Sunday, November 29, 2015

Midway Comeuppance

I hesitated before sharing this video of my speech from the recent Toastmasters conference and Humorous Speech Contest I attended; I don't feel I am at my best in it, and I often find it hard to watch myself on video.

On the other hand though, I did enjoy competing, there isn't a whole lot I would change about the content, and I managed to get third place in a field of 12 really good speeches. This may also be the only way my Mum gets to see the speech (Hi Mum!), so I am throwing caution to the winds and posting it here.

Before viewing, I do hope you will let me provide a bit of context, however.

Like all Toastmasters events, the Humorous Speech Contest contains a degree of formality and regulation, especially when it comes to timing and judging. Your speech is expected to be 5-7 minutes in length, with entrants facing disqualification if their speech is shorter than 4:30 (which I have yet to see be a problem for anyone!) or longer than 7:30 (something I have been known to struggle with).

In our club at work we use coloured cards to signal timing to the speakers: green at 5:00, yellow at 6:00 and red at 7:00, but at the District level, a professional looking desktop light tower about 18" in height served that purpose, and they demonstrated it to us during the sound check. I don't need to tell you, it all felt very professional, but this did very little to calm my nerves!

Making people laugh is key to a successful humorous speech (duh), but laughter alone is not sufficient. You are expected to present a structured speech with an opening, body, and conclusion, not just a monologue. The judges' ballots break the evaluation down into content (55%), delivery (30%) and language (15%).

I am generally comfortable presenting, but the intensity of the competition made me a lot more nervous than I was anticipating, Being chosen first to speak out of twelve competitors made things a little more awkward, and it didn't help my disposition any that the otherwise excellent Toastmaster (emcee), struggled with the title of my speech, "Midway Comeuppance", despite having gone over it with me successfully at the sound check.

As I walked up to shake Don's hand, I spoke up to gently correct him, but then had a momentary panic, as the timers are supposed to start timing at the very first utterance or gesture. If the clock started before the introductory applause, there was a significant risk of running overtime and being disqualified. Driving to Saskatoon, I had run through my speech numerous times and the timing was usually around 7:10 or so, and as a result, I was very concerned about my time, despite the fact that in previous competitions the same speech had never run much more than 7:00.

With very little I could do to determine if the clock had started or not, I resolved very quickly to do my speech as I had rehearsed it, and then use the timing lights to correct it if needed.

Speaking too quickly in public is something I have struggled with much of my life, and my anxiety made it more difficult than usual to control my pace, although I still managed to get a couple of small pauses fitted in there. My voice was not only tightened by nervousness and anticipation, but I was also recovering from a cold I had picked up earlier that week.

Aside from that, I am fairly happy with how it went for my first ever District Speech Contest. I did leave out a couple of lines from my previous iterations, and finished well within regulation time. In fact, there wasn't a single disqualification due to time, which was a real relief to all the contestants!

Please note: the sound in the video is a little rough in places; there were 200+ people in a high-ceilinged room, and although we wore lapel mics, there really wasn't anyone available to monitor and change the levels. As a result, things sound somewhat muffled and echo-y, but still seem largely discernible, at least to me; your mileage may vary.

At any rate, if you have 7 minutes or so to spare, here is my third-place winning speech, "Midway Comeuppance".  I hope you get a chuckle or two out of it, and would love to know what you think of it, since I have every intention of competing again at some point.

As always with these sorts of things, honesty and gentleness go hand in glove!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Speaking Competitively

I've always liked speaking, both conversationally and with a more formal audience. Despite this though, I resisted joining Toastmasters for a long time, probably due in some part to the supposed need to differentiate myself from Dad, who was an active member for many years.


Having resigned myself to the notion a certain degree of fatherly imitation is both inevitable and laudable, I finally became a charter member of the club they founded three years ago at APS where I work, and even ended up coining the name we went with (ToastmAPSters).


Our first two years saw us finding our feet as a new, virtually all rookie club, and learning the ropes of public speaking and leadership through the manuals and projects provided by Toastmasters International, the umbrella organization. This year one of our executive is actually involved in both our club and another one that meets in the evening.


Cheryl's broadened perspective and active encouragement has seen our club slowly creeping out of the rather insular shell we have created for ourselves and interacting with other clubs and the larger network that connects them. For example, after one of Cheryl's club mates helped to judge our humorous speech contest, I went and served as a judge on theirs.


