Friday, December 29, 2006

Break Time

I'm outta here for a week. In a few short hours I'll be relaxing my way behind a steering wheel as we careen down I-94 to Detroit Metro Airport. There, I'll be further relaxed as I cram into an aisle seat in what passes for air travel these days. But it'll be worth it when we disembark at Orlando airport and I see the first palm tree; assuming the luggage arrives.

Disney, I'm coming for you.

And I'm bringing my wallet.

See you all soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

For Pat

We've had out share of loss over the past 12 months: cancer, death, afflictions - all unexpected and sad. And as we prepare to say goodbye and good riddance to 2006, the old man with the scythe took one more parting swipe - and we lost our friend Pat.

54 years young with energy enough to be a popular teacher to her Grade One pupils, Pat was the kind of person you'd like the moment you met her. I met her some 20 years ago on my first trip to Dee's family cottage. Her family has the cottage next door and has been friends with Dee's family since god-knows-when. Our first meeting was memorable mostly because (1) she was the first person I saw as we pulled into the cottage dock and (2) she was wearing the smallest bikini I'd ever seen (and I would soon learn this was her standard attire for 2 months every Summer).

Over the years I got to know Pat and her husband Henry as two of the kindest souls I'd ever meet. This is not hyperbole; they truly believed in kindness towards All as their way to live in the world. Even more special for us, my kids - especially JediBoy - formed a special relationship with Pat. They spent Summers playing with Pat's dog, baking her donuts, learning to ride one of Pat's waterbikes, or just chillin' on Pat's dock. All of this was just woven into the fabric of their cottage Summers - expected and perhaps taken for granted.

When we lost Pat just before Christmas, it was not expected. The sudden onset of a rare blood disease took her from us in just 5 short weeks. We all took it hard, but no one harder than my kids, I think. This was their first real meeting with death: grief, a casket, new kinds of manners, 200-odd mourners and most of them Strangers. They did us proud and I know it was hard for them. It was hard for all of us.

So goodbye, Pat. We miss you. It still hurts, and this Summer it will hurt again when we pull into the dock and you're not there. I think we'll cry again.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Comes Early

A mea culpa: This post was largely cribbed from BoingBoing and Cityrag. I was so excited, I wanted to share with you all.....errr....all 5 of you.

Back in 1994, a guy named Jerry Beck apparently wrote a book about the 50 greatest animated shorts of all time, as voted by the animation industry. We all might disagree with some of the choices or omissions, but I have to say that it's very cool to see The Big Snit in there at #25!

The good people at Cityrag found copies of these online (all except 6) and posted the links for all to enjoy. I've also duplicated their list below for your convenience.

Merry Chistmas!

1. What's Opera, Doc? (1957)

2. Duck Amuck (1953)

3. The Band Concert (1935)

4. Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)

5. One Froggy Evening (1956)

6. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

7. Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)

8. Porky in Wackyland (1938)

9. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951)

10. King Size Canary (1947)

11. Three Little Pigs (1933)

12. Rabbit of Seville (1950)

13. Steamboat Willie (1928)

14. The Old Mill (1937)

15. Bad Luck Blackie (1949)

16. The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946)

17. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor (1936)

18. The Skeleton Dance (1929)

19. Snow White (1933)

20. Minnie the Moocher (1932)

21. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)

22. Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

23. Little Rural Riding Hood (1949)

24. The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

25. The Big Snit (1985)

26. Brave Little Tailor (1938)

27. Clock Cleaners (1937)

28. Northwest Hounded Police (1946)

29. Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953)

30. Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

31. The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950)

32. The Cat Came Back (1988)

33. Superman (1941)

34. You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940)

35. Ali Baba Bunny (1957)

36. Feed the Kitty (1952)

37. Bimbo's Initiation (1931)

38. Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)

39. Little Red Riding Rabbit (1941)

40. Peace on Earth (1939)

41. Rooty Toot Toot (1952)

42. The Cat Concerto (1947)

43. The Barber of Seville (1944)

44. The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)

45. Book Revue (1946)

46. Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)

47. Corny Concerto (1943)

48. The Unicorn in the Garden (1953)

49. The Dover Boys (1942)

50. Felix in Hollywood (1923)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

We Are Kings (and Queens!) of the World

Appropos of the upcoming radio radio-stravaganza hosted by our own patron saint of Geekdom, Kid Dork, a news story surfaced this morning which got me thinking that it's been a pretty good year for Geeks. The BBC is planning to make a variety of programming available to the masses via a Bitorrent-based download service - in High Def no less! From the article:

The new deal means that users of the software will be able to download high-quality versions of BBC programmes, including Red Dwarf, Doctor Who and the League of Gentleman. Classic series such as Fawlty Towers will also be available through a BBC "channel".
This is pretty good news - and further entrenches the BBC at the vanguard of embracing the Internet Age. But this isn't the only good news for Geeks in 2006. Consider:

Time magazine's 'Person of the Year' is you. Or is that us? With the growth of grassroot collaborations such as Youtube, Wikipedia, Linux, and Myspace, the editorial staff at Time opined, "It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." Sounds a little hyperbolic to me, but maybe it'll get someone to put aside their PC Gamer mag for a few minutes and leaf through a copy of Time..

Video games truly entered the mainstream - and just in time for Christmas! There was the expected media hoopla around the arrival of Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, of course. But what I find a far more fascinating turn of events is the TV advertising push for Gears of War and Call of Duty 3. Gears of War is the far more impressive ad in its use of of Tears for Fears' Mad World and it's generally melancholic feel. CoD3 seems to be a much more pervasive ad; and I'm officially sick of seeing it! The fact that both of these ad campaigns are buying major air-time during non-Geek programming is (to me) a pretty significant shift. Are they marketing to parents? Is this a recognition that gamers no longer 'fit' a cliched demographic? Perhaps the bargain bin at EB Games will tell the tale come January.

Worldwide sales of video games (and related products) are expected to reach $30 billion (US) in 2006. That's billion - with a 'b'. To put this in perspective; this twice the combined revenues of the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball. Furthermore, there are kids out there making 6-figure incomes on the professional video game circuit. If I could only convince my own brats to forget about math and spelling and fire up the PS2 for a little practise session. Hell, I'll supply the Doritos and Jolt.

My mother can now record a program on her VCR while she watches a DVD. My father knows the meaning of podcast. Now that's progress.

So what does this all mean, you ask?

It's simple - we are all Geeks now. We can dress poorly with pride, pasty-white skin is 'in', and our lunch money is safe. Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Craptastic Cartoons

Joe Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera fame) died yesterday at the age of 95. There's no doubt he was a 'success'. As co-inventor of Tom & Jerry, The Flintsones, Scooby-Doo, and countless other animated characters, he was acclaimed by both the entertainment industry and fans alike. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find many people in your own circle of friends who have not seen a Joe Barbera creation.

By all accounts, he was part of the pioneering wave of American animators that sprang up in New York and Hollywood in the years surrounding The Great Depression. While not on the same plane as Walt Disney and Chuck Jones, Barbera carved out a niche in producing an amazing range of programming for theater audiences and (eventually) TV.

Ultimately, the name Hanna-Barbera became synonymous with 'quality' - or lack of it. To deal with the enormous costs required to manually produce a steady stream of cartoon shorts, Barbera opted to produce cartoons with less detail, fewer drawings, more reliance on stock footage, and more reliance on recycled stories. As technology advanced, they embraced it as a way to produce fill-in drawings and further reduce costs.

Low-cost, cheap,-looking - this is how I remember the work of Hanna-Barbera. Out of all their work, the only cartoons I can say anything good about are Johnny Quest, the original Scooby-Doo shorts, and (sometimes) The Flintsones. For the most part, I found their cartoons - including the ones I liked - to be uninteresting, mean-spirited, low quality junk. The characters: usually 'one-note' and generally (but not always) unlikable to me.

