Monday, December 31, 2012

Post Christmas Post

Last Christmas was our first one away from our families and friends back home ever, and it was a little tough, a little lonely, and a lot more peaceful. We had minimal decorations and no tree or lights in the apartment, and spent Christmas day together on the couch watching Die Hard. Not the worst way to pass the holiday season, but very different from previous years.

2012 was certainly an odd year for us. We couldn't work for five months due to shenanigans with our work permits, and we lived off potatoes and cheap sausages, or pasta and cheap pork mince. Without work, we were heavily restricted in what we could do during that time, so at the time it felt like forever, yet looking back on it now, it was a good period in general, during which I got to spend a huge amount of time with my wife right at my side.

We got back to work in July and I haven't had a day off since. I love my job, and it was so nice to get back to meeting all the kids and families, not to mention the wonderful co-workers. While Claire's freelance work was going from strength to strength, a setback in October to our plans pressed her into starting a new job that month for a small web development company. This annoyed me greatly at the time, as I had always wanted to be able to support her 100% in her building of her own online business and identity, as well as her writing. I felt that having her start this new job was a failure on my behalf, and it took me some time to come to terms with our new situation. Mostly, it just took me a little time to see that she really was loving her new job and the challenges it threw at her.

All this meant that, as well as a nice bit of savings tucked away, we had some extra cash to spend on each other this Christmas. Because of the break in employment, as well as the move to Canada before that, the effort to save as much as possible before the move, the fact that my job in Ireland didn't pay me enough to save substantially, and a whole list of other reasons going back several years, this was one of the first times we both agreed that we could treat ourselves a little this holiday season.

So we bought some decorations and fairy lights. I made a tree and wrapped some empty boxes to go under it. Slowly, over the early half of December, those were joined by actual gifts and everything felt more like a Christmas I remembered. We wrote Christmas cards and posted them to friends far away. We had friends over to play boardgames and Rock Band in the run up to the final week, and we went out with more friends to play pool, or watch movies, or generally have a good time.

It was feeling a bit more like the festive time of year.

And then it snowed!

Admittedly, it only snowed for a day, but it was magical to wake up to, thrilling to walk in, and resulted in one rather unusual Christmas event that will be forever burnt into my memory, side-by-side with walking on the frozen lake back home in Tipperary in 2010, and the Christmas we lost power at home minutes after the dinner was cooked, resulting in dinner by candlelight and easily the most peaceful, video-game-free Christmas in memory!

Christmas Day 2012 was spent in good company. We were invited to join a friend that Claire had made through writing for Christmas dinner. It was just the two of us, her son and his girlfriend, and herself. It felt very Irish, as they are all from Dublin, and dinner was chicken (turkeys over here are big enough to feed an army, far too big for just five of us) and the most delicious ham I have enjoyed since leaving Ireland. We sat around afterwords playing word puzzles and relaxing, and everyone had such a great time that we've agreed to do it again next year, should the fates allow.

Finally, the last few days have been spent playing yet more Rock Band and boardgames! In particular, yesterday, December 30th, saw us hosting a mammoth 12 hour boardgame day, starting around 1pm and finishing in the wee hours of this morning! We had a Geeky Gift Giving with six other friends. Basically, it was like Secret Santa, only there were no names drawn. Everyone arrived with a geeky gift and we played a bunch of games. Winners picked the gift they wanted. If you had already won, we simply went down the order until we hit the first person who had not yet picked and let them pick one. By the end of the evening, all eight of us had a great time, and everyone went home with a new boardgame, graphic novels, or, in Claire's case, a Nerf Vortex (I fear for my appendages). It was a fantastic night with zero organisational requirements, stress-levels zero, and smiles all around![1]

2012 was a roller-coaster of emotions and events, ranging from the life-affirming to the life-altering and much in between, but it ended on a high. I'm looking forward to seeing what 2013 has to bring, and I'm ready to take whatever it throws at me, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what trials I may face, I face them with Claire at my side.

So roll on 2013, you beautiful bastard!

[1]- I always enjoyed the Secret Santa back home, and Sinead always did an amazing job of organizing it and poking people to get involved, but if people couldn't make it at the last moment, it threw a spanner in the final gift swapping. Our G3 party required no organisation apart from an email inviting people to join in, and only those who showed up on the day were involved. The downside, of course, is that the gifts couldn't be tailored for any one person, because you didn't know who would get yours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Poorly Baked Soufflé Of Darkness

Caveat: This breakdown of my issues with Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is going to be jam packed with spoilers, from opening scenes to closing action. If you haven't seen TDKR and plan on, maybe you should stop reading now. At time of writing, it is about to be released on DVD and BluRay, or, if you live in the 21st Century like most people do, direct digital download.

Firstly, I did enjoy parts of the movie, and in the past I have stated that I might "still recommend people go see it", but not now. I've rested on this issue for a few months, and my final opinion is that it is just as bad movie, and not worth your money. I did love the cameos from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy, and squeed loudly when Cillian appeared (I did warn you there would be spoilers). I also enjoyed seeing the ridiculous Batpod doing it's spinning wheel sideways thing. But, Avengers was far more enjoyable and true to the comic-book movie ideal.

There are massive problems with this movie. This is my list, and only my list. It's the things that I noticed personally. I've tried to avoid including things that I've read online. This is about my issues.

Finally, before we begin proper, the following numbered list uses an excessive amount of text in full capitalization. This is because there are just some moments that are too stupid not to shout about.

1- TDKR is a movie where we see Batman recover and return TWICE! The first time, he goes from being a cripple for eight years to being A-okay in a matter of days, if not hours. A high-tech leg brace gives him back all his agility and strength. The second time he recovers from a broken back by having his spine PUNCHED back into line?!?!? I would actually have given either one of the recoveries as part of the suspension of disbelief that movies, especially comic book movies, require, but the second made both stand out as stupid.

2- Even more than previous movies, the inconsistency of Batman's belief in not using guns was more evident. He uses guns and missiles on the Tumbler, Batpod and the Bat. While you can argue that they're only used on scenery, that gets thrown out the window at the end when he fires directly at the cab of Talia's (Er... Spoiler?) truck. Batman has always been known for his gadgets over guns, but here "gadgets" just means bigger guns. Where's his super-epoxy truck sticking foam, or bat-EMP truck disabling beam, or just tire-destroying bat-caltrops?

3- While on the subject of missiles- I loved the magic missiles that Selina used on the Batpod to unblock the tunnel. A few shots into several tonnes of wrecked cars and a perfect V-shaped hole appears to be cut right through.

4- Those cops were down there in the tunnels for five months. Hundreds of them. Where did they shit? Where did they clean their uniforms? Where did they maintain their guns? How did the resistance get that much food down to them to keep them not only alive, but able to stay in shape?

5- How did one opening rescue them all? Were they all trapped conveniently together in one chamber? That's not how it looked when the bombs went off.

6- They were just below street level, as seen several times. Could they not have just dug down through a nearby building floor? I'd accept that just blowing the street open might be enough to let the trigger-man hit the button and detonate the bomb, but they weren't a million miles underground, and they had FIVE MONTHS to rescue them! They could have done it in secret in a building!

7- What was with that 5 month time-limit anyway? The bomb was always going to go off. Everyone was always going to die. It made no sense. There was no redemption, no chance to become better, to take back the city. They were all dead, they just didn't know it. Clearly, Talia failed to read the Evil Overlords Handbook.

8- Batman recovers from a broken spine in FIVE MONTHS! Yes, I covered this earlier, but what if the bomb only had energy for 2.5 months. They'd all be fucked. It was a weak plot device. I mean, seriously, he gets back into Gotham with hours to spare, from where-ever he was abandoned in the world. And how did he afford to fly back to the US, not to mention get into the country WITHOUT A PASSPORT!

9- The bomb is referred to differently during the movie, the worst of all was when it is called a "Neutron bomb"... which doesn't even explode with the classical nuclear mushroom cloud devastation. It just emits a neutron bust, which wouldn't affect buildings!