As I was congratulating the winner, an earnest and engaging fellow named Clint, Cheryl came over to confirm if we were both going to participate in the Area contest (as I had won the ToastmAPSters contest the week before). Clint and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, "Sure, why not?"


The Area 51 contest featured myself, Clint and two other speakers from clubs in southwest Edmonton, one of whom was a very capable public speaker despite still being in high school. This time three members from my club were helping out and another had come along to cheer me on, which was very encouraging. I had tweaked the speech I had used at the club level, using my recent experience as a judge to make it a bit more thematic and ballot-friendly, and emerged victorious for a second time.


This made me eligible to represent our Area at the Division level hosted in Devon in three weeks' time. Now, I am nowhere near the most competitive person in the world, but I found myself becoming very focused, adjusting my speech a little more and rehearsing it in the car on my way to work most days, using the dashboard timer to make sure I wasn't going too far over the 7-minute limit.


The Division H contest featured the stiffest competition yet: six speakers including myself, all of whom had won two previous contests to be there, as I had. Once again, three clubmates came out to help with timing and judging, and to cheer me on.


The speaking order is determined by random draw, and I can't recall if I was last or second last. Either way I got to watch most of the other speakers do their thing, and they all presented very well. Two in particular stood out for me, and I thought a bronze or silver against this grouping would still speak well of my efforts, but lo and behold, I won again, and was asked to represent Division H at the District 42 Finals, which encompasses all the clubs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.


In addition to facing off against the best 11 speakers from over 250 clubs, this development meant travelling to Saskatoon this past weekend for the District 42 Fall Conference. I guess my my last time in a hotel alone would have been back in 2007 when I worked for Games Workshop, and my last conference like this would have been with them as well.


The two organizations wouldn't appear to have a lot in common at first glance, but when you take a group of people who are passionate about their interests and put them in close quarters with shared meals for a period of time, perspectives are shared and connections are made. Even without the contest, I would have been glad to attend the conference.



At the contestant briefing on Friday night, I had the misfortune of drawing the very first speaker's slot. There are varying opinions about speaking order, and of course, they can vary based on the number of contestants; but no one likes to be first out of the gate, and I was concerned that after listening to speeches for two hours that mine would have difficulty distinguishing itself against the other eleven.


On the plus side, I got to get my speech out of the way early, and could then enjoy listening to the rest. The second speaker had a great story about an eccentric character he met while hitchhiking, a young lady spoke about being in the 4th grade with a symptom reference guide and diagnosing her discoloured hands as syphilis, while another one ranted about Toastmasters culture permeating her home life to very humorous effect.


Listening to highly accomplished speakers for a couple of hours was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, especially once I had delivered my speech to 200+ people without a time disqualification, passing out, or soiling myself. All the while though, I had to keep reassessing my chances, and by the time the final speaker wrapped up, I thought I would be fortunate just to get on the podium.


I had been happy enough with my material, although afterwards I thought it could have used greater laugh density, as some competitors got an audience response with nearly every line. My speech had a nice structure to it, I felt, and featured a couple of twists, but in all honesty, with me just getting over a cold, I think my delivery could have been better.


When they announced third place, I was pretty happy to hear my name called, and the hitchhiking story and 24/7 Toastmaster speeches took second and first place respectively. I got lots of compliments from people I had never met, many of whom were surprised to discover that this was my first time competing out of my own club.


The recognition and encouragement are hallmarks of the Toastmasters experience, and are the kinds of things likely to keep me in the club for a while, but the best thing to come of it actually happened at the Division contest in Devon.


I had waited for an opportunity to tell one of the other competitors how much I had enjoyed his speech, and to express my admiration for his stage presence. He smiled as he shook my hand and said, "You may be the most articulate person I have ever heard."


I was flabbergasted. "'re in Toastmasters..." I sputtered unbelievingly, but he was adamant, so I thanked him profusely and made my exit as gracefully as possible with a dangerously swollen head. No trophy or certificate could compete with that feeling.


I'm hoping my experiences on the contest trail and attendance at the District conference will encourage more members from my club to participate in area competitions and perhaps attend the spring convention in Red Deer, but in the meantime, I am busy trying to find the kernel for another humorous speech for next year.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Louder Than The Band - Blind Guardian in Concert

I only started listening to Power Metal about 10 years ago, but I have been fortunate enough to see several of my favourite bands over the past few years: Dragonforce, Tyr, Sonata Arctica, and as of last night, Germany's Blind Guardian.