I'm no purist, but what is the appeal of Tom & Jerry?

The news reporters will fall all over themselves today in eulogizing Joe Barbera because, after all, he became rich and successful and recognized for his life's work. But me - I'm largely mystified by it all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Space Camp Guy

Somehow this guy has become a Web meme all on his own; to the point of performing his now-legendary 'Space Camp Song' on Jimmy Kimmel back in November. Why am I always the last to find out about these things? Have a listen - and just try to get the chorus out of your head:

I always wanted to go to Space Camp, but that's another story for another time...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Laws of Irony No Longer Apply

I'm one of those people who still believes in the old fashioned value that a cellphone exists to make a telephone call to someone else. They shouldn't be used for browsing the Web, listening to music, or snapping a grainy photo. I'll accept that some amount of gaming may be acceptable, but only as a means of deflecting the responsibilities of parenthood in key situations.

Fact is, I've carried a cellphone for only the last few years. This is my begrudging acceptance that I need to be available to my family at all times. It's just that way with the crazy schedules we have.

Today, I learned I might be wrong in my cellphone philosophy.

On a lunchtime trip to a local mall (Whiteoaks, for all you Londoners) I saw something that Made Me Believe. I wish to (insert your deity) that I could have taken a photo. I really do. But because my cellphone clings to my misguided, old fashioned values - you'll have to settle for the thousand words in place of a picture.

She's a Mennonite (maybe Amish?) lady at the mall. She's on the far side of middle-aged. She's dressed completely in black: long woolen skirt, blouse, heavy shawl, heavy-looking woolen bonnet. I'm assuming she's there to shop.

She's talking on a cellphone.

Correction: She's talking very quickly, in some Germanic tongue, on a cellphone.

Further correction: She's talking into the cellphone loudly and excitedly - occasionally pulling it away from her ear to stare at it. She turns it over. She turns it around. She goes back to to her excited German-ish conversation.

I walk by, trying not to be too overt with my stare, but it's much too out-of-place to ignore. It's actually fascinating to watch this person in an apparent verbal deathmatch with technology that, by rights, she shouldn't have.

I wonder about this in silence. Why is she here? Who is she talking to? Where is this other person? How did she come to have this cellphone? Who was the salesperson that sold it to her? What was going in his head?

Later in my trip, in another part of the mall, I encountered what I would assume to be her kin: a teenaged boy and an middle-aged gentleman. They're both dressed in heavy black woolens and flat-brimmed hats; both speaking something vaguely German.

Guess what. They had a cellphone, too.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Scary Mary

I'm a Disney fanboy. Love the movies, love the parks, love the way their marketing machine manipulates my emotions. If I were ever the subject of one of those Freeps 20 Questions columns, I'd hope one of the questions was "With what famous historical figure would you like to have dinner""; just so I could say "Walt Disney".

In spite of my fanboyishness, I have to say the following re-cut of Mary Poppins really rocks. Who knew Julie Andrews was so creepy?

By the way, Walt was 105 yesterday.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

With Friends Like These...

A few years back I saw 'news' report on a mini-phenomenon call Real Doll. I'm guessing I had the channel set to Showcase - but I digress. I remember having 4 reactions to the story:

  1. That artist/inventor has done something amazing!
  2. Ummm.... those dolls are kinda hot! Do they really, you know, work?
  3. Who is so lonely that they'd shell out $5000 for one of those?
  4. So, is there a website?

In the final analysis, my thinking has been that Real Doll is a fascinating (albeit, dark) corner of Western culture - but the members of that community must be among the most pathetically lonely people on Earth.

I was wrong. I pray this business isn't making money, but I'm probably wrong about that, too.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Tree Mouth Exclusive! This grainy photograph was smuggled out of the London Police Force's heretofore secret basement forensics lab; home of their shadowy Paranormal Investigations Group (aka PIG).

So here's a shout-out to the Freeps, Macleans, NatPost, and the Enquirer. There are more where this one came from. Let the bidding war begin.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Sixth Sense

I see trees with faces.

Well, not faces exactly; more like mouths. Big mouths. Up in the branches. Smiling with big, toothy, reddish-lipped, kite-eating smiles ripped straight from a Charlie Brown nightmare. Why are they in London? Why now?

So far, there's one down at the Forks of the Thames keeping watch over the playground and splashpad. I've also seen one near the railway overpass on Wharncliffe near Horton.

Am I the only ones who is seeing these? Why is the media ignoring this? I must get a picture of these twisted cousins of the Ents. I'll post one here if I can.

I see trees with faces. Do you?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chaos in the Blogosphere

Weather is choatic, but climate is not. That's all there really is to Chaos Theory, and that's how I've always kind of perceived this thing called the Blogosphere.

While the Net continues to grow and morph with every passing second, at any moment it's fixed in space, time, and capability. And within this somewhat fixed system there are approximately a gazillion blogs percolating in a gazillion dark little corners (with a gazillion minus 100 known only to friends and family).

The Blogosphere is this roiling, chaotic 'thing' that seems wholly unknowable; even as it's 15 minutes of fame passes with every breathless media pronouncement on how important (or not) this all seems to be. To me, it's much ado about nothing. Blogs exist for the simple reason that they're an effective way for people to share/reach out/have a voice/show-off/wank off. It's Speaker's Corner for us all (the good kind, not CityTV's).

So to hear that there are actually Canadian Blog Awards really blows me away. I had no idea this exists. I had no idea of the depth and breadth of blogging in Canada. I have no idea how the whole thing works.

I was not nominated.

But my virtual friend Sheena was, and that's cool. Congrats Sheenster, I hope you win!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ok, This is Cool

In my previous post (about a decade ago) I mentioned that I'm loving Robot Chicken these days. The jokes are hit-and-miss, but what really fascinates me are the mechanics of the whole thing; how the tedious process of stop-motion animation can produce subtle and meaningful body language that adds so much to character and storyline. Robot Chicken has it figured out.

Natch, my fascination with stop-motion is nothing new. As a kid I was drawn to the likes of Gumby and Pokey. Back then, it was pretty amazing stuff. I even grokked Davey and Goliath, although I admit that I secretly longed to see Goliath go all medieval on Davey's ass once in awhile. And don't even get me started on all those wonderful Rankin/Bass El Cheapo Christmas masterpieces involving Rudolph, Kris Kringle, Snow Miser, Herbie the Elf, and all the rest of 'em. Burl Ives was meant to play a snowman, okay? MadTV has even done some pretty good stuff in this genre.

So..... it was Monday afternoon, and I had nothing but time on my hands. Somehow, I ended up on a website that talked about do-it-yourself stop-motion photography. I swear I did not intend to go there. Have you ever sat in your car, in your driveway, and wondered how the hell you just got home from work? It was kinda like that.

Anyways, I was on this site and - quite by accident - found some open source ware for doing stop-motion photography. Long-story short - I experimented, and it worked. I'm hoping to interest the kiddos in having some fun with this. In the meantime, I offer 14 seconds of diversion. Oh, and the answer is "yes, it's my hand in there". I'm so proud.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Chickens Are Friends!

I'm loving Robot Chicken now that it's legally available on The Comedy Network. For those of us who put their childhood toys through elaborate and (sometimes) torturous dramas, Robot Chicken brings those imaginings to life through stop-motion goodness.

Oh, and Sean - this one's for you. Cheers!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Suckerpunch Part Deux: Hit Me Again Please

If you're of a certain vintage and spent way too much time with the good folks of Hanna-Barbera, the name "Bad Luck Schleprock" will mean something. For the rest of you, Google is your friend.