10- Let's look at that bomb a bit more: It was originally a clean-energy fusion device until Bruce mothballed it because it could be used as a weapon, and he hates weapons. Except, as previously noted, on his vehicles. How did he get so far into the project that he spent billions of dollars without anyone pointing out that any form of fusion reaction could, potentially be used as a weapon? How is there only one person on the planet capable of deactivating the bomb? He must have been involved with the fusion reactors creation, but did he work entirely alone, with no team, no colleagues, no documented paperwork?!?

11- Wayne Industries is broke because Bruce has gone underground. What kind of company literally cannot function without one man? If that's the case, Apple is fucked without Steve! What was that board of directors doing for the last eight years? What of all the other parts of the company? Were they all shut down to finance the mothballed fusion reactor?

12- Joseph Gordon Levitt was the best thing in that movie. He spoke clearly, unlike almost everyone else, had valid character motivations, and stuck to his convictions throughout, but he was woefully underused. Bruce should have stayed broken, he should have been The Batman in the finale.

13- How could the police not find Banes construction underground. Yes, there are miles of tunnels under there, but don't start at random man-holes around the city. Start at the fucking water tunnel where all the bodies keep appearing and follow the water back along. It's not that hard, dumb-asses.

14- Why is there a rope sitting at the top of The Pit when Bruce gets out? Does no-one in there have families, friends, evil organisation co-workers, or anyone willing to just walk out there and throw the rope down to rescue them? There are NO GUARDS! EVER! Just walk out of that enormous city we see, throw down the rope that is right there and walk away. And why does Bruce throw it down? Are they all just political prisoners, white-collar criminals that won't get out and return to a life of raping, murdering and pillaging? Or does he just trust that their time in the Pit has reformed them all into good citizens?

15- "Welcome back Mister Wayne. Sure hope you remembered where you parked the Bat because I don't have access to any others that I plan to sell to the military at the end of all this after you're dead." "Yup. On a rooftop that no-one in the last five months has gone up to. No one. Not one single per- FUCK! IT'S GONE! Also: What?"

16- "The bomb is ticking down it's last minutes. Let's all stop to listen to Talia's dieing ranting. Man, I hope those injuries are enough to kill her in the next 30 seconds, or we're all dead."

17- "Only 1 minute 57 seconds left on the bomb. I'll just stop to give everyone a pep-talk, kiss this cat burglar who everyone has avoided calling Catwoman for the last three hours and reveal to Gordon who I really am under the mask, by making a reference to an event decades ago that he only ever could have done once, because I'm the only person the Gordon has probably ever comforted in his entire career in the service."

18- "Aw. Batman died saving everybody. Well, better get back to selling these high-tech batwings to the military. You two random techies, fix the auto-pilot in this thing that looks kind of like the thing Batman used to fly, but it's not, because this one is in military camo and his was black. Also, I totally don't work for Batman. What's that you say? The auto pilot is fixed? By Bruce Wayne? Five months ago? Why the fuck would Bruce fix the auto pilot in the model he's not even using? And when did Bruce learn to program complex auto-pilot routines for experimental helicopter designs? And when or how did he test this? And OH MY GOD HE'S ALIVE! Dun-dun-duuuuuunnnnn. What? Why, yes, yes I did just say dun-dun-dun."

19- "Nice of Master Bruce to give the house to the orphans. Sure hope none of them mess around with that piano."

20- "Wow! All this cool shit. Look at that. I get to be the new Batman! Woo-hoo! Now how do I afford to repair any of this when it gets damaged, or even fuel the Tumbler. In fact, how do I adjust any of these suits to fit my clearly very different stature. Fuckit. I'll just go home."

21- The movie was far too long. I felt the set-up scenes were poorly played, and I actually got confused because I lost focus on what was happening. I thought it was Selina that Bruce sleeps with in the mansion during the rain-storm and the power-outage. That resulted in me missing a plot point entirely for the end of the movie when Batman seems so focused on saving what-ever her name is that turns out to be Talia. I kept thinking "Why does he seem to give such a shit about this board-member? Why is she important?"

22- This final one is something that I disliked, but others didn't seem to mind: There was no fan-service, nothing only for the comic readers. Like in Avengers, we had the Thanos reveal, or in Thor, we had the artifacts in Odins museum and the Cosmic Cube in the after-credits scene. Even as far back as Iron Man, we had the Nick Fury reveal. Stuff that left the long-time fans whooping and cheering, but left the casual fan that just turned up for the movie intrigued about what they just saw, but not feeling lost or missing a key plot-point. The little extras to reward the nerds. Batman never had that. Everything was clearly explained. There was nothing only for the comic reader. And there was opportunity! Right at the end: "Something for John Blake?... Oh, maybe my full name: Robin." As subtle as a brick, and unconnected to the comics in every way apart from the use of those 5 letters in that order. Why not "Something for John Blake?... Oh, maybe my birth name, Tim Drake?" There. Better! The fans get the "Woot!" moment, the rest get, "Oh, he's someone he didn't appear to be, but it's not as important as learning he's becoming the new Batman."

And that's it. Honestly there were more than 22 points during an earlier draft of this post, but an epic fuck-up on my part caused me to delete the entire post, so this is the striped down version. Some dropped paragraphs included choice moments like: why did Gordon keep that revealing speech in his pocket for so long, how does it go from bright day to dark night in the time it takes to drive through a tunnel, why does Batman waste what little time he has on his return to paint a giant bat-symbol in petrol on the bridge? There are detailed breakdowns of the movie by hundreds of people online, and many have some great points that further support my belief that The Dark Knight Rises is simply a bad movie, but this post is my story. It is about the things that jumped out at me and stopped me in my tracks while sitting inside the theater, watching the movie itself.

The Dark Knight Rises is a terribly constructed, poorly written piece of cinema that does nothing good for the career of the person who directed Memento, Inception and The Prestige. Ignore this tragedy and track down a copy of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm instead.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Should Ever Be Forgot

Not that I endorse violence as a means to express ones displeasure toward ones government, but in keeping with my annual tradition, it is November 5th, Guy Fawkes night in the UK. Be safe out the tonight, and don't get too close to any big fires. Leave the ignition to a responsible adult, and keep the pets indoors.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Better yet, just skip the immolation entirely, and enjoy this video from the wonderful Period Videos series on fireworks and fires!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Movie Review: Dredd 3D

Last night I went to see the newly released Dredd 3D, based on the 2000AD character and world of Judge Dredd. I wasn't sure what I was in for to be honest. I'd seen one or two clips, but generally avoided anything about the movie. All I knew was that it was going to be ultra violent, in 3D, have slow motion action scenes and star Doctor McCoy from Star Trek 2009 and Sarah Connor from the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Very quickly after the movie started I learned that the entire cast and crew had clearly been assembled very carefully. From the few main characters, through the disposable single-scene walking corpses, to the choice for director, costume designer, Special Effects team and composer, every aspect of Dredd is lovingly and painstakingly rendered from someones imagination onto the big screen. And it shows. In every scene.

Judge Dredd's home of Mega City One is pulled back from the epicness of the comics incarnation to something closer to the modern view of a dystopian city. It is more open and brighter than the comics, with the huge mega block apartments dominating the skyline. I don't have an issue with this rather dramatic change. I've never had a problem with updates to ideas that were originally created 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, especially when the medium portraying the material is different from the original source. X-Men got their black leathers and Spider-Man's biting spider was genetically engineered, not radioactive. It's no big. The story is the important part.

The main plot of Dredd is that the title Judge and a newly assigned rookie have to go into a mega block, deal with a minor problem and then leave. Except things don't go as planned and Dredd and the rookie get trapped inside, fighting for their lives. However, the far more interesting story is the growth and development of Dredd's new sidekick, a fresh-faced young Judge on her first, and possibly last day. Karl Urban does a great job delivering Dredd's one-liners and grimaces, but Olivia Tirlby stole the entire movie for me. She was spectacular in the role of rookie Judge Anderson, and really sold the slow changes in Anderson's personality over the course of the movie, from a Judge who had never seen real combat to a meaner, tougher, deadlier one by her final scene.