Not very well known in North America, Blind Guardian has been around since the mid-80s, with three members of the current band going back to 1988, which I would normally consider pretty good for a rock outfit.

On the other hand, their opening act, Grave Digger, are currently in their 35th year, and another German band that inspired BG at the start, Helloween, is also still kicking, so maybe Ponce De Leon should have gone to Finland instead? I dunno.

I had purchased Blind Guardian's latest album, Beyond the Red Mirror, back in March of this year, and although it took a while to grow on me, I came to really appreciate the complex orchestration and choral elements that made this collection of tracks sound truly epic.

When I heard Blind Guardian was coming to town, I pitched them to my friends as follows:

"Okay, imagine that Marillion and Queen had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to Slayer and Iron Maiden, and learning the classics in school while playing D&D and reading all the appendices to Lord of the Rings; that's Blind Guardian."

The opening act, Grave Digger, are still hard at it three-and-a-half decades later, but they never really grabbed us. Listening to them was a bit nostalgic in some ways, taking us back the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic, but the band has simply not kept pace with the times, playing familiar but resonant power chords.

There was nothing wrong with their sound, and some of us thought it was cool that their keyboardist dressed in black robes and a skull mask, like their trademark Reaper character. And considering the band was formed when I was in Junior High School, the fact that their lead singer can still perform in leather trousers is also kind of impressive.

Blind Guardian took the stage at Union Hall a little after 10:00, accompanied by the taped intro from their new album's opening track, The Ninth Wave. A dramatic and adventurous track with one of the band's signature sing-along choruses, it was an energetic way to open the show.

Unufortunately the Union Hall (formerly Goose Looney's and Thunderdome) is not the most sonically forgiving venue; in fact, I would say it has the worst sound of any site in Edmonton that is not actively engaged in industrial fabrication. To be fair, I don't really have the kind of ear that can tell how much is the venue and what might be due to the guy on the sound board, and I had earplugs in to save my hearing as well.

On the other hand though, when someone in the mosh pit holds up a two-foot wide sign that says "SO SORRY YOU HAD TO PLAY UNION HALL", well. It is never a good sign, is it? Whatever the reason, the sound never sounded crisp enough to me, with both the keyboards and the lead vocalist getting washed out at times.

Now, part of the reason I had trouble hearing Hansi Kursch's notes and growls is because the incredibly lively crowd sang along to the chorus on pretty much every damn song. From cuts off the newest album like Twilight of the Gods to concert staples like Valhalla, and a lot of tracks in between that I wish I had been more familiar with.

After the raucous sing alongs, my favourite element of the evening was the drummer, Frederik Ehmke, who climber on stage with no shirt and balanced power and precision throughout the show, and looked like he had a great time doing it to boot. I think that if you shaved Animal from the Muppets, you might end up with a smaller version of Ehmke, which is only a good thing.

All in all, it was a great show, maybe just shy of two hours, with an engaged crowd made all the more lively when Kursch told them they would be recording the show for a future live album. Hopefully my assessment of the acoustics is off enough to perhaps hear one of the songs on a CD one day!

We all had a good time, even the lads unfamiliar with the band, including Jack's dad, Jim, who came up from Calgary for a visit and the show. Thanks to streaming music services, most of them had a chance to sample some of the band's tracks prior to the concert.

I have more than enough black t-shirts, so I almost resisted the mercy table, but when I saw a how cool Jim's long-sleeve version was, it was a sure sale as soon as I found out they came in 3XL.

With a possible new live album on the way, as well as a Dwarf-themed project that has been gestating for something like 8 years, I was grateful for a chance to hear Blind Guardian live for the first time, especially with a great group like I went with. Hopefully they will return before too long.

In the meantime, I can console myself with the knowledge that the next concert I go to will be in a much better venue, when we see Delain and Sonata Arctica open up for the seminal power metal band Nightwish at the Winspear in March!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Refrigeration Aggravation

So, the old basement fridge packed it in a couple of weeks ago, which is unsurprising for an appliance 2-3 decades old, but still very disappointing. We are far too accustomed to the convenience of a second refrigerator, and not just for beer and defrosting turkeys either; bagged lunches are stored there overnight, bulk foods from Costco stage there briefly before they get repackaged and frozen, and yeah, beer needs a cool habitat to dwell in and I want to do my part.


