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.