I still dislike 3D. It's a gimmick that just is not going away, despite a friends assurance that it would be a short-lived fad many years ago. I dislike the uncomfortable glasses I have to wear over my own glasses[1], or the extra surcharge slapped onto ticket prices for a feature I almost entirely believe adds nothing to the final movie apart from eye strain and a potential headache. However, I really enjoyed the use of 3D in Dredd. Not only did it make the slo-mo action scenes have more punch, but director Pete Travis actually used the 3D to help tell the story in certain scenes, revealing different layers of the image slowly by moving from one depth to the next, or moving through a scene by changing the focus, not moving the actual camera itself. I genuinely believe that this is the first time I felt the 3D was used to positively enhance the story-telling in the movie. I enjoyed the 3D in The Amazing Spider-Man, but only because it was used in some clever ways, but it still didn't add anything to the final product. I would have happily watched Spider-Man in 2D had I the option, but with Dredd I'd recommend the 3D version to everyone.

There have been few movies lately that even scratch the levels of violence in Dredd. The slo-mo gun fights allow for spectacularly violent moments of gore, but everything is presented in an almost animated, cartoon fashion, with bright colours and bright red blood splatters. People die in bloody messes, and in their dozens, but it's hard to be shocked by anything due to how it was all presented. In fact, the slo-mo means that there are very few actual shocking moments, instead telegraphing everything at painfully slow speed so that you can almost feel every impact. During these moments, you can hear the entire theater holding their breathes, followed by a loud "Oooh" once the impact hits. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly the scene I'm taking about!

Dredd 3D is a spectacle best viewed on the big screen. Whether you believe my opinions on the 3D or not, do go see it in the theaters. It's a fun group experience, sharing in the "oohs" and the "ewws". The cast is strong, the effects are effective and the soundtrack even makes a Justin Bieber track bearable in one scene! Highly recommended.

[1]- I actually solved the problem of wearing the 3D glasses by keeping the really nice and comfortable pair I got attending The Amazing Spider-Man. They are light, soft and I don't even notice I'm wearing them. I brought them along to Dredd as well, which may have contributed to my overall enjoyment of the 3D.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Inertia In Action

A few months ago while I was unemployed and seeking cheap ways to entertain and educate myself from home I discovered a bunch of interesting YouTube channels with a science slant to them. One such channel turned out to be by a guy from West Vancouver, Derek, and he had a video from his home area. The video was about the Earth and why it rotates, and used a very cool looking object located at Dundarave Pier to illustrate the reason.

As soon as I saw it I wanted to visit it, so last weekend, while Claire was playing DnD, I ventured north and west across the bridge. It was as cool as I had hoped, but I had no-one to share it with. So today I dragged Claire and two friends back to see it again, and we all marveled at the two and a half tonne granite wonder. I even did a quick video blog, my first in over a year!

Here is Derek's video featuring the globe, from his channel Veritasium. Check out his stuff, it fun and informative, and I've learned lots from watching everything he's done so far!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Baby Beluga

Last Sunday Claire and I went to the Vancouver Aquarium to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. While there, we enjoyed seeing all the various animals the aquarium has to offer, especially the beautiful arctic water beluga whales.

We made sure to stop by their enclosure for their show, but while it was informative, the whales did very little. Now, they're never as active or as dramatic as the dolphins, but the show is usually fun to watch regardless. On Sunday, however, the belugas simply swam round the enclosure, and pretty much ignored the staff for the duration of the short show. Something was clearly wrong.

From where we were sitting we could see a third beluga swimming in a separate area, and, as it turned out, this was the problem.

Last Monday Vancouver Aquarium's oldest beluga, Kavna passed away. She was thought to be around 46 years old, much older than the expected 20 - 25 years a wild beluga can expect to enjoy.

Before starting work in Vancouver, I had heard about belugas, but never really thought much about them. But the white whale holds a special place in the hearts of children across Canada, and especially Vancouver. It's all thanks to a children's musician called Raffi and his beautiful song, "Baby Beluga". I first heard it sung to the toddlers in one of the centers I work in and immediately fell in love with the tune.

In honor of Kavna, who, according to Raffi, inspired the song, here it is, as sung live by the man himself.

RIP Kavna

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Permission To Proceed

It's been a while since The Dark Knight Rises hit theatres everywhere. Even on the first weekend I had started to see people complaining about the movie online, and while I had my fair share of issues with it, I felt it was unfair to potentially spoil the movie for anyone at the early stage.

However, I did write a long email about the many problems I had with the movie and I do want  to clean that up somewhat and to post it here. So I'm asking now: Do any of my readers who have yet to catch TDKR still plan on seeing the third act of the trilogy, or has everyone seen it already? Can I go ahead and post my grievances here, or would you prefer I waited until after the DVD release?

Speak up now, or forever hold your peace.

I'll leave this sit until this coming weekend, and make my decision then.

Monday, August 06, 2012

History, With A 14 Minute Delay

Four Hundred And Four

Incredibly, this is my four hundredth post on One Terrific Day! When I started all of this back in May of 2006, I never dreamed I'd still be using it this far along, over six years later, with 400 posts!

But while I might feel content with that anniversary, there's a far more important one that I celebrate on this same date.

Four years ago today I married my long time girlfriend, Claire, in an unforgettable ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada! I've described the day in a previous post, and still remember it today with perfect clarity. I remember how nervous I was at the time. I can still recall how amazed I was when the doors opened and I saw Claire standing there, even though I had been with her just moments before. And I'll never forget that first kiss as husband and wife.

To celebrate the day, Claire and I started out by heading into Downtown Vancouver to see the annual Gay Pride Parade. It was... colourful. In more ways than one! The costumes, floats and displays were fantastic. Everyone was having a great time and the sunshine was beating down as the temperatures reached 28 or 29 degrees! This allowed for some extreme costuming choices, such as the various girls that went topless, with just some bodypaint across their chests, or the one that we saw that could spin the tassels on her nipples by just moving her body in a particular way. Of course, the guys were just as free with their choices of clothing. There were unending displays of topless males, from chiseled chests to less than muscular bellies. There was even one guy who was just all out naked. Given his age and physical condition, it was an image I could have lived without seeing, but it did bolster my confidence in my own assets. Claire, thankfully, completely missed him.

After the parade we walked on to Stanley Park and found our way to the Stanley Park Bar & Grill for two of the most delicious burgers we've had in a long time. I got my usual, a bacon and cheese burger, and Claire got her own usual, grilled chicken. They were really yummy. Given that our wedding dinner was in Quarks Bar on DS9, which also consisted of burgers, I think we're building up a tradition. We cooled down a little after our time in the sun with homemade lemonade slushies at the restaurant too.

After feeding and watering ourselves we headed to the wonderful Vancouver Aquarium. Thanks to being friends with a staff member, we had two tickets waiting for us at the reception, picked them up, skipped the queue and headed in to the cool temperatures of the main building.

We got to see the belugas, the dolphins, the baby porpoise and the newest addition to the aquarium, the African penguins. The penguins were just as adorable as expected. The aquarium is also home to a cheeky otter who loved to show off and perform for the viewing public.

Apart form the aquatic animals, the aquarium plays home to several other animals, including snakes, bats, tropical butterflies, two large, beautiful blue parrots, several small monkeys and, according to staff, three sloths, though we only saw one while we were there.

Just before we left, I got to go into the wetlab and watch the dissection of a herring and a squid, two of the foods that almost all the animals in the aquarium eat. Claire opted out of that experience!

Then it was a short walk to the bus and we headed back home. We had a cool shower to wash away the sweat and heat of the day, before settling in to watch some YouTube over dinner before experiencing part of Earth history: The landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover.

It has been a good day.

Four hundred posts, and four years of love, respect and happiness.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fizzle, Flash, Bang, Boom

Last night myself and a friend went to see the final night of the Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks display over the harbor by Kitsilano Beach. The ideal location is actually English Bay on the other side of the waters, but that would have been crowded to standing room only across the entire beach area, and also would have meant crossing the bridge both there and back again, adding a lot of time to our travels, especially with the crowds on the way back.

As I still don't own a camera, I don't have anything to show for it here. Claire stayed at home as we were house-sitting a cat for a friend, and she was feeling the effects of the days heat at that point anyway.

On the way to the beach, Jordan and I got lunch at a delicious noodle bar, and then I got a refreshing homemade lemonade from some young entrepreneurs on the sidewalk for just 25c. In a stroke of genius on their part, they had added mint leaves to the drink, and by the time I had finished my cup, I wanted to go back for seconds.

