Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bachelor: Life of Turner Edition

My wife and I celebrated our fifth anniversary this year, and I could not be happier. Despite some very challenging circumstances over those years, our marriage is stronger and better than ever, and I am truly, madly, and deeply in love with that woman. One of the unique characteristics of our marriage is how much our lives have really been intertwined. We share a small one-bedroom suite, we drive one car, we have worked together, and we have even been interviewed for jobs together. I know some couples need the space, and sometimes I feel like I might want a bit more, but our style works for us.
In the past five years, we have been apart only two extended times: for ten days when we were working with Chinese tour groups in the US; and when she went back to Saskatchewan for a week two years ago for a funeral while I stayed here and worked. We have had a few nights here and there, but nothing like the past two and a half weeks, when I have been here working and she has been on a prairie tour. Despite our nuptial bliss and how much I knew I would miss her, I was actually looking forward to our time apart: I thought it might be a good time to collect my thoughts, do some things I wouldn't normally get to do, and learn a bit about myself as a temporary bachelor. Well, I ended up working a lot and her trip was more stressful than we had initially anticipated, so not everything went as I had planned - I didn't go to one movie, for example - but I still was able to do a lot of things I wanted to do and to learn a few things along the way.
Here are the top ten things I have learned about myself from being a bachelor for the past two and a half weeks, the longest time I have been alone in six years. Some might seem obvious, but they were all revelatory to me in some way, regardless of how simplistic or superficial they may seem.

1. I work more when my wife isn't around. Granted, I have had a lot of work to do with camps, but I just tend to put more time into it when I don't have to manage her time as well. And even if I'm not doing "work" work, I end up doing a lot of housework, too. It's just my default setting, and I have to consciously shift to "play" and "rest".

2. I spend less time at home - significantly less. Again, not a shocker; working more seems to have an inverse relationship with being at home less. But I did also eat a high number of meals at friend's houses over the past couple of weeks, and I just tended to do more "on the run".

3. My wife is not the reason I don't play many video games. If anything, I play more video games when she's around. Other than playing Race for the Galaxy (a card game) in its electronic version, I did not play any video games at all. Then again, I was busy with work and being social. I did, however, enjoy having a few extra board gaming sessions when I wanted to, especially on longer more involved games like Le Havre or Twilight Struggle.

4. Food is functional, and I don't spend much time in the kitchen. I go in, I make the food I need to eat, and I get out. I think I only ran the dishwasher once or twice the whole time. Even if the meals away are accounted for, I still just don't eat a lot on my own.

5. My TV and movie-watching habits are actually mostly unchanged. I could watch a few more of my "non-wife" shows, but I kept a pace that corresponds to what I would have done if she were around, for the most part.

6. I am more emotionally disconnected when I don't have my wife around. It's not that I have fewer emotions - I just don't spend nearly as much time acknowledging them or processing them. So the next week or so could be interesting if those emotions start coming out...uh oh...I can feel them bubbling up...

7. I don't like the rhythm of living alone. I'm too much of an extrovert to live by myself, which is probably why I was away from home so much. The last time I lived alone was my first year of university when I was 17 and 18 years old. Since then, I've lived for six summers at camp, lived with twenty roommates, and been married for five years. And what do you know - I actually need people around to balance me out.

8. I am terrible with bedtime and the process of going to sleep. I used to resent that my wife would make me go to sleep; now I resent myself for not having better self-control. Seriously - even when I'm tired I don't sleep.

9. I blog more. Perhaps it's the fact that I don't have to negotiate computer time, or just that I can write when I think of something, but I have been blogging a lot more in the past couple of weeks. It has made me realize just how much I miss doing this all the time, and how much it means to me to work through things this way.

10. My life is too stressful right now. I mostly already knew this, but I have had some time to think through it, and I feel like I need to make a couple of changes to sort things out. That's for the discussions when she comes back, starting tomorrow.

