Friday, July 30, 2010

My Experiment in podcasting

Currently I cannot get my fabulous 150th post /podcast #1 online!

I've just spent the last hour attempting to create a podcast - you know this stuff is kinda tough. As I have run out of time, I'll just have to try again later, but thanks for bearing with me!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review: Never Let Me Go

Last week I read the book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which was considered by Time Magazine to be the best book of 2005, as well as being short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. I've always found it a little funny that I keep coming across titles like these - books that have all sorts of critical acclaim and are in one of my favourite genres (the book is a Science Fiction novel), and it is only years after the fact I even hear about them.

The novel itself follows a woman named Kathy H. as she looks back over her childhood at a boarding school called Hailsham, a school for special children, and especially her friends Ruth and Tommy.

Without going into too many spoilers (which again, is kind of funny, considering I'm talking about a five-year-old book), I love how the book manages to introduce a feeling of anxiety and dread for the reader, while at the same time, slowly letting us know exactly what the students at Hailsham knew all along.

It's very rare I come across a Science Fiction book that fills me with a sense of incredible sadness like this book did, but don't get me wrong - I really liked it. It's kind of a gateway book, wherein fans of award winning literature may take a look at SF and fans of SF may start branching into books that win the Pullizer or the the Booker Prize.

A quick note: I'll be off camping on Wednesday, so I won't have another post up until Friday, but as it will be my 150th post, I'll try to do something special.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Edmonton is a pretty cool place for writers

Imagine sharing your latest short story, not by passing around a copy of it to your friends, but instead by getting up on stage and reciting the thing to an audience. This is exactly what I watched on Wednesday night, and it was pretty darn cool.

As a guy with aspirations to write, I try to keep my ear open for opportunities in my local area. On Wednesday I came across one of them - my friend Trish suggested I check out Edmonton's Story Slam, as it was partnering with our local genre fiction magazine - On Spec (I went to a reading hosted by them recently and had a pretty good time).

The concept for the Story Slam was pretty simple - 10 contestants, 5 minutes each, a microphone in front of a bunch of other writers and their friends. The event was held in the Haven Social Club, a basement cash bar with a stage and comfortable seating, and when I got there at around 7:00pm, the place was already packed. I got a really good vibe off of the audience, as everyone seemed very supportive of the writers and was having a great time.

Although I didn't personally perform a story (I thought I might give it a try, but then got a little gun shy after seeing the size of the crowd), I will definitely check out the next couple of these events (they happen on the third Wednesday of each month. Also it was nice to see that the writers could bring their stories on stage with them and read, as I thought it may all have to be done spur of the moment.

It's really kind of cool to see just how big the writing community is in my northern city, considering I always used to feel there were only one of two folks up here giving it a go. BTW - my favourite story there was an interesting take on the maze of King Minos from Greek mythology, told from the Minotaurs (extremely pleasant) point of view.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Peter Jaxan

This month I decided that rather than read a classic of Horror, I would check out something new, so I picked up Justin Cronin's vampire apocalypse novel, The Passage. Spanning the events before an outbreak of vampirism and the events of the next century, the novel had a very interesting take on the state of a world under attack, as well as an intriguing mystical side plot as well. For myself however, a book (and especially a genre book), is only as good as it's characters, and the main one in this book, Peter Jaxan, is pretty darn awesome.

Without going into too many spoilers, Peter lives in a small colony of people who are constantly on guard against a possible vampire attack. The vampire in the novel are pretty terrifying, and loss of colonists to attack has become a regular part of life. Peter is the younger brother of Theo, the leader of a household in the colony and generally considered the strong brother of the pair.

What I love about Peter is his ability to dream (and I don't mean Inception-type dreaming here), to think beyond life in the colony and wonder at the world beyond what is just in front of him. When the opportunity presents itself, and Peter begins to be challenged in ways he never thought imaginable, he begins to change into quite a powerful character.

The novel was a lot of fun, my only complaint is that as it is the possible first in a trilogy (and yes the movie rights have already been sold), I now have to wait a year to see what will happen next.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Move Review: Inception

This weekend I went out with my BFF Mike and saw the new Christopher Nolan film Inception.

First impression: Wow.