Worst of all though, the termination of the lower deck refrigeration unit means that a sizable collection of stickers is going with it!


I got out the razor blade and was able to save about a half-dozen of them, but most of them just weren't strong enough for the transfer protocols. I guess this is how we learn to let go. I mean, if I wanted to keep the stickers, I could have left them on their respective sheets, right? But then they aren't really stickers, and I have a boring fridge, so in the end, I regret nothing. Well, except the death of the fridge.


Buying a new fridge seemed excessive to needs, but the idea of scouting out a bunch of old fridges on Kijiji filled me with apprehension, so I ended up going to a used appliance store that warranties their stuff. I found a much newer fridge at what seemed like a reasonable price. They offered to deliver it for a mere $65, but I was intent on maintaining my self-imposed budget, or using the savings to make the fridge less empty once I got it home by stocking it with an assortment of fermented malt beverages, maybe.


This turns out to be the worst $65 I never spent.


The staff very very helpful in getting the fridge into the Flex, although they cautioned me against starting it right away after transporting it on its side. We also managed to gouge the side fairly well where the tailgate latches, but I wasn't particularly worried about the esthetics of a basement fridge.


I got the fridge home and even got it out of the Flex and into the garage singlehandedly. When Audrey got home, I talked her into helping me mule it downstairs. After all, myself and one other person had gotten the old fridge in no problem, right?


This took the better part of an hour, nearly wrecked our little handtruck, and took its toll on my marriage as I futilely attempted to explain my rationale for saving nearly two thirds of a C-note. Oh, and it all took place mere feet from where Fenya was hosting a belated 17th birthday sleepover and playing Cards Against Humanity with her friends. Not being able to curse due to avoiding being crushed by a major appliance while being in earshot of this particular game being played by your firstborn is deeply ironic, I assure you; if you're rare unfamiliar with it, please just take my word for it.


Then the old fridge had to get hauled out of the basement, which turned out to be even more trying. You see, our little dolly is of the short-handled variety, meaning that in order to use it to move a fridge on a set of stairs,my oh essentially have to be under it. This was difficult enough going downstairs, but damned near impossible going up. During this arduous and tedious process, dragging and pushing an enormous brick-shaped object up an inclined plane, I pictured the Pharaoh standing over us with a whip, and started to hum 'Let My People Go', but was duly informed that this was neither helpful nor entertaining, so I desisted immediately.


When we were done, both of us were sweaty, grumpy and sore, with my back sending periodic twinges of pain like the plucking of a harp's E-string in case there was any danger of my forgetting my foolishness, but I have the look on my wife's face for that, so no worries.


The old fridge now sits on the patio until I can mule it to the Eco-Station, doors taped shut for safety, but not making me feel any less red-in-the-neck for having a large appliance in my yard. Hopefully we can get it sorted before the snow flies.


The new fridge got plugged in Sunday night, very tentatively, even though it had nearly 48 hours to settle, and I am happy to report that it appears to be fully functional. Cleaner, brighter, with much more flexible shelving than the old fridge, there was clearly only one proper way to welcome this new addition to the household...


Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's...Good? - Spectre, Reviewed

It was a real treat this afternoon, going to see Bond XXIV ( in the theatre with the entire family for the first time ever.  After all, Glory was only 10 when Skyfall came out in 2012 (Daniel Craig's last acting gig), but since then both girls have seen all 23 EON Productions movies featuring the world's best known covert operative, and were really looking forward to Spectre, as was I.

After all, massive amounts of behind-the-scenes wrangling were needed to bring SPECTRE back to EON Productions, the shadowy and nefarious organization featured in at least 6 prior Bond films. Maybe too much anticipation on my part kept me from enjoying the film as much as I had hoped.

Oh, don't get me wrong; I still had a good time, and I think Spectre ranks above Quantum of Solace, but below both Casino Royale and Skyfall, for whatever that's worth. Your mileage may vary, obviously, and may be dependent on your tolerance or acceptance of the trappings from the more vintage Bond movies, such as megalomaniacal villains, a bit more humour, and an increase in gadgetry. Oh, and at long last, the return of the gun barrel opening, which I greatly appreciated.