Instead we continued down to the beach and walked around for about 45 minutes before picking a spot, sitting on the rapidly cooling sand and waiting for the show.

The sun set over the waters, casting reds, oranges and yellows across the sky, and as the last bright rays of colour faded, the fireworks began.

There were massive spheres, small rockets, tiny pops, loud bangs, amazing ones that fizzled into smaller and smaller snowflake-like sparkles, hanging in the calm night air. There were twizzlers and spinners, and explosions of every colour! Reds and greens were the most popular, interspersed with blues, and golds. Toward the end there were heart shapes and disks, and even a very impressive set of staged rockets, that flared with each stage ignition, reminding me of the air distortion when a jet crosses the sound barrier.

In short, it was truly awe-inspiring. I'm  sure we missed out on some of the patterning from the angle we watched it at, but I didn't care. There was music to accompany the whole show, which lasted half an hour in total, starting at 10pm, but we could only hear hints of it from our spot on the beach.

Anyone planning a trip to visit us next summer should consider arriving for the start of August and getting to see one for the nights of fireworks. I'm glad I went to it last night, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again this time 12 months.

Post Script: This is my 399th post on this blog! The next is going to be legend... wait for it...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Gonna keep this one very, very spoiler-free, so instead of going into detail about what I did or didn't like about the story or elements, I'll just compare it in broad strokes to the two other summer comic-book movies I watched, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Dark Knight Rises rounds out the summer comic-book movie blockbuster season, and, if reports are to be believed, the Christopher Nolan/ Christian Bale collaboration on the franchise. And it's a fine swan-song. Enjoyable, but not the pinnacle of comic-book movies that some people seem to be claiming. There are huge, tumbler-sized plot holes throughout, some missed opportunities, and it could stand to be trimmed by 30 to 45 minutes.

While Banes voice has vastly improved from when I saw the opening six minutes at the start of Mission Impossible 4 in IMAX, there are still some terribly mumbled scenes, and I missed several lines of dialogue. Worse, I even found it difficult to catch what Gordon was saying in one particular scene, and got two characters completely confused, which led to me not understanding a key plot towards the end of the movie. Full disclosure: No one else made the same mistake, so it my have just been me getting bored at that point in the film.

The Avengers still stands as the best the summer offered. It was the perfect blend of action, character moments and well paced, super-powered fights.

If I'm, being honest, TDKR is probably a better movie than The Amazing Spider-Man for most people, but as a big fan of the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, my bias has to be taken into account when I say that I had a better time watching Spidey than Batman.

I deconstructed the movie with some friends after, and the general agreement was that it was better than I thought. Take from this what you want.

In summary, it's far from a bad movie (I'm looking at you, Prometheus), but it's nowhere near a great movie either. I feel it will do well in the box-office figures, but given time, people will sour to it as the problems it has sink in or become more obvious with repeated viewings.

Friday, July 20, 2012

From Begins To Rises

With the third Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, due out tomorrow, I thought I'd post a quick recap for anyone who has forgotten the story up to now, or readers who plan on jumping in at this point without seeing the previous two[1].

Everything you need to know about the most recent movie version of Batman.

Steve Wayne is this dude who crashed to earth as a child and was raised by Amazonians before his uncle was killed in front of him down a dark alley. Wallowing in self pity, he was driving along a lonely road when an alien crashed, bestowing a powerful ring to him, powered by vengeance. Using the ring to form a hammer that can call down lightning, he hunted down this immortal dude from Star Wars, before battling the Clown Prince of Crime, Deadpool, and destroying most of the city he calls home, causing millions and millions of rupees in damages.

Somewhere along the way he successfully funneled billions of his own company's money, spending them on ridiculous inventions and experimental technologies for his own private, personal use.

Apart from that, all you need to know if that the police and, inexplicably, the citizens who have to put up with his wanton rampages and the resulting increase in taxes to cover city-wide repairs, allow him to continue operating. He's the hero the city needs, not the one it wants. Remember, he doesn't have to kill people, he just doesn't have to save them... which makes about as much sense as a cock flavored popsicle. While we're on the subject of nonsense, Batman never uses guns, unless they're on his car, the Quinjet, at which point it's okay to use only high caliber machine guns capable of shredding a person in half, but rockets as well. Also, he drives over people in their cars too while in his 2.5 tonne personal tank.

There's a reason the city doesn't want him.

You're welcome.

[1] - This was written for a friend who plans on doing the latter, so I hope I covered all the important points. In case I missed any, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Learning Experience

The International Experience Canada (IEC) program is a wonderful opportunity to visit an incredible place. Having been through it twice now, once via a brokerage and once on our own, I feel I've earned some valuable gems of experience that are worth sharing. Note: While some tips can be applied to any holiday visa, everything is from the experience of an Irish citizen dealing with the Canada process.

1) Do it.
Just do it. Canada is a truly magnificent land, filled with fantastic people from across the world. Get out, explore, see how life operates outside where ever you grew up. You won't regret it.

2) Do it yourself. Don't use a brokerage.
I know, I know. This sounds like a ridiculous statement based on all the trouble we went through by ourselves versus going through the brokerage. But the application process is actually pretty straightforward, so long as you read and learn from our mistakes and the advice we gleamed from making them. A brokerage is just going to charge you more but the processing time is exactly the same. They get no preferential treatment from the Canadian Immigration offices. In fact, Canadian Immigration prefer to deal with you directly, and will be phasing out all brokerages by 2015.

Worse, brokerages impose restrictions and time-limits on you that the official channel won't. When we traveled first in 2011, we had to be out of Ireland by the end of January, and we had to have flights booked before the'd even begin processing our applications. We also had to book those flights through them, and get our travel insurance through them, all bloated in costs by their commissions. While we didn't have to worry about flights this year, our processing fees and travel insurance were significantly cheaper than before.

3) Have documents ready in advance.
You'll need a Garda Clearance Certificate, available from your local station. If you've had one done in the last few years, they can just reissue that. This is particularly handy for the second year, as it significantly decreases how long it takes for them to issue the new cert. Request it in early November to have for when the application process opens in December. You'll also need recent passport photos (less than 6 months) and a copy of your resumé.

4) Read everything, sign everything, reread everything. 
Once the application process opens, fill out the PDF forms on your computer, print out the documents and sign where requested. This was where we made our mistake. We missed one signature. Pay particular attention to pages or sections that don't apply to you, such as declaring a spouse or children if you don't have any. There is usually a line below these to sign declaring that this section doesn't apply to you. Sign it!

Also, if there is a request for a signature that you don't need to sign, write N/A, or Not Applicable. It didn't affect us, but I've heard of someone who was apparently rejected for not signing the section to declare that he was not married, despite the fact that he was, and had declared as much.

So my advice is to read, sign, and reread. If it asks for a signature, acknowledge that you're seen and read it by either signing it if appropriate, or marking it if not. Finally, give the forms to someone else to read over. They might spot something you missed.

5) Put everything together.
    i) Get all your documents together in an envelope. Completed application forms (including medical request form, if applicable), passport photocopies, passport photos, resumé, Garda Clearance Certificate and any other forms they request. Do not use my list when checking this. They provide a clear list of everything you need in their information packet. Use it, check everything twice.
    ii) Put them in the order they request.
    iii) Do not include any fee payments at this stage! They will reject your application and return everything if you do. They will request payment once your application has been approved.
    iv) Have someone else recheck everything for you. This is the last thing you have control over. Don't make a mistake this late in the game.

6) Post.
Use UPS, Fed-Ex or some other registered postal service. If you're posting from Ireland, the standard registered post provided by An Post is fine. It's just going to London, and will arrive in a day or two. If this is your second year application and you're posting from Canada it's worth paying extra for a 48 hour courier service, just to waste as little time as possible.

7) Look around at travel insurance options and upcoming flights.
Don't book anything just yet. Wait until everything is completed and you have your Letter of Introduction. Your year in Canada starts when you enter the country, and that letter lasts for 12 months from issue anyway, so you have 12 months to authenticate your work permit, and then your 12 months working and enjoying the Canadian life. That's loads of time to route out the appropriate travel insurance and cheap flights.

