Thursday, June 27, 2013


Prior to visiting the historic battlefield for the first time back in 1997, Audrey and I watched the 1993 film Gettysburg in order to give us a bit of context.  We ended up going back to that pivotal Pennsylvania town two more times before moving back to Edmonton in 1999, and watched the movie several more times.  Eventually I ended up reading the Pullitzer Prize winning novel that the movie was based on, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels.  It's a great read that does a brilliant job not just of illustrating a critical battle, but of doing so from a multiplicity of human perspectives, and in a voice faithful to the period.

Yesterday I read a fascinating article called How to be Prolific: Guidelines for Getting it Done from Joss Whedon, wherein he reveals the methodology by which he turns out what has been, at times, prodigious amounts of quality work.  As grueling as television production can be, he stresses 'filling the tank' when one can: reading, watching and absorbing works from outside your normal patterns or comfort zone.

It was while filling his tank in the two weeks between seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that he read The Killer Angels, and came away with the idea for one of my all-time favourite television series, firefly.

Firefly wears its antebellum/Reconstruction theme way out on its sleeve, which suits me just fine, but the idea that one novel could inspire both a faithful historical reenactment as well as this unique space-western is absolutely mind boggling.  It also serves to remind just how long it has been since I read an actual factual paper book, allowing myself to be tied up with essays and articles online, and comics aplenty via my iPad.  I mean, it's still reading, but it is diffuse and diverse, and I hope to get back into books soon.

In the meantime though, it is quite a good article.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cold-Blood and Warm Hearts

For the third time in five years, Audrey has found herself laid off from her position as an Educational Assistant. This time, however, her future is even more uncertain, and if she does get called back, it is unlikely to be to the same school.

From a safety perspective a different school suits me kinda fine, but I recognize that this is just me being selfish, and that it takes a special kind of person to want to be in that environment. Once you have worked with that type, it is not too likely you are going to want to trade the people who heard the St. Crispin's Day speech with you for a potential bunch of glassy-eyed clock watchers. Not quite Stockholm Syndrome, and yet...

Still, this sad news didn't stop Audrey from following through on her promise to look after 'Dude', the Kindergarten class's leopard gecko.

The girls have talked about getting a lizard for some time now, and while I have no serious objection, I certainly have questions about space, lighting, the questionable aesthetics of our fridge hosting live worms and dead newborn mice (the endearingly named 'pinkies') and so forth.

Like his namesake though (waitaminnit, what the hell are kindergarteners doing watching The Big Lebowski anyways?), Dude is pretty laid back, and a good houseguest, dietary issues notwithstanding. He is not particularly leopardy, and may actually be an African fat-tailed gecko, so part of his easy-going nature with me might actually be due to common ground in that regard, but who knows.

I'm hoping Audrey can take Dude back to 'her' school in the fall, but that seems like a slim chance given the depth of the cuts this time around. Next best outcome is going to another school that will undoubtedly be glad to have her, since very few classrooms are going to be eligible to have an EA next year, and class sizes will need to increase due to a lack of teaching positions.

Obviously, budgeting of any sort involves having to make hard decisions sometimes, and living within your means is important, but we haven't even recovered from the effects of the Klein-era cuts from the 90s, and same as then, the ones most affected are those who can least afford it: the developmentally disabled,the elderly, and our children.

I mean, at least if Dude gets his tail cut off, he gets a chance to grow it back, y'know?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Not Just Dads

Neckties are still apparently the gift of choice for Father's Day, but it has rarely worked out that way in our household.  My most memorable gift was the big Black & Decker griddle my girls got me a few years back, because it lets me make pancakes 8 at a time, and we all know that breakfast and brunch are the most daddish of meals.  This year it was a cheeseboard, because cheese and sausage and the like have also become associated with daddishness in these parts.  Afterwards, Glory worked over today's Google doodle until she felt it was a reasonable approximation of me, and I have to say, it's not too bad if you go back about two decades for the hair...