Look, you're probably not reading this thinking, "I've never seen a James Bond film before, maybe Spectre should be the first,"; the odds are that you made up your mind well beforehand, based on either your slavish adherence to the 007 legacy (guilty as charged, your honour), the news that Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista were cast as the Villain and Heavy, or that this edition's Bond Ladies (director Sam Mendes' more respectful designation) are Monica Bellucci  and Lea Seydoux. Or perhaps you are a gearhead who bought your ticket when you found out that Aston Martin was designing an ultra-limited edition DB10 for the film, or that Bautista's Mr. Hinx would be pursuing it in a prototype Jaguar, whatever. My job at this point is to give you a sense of what worked for me and what didn't (without giving away any surprises, and there are some) so that you can set your expectations appropriately and enjoy yourself all the more.

Let's start with the bad: the plot. Now, I fully understand that if you go to a Bond movie looking for too solid a plot, you have only yourself to blame for your disappointment. As I do not depend on this franchise for a realistic depiction of investigative or espionage practices, I will settle for the barest gleanings of a clue leading 007 to his next car chase/ shoot out/ beat down/ seduction/ whatever, and intuitive leaps are to be expected.


When Bond gives Q (Ben Whishaw) the ominous octopus-sigiled ring he procured at the opening of the movie, I was certainly not expecting a brief laptop analysis of said jewelry to certify the legitimacy of Bond's inquiry as well as providing the next lead, without any explanation of how. The brief screenshots suggest some sort of geometric link between said sinister cephalod's shape and the organizational structure of the supersecret organization that no one in MI-6 even knew existed before the cold open. With no better rationale provided, I am left to assume that some very compelling footage of Q superheating the ring and then reading letters of glowing elvish script off the sides somehow ended up on the cutting room floor.

There are a couple more examples like that, but none so egregious. If you can look past a bit of hand-waving such as that, and things like Bond walking away from a nearly fatal beating at the hands of Mr. Hinx without so much as a bruise, there is a lot to enjoy in Spectre. (And maybe they left out the scuffing up because they covered that aspect so well in Casino Royale they didn't feel bothered to revisit it?)

The rest of the story has a lot to do with trust: who do we trust, and why, how is trust lost or gained? Some of this plays out with the other characters Bond encounters, including the daughter of one of his longtime foes, but there is a political angle to this as well, dealing with how intelligence is shared between powers in an increasingly surveilled world, and the consequences of that information falling into untrustworthy hands.

Spectre ties heavily into the mythology and continuity established so well in the other 3 Craig outings, giving the movies a more serialized feel, which I certainly appreciate. For instance, MI-6 Headquarters still shows the damage from the bombing in Skyfall, and is being prepared for demolition. Ralph Fiennes, as the new M, exudes credibility as a boss in charge of some very dangerous men, but also politically vulnerable due to a pending merger with MI-5 and its head Max Denbigh, played by Andrew (Moriarty) Scott.

There are also a couple of nods to the older films as well, my favourite being the establishing shot of a mountaintop clinic approached from the air. The modern glass architecture reflecting the snow-covered mountains surrounding it hearkens back to similar scenes from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The gracious villain providing lush accommodations prior to a final confrontation mixing civility with brutality is a Bond staple going back to Dr. No. And I don't want to spoil any surprises, but keep an eye open for a fluffy white cat, if you know what I mean.

The helicopter stunts in the cold open may be the best I have ever witnessed, with a real sense of inertia and tension created, and a fight with Dave Bautista is the most kinetically compelling setpiece in the rebooted series since the opening parkour chase in Casino Royale. And speaking of chases, Spectre delivers a great nighttime car chase in Rome, and even (gently) reintroduces gadgetry into the canon, albeit in a prototype countermeasures suite labelled with cheap-looking Dymotape, which I found delightful.

Fenya commented that this film felt a bit lighter than the preceding ones, and I am inclined to agree. While not sending off foes with witty one-liners a la Roger Moore, Craig does leaven some moments with tidbits of humour, while losing little of his ruthlessness.

The true ruthlessness, of course, is left to the villain Franz Oberhauser, as portrayed by Christoph Waltz. Some has criticized Waltz as a one-trick pony for his uncanny ability to mix charm and malevolence (although it is a pretty good trick).  Here, however, he plays with more of a flat affect and disaffected intelligence, toying with Bond as he reveals connections going back further than anticipated. To say he is a Bond villain in the classic mold is almost an understatement, and it feels like the films have been building to this.