Luckily as I've had a day to digest it, my post will go on a little longer than that.

The premise of the film is pretty neat - imagine you could find a way to travel into a person's dreams, then imagine that while you're there you could find all of their secrets and bring the info back into the waking world. Our main characters in the film are extractors - shady figures who do exactly this, stealing secrets from businessmen and the like.

The title comes from the possible job of putting a thought in someone's head rather than taking one out, and more importantly, making them think the ideas was theirs in the first place.

I've loved movies based in the world of dreams for a long time, from Dreamscape to The Cell, there is just something so intriguing to me about journeys through the subconscious.

Also I love when my university book learning actually pays off in some way (I recognized that Canadian Ellen Page's character is named Ariadne, who in Greek mythology helped Theseus escape from the labyrinth of the Minotaur), so that I can feel my cash is actually leading towards me knowing more stuff.

The movie definitely falls within the category of films I would own, as I would recommend it to others and watch it again myself. The acting was great, the chase sequences were very cool and overall I simply felt invested in all these characters.

Years ago when I watched Memento, I thought that this writer/director had come up with an intriguing brain puzzle of a story. Inception is like that but on an entirely different level.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Things I've noticed: Nintendo Customer Service ROCKS!!!!

Due to a consistent disc error with my Wii console, I contacted the folks at Nintendo Customer Services and was told to mail my console in (I blogged about it here). 11 days after I mailed it to their offices in Vancouver, I got it back.

It works like new! In the end the cost of $89 (CDN), was fine by me - they even put the machine under a new warranty, so if anything goes wrong for the next year it's all covered.

The folks on the phone were great, the service was reasonably priced and prompt.

Now I'm off to play!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: A Square

Have you ever wondered if there was more to our world than just what you could see? Ever since I saw the film The Matrix, the idea that my world was not necessarily the same place I assumed it was has haunted me. It's kind of funny, because that idea, that there is more to perceive if we only knew how to look has been around for a pretty long time. Take for example, this week's genre character, A Square, from the 1884 novel Flatland, by Edwin Abbott Abbott.

Basically the plot goes as follows; living in a two dimensional world (length and width, but no depth) our main character, A Square, describes his world to us. Basically he explains how the social system works, why circles are better than squares which are better than triangles, etc., then one day he is visited by a creature from another dimension – the third.

This visitor, (called simply – A Sphere), tries to explain to our narrator how his view of the world is limited and just how much is available if you only look for it.

The book itself is a satire on society in the Victorian era, but for the modern fantasy reader, the concept of a three dimensional being visiting a two dimensional world is pretty cool all on its own. What I like most about the Square is his sense of wonder as he begins exploring the different dimensions throughout existence.

The book itself is pretty short, basically an afternoon’s read, and as far as fantastic fiction that also gives an education on mathematic principles, it’s pretty darn cool.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My personal nemesis - the creepy doll

It actually started as a joke - my wife had a little doll that was supposed to look and feel like a new born (the doll was a 1979 Mattel Newborn Love 'n Touch Doll - for the doll enthusiasts among my readers), and she simple caught me at the wrong time and said something like:

Hey hon, check this out!

And then thrust this creepy little doll in my face a smidge too fast and I ended up screaming.

My oldest daughter was maybe four at the time and having anything that would make her dad scream seemed like the coolest thing ever, so she started hiding it around the house (in my sock drawer, my night stand, my lunch box, and once inside a Christmas present), and each time, like the dutiful father I am, I would make a big show of screaming (and would often run from the room).

The thing is, after a couple years of this, the doll actually started creeping me out. Looking at an image of another Newborn Love 'n Touch Doll doesn't affect me at all, but knowing that this specific doll is in my house somewhere right now, waiting for me, gives me the creeps!

I'm actually a little on edge about it know as I mentioned to my wife that I was going to be writing a post about the doll and I'm a little scared that it might make an appearance soon...

Wait a minute... did you hear that?

Ummmm... I think I'm gonna end this blog a little early (and sleep with the hallway light on tonight).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Things I've noticed: My love affair with board games

We're basically at the one-week mark of me living without my Wii console - and its time I start exploring my board game collection. We've got all the standards, Monopoly (Star Wars), Settlers of Cattan (with most of the expansions), and even a board game based on the Vampire the Requiem Role Playing Game.