Some of my friends have children, but many do not.  Raising offspring is not for everyone, and I fully appreciate anyone who comes to that realization on their own as opposed to having it pointed out to them by social workers or law enforcement officials.  (That's not to say that I am not saddened sometimes that some potentially awesome parents have opted out, but that is neither here nor there!)  There has to be more to the ideal of fatherhood than simply the ability to biologically sire a child, or even the ability to raise a child that is not of your blood, as we see so often in blended or adoptive families.  This profane but heartfelt open letter on is certainly on the right track, and echoes a lot of my own sentiments with regard to my daughters, but it's not where my thoughts are leading me today.

I firmly believe that we make the world a better place by making better people, and being a decent parent is only one of many ways of achieving this.  Having a positive influence on the people around you, whether they are parents or children (of any age!) can help everyone live a little better.  This is my second Father's Day without my dad, and it's got me thinking about the other men in our lives that shape us, prepare us and support us as we stumble about our world, trying to make a way for ourselves and those we care about.

  • The teachers who reached out to us and encouraged us to nurture our gifts.
  • The coaches who taught us healthy competition.
  • The uncles who spoke truth to us when we needed to hear it.
  • The bosses who balanced compassion and firmness.
  • The family friends who stepped in when our Dads couldn't be there.
  • The mentors who pointed out a better way.
  • The volunteers who fill the gaps of time, talent, treasure, and even blood.

We aren't always conscious of when we step into these roles ourselves, they just seem to happen.  One moment you might be a carefree bachelor with a clearly defined and widely respected zone of personal space; the next, your girlfriend's children are crawling all over you like a set of organic monkey bars.  And maybe that's all it takes, is being there at that moment, not defining it, not labeling it, but simply doing it.  The simple act of being there for their children is often too much to ask for some parents, so I am extremely grateful for any who try to draw up that slack, whether formally or informally.

On this Father's Day, I ask two things: that we recognize those transitory fathering moments when we have a divine opportunity to make the world a better place through a sometimes insignificant act of kindness, firmness, clarity or openness, and that we perhaps take a moment to appreciate those who have done this for us, or for others in our lives.

For myself, I had a great (but certainly not perfect) example of fatherhood to set me me on my way, good examples from uncles, coaches, bosses and friends to fill in some of the gaps, and a great family to help me learn the rest;  like the Google doodle says, I'm Feeling Lucky.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reference Works

(Warning: the references contained in this story will make no sense whatsoever if you have never seen the 1987 movie The Princess Bride.  If this is the case, you really are missing out, and you should take immediate steps to rectify this. This is so surprising to me I have to assume you found your way to this blog by accident.)

We relate to the people we work with in various ways, some professional and some personal, and it can be delightful when these two things overlap.

Yesterday I was talking with a co-worker about a superfluous document that our forms committee is diligently trying to remove from the packages we send to members.  In fact, this person thought this removal might already have occurred, but when I spoke to a person in the know, he explained it would still take some doing before we saw the last of it.

This morning, I told this authority that I had described the document’s status as ‘clinging tenaciously to the side of a cliff’, to which he quickly replied, “That’s right, and let me tell you, it sure isn’t Ingo Montoya at the top waiting to help him up, either!”

The Princess Bride is one of my favourite films, and the reference so well executed I had to exchange a high-five with him while I laughed, before adding, “You know, given the difficulty in executing these kinds of technical changes, the ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ are as good a description as any…”

He chuckled in agreement.  “Sometimes it feels like, ‘Simplicity? You keep on using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.’”

“Inconceivable!” I replied.

I’m sure many of the people around us simply thought we were displaying signs of sudden onset mental illness (which is ridiculous; it has been obvious to my family for years), but some passersby familiar with the source material nodded in agreement, and walked away smiling.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hammer Tyme

After the demise of her human paladin in D&D a ways back, Audrey was ripe for a change, and harboured a desire for something with more of a penchant for ass-kickery.  Although the previous assortment of heroes made it 7 levels without a cleric without a single death (until it all went pear-shaped), having a healer on hand can even the odds in protracted engagements, and in 4th edition divine vengeance comes in a multitude of flavours and sizes.  Race-wise, dwarves are sturdy and fun, so as a result, enter Loradyne Hammyrfeld, priestess of Moradin.