It's been a Schleprock kind of week; to the point where I'm really wondering (1) if there is a Supreme Being and (2) why s/he is pissed at me. To wit:

  • work (as is in making a living) keeps piling up faster; which makes it difficult for me to maintain my Well-Paid Slacker persona
  • getting Mom's new-post-stroke-life in order moves at a snail's pace and I still feel like we're 'winging it' most of the time. Dealings with various medical and social service folks this week were decidely unfruitful. My advice: never get sick; but if you must, get really sick. Anything in between and you're on your own, it seems. Also, never lose your income.
  • fixing a flat tire in the middle of a freak snowstorm sucks ass.
  • the downstairs shower (the one I installed 10 years ago before I became the Uber Handyman that you see before you) sprung a mystery leak that may necessitate a complete tear out and re-install. *sigh*
  • finding out the spare tire is not full-sized and is low on air sucks ass harder.
  • got lost in Parkwood hospital twice; once on the way in and once on the way out. Double aggravation points were earned by having a memory-challenged senior in tow.
  • BandGeek's school trip (overnight camping at The Pinery) was cancelled because of the snow - after the bus arrived at it's destination, of course.
  • and now the capper.... found out someone I'm quite close with has developed cancer and started chemo this week. It'll be 2 months before we have a prognosis.
When did life get so damn serious? But as the week gently comes in for a landing on a sunny Saturday morning (when all things are possible), some bright lights:
  • Jedi Boy's birthday is almost upon us and I happen to know that one present he'll receive is an EB Games giftcard. This pretty much assures me the opportunity to play Zelda: Twilight Princess the day it comes out.
  • after some tinkering, the shower appears to be holding its water. Fingers are crossed.
  • my spouse has somehow arranged a family trip to Florida during the Christmas Break (minimum costs, maximum fun). Sheena, I'm bringing you mouse ears!
  • bonus fallout from the Florida plans; the logistics will guarantee that the family will not be spending Christmas in the Sudbury area this year! I actually like it there, but travelling at Christmas always seems like a chore.
  • BandGeek's camping trip was re-scheduled for next week, when the weather should be a sunnier 16C. She's a happy...errr....camper.
  • my cancerous friend underwent the first chemo treatment, and did beautifully well. No nausea, no nothing. Hope springs...
Here's to 'things can only get better'.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Because Turkey Makes Me Sleepy

If I've noticed anything during my 43 years on this planet, it is this:

On a sunny Saturday morning, anything is possible.

On a gray Sunday afternoon, nothing is probable.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Steal This Meme

Okay, I stole this from Sean aka Kid Dork, but I don't plan to lose any sleep since he stole it, too. Furthermore, I've sitting on this for weeks. By all accounts this should mean the Internet's statute of limitations has expired; so I'm covered there, too.

One Book That Changed Your Life

This is a tough one. As a teenaged, much thinner version of myself, I would say that The Lord of The Rings was likely life-changing; if only because it provided escape from a life that needed an escape hatch. In my twenties, Herman Hesse's Siddartha was somewhat life-changing in that it provided an odd sort of spiritual comfort. There's a pattern here, folks, but no single answer.

One Book You've Read More Than Once

A toughie! I tend not to re-read books, mostly because I'm afraid repeats will spoil whatever magical experience I had the first time round. The Hitchhiker's series is one I've re-visited a few times, but (as embarrassing as this is) the books I tend to read more than once are the ones I've forgotten that I've read before. This happens much too frequently and only supports my theory that being an amnesiac wouldn't be so bad. I mean, really; you'd only need 1 book, 1 movie, etc. etc.

One Book You'd Want On A Desert Island

Hmmm.... Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. Lengthy and totally immersive, which would help take my mind off starving and talking to volleyballs.

One Book That Made You Laugh

Another tough one! Douglas Adams's The Long, Dark Tea Time of the Soul. I still smile when I think about the part where a newly-minted ghost tries to use a telephone.

Umm, you had to be there, I guess.

One Book That Made You Cry

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Don't tell anyone.

One Book You Wish You Had Written

Every book I've ever loved, but if I had to pick just one - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell because it's so damn well thought out!

One book that you wish had never been written.

JPod by Douglas Coupland. I copied this from Kid Dork, but he knows how I feel.

One Book You're Currently Reading

The Cobweb by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George. Not great, but a page-turner nonetheless.

One Book You've Been Meaning To Read

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. I've always meant to finish it just out of spite.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cheap Date

Having recently replaced our Most Excellently Aged and Crappy furnace and air conditioner, any hope of taking a vacation somewhere, sometime soon has all but disappeared into a financial event horizon.

But with a little imagination and a lot of technology, anyone can vacation anywhere from the cramped corner where most of us hunch over our home computers.

"What you talkin' 'bout Crazylegs?", you're asking. "Fill me in wouldja?".

Here's the recipe:

A roux consisting of your home PC and enough comfy chairs for your travelling companions

A large dollop of Internet connection (the bigger, the better)

A splash of Quicktime movie trailers

A healthy shake or two of Google Earth

Mix well, and explore!

The kids and I make this a monthly habit it seems.

First, watch and re-watch all the latest movie trailers. It's entertaining and it's sometimes educational; what with all those interesting people doing interesting in interesting places we can't afford to go.

Afterwards, take a virtual flight anywhere on the globe and look at stuff - often in amazing detail. One of our favourite games; zoom into DisneyWorld and try to identify all the rides in the theme parks from our lofty perch high in the sky.

You make your fun where you find it, and it always kills a few hours for us.

Cheap date, indeed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Are They Flirting or What?

Help me out here - I'm confused.

It started with the older lady who prepares my inevitable plain-toasted-bagel-with-cream-cheese-please on those mornings when breakfast at home is impossible. I didn't take too much notice at first, but now that I'm paying attention - or what passes for 'paying attention' before the first cuppa joe - I'm finding that Bagel Lady is getting a tad, er, familiar.

"Here's your bagel, luvey.".

Luvey? "Well", I thought. "Maybe that's just how older ladies who sling bagels all day talk to their customers. Sort of a 'brassy dame' thing".

It always sounds kind of forced; like she's looking for her signature line and trying this one on for size. But, I'm getting used to it. My wince probably isn't even noticable anymore.

Today, it happens again. I pickup an iced tea at a mall food court establishment and the not-so-older lady slips me a quick, "Here's ya go dear" with my refreshment.

Dear? Beverage Lady looked to be my age, maybe even younger!

So what's it all about? Is this some new service industry meme? Am I getting more attractive in my middle-aged years? Is this all just faux friendliness?

Or is it just me?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simply Adequate

A brief interlude from the stress and worry of the past few weeks... The family and I did a quick overnighter in Toronto this past weekend. Since we really hadn't done much vacation-stuff this Summer, the 4 of us had planned a mini-vacation to The Big Smoke to play at being 'tourists' for a few days.

The plan: spend the inheritance on tickets to Spamalot and then cash-in a free family pass to the venerable Ontario Science Center. We'd separate the 2 events with a stay in a moderately affordable hotel (anything with a pool). Since the kids had never seen big-time theater and had never seen a taxpayer-funded tourist trap, we figured this a fresh, new experience for us all.

Spamalot was simply... adequate. Maybe it was our mental state, but the play just did not live up to its hype and price tag. The kids had a good time; laughing mightly at the killer rabbit, etc. I knew they would. Dee and I, on the other hand, just felt like it was mostly... okay. Not bad, not great; just okay. I don't really know what we expected, but it was pretty much verbatim set-pieces from the Python movie with often pitch-perfect delivery from the original. Somehow, it came off looking like bad vaudeville. I wonder if it's better for those without a rich appreciation for all things Pythonesque.

As for the Science Center, it sucked - hard. I hadn't been there in many, many years - but I sold it Big Time to the kids as a cool, hands-on experience. Alas, most of the exhibits (and I mean, like, almost 50%) were literally busted, broken, ex-exhibits. What struck me were the almost-garish marketing throughout the facility; posters, banners, floor decals, many flat-screen TVs. If the Center spent half as much on up-keep as they do on telling you how wonderful the place is supposed to be, we'd have an impressive resource. But it's anything but impressive these days. I just thank goodness we had a freebie pass instead of shelling out something like $60 to see the place (which doesn't include entry into their IMAX theater!).