There's more I will say to others who have seen the movie, but, intriguingly, the producers have crafted a Bond movie with just enough twists and turns to make it difficult to talk about! These surprises will delight some and annoy others, but I will leave you to determine that on your won, until we get a chance to discuss the film afterwards.

Daniel Craig is apparently contracted for one more Bond film, which is great; a lot of elements have been put into play by the end of this film, including a menacing organization, some new villainous characters, and an established support team at MI-6 of M, Moneypenny and Tanner.  I would love at least one more film to really round things out or wrap them up before the inevitable re-casting takes place (and hopefully just a re-casting; if they go full Spider-man with a re-reboot, I shall be quite put out).

If the Craig era ended with Spectre, well, things could be worse, but I think there is at least one more great outing left in the cast and crew we currently have, and this movie could make a very decent lead-in to it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Where (And When) Should the New Star Trek Boldly Go?

CBS recently announced that the Star Trek franchise is finally returning to small screens, if not exactly television. After a première on network TV in 2017, subsequent episodes will be available exclusively (at least to start) through their streaming service, CBS All Access, a move that has generated its own controversy.  Will people pay $6 (US) a month for the privilege of watching hot, fresh Trek? Some will, but I probably won't be one of them; I am just a shade too frugal, and content to wait until regular TV or BluRay or what have you. Besides, the show will be distributed internationally for television at the same time, so I am unsure how long that exclusivity will actually last.

But regardless of how or when I get to see it, I am very glad to see Star Trek swing back to its natural habitat: episodic storytelling. The movies have always given us great action and some wonderful character moments, but a TV series is still the best way to actually wheel out some 'big idea' science fiction and dynamic storytelling.

We are told by that "The brand-new Star Trek will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966."  The biggest question now seems to be when this new venture should be set, and whether it should exist in the contextual universe of the original series or the rebooted Abrams movies. 

For my two cents, we still want to drive the narrative forward, right? No more prequels or reboots, this is a franchise that could do with a return to its exploratory roots and actually show us something new, as opposed to the history of the Federation (Enterprise) or re-treading previous stories (Star Trek Into Darkness/Wrath of Khan)

But as a sci-fi audience we have matured a fair bit since 1966, so running into planet after planet of humanoids that we can talk to (I know, I know, universal translator, but still...) is just too implausible, and realistic first contact would take a miniseries to dramatize, and even then runs the risk of boring the audience. (Darmok notwithstanding, obviously.)

How about this idea, that could potentially work in either the original or rebooted Star Trek universe:

More than a century after Voyager returned home (or a couple of centuries after Vulcan was destroyed in the reboot), a galactic catastrophe occurs (war with another galaxy, a dimensional incursion, some space/time fragmentation, whatever) that not only results in tremendous damage to just about everything in known space, but also somehow corrupts transluminal space in such a way that it completely prevents interstellar flight and communication.

With trade and talk between the stars removed without warning, chaos reigns for a time, and when no solution is quickly found, these isolated island systems have no choice but to make their own way. Homeworlds are forgotten, as alien residents forge a permanent future on the planets they believed they were just visiting, but which will be their homes for the foreseeable future. Earth reflects the galaxy in a microcosm, as political unrest spills into war across the solar system, before a hard-fought peace is finally won.

Four hundred years later, the Vulcans (who else?) eventually solve the warp-drive puzzle, and send an emissary ship to Earth, asking for the Sol System’s help in re-establishing a United Federation of Planets that most Terrans think of in the same terms as Camelot.
Some systems have probably made out just fine, while others may have fallen to barbarism. Some planets and societies will gladly rejoin the fold, while others will balk at their perceived lack of independence. Piracy and lawlessness will no doubt take hold once greedy beings realize they can take to the stars again, and a strong Starfleet will be needed to give the fledgling Federation a fighting chance against more opportunistic players looking to fill the power vacuum in a newly reunited universe.

Who will the new captains of this Starfleet be? What will they find as they re-discover former colonies? Will they have to face the threat from four centuries earlier?

And how will their deeds be measured in a universe where the name Enterprise has all but disappeared into legend?

61% of the poll respondents on sci-fi blog io9 want Star Trek to move forward, taking place either post-Voyager(42%) or in the far future (19%). Moving the continuity 500 years or so forward gives the showrunners a clean slate and some room to breathe, and the period of isolation provides a real opportunity to 'reset' things in a way that suits long-term storytelling arcs.  