8) Note the minimum time the processing should take.
The IEC program does not, by policy, reply to inquiries regarding applications before a specified time period, usually the average time it takes for applications to be processed. Mark this date on your calender. If you haven't heard from them after that date, start inquiring by sending a polite email about your status, remembering to include your unique application code. They won't always contact you if there is an issue, as I learned through experience.

I was lucky enough to be applying at the same time as Claire, so when she was accepted but I got nothing, I knew something was amiss. Sure enough, on inquiry, I discovered that they had misplaced my payment confirmation and had halted processing my application, without sending any notification of that action to me. Once I confirmed that my payment had been made within the allowed time-frame, they re-activated my process.

9) Contact them if your medical is done outside Ireland.
For my second year application, I got my medical examination done in Canada. At the bottom of the Instructions For Medical Examinations form, it states that, "The onus is on you to advise this office immediately via email should you arrange to have a medical exam performed outside the U.K. and Ireland." Do not forget to do this.

10) Consider NOT authenticating your work permit immediately.
This is a trick I only learned after I was here for a while, and so did not get to use. In hindsight, it would have actually saved us a lot of the hassle we went through over the last six months, so listen up!

Once you get accepted and make it to Canadian soil, enter the country initially as someone on holiday. Finding work in Canada is not too difficult, but it's not usually instantaneous either. A holiday visa allows you to stay in Canada for 6 months, but you can't work under it. That's okay. You can still look for work and apply for positions. Most people will spend the first few weeks getting a place to live, finding their feet, and just enjoying being here.

By not authenticating your work permit immediately, you don't loose out on the relatively short time you have on your permit. As soon as you find someone that will give you work, you just have to authenticate your work permit. You can do this a number of ways:
    i) Mail the application to Ottawa. This takes much longer than the other options.
    ii) By plane: Fly to the US and back, authenticating at the airport on return.
    iii) By train: Travel to the US and back, authenticating at the train station on return.
    iv) By car: Drive to the US and back, authenticating at the boarder.
I would recommend the car or train. When we flew over in 2011 it took us hours to get through immigration at the airport with the plane-load of other Irish travelers. This year we just popped over the boarder by car and it took mere minutes to process in the office, despite a minor hiccup.

Don't do it by bus. Your additional processing time will hold everyone else up at the boarder, and no-one will appreciate that. On the other hand, immigration by train is done in the Vancouver train station, so you won't be delaying anyone if you choose this option.

11) Enjoy Canada!
You've made it. You have your work permit, you have a job, everything is great. If this is your first year, you can go through most of this again next year, as Irish citizens are permitted two working permits for Canada, each lasting 12 months. If this was your second run through the obstacle course, you better start looking for an employer who will sponsor you if you want to stay in the country beyond the next year.

But for now, you've done it. Relax and enjoy. Well done.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Saga Of The Canadian Visa Part IV

Part I: Mid-December - April 24th
Part II: Early May - June 16th
Previously, in Part III:
June 20th: Medical Examination taken
June 26th: Medical Examination sent to Ottawa
July 5th: Receipt of Letter of Introduction

And now, Part IV: 

Claire asked some of her friends if one of them would be willing to drive us across the US/Canadian boarder on Saturday, July 7th, in exchange for lunch and the pleasure of our company for a morning. The first one she asked was kind enough to agree and we met up in the morning before setting off on a road trip south on a glorious, blue sky summer day.

The US/Canadian boarder is only about 30 minutes south from where we live along the highway, but the queue to cross was enormous, and we spent at least that time again waiting to reach the crossing. Everyone hears horror stories of crossing into the US, but we've never had any issues, and on that day, once again, US boarder patrol proved themselves professional and courteous. We had to go into the offices so that Claire and I could fill out some forms, but everything was fast and friendly.

We headed across into Blaine, which turned out to be, literally, right on the boarder, no more than 60 seconds away from the boarder gates! We took a walk around the small town, enjoying the fantastic weather, before heading to a steakhouse for lunch. Then back in the car, and back across the boarder once again.

At the Canadian checkpoint we informed the officer that we needed to validate our work permits, and were sent to the offices on this side of the crossing. We entered the cool air-conditioned offices, got called up to the desk and explained our situation.

"Our computers are down."

Nothing is ever easy.

The officer asked us to take a seat for a while, before calling us back up, asking a few questions and then telling us that he could fill out the forms manually, but that he'd have to post out the full colour, holofoil stamped, official document during the week. Or we could come back Sunday or Monday, go through the whole process again and do it then. We chose the postal option.

With our hand written forms attached to our visas, we got back in the car and headed back into Canada and home.

Six months of worry, stress and anxiety had come to an end. Thanks to the efforts of countless people, everything worked out for the best, and we have another 12 months working in Canada to look forward too. Sure, hard lessons were learned, and that's what I'll be sharing in my next post.

To Be Continued in A Learning Experience

The Saga Of The Canadian Visa Part III

Part I: Mid-December - April 24th
Previously, in Part II
First Week Of May: Claire receives eligibility notification
May 14th: Start to inquire about own status
May 24th: Informed of apparent lack of payment
May 24th: Email proof of payment
May 28th: Eligibility notification
June 15th: Documentation for medical exam
June 16th: Claire receives Letter of Introduction

And now, Part III:

I attended my medical on June 20th. After filling out some forms and before meeting the doctor I was sent for my chest X-ray. Unlike in Ireland, the center had everything under one roof, so it was all done over the course of a morning. When I met with the doctor she went through all the standard questions and checks before looking me right in the eye.

"Do you have a tremor?"

Crap. I had developed a slight tremor in my left hand some time in March. I put it down to stress, anxiety, poor diet (I was low on fruit and vegetable intake at the time), and far too much Xbox gaming. It had been getting better since early June when I almost completely stopped playing Xbox, and things had been stress-free for a while.

But getting a medical, even when you know you're fit and healthy, can be a little stressful, especially when your work permit and immediate future plans all depend on it. My hand was shaking like a paint mixer.

She examined the tremor, agreeding that it seemed to be nothing too serious. I still had full strength, control and dexterity. Regardless, she was obliged to mark it down on the medical, news I did not need right at that moment. Worse, she had to refer me to a neurologist, and told me that they can be expensive, and that it might be cheaper for me to go home to Ireland if anything needed to be done. Again, this was news I really did not need right then.

I thanked her for her time, went downstairs to get my blood taken and headed home, feeling, once again, pretty low. According to the doctor, the medical files would be mailed to Ottawa the following Tuesday, June 26th.

I went home and the next few days were spent reviewing my future. According to the information packet that came with the medical forms, "an assessment is normally made ... within 10 working days", so I wasn't going to hear anything until early July. Worrying about everything at this point was just going to stress me out even more, so I relaxed, learned how to draw on a graphics tablet and waited out this last stretch.

At around noon on July 5th I received an email containing my Letter of Introduction, bringing to an end a roller-coaster six months back and forth, as both Claire and I finally had our authorisation for new 12 month work permits.

Now all we had to do was cross the boarder and reenter Canada with all our relevant documentation.

To Be Continued in Part IV

The Saga Of The Canadian Visa Part II

Previously, in Part I:
Mid-December: Applications open
Mid-January: First application submitted
February 8th: Confirmation of receipt
March 1st: Rejection
Early March: Second application submitted
March 23rd: Confirmation of receipt
April 23rd: Acceptance notification
April 24th: Payment made, confirmation of receipt received

And now, Part II:

During the first week of May Claire got the news that her application was complete and she should expect to hear from them in six to eight weeks, but for the first time in our application process, I got nothing. This didn't set off the alarm bells it probably should have, as I knew I had requested a full medical examination to allow me to work in childcare in Canada. I just assumed my form was being passed up the chain to the next level, and I would hear from them soon. After all, I hadn't gotten anything to tell me I hadn't been accepted either.

By May 14th I was getting worried. I emailed a few addresses I had and got automated responses. I continued to email the official contacts over the next two weeks, until, on May 24th, almost a full month after Claire had been accepted, I got a response informing me they had not received my payments.