On the plus side, the hotel was reasonable - and they had a great pool. The kids got to ride a subway for the first time and wander downtown TO for a bit. I think they've taken their first step towards loathing Toronto like all good non-Torontians. I'm so proud.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


It's been too long - way too long. But I have a story to tell about how the Dark Nasties hide at the edges of our world and wait for those calm moments in your life. When everything is humming along, and you think you have your shit together, these little bastards do their worst. They feed on contentment, I think.

It's been 10 days since they had their fill. This I know. 10 days previous I was on the phone with my Mom; inviting her to our home for Dee's birthday the following evening. 2 hours later my sister called. It was one of those late evening calls when you just know something is off-kilter.

"Mom's in the hospital.", she said. "They think it's a mild stroke. They're doing some tests.".

And it was a mild stroke.

The past 10 days have been harder than I could imagine. Physically, she's doing okay. A sleepy hand and a sleepy foot. Not perfect, but not bad either. The cognitive stuff ; there's another story. Phone numbers come and go. Her address is a mystery still. Numbers and letters dart back and forth on the page; familiar to her and yet not quite within reach. Questions are asked, and asked again. The past 10 days are vague.

And the question looms still. What to do with Mom? She's out of the hospital, but she needs supervision and help. We're trying as best we can for now, and we know decisions will need to be made. Not tonight, though.

More to come, I'm sure. There's so much more to tell.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What Would Seinfeld Do?

For years I've taken way too much guff from my hair. Don't misunderstand - this isn't some sort of metrosexual rant. So long as I can run a comb through my locks and have everything stay in a reasonable shape, I'm good to go. My problem is haircuts or, more specifically, finding someone who can give me a decent haircut.

Trish has been cutting my impenetrable helmut of hair for more than a few years. Until I met her I swear I hadn't had a decent haircut since I was 12. Given the thick, wavy mess that passes for My Hair, most barbers over the years have left me looking like (a) I had fallen asleep in a steambath, (b) a prison escapee, or (c) someone recovering from chemo treatments. You think I'm exaggerating? Check the photo albums.

We first encountered each other in a mall hair salon where she wielded the scissors while I sat and let her work her magic. She always did a great job and could carry the conversation where lesser stylists (is that the right term?) would clip in awkward silence. Knowing a good thing when I spot it, I made sure I hooked up with Trish every 6 weeks or so. Even when Trish left the mall and started working out of her basement studio, I stayed True Blue - even though it meant a 30 minute drive each way.

This was the routine for the past 8 years or so; but I eventually took her for granted. The hour of driving for a decent haircut began to wear on me and blinded my memories of bad barbers in times past.

I stopped going to Trish.

It was kind of easy at first. I simply neglected to make an appointment after the Christmas holidays. As 6 weeks bled into 7 and then 8, I passed the point of no return. I needed a haircut. Bad. But I was afraid to call Trish because it had been too long between visits and she'd know something was up. But I needed that haircut, all the same. And once someone else touched my locks and my 6-week Trish-fix turned into something like 12 weeks, there was no going back.

It's been over 7 months since I saw Trish. I've been slumming around this new Supercuts, and they generally have a done decent job for me. But they're all 'corporate' with their racks of salon accessories (structurizing paste? voluming gel? white grapefruit clarifying?) and their handy wall chart of assembly-line haircut styles such as The Tobias (see above), The Rib, and The Keith.

They don't care about me - it's all about the money. But they do an adequate job and so I pretend I like it there. But they're not like Trish. We had something special.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tiny Moments

There are moments in life that are small mercies in a world that has little sentimentality. Time surges forward and takes great, selfish bites out of our lives as we try to outrun the demands of jobs, families, chores; but there are those hairline fissures in time. Those moments that barely register on the clock, but insinuate themselves into our memories when all else blurs.


We recently had a pond built in the backyard. It started out as a small project, but as our imaginings materialized we found ourselves fine-tuning those initial ideas until, of course, the project grew. But it's done now. The pond has plants and fish. The fish have disappeared somewhere deep and dark and secret. The waterfall is noisy, but we're getting used to it. And, today, the smallish patch of flagstone grew 4 Muskoka chairs, courtesy of of the fine folks at Canadian Tire. One chair for each of us. This evening was the unofficial christening of our small oasis and we four sat by the pond, in the dark, listening to the rushing water, sharing a bag of Fritos, and looking, in vain, for some evidence of the Perseid meteor shower. Quiet conversation made time stand still for a little while. I must remember this.


I've started to read in bed again. Usually I'm far too exhausted for this, and it's far too convenient to thumb the remote and surf the tube until my lids grow heavy. But I decided to spend some time with Neil Gaiman. In the past 2 weeks I've devoured 'Neverwhere' and 'American Gods'. The latter is one of the novels that made me wish (desperately) that I could write. The moment.... coming home from a pub at 12:30am and staying up 'til 2am finishing that book. Just me, the quiet dark, and a novel that left me wanting more.


Speaking of Canadian Tire... An employee there - a young fellow who was obviously a part-timer - was actually helpful today. Maybe our expectations are low in a world filled with Bog Box stores staffed with people who know little about what their selling. While the shelves were devoid of stock, this fellow cared enough to 'check in the back'. He found what we wanted, he helped us through the checkout, and he helped load our purchases in the van. Afterwards I mustered all my reserves of earnestness and sincerity - difficult for a hardened cynic like me - and thanked this fellow for all his help. And the best reward; he was surprised. For a short moment in a busy parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, I think we both felt human.


Right now. It's late, I'm tired, but I'm here because I want to be. I've poured myself some Bacardi's with a splash of Coke. This is unusual because I typically self-medicate with either red wine (Wolf Blatz or Quai du Vin) or a slightly-chilled Corona. But tonight it's rum because I re-discovered that we actually have a liquour cabinet filled with....liquor. So here I am in the quite house working on a mild buzz and tapping on these buttons that form words, and the words form thoughts, and they're my thoughts. So screw the fact that the a/c in the van is dying, forget that I have to be up early (horse show....don't ask...), and nevermind that a dozen emergencies await me at work on Monday morning. Right here, I've made time stand still with very little effort.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Sweater Has Holes

The responsibilities of being married to a Northener include the occasional need to travel...well...north, to visit relatives sprinkled from Parry Sound to Sudbury. Prior to meeting my wife Dee, I was a typical Southerner who implictly believed that Ontario sort of 'stopped' at Barrie. What makes this extra odd is that I've lived in many parts of Canada that one could consider 'north', but northern Ontario was like this blind abyss for me.

Now, in daylight, a drive to Parry Sound or Sudbury (our usual destinations) can be fairly scenic - even engaging at times. Ironicly, this only happens once you're north of Barrie and away from the concrete clutches of Trawna. But do this trip after dark - as is often the case for us - and you're in a whole different ballgame.

When the sun goes down, highway 400 is simply too black to be interesting. Trees and rocks line each side of the highway. Regular bends in the road serve to obscure. All in all, this is a recipe for several hours of driving boredom. And lest anyone think that several hours of conversation with spouse and kids could fill the void, consider that (1) spouse will be sleeping in that way that just begs for photographic evidence and (2) kids will have headphones glued their ears and be plugged into either a Gameboy or DVD player.

To sum up - it's dark, it's lonely, it's boring, and there's an element of danger should I succumb to sleep. Oh, and let's not even talk about winter travel!

But there is hope somewhere on the radio dial. Whatever one's opinions might hold about our publicly-funded broadcaster, CBC Radio is nothing if not available. No matter where we are on these trips - London, Trawna, Barrie, Port Severn, Britt... - you can always tune into CBC Radio.