I started with one of the GW Queen Helgar models (seen below), did away with her shield, and replaced her not insignificant axe with a proper greathammer, or maul as they are sometimes known.
As a Wagnerian ideal, she should probably have kept the shield, added a spear, and been named Brunnhilde, but Loradyne Hammyrfeld is a great name for a Dwarf cleric, and I can't wait to see how she works out with dungeon party 2.0.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Generational Nerdery

When I was a kid, my Dad shared a lot of his passions with me: aviation, history, public speaking, movies, and so on.  Dad was a busy guy who really didn't have a lot of time for hobbies and whimsical interests, something I have made up for in spades.  Like him though, I am gratified to see my offspring expressing an interest in the things I appreciate, like wanting to watch episodes of Firefly with me now that Glory is old enough to appreciate them.

A month back, Fenya and I (and about 54,000 other people) visited the Calgary Comic Expo while Glory and Audrey attended a feis.  The highlight of our expedition was having our picture taken with the legendary Stan Lee, as detailed previously, but there were lots of other things that made this an enjoyable venture.

There were lots of shopping opportunities, and even though I had come with no needs whatsoever, I still managed to acquire more nerdly goods, like a Green Lantern hoodie for work.  Weta workshop from New Zealand, despite being a later arrival, had a huge retail and display presence featuring lots of items from The Hobbit, and Fenya took advantage of the chance to have her picture taken with a full-scale Gollum model.  I picked up a couple of fridge magnets made to look like the signs for the Green Dragon and Prancing Pony inns of Middle Earth.

There were t-shirts and goodies galore in the larger vendor's area, and while I grabbed some Firefly-themed decals for the Flex, Fenya showed exemplary taste in getting a Wolverine t-shirt dress.  I'm not sure how much use it is going to get though, since the first time she wore it to school, someone somehow mistook our beloved Canadian X-Man for Pikachu.  I don't believe this has ever happened to Logan himself, but I have a pretty good idea how we would respond, and I'm relieved Fenya didn't feel obligated to emulate him.

One of the biggest draws at cons of this kind are the various guests from the field of comic books, movie, and television, and a person could potentially spend an ungodly amount of money obtaining photographs and autographs from then, but I limited myself to our photo with Stan Lee and an autograph from one of my favourite film directors, John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing).  I also got renowned comic artist Neal Adams to autograph the hardback copy of Superman Versus Muhammad Ali I got a couple of Christmases ago, as well as a print for a friend.

We also had an opportunity to hear Stan Lee speak to a captivated audience, and his candour, effusiveness, and obvious love for what he does as well as his appreciation for the fans who come out to see him, made this a genuine treat.

Costumes abounded, but I always feel awkward asking the wearer if I can take their photo, and certainly wouldn't want to proceed without permission.  Besides, one party or the other is always coming or going from or to someplace, and you could easily spend an entire day doing nothing but snapping pics of costumes that cover almost every aspect of pop culture, from comics to movies and television through video games and tabletop games alike.    It's a bit surreal to see a Warhammer 40,000 Raven Guard stride past a Spartan from Halo, especially when you've just seen a fantastic iteration of The Question that looked like he stepped right out of the DC Animated universe.  I did make an exception for the two costumes that hearkened the furthest back to my childhood:

There was also a Back To The Future Delorean that you could pay to sit in, with money going to charity.  After taking the official pic, they not only let me snap a couple of my own of Fenya at the wheel, but took my camera so I could have one taken with her.

The time I spent with Fenya was far and away my favourite part of the trip, even while waiting in line with aching feet for our Stan Lee pic, or just jawing on the car-ride down, or while watching the White House Correspondents Dinner when we got back to the hotel, which is 'affectionately' known in the Beltway as Nerd Prom.  Sharing an interest in things often dismissed by the mainstream is at least as big a part of being a nerd as spotting the internal inconsistencies in your preferred imaginary universe.

'Professional nerd' Wil Wheaton was recently featured in a video shot by a new mum at the Calgary Expo, who asked him to describe what makes being a nerd awesome to her own daughter, and his response is, unsurprisingly, heartfelt, poignant and insightful.

The way we share the things we love, the courage to be passionate about those things in the face of scorn or resistance, the connections we make with other people in pursuit of that passion, these are all the things I am trying to pass on to both my daughters without even being fully conscious of it.  While I sometimes worry I am perhaps setting them up as targets for schoolyard mocking, I hope I am also showing them the worth of enduring it.

It certainly helps my credibility to have Wil Wheaton back me up!