The game I think I'm going to focus on over the next week, however, is Puerto Rico. I've heard a lot of good things about it, and since it was given to me about six months ago, I haven't taken it out of the box.

Apparently you play plantation owners in 1700s Puerto Rico and try to create the best plantation. It sounds kind of like Settlers, but at the same time I've heard it compared to Chess in the strategic nature of the game.

It's kind of funny, just like I've got a "To Be Read" shelf of books and a "To Be Seen" shelf of movies. I've got a "To Be Played" shelf of games (both Board and Video), and yet I'll often wander around my house looking for things to do...

Anyway, I've clearly started to ramble, so good night everybody!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Mega Man

It's been almost half a week since I sent my Wii console away, and even though I don't play a lot of games, I can't help but think about what I would be playing if I had access to the machine. This of course leads me to thinking back to my favourite games and specifically my favourite characters in games. This week, a little robot called Mega Man.

I first came across the character in Mega Man 2 at a video store and after one hour of play I knew he would end up being one of my favourite characters of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). His back story in a nutshell - created by Dr. Light, Mega Man began as a robotic lab assistant. After treachery by Dr. Light's partner, Dr. Willy, Mega Man is converted into a fighting robot and must fight through multiple worlds to get to Dr. Willy.

The main part of what I love about Mega Man is the structure of the game - as the player you can select any game world you like to start in. All of the bosses are also robots and tough to beat, but if you defeat them in a certain order, you make your job much simpler. So the game is kind of a cross between a standard platformer (in which a character jumps from platform to platform), a puzzle game, and an open world game (where you get to pick the order in which you do things.) Also as Mega Man defeats each world boss, he gets that boss's power as well, something which can be used in many different ways throughout the rest of the game.

I think my favourite part of Mega Man is that after decades of playing the original game I still come across references to him today, whether in an a capella version of his theme song, references to the old Captain N: The Game Master cartoon, or one of my favouite online games StinkoMan 20X6.

Recently Mega Man 10 has come out for the Wii virtual console and I've got to say, once I get my machine back, I really want to give a try to this new game with an old school feel.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trouble with my Wii Counsole

Last week we had our young niece and nephew over for a visit and were informed that our Wii wasn't working so well. Regardless of which game disc the kids tried to use, they got a "Unable to Read Disc" message. So on Tuesday I went online and found a suggestion to use the Wii Lens Cleaner to fix my problem.

I bought the cleaner - it had simple instructions and the cleaning pad came out more than a little dirty when I finished, but unfortunately the disc error did not go away. Our Wii is three years old so we are definitely past the warranty coverage, but as the machine didn't work I decided to give the folks at Nintendo Customer Service a try.

After a 15 minute phone call, we had a solution. The very helpful customer service guy I chatted to explained that while the Wii Lens Cleaner is a great preventative tool, in my console's case it was a little too late. I would have to send the machine away for a repair.

The charge broke down as follows:

$75 for the repair
$10 for shipping (there and back), and
$5 for tax (all in Canadian funds)

In return they promise to have my console back to me within 12 business days of them receiving it (they should get it in Vancouver around Wednesday), and if the machine is irreparable they will replace my console. Either way I'll have a new machine with another year of warranty by the end of this month.

I'm hoping that this post will begin my very positive experience of how the good folks at Nintendo care for their customers, but we'll see - either way I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day

For all my Canadian Readers (Hello my lovely wife) Happy Canada Day!

For everyone else, I'll try to answer the question of "Why aren't any businesses in Canada answering the phone today?"

Although for most of the world today was a pretty regular Wednesday, for us up in the Great White North it's our National Holiday. Yup, Canada Day (which used to be known as Dominion Day) celebrates the enactment of the British North America Act back in 1867 when our country began the journey to being the great nation it is today.

It's a pretty big deal for us, we have fireworks, a statutory holiday, and my grocery store sells cupcakes with little Canadian flags on them.

Anyway, I'll be back onto my regular reviews and musings next week, I just wanted to send out a quick note wishing everyone a great Canada Day.