There was a time, many years ago, when CBC Radio was my warm, comfy sweater on these long trips. Throughout the evening I could drive, be entertained, and feel informed by the likes of As It Happens, Prime Time with Geoff Pevere, Ideas with Lister Sinclair, and more. No matter how isloated and dreary it was on the outside, there was a sense of familiarity, continuity, and intelligence on the inside.

But times has changed. Sure, we can still find CBC on the dial no matter we are. But the sweater isn't so comfy anymore. Some of the old CBC is still there, but it all feels cooler these days. Slick, derivative, and trying far too hard to be hip. Where the BBC and even NPR have an eclectic - even eccentric - personality to them, CBC Radio seeks out a mainstream that does not seem to exist outside of Toronto and Vancouver. Furthermore, the programming day seems to stop somewhere around 10pm when our country's public broadcaster sees fit to play hour after hour of blues and classical music. Why, oh why, cannot they simply repeat the day's programming overnight, or even broadcast the best of BBC (which I believe was once the case)?

Whatever the reason for their decline, I still pine for those days when CBC Radio was my familiar, old sweater as I drove those dark, lonely roads. Maybe that newfangled satellite radio has a purpose after all.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Aqua Nemesis

This, my friends, is a Dolfino Aqua-Leisure Steel-Set pool. It's 15' wide, 4' deep, and holds a volume of water approaching 4,500 gallons. That puts its theoretical weight at 45,000 pounds.

It's big, it's heavy, and it's fast becoming the Summer's offical Backyard Hangnail.

But let's start at the beginning. For the past 5 Summers the kiddos (Jedi Boy and Band Geek) have splashed around in a smaller Aqua-Leisure pool. It was (yes....was...) one of the pear-shaped soft-sided jobbies that have become de rigeur in suburbia. It was a pain, frankly. Always a hassle to setup and position just so on the level crop circle that was it's home year after year. Always the fear that it wasn't quite level and would creep amoeba-like towards low-ground in the weeks after fill up. Always never quite sure if there was too much or too little chlorine and algecide (damn those test strip things anyhow!). And always the extreme hassle of emptying it, cleaning it, folding it, and getting it back into the Rubbermaid lawn coffin that was its home.

This Summer, Aqua-Leisure #1 finally died. Oddly misshapen after its years of service, I enthusiatically dragged it to the curb one fine day for the garbage collector to transport it across the River Styx.


But the promise of a hot Summer and the doe-eyed pleadings of the kids meant that I was bound to replace the pool. Hence Aqua-Leisure #2 - bigger, badder, wider, deeper. It seemed to be a snap; unfold it on site, thread the 12 cross-poles through the pockets at the top of the liner, and connect the twelve down-poles to the cross poles. The kids and I had it assembled in 15 minutes. Then, just add water.

A quick pseudo-physics lesson: 45,000 pounds of water, while largely supported across the bottom of the pool, will still generate considerable force on the down-poles. Just for fun, add torrential rains every other day to soften up the ground. Now, let's add a randomness factor to how soft the ground will become under each down-pole. Now what do you suppose the results might be? Why, of course! The down-poles will sink anywhere from 1" to 3" into the ground!

If you've been paying attention, you'll already know that this sinkage will further result in a pool that it somewhat 'not level' - with bonus points for having 45,000 pounds of water sloshing dangerously against one side. On one hand, this is a prime candidate to win a prize on America's Funniest Home Videos. On the other hand, the threat of a pool full of kids suddenly forming a backyard tsunami is likely a bad thing - roll for damage, as they say.

So, after filling the damn pool (what will the water bill look like?) I was compelled to drain it and put blocks of wood under each down-pole - using varying thicknesses of blocks to level the pool and disperse the weight so as to discourage sinkage. Finally, add another 4,500 gallons of water and enough chlorine to sear the skin off any filthy kid that comes a-calling on a hot afternoon. Inevitably, all this work had to be done in sweltering 100C heat and humidity.

The end-result you can see in the photograph - a seemingly well-behaved pool to keep the kids cool and red-eyed for weeks to come. So far, so good. After 2 days there's no sinkage, no leaning, no dangerous sloshing. One of the down poles on the low side of the pool has developed a bit of a tilt, but nothing untoward (yet).

Lord, just get us through the next 4-6 weeks.
I promise I'll add chlorine, etc. on the recommend schedule.
I'll skim grass, bugs, and unidentifiable fuzz from the water's surface.
Just keep it all together, wouldja?
Then I get to tear the thing down for another winter.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tardy Boy

Now there are shades of meaning to Tardy Boy. Your choices:
  1. A terribly unclever putdown based on a variant of 'tard'; as in "what a (re)tard he is!".
  2. Recognition of a lack of overall timeliness in personal and professional matters.
  3. A character from a wildly unsuccessful series of Young Persons mystery novels written by Franklin W. Dixon's younger and lesser-know brother, Stan
If you guessed (1), you likely found this site by accident and it's also likely you believe Oscar Wilde produces a line of luncheon meats.

If you guessed (3), your trivia knowledge is reasonably impressive, but not quite (the rest of you should refer to Wikipedia).

Which leaves us with the correct answer of (2) and my sincere apologies to my legions of regular readers for a lack of new stuff as of late. No excuses are offered other than, "I've been busy". While my fingers have made only the most fleeting contact with my keyboard this week, I do have a mental backlog (insert the obvious joke here) of posts that may/may not entertain and/or bore you all.

Some possible posts in the days ahead may opine on such diverse subjects as:
  • why I'm mad at CBC Radio
  • how landscapers make me feel inadequate about my body image and my choice of fashions
  • how to have fun with 45,000 pounds of water
  • the awesome responsibility of having too many books
  • 'NSYNC had 4 guys who weren't gay?
  • and many, many more!
For now, time grows short as the hours grow long. But I'll be back. Oh yes, I'll be back....

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Recently Read

Further in my serial brain dump of apres-vacation posts, I managed to plough through a few novels in between dock repairs, paddle-boat trips, and all the other busy-ness that filled the past few weeks. What follows are not so much reviews as they are my slighly vapid impressions of the books I managed to read. I'll leave the real reviews for real writerly-types...

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is the lastest novel from Canuck SF writer Cory Doctorow. I highly recommend this book, but I'm at a loss to fully explain the story here. You'll probably dig this book dig hot babes who sport wings.... you're interested in wireless Internet access..... foul-tempered undead things are're intrigued about how a washing machine and a mountain could mate and produce offspring. While the story, itself, is pretty bizarre; the characters are compelling and touching enough to make the whole thing work.

jPod comes to us from somewhat-legendary Canuck writer Douglas Coupland. I wanted to like this book. I really did. The first few chapters were pretty satisfying and made me believe this book would kick ass.

Alas, jPod sucked ass.

Too precious for it's own good and it reads like a bad amalgam of Coupland's previous novels. I really cannot add anything else here other than to refer you to Sean Twist's spot-on review. Nuff said.

Historian David Howarth has elegantly summarized 1500 years of British naval history into just a few hundred pages in British Sea Power: How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas. This book is simply friggin' amazing. Howarth knows his subject well and weaves the facts into fascinating accounts of the major events in British maritime history. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for swashbuckelling sea stories and any insight into the inner-workings of ship-life before the dawn of the Industrial Age, so it's pretty much a given that I'd like this book. But, in fact, I loved this book.

You Can Beat City Hall

A few posts back I mentioned a recent parking ticket I was lucky enough to receive. The Coles Notes version: still 1 hour left on the meter, ticket unfair, couldn't dispute ticket based on my vacation schedule colliding with city policy for disputes, paid the $15 fine with an accompanying 'cheeky' letter to the city.

