latest in video games, comics, movies, and other concerns of geekdom.

Here's how it all came down:

Monday Night: Sean mentions to myself and AYB co-conspirator, Brian, that the three of us might have a chance to do a year-end, extended version of Geek Corner. We're game, of course, since it all sounds a bit abstract.

Wednesday Afternoon: The abstract becomes concrete as Sean emails/Twitters that the year-end Geek Corner show is going to happen the following afternoon. The time and duration are TBD, but Sean has a show outline that Brian and I need to plan around. Phone calls and emails are exchanged. Commitments are made. I have the sweats. Podcasting for a small number of listeners is one thing, yammering live on the radio for real people listening in real-time is something else.

Thursday Morning: I start cobbling together my thoughts according to Sean's outline: best game of 2010, biggest gaming surprise of 2010, and the like. I feel better about pulling this off, and then it dawns on me that I need to tell people to listen: my family, some co-workers, some friends. The sweats return and they bring their friends, the fanged butterflies, to gnaw at my guts for a bit.

Thursday Afternoon: Sean gives us the official showtime: starting at 4:20pm, ending around 5:00pm, be at the studio by 4:00pm. I send updates to all those people I told to listen in and begin my deep breathing exercises. I'm on the road to the studio by 3:30pm, fighting traffic all the way to arrive by 4:00pm, only to discover I'm the first to arrive. To my relief, Brian pulls into the parking lot behind me. Sean is tied up in traffic and arrives just as we head into the studio.

Showtime: After some introductions and waiting around a bit, the three of us are sitting on one side of the studio while Mike and Al, the radio pros who run the CJBK afternoon show, occupy the other side of the studio. Mike and Al are obviously in charge - just great guys who keep everything running smooth-as-glass while making sure us amateurs are fitting in properly. Mike does the intros, Sean sets the stage, and then we're off. Some 40 minutes later, we're outside the studio shaking hands with our hosts and talking about Epic Mickey.

The first 10 minutes of Geek Corner were slightly terrifying. I'm glad I made notes for myself because it was altogether too easy to go blank or get tongue-tied - problems I never seem to have when sitting in a bar with friends. Go figure. But Mike and Al (as well as Sean and Brian) are just so good about keeping things moving and keeping things lively. By the end of the segment, I was having a blast and would love to have kept things going.

Upon arriving home that night, I discovered no adoring crowds waiting in my driveway nor was a salutory telegram from The Mayor sitting in my mailbox. I did get a few phone calls and emails from surprised friends and family - all saying we sounded great.

My son, ever the realist, was disappointed that no one talked about the upcoming Nintendo 3DS and cautioned that my voice sounded a little weak at times. But he dutifully recorded Geek Corner for me so that I might store it away in my scrapbook. Against my better judgement, I listened to that recording and, predictably, I thought of approximately 1,000 things I could have done better. That's par for the course.

It's now Sunday and my 15 Warholian minutes have just about counted down to zero. Monday night we'll be recording another episode of All Your Basecast, and we're bound to re-hash our Geek Corner experiences. I may also get a few extended seconds come Tuesday night when I waltz into the dressing room over at Kinsman Arena and lace on my skates for another clash between Team White and Team Black. I'll suffer some good-natured barbs as I tell this story again. Somebody might even buy me a beer.

But soon it will be just a cool memory - something Remarkable that rises above that daily thrum of being a guy from the 'burbs who drives a beige minivan. My sincere thanks go to Sean, Brian, Mike, and Al. Thanks for allowing me to have so much fun and for adding a pretty interesting page into my mental scrapbook. Maybe same time next year, eh?