This is why you keep all your paperwork on file, for dark days just like this. I scanned all our bank documents and emailed them on to the address provided, along with a copy of the confirmation of payment email I had received from them dated April 24th.

The next four days saw me hit my lowest moral level in memory. I could do nothing to cheer myself up, and Claire's efforts were equally doomed to failure. By the time I awoke on May 28th, the day I turned 32 years old, I just couldn't even bring myself to leave the house to celebrate my own birthday.

Which, as it turned out, was for the best.

Some time in the afternoon of May 28th I pulled my attention away from whatever was playing on the Xbox to check my emails, an action I was beginning to refine into a state of almost obsessive compulsiveness. The subject text "IEC Eligible, sent to CIC" turned out to be the best birthday gift I could ever get right then. As I discovered, I had received the standard confirmation letter that my payment had been received and my application would be processed. No apology, no explanation regarding misplacing my payments, just confirmation of acceptance. I didn't care. It was perfect.

It still took until June 15th for me to receive the information and forms for my medical in the mail. I made the booking immediately with an approved medical officer in Vancouver. The earliest I could get was the following Wednesday.

By an amazing coincidence of timing, the next morning, on June 16th, Claire got an email with her Letter of Introduction, the final document she needed to get her work permit.

But, as I should have learned by now, things still weren't to go smoothly for me.

To Be Continued in Part III

The Saga Of The Canadian Visa Part I

Visa application for Canada opens, usually, in December each year. The application process takes about three months, but our work permits expired at the end of January, about seven weeks after we could have possibly started the application. The trouble was, as it was considered a new application, and not an extension, we needed to get a new Garda Clearance Certificate, which we only thought of once we saw the application forms. By the time we had that reissued it was mid-January when we couriered both applications to London at the cost of $80 for the swiftest mail service.

We got an email on February 8th confirming the receipt of our applications.

This meant that we knew in advance that we were going to be unemployable for a short while through February, March and even into April. But we were okay with this. We had a nice bit of savings, and could happily survive for a while without too much trouble, as long as we were careful with our expenditure and stuck to eating at home.

Unfortunately, we suffered a setback on March 1st when we both received an email informing us we had been rejected. As it turned out, we had missed a single signature at the bottom of a section that didn't apply to us, on an entire page that didn't apply to us. We had to restart everything again. Except we had, as required, sent away all our original documents. This meant that we had to get our Garda Clearance Certs reissued once again, and resubmit everything, double, triple and quadruple checking every signature, page, line and letter. In their defense, they did return the original, rejected documents, but it was still faster to get everything reissued.

Our second application was sent some time in early March. The notice of receipt arrived on March 23rd, but it took a full month before the acceptance email arrived, on April 23rd. Once accepted we were permitted to complete payment, which we did the very next day. The confirmation emails arrived within minutes, and that's when things got really complicated.

To Be Continued in Part II

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Movie Review: Spidey On Spidey

Hi ho, Readers! It's your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man here! Denis has kindly allowed me to do a guest post on his blog, as we're reviewing the newly released "The Amazing Spider-Man".

I'll try not to be as cliched as to use such adjectives as "amazing" or "spectacular" while writing this review, but one or two might slip in, as the movie was, in my humble opinion, incredible! Director Marc Webb proved himself worthy of the task at hand, living up to the comic action and proving he wasn't just chosen for the comedy value of seeing his name in the opening credits! He did a great job on not just the action scenes, but everything from the softer, quieter moments, to my loud-mouth, mid-fight quips.

I was especially impressed with the choice of cast. There wasn't a weak link among the lot of them, from the always wonderful Martin Sheen to Dennis Leary, an actor who I feel deserves more roles than he seems to get. Andrew Garfield was a great choice to play my civilian identity, and Emma Stone played a powerful and strong-willed Gwen Stacy, pretty much as I remember her...

Sorry. Had to take a moment there. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The entire cast was superb. My only complaint about the cast, in fact, was that some didn't get as much character time as I would have hoped. Everyone was so strong in their role, I would have been happy to see more time given to any or all of them. My friend Stan Lee gets his best cameo yet in this outing, inciting laughs throughout the theater during his short scene on-camera.

But what of the star himself, me! The new costume is wonderful. I might have to try to get myself a custom version, as the kids will only recognize me in that now. Assuming they didn't hire one of my many clones as the stunt double, the CG me is a great facsimile. It really looked like it had mass behind it, and moved better than previous attempts to fake me on-screen. I was especially impressed with my training scene in the warehouse, which looked like a lot of fun. Special shout-out to whoever reproduced my webs. They had lots of tiny details, and looked great on the big screen. They were especially effective in 3D.

Which brings me to the hot topic of modern cinema. Let's talk 3D.

First and foremost, if you're wondering how I managed to watch the movie in 3D, thankfully, the lenses in my mask are polarized, so I don't have to wear those silly glasses. That's doubly good, as they'd be enormous on me, and I don't have ears to hang them on. Normally, I prefer to see movies in 2D. However, in this case, the 3D was really good!

No, no, no! Bare with me. I know. I usually hate 3D too (As do I- Denis). But it really was used extraordinarily well here (As much as I hate too, I have to agree- Denis). There is a great use of 3D with web-lines in a sewer, and the web-swinging through Manhattan worked much better in the final movie than it ever did in the early trailers. It still wasn't much compared to doing the real thing, but a good try. To be fair, if one hero was going to benefit from 3D, it was always going to be me! I even flinched during one scene, something I haven't done in any other extra-D movie.

Finally, I have to say something about the soundtrack. This is especially worth mention, as I noticed and enjoyed it so much. The score was fantastic, with some noticeably beautiful pieces throughout. It was truly orchestral at times, really adding to the emotion or action on-screen. While my friends in the Avengers still reign supreme as the best super-hero movie overall, I think I deserve the "Best Score" award.

Unlike some, I was a big fan of the earlier Spider-Man movie series. Well, the first two at least. Even then, this one blows those previous efforts out of the water, for story, character and effects. There is so little to complain about for me, despite the fact that it doesn't strictly follow my personal mythology. It really is an exceptionally fun piece of cinema, even if it'll never win an Oscar and I give it two Spidey thumbs-up all the way! Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

True Tales From Childhood: The Price Of Air

When we were much younger than we are now, my brother Philip and I went to a childminder after school every weekend until mum and dad got out of work. She had two older boys, Adrian and Noel, and together the four of us would play Action Man (they had an Eagle Eyes figure and a pull string talking one!), dinky cars (which, for us, referred to all small metal cars), and, of course, LEGO.

We could spend hours on the floor building incredible constructions before playing out some adventure with our creations. Adrian and Noel had a big pile of LEGO that would get dumped in the middle of the living room floor and then it would be race to grab the choice bricks and figure out something wonderful to fabricate. We made a good team, and there was never any fighting over parts. As I recall, it was pretty collaborative, with everyone looking for their own pieces, while simultaneously keeping an eye out for a "red 3 by 2 flat bit" for Noel, the elusive "grey thick corner piece" for Adrian, a "long white one" for Philip and a "flat blue light" for me.

One afternoon Adrian had spent all his time building a garage and petrol station (gas station, for all you US readers). I had done my usual bang-up job of spreading the remaining pieces from the pile into a circle with a few free standing windows and calling it a "house", while focusing my attention on more important things, like a space ship or a rocket car.

Some time into our game Adrian exclaimed "Why isn't anyone using my garage? I spent ages building this. Come to my garage." As the youngest one in the group, Philip drove his car over to the front of the garage, parked by the pumps and requested, in a most matter-of-fact voice "£10* of air, please."

Noel, Adrian and myself exploded with laughter. Wiping tears from our cheeks, we informed Philip that you didn't pay for air for your car. People can pump their tires for free. It's air. It's everywhere. You can't charge for it.

I was reminded of this wonderfully happy moment from my childhood by a tweet posted recently from someone I follow. It read:

The compressed air at the local gas station just went up to $1.00 for 3 minutes. I should really get these tire rims fixed.
I was stunned. Garages are now charging for air for your tires! And at a dollar for three minutes! After the best part of almost 25 years, Adrian's garage can now charge for air!

What a strange and funny world we live in.