Now that we're caught up..... upon sifting through the post-vacation mail, I found a letter from the city addressed to Yours Truly. First reaction; my letter's slightly sarcastic tone pissed off someone downtown. Upon opening the letter I found that my $15 cheque had been returned along with a letter explaining that the parking meter was faulty. Yup, apparently the city's crack meter technician checked things out and determined that the meter was faulty at the time of my alleged parking infraction. I'm a bit puzzled at how this jives with the fact that the meter still displayed 1 hour of time when Meter Reading Guy issued the ticket. I won't even comment on the time travel implications around determining how the meter was faulty at a precise moment in the past.

Logic aside, my ticket has been rescinded, I have my $15 back, and one more faulty meter has been restored to pristine time-keeping condition. It all feels pretty good to me.

What? No Party?

Well, I'm back after a 2 week hiatus and this place hasn't changed much. I'm guessing I need a focused campaign to:
  1. Provide more edgy, compelling content - but that means I need focus and...ummm...content?
  2. Advertise my wee corner of the Net a little more. Goal: Have this blog appear at the top of the list for all Google searches for 'crazylegs'. Baby steps, always start with baby steps.
While my 2-pronged marketing plan refines itself in the back of my brain, I'll fill the vacuum with a few meandering thoughts about my 2 weeks at The Family Cottage - provided I can shout above the din of crickets chirping and wolves howling under a lonely full Moon.
  • personal electronic devices (such as my iPod) are invaluable when spending any time in an outhouse. Extra points if it's the middle of the night and scary sounds are all about.
  • what did we do before Bell ExpressVu? There's something wonderfully bizarre about being in the middle of nowhere and pulling down 500 channels.
  • 2 weeks without Internet access is cruel
  • baby Ravens are bigger than you'd think and can actually swim for short distances however unintentional it is...
  • Harvest Moon on a Gameboy SP is sorta cruel, too. This only makes sense if you've played Harvest Moon on a Gameboy SP.
  • Band Geek can swim better than I can. In a related vein, I have no problem using the pink pool noodle as a primary flotation device.
  • there's no such thing as a crappy chore if you're doing it beside a body of water (yes.... I was repairing a dock recently)
  • Internet access redux: Using a cell phone to browse the Web is stupid - unless you're doing it from an outhouse, of course.
  • food always tastes better on vacation, but I find I eat less. What gives?
  • I can't hold my breath under water as long as used to....
  • crappy chore corollary: any work done in sweltering heat that requires concentration and the use of both hands is, inevitably, perceived as a buffet invitation by biting insects of prehistoic proportions
  • whatever we build, Nature will wear it away given half a chance
  • Mead (as in wine mixed with honey) is actually pretty tasty stuff!
  • No one - and I mean no one - looks good with a diving mask on their face
  • avoiding the news of the World for 2 weeks is a good thing. Finding out how the World can change in those 2 weeks is a bad thing.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This Is It - For Awhile

For the next few weeks I'll be sequestered away up on Georgian Bay at The Family Cottage. Actually, it belongs to my wife's family. Lest anyone think I'll be sitting in a Muskoka chair offering Corona-toasts to the loons, think again. The cottage is almost 40 years old, working-class, and in constant need of TLC. As the designated "marry-in" on premises, I'll be spending the next two weeks digging up grey-water tanks, replacing deck boards, levelling doorframes, or whatever else needs doing. On top of all that, there will be (gasp) no Internet access for the next few weeks! But you know what? I like the change.

At all times I am cognizant of my readership's needs (all 3 of you!) and in light of my extended absence from the Blog, I offer the following odds-n-sods:

Our washing machine is in need of repair, so I've been doing some research on what I can do to get it back on its feet. Turns out that the washer needs a new set of 'agitator dogs' (about $7 worth). If I ever learn to play an instrument and form a band, we're going to call ourselves The Agitator Dogs. That would be cool.

I got a ticket a few days ago while parked at a downtown meter. The fact that there was over 1 hour remaining on the meter seemed to elude the Authorities. Fully intending to dispute the ticket (on principle, which is an expensive thing to have), I discovered that London doesn't really encourage disputes. I have 15 days to declare my intention to dispute in person at some city office during the oh-so-convenient hours of 8:30am to 4:15pm (Mon to Fri). Given the vacation schedule, my choices are to postpone the cottage trip or pay the fine. I hope the City puts my $15 to good use. I did, however, write a cheeky letter to the City and Mayor Ann Marie.

I'm bulding a water-rocket, but I'm stymied by PVC piping. That is, I need some Schedule 40 PVC pipe to construct the launch mechanism (just trust me on this). While this material is abundantly available 'south of the 49th', it is apparently a rare commodity here in Canada. It's something to do with the building codes, I think. This stuff cannot be found in London, except from a plumbing wholesaler who cannot (and will not) sell it to me since I'm not a professional plumber. As silly as it seems, I can buy the stuff on-line from a US retailer. I'd rather buy locally, but it looks bleak. If anyone knows a back-alley here in London where shadowy drifters sell illicit Sched 40 PVC, let me know.

Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) was a German TV space opera that pre-dated Star Trek. I learned this on the Internet. Here are some clips for you to enjoy.

Next time you hear someone say, "Go to hell" - point them this way. I don't know why I love this site so much, but I do.

Thinks that's it for now. See y'all in 2 weeks or so.....

Thursday, June 29, 2006

They're Making Me Grow Up - Part 2

So, apparently I'm old. And I can tell you when it happened; Monday, June 26 at approximately 8pm. There were plenty of witnesses to the event, too. You see, my daughter aka oldest kid aka Band Geek (sister to Jedi Boy) graduated from Grade 8. Officially a teenager since December last, and now, officially a High School Student.

So why does this make me old? Well, Gentle Reader - two reasons:

One - remember, it's all about Me. Or have you not been reading here lately?

Two - Things are changing. I cried a little as Band Geek picked up her diploma and a bevy of awards for those extra-curricular pursuits that Band Geeks...well....pursue. I was proud. Bursting even. And as hackneyed as it sounds, I sat there pining for the days when she was a bonafide little kid and I was Daddy and nothing was ever gonna change. There were even those lightening flashes of doubt. Could I have been (or be) a better Dad? Should I have done things differently? Yes and yes, I decided. I wanted a 'do-over', a parental Mulligan.

But I'm too late. It's changing. I can detect the subtle shifts even now - growing independence, newfound confidence, chafing under the authoritative yoke of The Parents. She has her own interests which, admittedly, still require the gentle indulgences of Mom and Dad. Me, I'm watching the old home movies more and more; recalling the good times when it was just Mom, Dad, and two needy little kids. Damn her growing up when I wasn't looking!

My single, irrational fear - wondering about the precise instant when Band Geek (and Jedi Boy, for that matter) will no longer be interested in doing The Family Vacation. For me, these have been sacred events. Just the four of us having an adventure. Together, we've walked on glaciers, shot whitewater rapids in silly divesuits, touched whales while hanging over the side of a Zodiac, scuba-dived in the world's largest aquarium, snorkeled with stingrays in the open ocean, taken Ghost Walks though Old Quebec City, seen every friggin' Pixar/Harry Potter/Disney/whatever movie on the big screen, geocached our way across the Maritimes, and spent way too much time riding Big Thunder Mountain at DisneyWorld.

Always just the four of us.

This is what I think about. I have loved every moment of our adventures, but Band Geek's milestone makes me realize that Things Will Change - and soon. In just a few short years it'll be boyfriends, a driver's license, Spring Break (not bloody likely), giddy weekends away with friends, a first beer, university, and.... her own life. Time will simply accelerate.

Ah, but I feel umbilical cord fraying.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Strangest Things You'll See Today

Two posts in one day, you ask? Well sure kids! Turn up those speakers 'cause it's Big Fun Video Time!

Bollywood Beatles?

Rare cult-fave Jan Terri videos.

Hope you enjoyed the show!

They're Making Me Grow Up - Part 1

SEP = Somebody Else's Problem.