A number of show formats could be used within the setting I described, but a five year mission to re-establish contact with previously lost elements of the Federation would be easy, accessible, and a great tribute to the original series. Besides, who's to say everything still is where it was 400 years ago, right?

Re-introducing elements of previous Trek iterations can still be done as a form of fan service, but you can tweak them to suit current sensibilities, either by explaining that the original records got some details wrong or that things have simply changed in the interval. ("Gangsters and tommy guns? Well, I suppose maybe it could have looked like that to an offworlder but the pinstripes you are describing are completely unheard of here...")

Technology levels (transporters, holodecks) could be left pretty much the same, saying that Sol III and the rest were busy getting by and establishing peace, and Vulcan was preoccupied keeping everyone fed on a desert planet with food insecurity while also working the FTL conundrum. 

The biggest downside to me (aside from the fact that the central idea is not particularly original, showing up in the Warhammer 40,000 backstory as well as the Andromeda TV show (apparently), Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and even the Fallout video game series) is that no one in it is initially going "where no one has gone before". As long as they are going boldly (and by 'they' I mean both the crew and the writers), I won't worry too much about the destination.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lives, Past and Future

Last Saturday was difficult by just about any standard you care to measure.

It was logistically difficult due to the need to have our two children in different places in different times while we were out of the city.

The timing was difficult because we were leaving an engagement in Camrose and proceeding directly to the Music & Masterpieces dinner/concert/fundraiser for Cantilon Choirs that Fenya was singing in.

And, probably most critically, it was emotionally challenging because we were in Camrose for Mark Chytracek's celebration of life.

The service was good, but incredibly draining. There were six different eulogists: his childhood friend, his colleague, his three children and of course his beloved wife. There was an alumni choir, communion and a slideshow, presented to an audience of probably 500 people in the Augustana gymnasium over two and a quarter hours. We had to leave very shortly after it concluded, with wet cheeks and puffy eyes, and head into a fancy-ish dinner at the Italian Cultural Centre.

Obviously I am already one predisposed to sentiment, so I had absolutely no need for the emotional head-start Mark's service had given me.  The worst moment was probably when the various choirs spread out among the hall and sang the Doxology as a blessing for the meal. The first place I had ever heard someone sing "Be present at our table Lord..." had been, you guessed it, at RA training camp with Mark, so that upended me fairly early on.

Audrey and I soldiered through pretty well, but did prompt friends at our table to ask, "What the heck is going on with you two?" Thankfully they were very understanding once we explained the situation and context. Strangely enough, it was less difficult to talk about it than it was to simply feel it, so explaining was somehow cathartically helpful.

The kind of singing Fenya gets to do with Cantilon has always resonated with me very strongly on an emotional level, so I preoccupied myself with trying to get decent video of the performances, especially "Go Down Moses" which she had a solo in. I moved to the back of the hall, trying to stay out of the way  of other spectators and the servers, having to elevate the camera periodically to permit people to pass, and trying as best I could to avoid the ambient noise of both the kitchen and the ice machine working overtime in the bar behind me,

Both girls do lots of things that make me proud, mostly in the way they interact with other people, helpful and selfless, but also in having the courage to participate in the performing arts the way they do. Tonight, however, I could be proud for another reason, as Fenya had been asked to give a brief speech about her experiences with Cantilon.

As you might expect, she took the responsibility fairly seriously, and when she asked her English teacher for advice, he directed her to the school principal, who met with her twice to help her in constructing the speech, and even texted Fenya to wish her luck on the day of. I had heard the speech once and was very impressed, but hearing her deliver it to an audience of 500 people almost filled my heart to bursting.

My little girl turned 17 today, and there have been a lot of new developments in her most recent solar circumnavigation.  She has started driving, and will probably take her licensing test in November. She started her first regular paying job (at Education Station) with all the ups and downs that customers and coworkers bring to the table. And within her peer group, she has made her peace with being both the grandmother and token straight person. Watching her grow into herself has been trying at times, as should be expected, but also an honour and a privilege.

Seeing her speak her own words last Saturday, with a surety and confidence at 16 that I would have been hard pressed to find at 22, filled me with joy and pride, even if it was hard at times to make her out over the murmur of the crowd and the clinking of silverware on plates.

After a couple of difficult weeks, it was a pleasure to wipe away a different variety of tears.

(This is another recording of Go Down Moses, this time from Robertson Wesley United Church earlier in October, just for comparison's sake; less camera movement, better acoustics.)