*- This was long before Europe thought the Euro was a clever idea, so Ireland was still using the Irish pound, or punt.

Post Script: This story remains very clear in my memory to this day, but just writing it now, I've begun to realise just how long ago it took place. I have no recollection of my other brother Stephen being around, so it probably took place before he was born, putting it at around 1987! I would have been 7, Philip 4, and Adrian and Noel 10 and 13 respectively! I wonder if any of them remember this story?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Overheard On...

Gmail, while discussing the hunting and trapping of cats* with a friend.

 Brian:  So with ye're stay of execution, I mean deportation, ye gonna get another kitty?
 me:  Erm... probably not. At least, not right now.
 me:  We're looking into getting Permanent Residency, then getting a pet that's a bit more long-lived, won't appreciate being called a pet in later life, and probably needs more than a box to sleep in...
 Brian:  :O
They're like, waaaay more expensive than kittens.
 me:  I know, I know! But you can teach them to talk and do party tricks as they get older.
 Brian:  Get two! That way, you can ignore them, and they'll entertain themselves!
 That's right folks! Claire and I are planning to get a parrot.

Wait... you thought WHAT?!?

*- All for a good cause. They get trapped, neutered and released back into the wild. Spay your pets folks!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Review: Marvel's The Avengers

I've been waiting to see this since the after-credits scene from Iron Man back in 2008. I've watched all the related movies, most more than once. I adore the choices made in actors for the characters, and I had faith that Joss Whedon could succeed in producing a big cast movie that gave everyone their due time in the spotlight.

I went to book tickets for The Avengers last Tuesday afternoon in a big, flashy, new, high-tech movie theater in Downtown Vancouver, only to find out that it was effectively sold out and what seats were left were either right up the front or at the extreme left or right sides. Instead, my friends and I headed for a cinema on Cambie that was also showing the movie.

The Park Theatre is one of three cinemas owned and operated by Festival Cinemas, an independent cinema group. Built in 1941, it still maintains a classic feel to it, from the single ticket counter at the front to the concession stand just before you reach the single screen. However, recent renovations mean that it can play summer blockbusters as good as the big boys, in 3D with full surround sound.

The staff are lovely, the butter is real (though why people put butter on popcorn still confuses me), and the seating is comfy. In fact, even more than comfy, the Park Theatre sports "love seats", with the ability to raise the armrest so you can snuggle with your loved one and enjoy the movie together.We didn't realise this last night, but we'll know for the future! I plan on making good use of it.

This has become, after just a single viewing experience, my favourite theatre in the Vancouver area. We've all decided that it will be our first theatre of choice for any upcoming movies for the foreseeable future. A wonderful, friendly experience.

Oh, and The Avengers was awesome. But then, you knew that already.

My Morning Circuit

Last night Claire and myself joined seven other friends to watch Marvel's The Avengers. More on that in a later post. After the movie, we all went for food in one of my favorite restaurants, Café Gloucester, right near the theater we attended. We got home shortly after midnight and played a few rounds of Mass Effect multiplayer, bringing me up to an astonishing N7 rating of 1,001, before tumbling into bed, exhausted, at 3am.

Then waking again at 5am.

And again at 8am.

And just getting up at 9:15am.

At this point I was a little grumpy and grouchy from lack of sleep, but several factors quickly conspired to cheer me up. Firstly, it was beautiful outside, sunny, bright blue skies, with a gentle breeze. Secondly, it was Free Comic Book Day, and my local friendly comic and gaming store opens at 11am on a Saturday. And thirdly, Vancouver's first LEGO Store had opened yesterday in the Oakridge Mall on Cambie and 49th, about 20 blocks north of the comic store.

I decided that today would be a great day for an early morning walk. So I had some oatmeal and a cup of tea, kissed my wife, rousing her from her slumber just long enough to let her know of my plans for the morning, and struck out on my adventure.

I left our place and headed along 70th to the comic store, arriving just after they opened. They were virtually empty, so I grabbed a few of the comics on offer that interested me, namely Mouse Guard and Atomic Robo, stuffed them into my bag and walked north along Cambie.

I don't know what I was expecting given that it was the opening weekend of a LEGO Store, but it wasn't what I found. There was a three hour queue to get into the store! It's heartwarming to see that LEGO is still so popular, but not so much that I wanted to join the queue. Instead, I resolved to return on Monday when all the children will be in school.

I did find the event area where Eric, a master LEGO builder was building an eight foot tall LEGO R2-D2 with the help of the public. It's coming along nicely. The public follow plans on various tables to build, basically, giant LEGO blocks, which then get left in some containers until Eric uses them to continue building the toughest li'l droid in the galaxy! I stopped by and made a block or two to add to the cause.

After resting up a little in one of the seating areas and flicking through the comics from my bag, I headed back out of the mall, taking 49th avenue as far as Granville Street, and then following that back to 71st and home.

One thing's for sure: I'll sleep well tonight.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Mysterious Tales Of Mystery

So here's the thing: I spend a lot of time thinking of stories. Some people like to sing in the shower, I like to plot out scenes. Usually, that's all I get. One scene, one encounter, with a handful of characters.

But when I come to write them out, I often second guess myself and start to see the flaws in the story, or the simplicity of the writing. Or maybe I just don't like how it flows on the page. But for whatever reason, the story gets scrapped and I move on.

The thing is, I really like to write. I've posted some stuff here in the past, from an idea to reboot Batman to a collection of opening paragraphs. Some of my tales come from playing in RPGs with friends, while others evolve from my desire to have an enjoyable back-story for my character. Once, I even posted a story that was inspired as a reply to a friends email!

So I'll stay writing. I'll stay scrapping works and getting frustrated. I'll stay world-building and character generating. And maybe, some day, I'll have something I really like, and I can go back to that world for a few more pages, a few chapters or even, just maybe, a few books.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Untitled Short Story

I'm asleep at my desk with my hat down and my feet up when she walks in. My assistant likes to let clients through unannounced. He says it's to remind me that he's not a secretary. I remind him that I don't need an assistant either, but we both know that's a lie.

I try to right myself a little too quickly and end up on my back behind the desk. I hear her stifle a laugh, but, to give her credit, by the time I'm on my feet, she has her serious face on again. Pity. I imagine she looks much nicer smiling. I imagine a lot of things in that first second.

She's got a trenchcoat on, soaked through from the afternoon rain. The curves of her body are mostly hidden, but the hints at what sits out of sight makes my mind, and other things, run wild. The hat covers most of her hair, but a few red strands lie on her shoulder, stuck to the coat.

I hit her with my best opening line.

"How can I help, ma'am?" Hey, this is a business, not a bar.

"It's my husband..." (My heart sinks) "He's missing." (That's better).

I offer Curves a chair and some water.

"Got anything stronger?" she asks.

I shake my head. "I run a legitimate business here. I uphold the law, not break it."

"That's okay. We don't have time for drinks. We need to get to my husbands office, where he was last seen." Curves turns from the desk and heads for the door, holding it open while I grab my coat. We step out into the gloom of the afternoon. I look up at the glow of traffic, shielding my eyes from the unending rain, popping my collar against the wind. Far above I can make out the murky shape of the dome, sickly rays of sunlight bleeding through.

"My car is this way," I say as I point her toward the garage. "Tell me about your husband."

"He runs the xenogenetics division for BioDiversity, developing new strains of XNA for clients. His office is at Maginus Base. That's where we're heading, Mr. Walsh."

"Wait." I grab her by the arm and spin her around. "Maginus Base? Isn't that...?"

"On the moon. Yes. I have two tickets to Jansen Base, the nearest civilian habitat, leaving in six hours. Can I count on your assistance? As you can imagine, I can pay you for your services, and expenses. I hear you're the best, Mr. Walsh. I need you."

My heart skips a beat before my brain reminds me that she's a married woman. I unlock my beat-up old Ford and yank the door open. It's not pretty, but it gets me places.

"Thank god you got those tickets, ma'am. I don't think this thing could handle the mileage."