Fans of Douglas Adams will recognize this term who's definition is something akin to the act of ignoring something deliberately. 'It' is something you're aware of out of the corner of your eye, but your brain refuses to acknowledge whatever 'It' is. Although Adams' version relied on 'SEP field' technology as a cheaper and more practical alternative to 'invisibility fields', SEP is more-or-less a metaphor for plugging your ears, covering your eyes, and chanting "La La La" until 'It' goes away.

We all have SEP moments. Yesterday I had mine. And it reminded me that I have to be An Adult from time to time.

My son (Jedi Boy) is a great kid; kind in an oblivious-about-the-world sort of way, good student, great friend, kick-ass video gamer. But he's had a few issues along the way that make him....well.... him. He's a textbook ADD kid; above average IQ with notable concentration issues. For some kids ADD (and ADHD) is pretty much a recipe for getting in trouble in between daily does of Ritalin. For my kid, it's been years of concentration exercises, sometimes-fatiguing school days, constant reminders to 'focus'; but no drugs. Karate lessons have been a godsend to improve his concentration and confidence. Through all of this has been an undercurrent of parental guilt over the fact we cannot 'fix' our kid, only help him help himself.

Sometimes ADD and hearing loss get mixed up. One can look like the other. We've known for a few years that he has some amount of hearing loss, but we've never fully bought into it on the basis of (1) concentration problems introduce uncertainty into hearing assessments for young kids and (2) our kid has none of the pathological issues of hearing loss - e.g. stunted speech development. All in all, he's done 'ok' and we were loathe to slap hearing aids onto each ear.

But yesterday we had to confront the truth; our 10 year-old kid does have a hearing problem in the 'moderate' range. There's no denying it now. Normal conversation is sometimes difficult with him. The volume on TV, etc. needs to be louder for him. We suspect he misses stuff in the classroom. Were it not for his much-improved concentration skills and basic intelligence, he'd be in a much worse place. And a renewed round of testing backs it up.

So now we're looking at hearing aids for him; one for each ear. And I cannot shake the Bad Feelings. Will this help? Is this just another item on the list of Things That Make Him Different? Will they be a pain the ass day-to-day? Will he get teased? How does he feel? Are these just my issues to deal with?

The kid is okay with it all, so it seems. His view; being different just makes him special. He says this without irony and maybe he thinks it's what Mom and Dad want to hear. So we're going to give it a shot and, maybe, it'll be fine. There's a part of me that simply marvels at how the Universe just loves to screw us over once in awhile; just for sport, beyond our control, and when we least expect it.

Addendum: Hearing aid technology is impressive. Some geek-cred for sure. Who knew they came in 'fun colours' for kids?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm Ready for My Close-up....

Today I was cleaning "the office", which is our household euphamism for the little room where we keep a computer and any other junk that looks remotely futuristic. So, anyways, I'm cleaning...ok...not so much "cleaning" as re-arranging stacks of crap and moving various action figures from one shelf to of Star Wars dudes, Gumby-and-Pokey poseable-play-pals, giant Buzz Lightyear, printer cartidges, computer manuals I'll never read, did we collect all this stuff?

So we've established that I was pushing bits of stuff around in a little room where we keep a computer. The point is, I found this webcam that I had forgotten about. I seldom brave the Boxing Day sales, but last year I found myself at Staples during Boxing Week and made this impulse buy. I have no use for a webcam, but it only cost $30 - regularly $80 - so I'd be losing money if I didn't buy it!

So I bought it, tested it (yes...I saw myself), then cast it into the miasma that is "the office". As is usually the case, lost stuff seems to become un-lost when you least expect it - probably because you never knew it was lost. So now I have this webcam, and I really don't know what to do with it. But it was a steal at $30!

Ideas and experiences on the topic are most welcome. Did I mention I got it for $30?


According to Wikipedia:

Fanboy or fanboi is a term used to describe an individual (usually male, though the feminine version fangirl may be used for females) who is utterly devoted to a single subject or hobby, often to the point where it is considered an obsession.

I've don't think I've ever been a Fanboy, but I've come dangerously close a few times:
  • Star Wars: A New Hope - teen-aged boy, X-wings, Princess Leia. Who could blame me?
  • Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark - barely out of my teens, a bullwhip, Karen Allen in a ripped dress. Again, out of my control.
  • Home movies - A digital video camera and some desktop software combine to fulfill my dream of making my kids the most-documented humans in Modern History.

On the whole, I've always kept my eye on that line that separates enjoying the hell outta something versus dressing up in costumes and standing in line for something. But I find I'm being sorely tested as of late, and I hope it's not just some isotope of Mid-Life Crisis. Books seem to be the main culprits these days:

The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson

A three-volume set (3000 pages) that attempts to tie together histories of monetary systems, international trade, modern science, and European history; all against a fictional backdrop that is often hilarious. Stephenson is one of my favourite SF writers these days, but this audacious effort goes beyond my expectations. A tough read, but well worth it. Makes me wish I were half as smart as the Author.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow

Doctorow is an upcoming Canadian writer (well-known in some corners of the blogosphere) who writes pretty good SF. Set in the not-too-distant future, the book focuses on a group of people who spend their lives obsessively trying to make DisneyWorld a better place. Since DisneyWorld is sorta one of my favourite places to visit (a topic for another post), the book was almost guaranteed to appeal to the likes of Me.

JPod - Douglas Coupland

Okay, I haven't finished reading this yet. As a bonafide professional computer geek, Coupland's Microserfs resonated with me when I read it 10 years(!) ago. Some of Coupland's work since then has been less to my liking, but I picked up JPod mostly on the assumption there'd be a Microserfs vibe there. Honestly, I've only read the 3-page stream-of-consciousness preamble to the first chapter. Coupland is amazing. I hope the rest of the book is as good.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Theater of Cruelty

This title is actually not mine, but let's start at the beginning of my explanation. Somewhere around the year 1982 (yes, yes; mists of time and all that...) when I was still a Student, it was required that I should take some manner of Liberal Arts elective in order to escape the semester alive. As a Student of 'computer studies', this news fell on my psyche like acid off a duck's back. Touchy, feely coursework was to be endured, not enjoyed. It was a beer-stain on the rich tapestry of logic and technology that I was weaving for myself. In short, I was not with the programme.

But, a credit was a credit and so I made my selection; something general interest that afforded a bit of literate sampling without too much commitment. A spoonful of Voltaire, a mere taste of debating skills, maybe some critical analysis for dessert - it might not be so bad, I thought.

And it wasn't so bad. Had it not been for this one, lonely credit I would never have been exposed to likes of Herman Hesse's Siddartha nor would I have taken the time to really think about the context that lies between People and Technology. In the years since, I have forgotten the professor's name - but I'm thankful for the chance to have been his Student.

Which brings us back to Theater of Cruelty; which I learned about during that semester. The term is generally attributed to French actor/writer Antonin Artaud (died somewhere around 1950 - although I could Google this I suppose). Artaud had a passion for the experience of theater. That is, he believed that the audience was a central character in any theatrical production, not merely observers. In fact, the theater-in-the-round concept that is popularized, for example, at the Stratford Festival was inspired by Artaud's theories.

Theater of Cruelty summed up Artaud's position that theater should be an in your face experience. It was all about shattering illusions of reality and generating a more visceral response from the audience who, in turn, would feed that whole vibe back to the performers.

The expression stuck with me all these years, and it seems to be a good metaphor for the Blogging experience. So, am I in your face? Am I shattering your reality? Hardly. But I'll wager that those who post their thoughts on-line with a modicum of anonymity are, by definition, speaking Truths hidden in their daily lives. And that's our own small Theater of Cruelty, isn't it?.

Cue the Afterschool Special tinkly music.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Blogging is Hard

So a few days ago I create this blog for the main purposes of (1) being able to post some comments on another blog and (2) just to see what this Blogger thingy was all about. I knew I probably should not (or maybe could not) actually write stuff here, but I had this weird compulsion to do it anyways. The same kind of compulsion that drives one to pick at a scab just to see what's underneath; all the while knowing that it hurts and looks gross.

A few posts under my belt and now I'm getting all introspective-like. Do I have anything interesting to say? Is there anybody out there? Can I even write something reasonably coherent? Pondering on these weighty questions, I think I've made a few breakthroughs:

  • Blogging is easier to manage than writing a journal (which I've forever intended to start but just never have...)

  • writing fun. I get excited when an idea pops into my head that might look interesting written down. This is tempered by the fact that my fun ideas are actually pretty boring after all. The 3 (count 'em!) posts to-date represent the Good Stuff. You've been warned.

  • further to the last point... I am developing an irrational fear that, after a few blog posts, I'm might enroll in a night school Creative Writing course on the mistaken belief that I could be A Writer. Talented people like Neal Stephenson and KD are writers. I'm a guy who likes to writes stuff down for his own cathartic purposes. I can't be the only one in the blogosphere with this fear. I think the Continuing Ed people need a heads up. Just in case.

  • I didn't think I'd care if anyone read any of my posts, but Comments are like crack. I think I do care. Must be my healthy - albeit suppressed - Ego.

  • It's waaaaayyy too easy to be too cute, too precious when writing stuff you secretly hope other people read. I wonder how actual, live (or dead) writers deal with the Cringe Factor. That's probably what they call editting. I must remember to do that more often.
So much for self-actualization. I must get back to thinking about that really interesting idea for a post about London's proposed pesticide ban. Or maybe that fun idea about those colourful people I meet downtown at lunchtime. Man, I got a million of 'em.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

From Failing Hands....

Literature and history are chock-a-block with father-son conflict stories. You know, the dramatic coming-of-age scenario where the son becomes a Man in his father's eyes; but only after some requisite conflict. At least, I'm pretty sure those stories out out there.

I seem to be playing a part in one such saga. My son, all of 10 years old, is decisively kicking my ass in what was once my sole household domain - video games. It started innocently with the now-ancient Nintendo deck. I showed him the ways of Mario 1, 2, and 3 with a patient paternalism, secure in the knowledge that he had only taken a baby step into a larger world.

From the old Nintendo we graduated, together, to a used Nintendo 64. Still, I was there to break the trail and show him the way. Then he discovered Zelda, and I lost him without realizing that cold truth. Where I was always looking for the next frenetic side-scroller, Ben was patiently exploring treasures and learning the magical songs of Link's ocarina.

From there, it was Gamecube and more Zelda, a dash of Starfox, a cup of Animal Crossing, some Spiderman, and more. Sure, once in a while he'd ask me to help him out of a jamb to finish some level. But I was being left behind, and I knew it. I was a spectator. In desperation I brought Sonic Head2Head into our world thinking it would take us back to the way it used to be - playing side by side with Dad always edging out a win or graciously faking a loss. And it was that way, at first. Soon, even the speed-demon action games were out of my league, however. He was just that good.

In my quiet desperation, I ushered him into a world I knew I could still rule - PC games. With twitchy fingers and a dispassionate eye, I revelled in my mastery of Jedi Knight 2, Pod Racers, Rogue Squadron, and many more; always with Ben by my side and, once more, as my pupil. Inevitably, even these games bowed before his younger reflexes and his determination to master their missions. And when he grew fatigued with space travel, I would find him inventing theme parks and riding the rides he imagined.

Ben soon graduated to a used PS One by way of his sister's short-lived fascination with Dance, Dance Revolution. But that was simply a gaming footnote beside his real prize - his beloved Playstation 2. From there, he entered a class of player that far eclipsed his father. Harry Potter, Kingdom Hearts 2; it didn't matter. He finished them all and never needed me for anything other than an occasional "check out this Boss, Dad!".

So this is the end of our drama, for now. Ben becomes the Master to his own video game Padawan. Sure, I have yet to relinquish my crown to him in some small corners of our gaming kingdom. Call of Duty 2, Medal of Honour, and Fear are still mine for the glory. But I know it's just a matter of time before he's old enough for these kinds of games and I'll be brushed aside again.

In the meantime, I'm content in knowing that we still share the same interests, even if we sometimes exist on different levels. Sure, he can fly an X-Wing through narrow canyons and summon whirlwinds by blowing a few notes into a strange flute, but (as I remind him) I get to stay up late and eat junk food all night long if I so choose. So there.

Addendum: Apropos of nothing in particular, except that someone asked me for this, here's the result of a (very) little Star Wars video project we did last Summer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Geekier Than Thou

I discovered a truth today, and it pains me to the core. Okay, it's not so much a truth as it is a suspicion. Apparently, there is a class of Geekdom that is a target of derision for even other Geeks. That's right, a Geek caste system. I've heard the sniggering and I've attempted to brush away the finger-point crosshairs from my chest. But I must face the facts - I'm a Geocacher.

Geocaching is a pursuit so pervasive and yet so shrouded in mystery, even Dan Brown doesn't know about us. But we're out there with our waypoints, our GPS receivers, and our pocket full of dollar store trinkets; all searching for treasure. We're right under your noses, searching through your neighbourhoods, and you Muggles never notice us.

In it's simplest form, Geocaching is a high-tech cross between treasure-hunting and hide-and-seek. 'Geo' belies the fact this pursuit is geographic in personality and scope. 'Cache' is a treasure chest of some manner - an ice cream pail, a jar, something that can hold items and protect them from the elements. Hence Geocaching has something to do with hiding and finding treasure chests somewhere Out There.

A typical scenario; Bob creates a cache and fills it with some treasures (doodads, geegaws, etc.), a log book, and (likely) a little written description of Geocaching. Bob then hides the cache somewhere in the world - literally. With his trusty handheld GPS receiver, Bob notes the coordinates (latitude and longitude) of his hiding place. Next Bob goes to a Geocaching website (try and registers his cache with some manner of description.

Now the fun begins.

Mary sees Bob's cache entry on the Web and uses Bob's coordinates to go off in search of the cache using her own GPS. It's not as easy as it sounds. Just because you know where something is does not mean it's easy to find. Mary risks life and limb to find Bob's cache and when she does, she signs the log book, maybe takes a treasure item, and then leaves a new item behind in the cache. In the final act, Mary goes to the Geocaching website and records her visit so that others, including Bob, can read about her adventure. In a sense, Bob and Mary have just played a variation of hide-and-seek, with Benefits.

Sounds like a laugh riot, eh?

As I darkly hinted, we Geocachers are legion. There are literally hundreds of thousands of caches hidden across approximately 221 countries today. In London (Ontario), alone, there are hundreds of caches. They're in our parks, off out walking trails, even out in plain site. And we're creating more every day.

Which brings me full circle to my suspicion. On a typical lunchtime walk through the downtown environs, I thought maybe a little Geocaching would be fun. Yes, Gentle Reader, there are a few caches hidden in downtown London. My usual walking partner is someone who, by profession, is a Geek of the computery sort. A fellow traveller in Geekdom, as it were. I was sure that this Geocaching thing would appeal to my friend. But in the thick of the hunt, he laughed and suggested this was too Geeky a pasttime, even for a professional Computer Geek. I think I even heard the word 'tricorder'. And the way he laughed..... long-ago childhood visions of being 'picked last' crystalized in my Mind's Eye. I knew I had slipped a rung on the Geek ladder.

But nevermind. I'm a Geocacher, and only one of many. We are Out There, you know.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm New, Be Gentle

I've been forced to create a Blog in order to comment on another Blog. This is the result. If you're reading this, I'm wondering why you're here. Obviously your Googling powers are something beyond what the World has ever seen.

Maybe something interesting will show up here sometime. Who knows. Stay tuned. But don't be disappointed...

Oh, and if you're still here, please leave a comment so I know it was you. Then just turn off the light.