She cracks a smile, and I'm lost in the movie theater of my imagination all over again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fan Expo Vancouver: From One Rocketeer To Another

If you know me or follow my blog for long enough, you may have gotten the slight impression that I have a favourite genre. I've long been a fan of the pulp era. I love the Indiana Jones heroism, the lost cities, the deep jungles, the mysteries and marvels. I adore the fashion and wish some of it would swing back into fashion while I can still enjoy it! I just love the pulp era novels, the action, adventure and thrilling tales of daring-do! It's even been the genre of my most successful RPG campaign,  and it all started in 1991.

Now, admittedly, I had already been a fan of Indiana Jones at this point, but in the summer of 1991, I learned about the word "pulp", and what it meant. I saw, and fell completely into the world of, The Rocketeer!

The movie adaptation of Dave Stevens comic book stayed with me for years, taking up residence in the back of my brain, slipping out in dreams. When I got to college I discovered role-playing and found a hobby and friends where I could live out my adventures. Eventually I tracked down a copy of the DVD online and watched it for the first time in years.

And it was even better than I had remembered! It was subtle and witty, romantic and action-packed. It was four-colour action-adventure at it's finest. I watched it twice in two days, and both times were magical. I would watch it again and again, whenever I felt bored or lonely, or just to relive that excitement of childhood.

I wanted to be the Rocketeer, and thanks to the most incredible wife ever, I got to be, just a little. I got the jacket for Christmas, and with the help of the best group of friends in the world, she got me the helmet for my 30th birthday (link includes the video of me receiving the gift).

One of my long-term dreams was to meet Billy Campbell. I wanted to just meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his portrayal of Cliff Secord. I know that any motion picture is a collaborative effort, with directors, writers and other actors all contributing to the experience, but Billy was Cliff. He was the Rocketeer. So in some small way, he influenced who I am today.

Billy Campbell was a guest at the recent opening year of the Fan Expo Vancouver. Even before I found this out, it had been my intention to attend in costume as The Rocketeer. I mean, really, who else? But once I saw his named added to the official list, my excitement went from "Happy to support a new comics convention" to "Oh. Emm. GEE. *high pitched squeal only dogs can hear*". Claire, once she got her hearing back, agreed to attend too, especially now that she had the opportunity to watch me go speechless.

So last Saturday we got up early, had a shower (a must if ever attending conventions, thank you very much), put on my costume and got into Downtown Vancouver early. The convention opened at 10am, and by 10:15 there was a significant line-up. As we reached the head of the line, one of the staff stopped me and said "You'll be wanting the Electric Playground booth. That's where Bill will be." "Thanks", I responded, grabbed my ticket and headed in.

As it turned out, Billy wasn't due to be at the signing booth until noon, so Claire and I wandered the floor, taking in some of the other attractions available. As noon approached we headed for the booth and joined the queue. I was a bit of a nervous wreck, but was delighted with how many people recognised the costume, both males and females, of all different ages. At one point I glanced across the booth and spotted Billy chatting to some fans. Rather than wait in the queue, I asked Claire to hold my spot, dashed around the area and said "Hi".

I chatted to him briefly, but really just wanted to know if we'd have a chance to get a photo at the booth. He assure me he would be delighted to do so, and I excused myself, returning to Claire.

We stood in line for a few minutes. We were near the head, but there were a few others in front of us waiting to meet other people at the booth. Then the staff called "Hey! Hey, Rocketeer! You just want to see Billy?" "Yeah!" "Come on forward."

First off, Billy is tall! Like, 6'4" tall! You can see the difference in the photos. He wasn't standing on anything. Secondly, every last inch of that 6'4" frame is pure, genuine kindness and decency. He was just incredible to talk to. He was so delighted to see someone wearing the costume, and even asked if he could try on the helmet! Billy "The Rocketeer" Campbell asked if he could try on my helmet that my wife and friends got for me! Now, there may be some vicious rumors going around online that I started crying, but it was just something stuck in my eye. The convention center was very warn with all us nerds in one place...

I had my Rocketeer DVD with me, one of only two DVDs I brought with me from Ireland, and he signed the cover. He even signed my sketch/autograph book too! We talked about the movie, and Dave Stevens, and a bit about the new comics from IDW, a company that really should update its own website with its own licenses. We briefly discussed the new Captain America movie and what a great job Joe Johnson did on it (the connection, for those of you lost on the apparent non-sequitur, is that Joe also directed The Rocketeer), though we both expressed dismay that there was no Billy Campbell cameo!

At the end of the few short minutes we spent talking at the booth, Claire and I whole-heartedly thanked Billy for his time and stepped aside to allow others to meet him. Without Fan Expo Vancouver, I and many other fans of his work would never have gotten to meet him. So thank you to everyone that helped make this event happen, and here's to many more to come!

But as I walked away through the crowds, I turned to my wife and kissed her, thanking her for being who she is and knowing me so well. Without her I wouldn't be here, I wouldn't have the costume I have and I would never have met Billy Campbell.

With Number One crossed off the "People I Most Want To Meet In The World", it's on to Numbers Two and Three, Sigourney Weaver and Dennis Quaid, in that order! Shouldn't be that hard.

Post Script: Two things before I go:

1) While standing in line someone asked to take my photo, then told me he was sending it to a friend. That friend had been one of the producers on The Rocketeer!

2) After signing the DVD, Billy commented that he should have written "From one Rocketeer to another". Don't worry Billy. I'll be back next year, and I'll have something for you to sign that on!

Fan Expo Vancouver: Stuart Immonen

As mentioned in my previous post, last weekend my wonderful wife and I attended the first day of the inaugural Fan Expo Vancouver. We met many wonderful people, and I talked about a broad selection of them before. Now I'd like to focus on one of two that were particularly special for me.

Stuart Immonen has long been a favourite artist of mine. I think I learned his name during his work on Nextwave with Warren Ellis, but I've been enjoying his work long before that. Superman: Secret Identity, written by Kurt Busiek is particularly memorable and beautiful, deserving of more acclaim than it has ever gotten. Of course, Stuart also had the unenviable task of taking over Ultimate Spider-Man after Mark Bagley's record shattering run of 111 continuous issues. But while Stuart has long been an incredible artist, he has been an incredible person for much, much longer. And I have a story to prove it.

In 2007 Mike Wieringo passed away. I wrote about it at the time, and it's something that came up when I was in San Diego Comic Con a year later, and over and over again in the last few years. The entire industry seemed to have been shaken by his loss and mention of his very name is still enough to bring a hushed reverence over any crowd of comic fans.

In June of 2008 Marvel released the What If... comic Mike was working on at the time of his passing, a comic that was completed by a whole host of triple-A names in the comics industry in his honor, and all proceeds went to charity. At HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina, that year, a bunch of those people involved got together to sign copies of the comic for fans. I wasn't able to attend, but desperately wanted a copy, so, in a move that was incredibly forward and bold of me, I emailed one of the people that would be there to ask if he'd pick me up a copy. The worst he could say was "no".

Instead, Stuart assured me that, if he had the time, he'd be delighted to do so. A few days after the convention, Stuart emailed me again to tell me that it was a crazy busy time, and he unfortunately could not get me a copy. I thanked him and thought nothing more of it until a week or two later when I got another email from Stuart telling me that he had received a copy as a memento of the event and, I quote, "I certainly don't need a signed book, and in fact INSIST on forwarding it to you." He insisted! How could I turn that down? By way of a "thank you", I donated $100 to the Hero Initiative, a charity for people in the comics industry that need assistance. Stuart had even kindly added "To Denis" in one corner, much to my eternal joy*.

I never believed I would ever get to meet Stuart to thank him in person for such an awesome gesture, but thanks to the first ever Fan Expo Vancouver, I got to stand in front of him, hold back a rising flood of tears and recount my amazing tale. His wonderful and hilarious wife Kathryn was by his side and told me that she remembered the correspondence, and was delighted to meet me.

I live in an amazing world where amazing things happen every day. I'd grateful that I get to be a part of a surprising number of them on an annual basis**.

*- I would love to include a photo of the comic in question, but one of the disadvantages of moving to Vancouver was that I left a lot of prized possessions at home in the care of my mother, and I don't seem to have a photo posted on my Flickr account or elsewhere. Oh well.
**- This was so amazing I forgot to ask if I could get a photo with Stuart. To say that I was a little star-struck is an understatement.

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