In all, I am glad that I had the experience. It has been a challenging few weeks as we have navigated this time apart, but I think the things I have learned have all contributed to one very strong conclusion: it is SOOO much better for me to be married than to be on my own. I have a better, more balanced, more complete life with her around, and I cannot imagine life without her. It's going to take a few days to adjust to the constant presence of someone else around, but I wouldn't trade her for anything. Plus, now I have my automatic partner for board games and video games, and I get to start watching some of the TV shows I was not allowed to watch without her. The Newsroom, here we come!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

This is how the world ends...

The end of Breaking Bad begins tonight, and the internet is set to explode. There has been an unbelievable amount of writing already expended on these final eight episodes, so what more is there to say that has not already been said? If you're a fan of the show, you need to read the thoughts on the upcoming season by James Poniewozik of TimeAndy Greenwald of Grantland or Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture, as well as any of Seitz' recaps from rewatching Seasons 123, and 4. You can also take a look at many of the more whimsical takes on the show, including this periodic table that summarizes pretty much everything that has happened, or this conceptualization of what BB would look like in the format of a high school musical:

I cannot remember many shows that have had as much scrutiny and exposure as Breaking Bad. The Wire was beloved by the few who watched it, but it was a footnote. The Sopranos had great exposure for its time with a wide following, but its conclusion came at the beginning of the advent of social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter). Mad Men has grown up along with BB, but it has nowhere near the attention that BB does; perhaps the closest right now might be Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones, but both of those still lack the intensity of scrutiny paid to BB. BB really has defined what it means to be a serial drama in the social media age.
The bottom line is that there is TV before Breaking Bad, and TV after Breaking Bad. Even without its final bow, it has already entered the echelons of the "best drama of all-time discussion", along with The Wire and The Sopranos. BB, along with its network-mate Mad Men, have defined and redefined TV after the so-called "Golden Age" and the writer's strike of 2007-2008. It has not yet won its "Best Drama" Emmy, but its nominations for the past four seasons, repeated wins by stars Cranston and Paul, and nominations for much of the rest of the cast have ensured that it will stay among the most influential TV shows not only of its time, but of the (admittedly short) history of TV. And in two months, the final shot will have registered (both on camera and from a pistol, I'm sure), and it will all be over.
This is one of the first - and only - times that I am scheduling my life around a television show. I only caught up with the show following Season 4, so I have only had the experience of watching it as it was aired for the first half of Season 5 - and even then I mostly just waited and watched them all at once in a couple of sittings. But this season is different; it requires a more intentional approach. I think it needs to be experienced in community, so I have arranged to watch each episode with friends when it airs, save for the premiere (and perhaps one other episode) in order to truly appreciate the gravitas of each entry. I have thought about trying to make predictions about what will happen, but the only thing that has ever been certain in BB is that nothing is ever certain - except lots of death. Vince Gilligan has made it clear that a lot of characters will die this season, and Paul and Cranston have both commented that this will be the most intense and darkest season yet.
The only characters that I would be surprised to see die are baby Holly and Saul Goodman - anyone else seems like fair game at this point. For what it's worth, I think that Walt is going to die, but that it may not be by the "sword", so to speak - maybe the cancer will finally get him after all. This is how the world ends...not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

25 most-anticipated movies for the rest of 2013

I last wrote in April about the movies just in April, May, and June that I was anticipating, and I just never got around to writing about July and August. I saw a lot of movies in May and early July, but I have also missed quite a few along the way. At some point, I would like to catch up on Elysium, The Wolverine, Man of Steel, The Heat, Despicable Me 2, and Monsters University, along with a number of other releases including The East, 42, Fruitvale Station, Now You See Me, The Place Beyond The Pines, Romeo and Juliet, Side Effects, The Spectacular Now, To The Wonder, Upstream Color, and The Way, Way Back (for 17 total missed so far). It's kind of nice to have the break for a couple of months before anything else really hits the screens, so I'm looking forward to doing some catch up in the cheap theatres. In the meantime, I figured it would be a good time to look ahead and to see what's coming up.
As I looked ahead, I realized that there are a lot of movies that are at least on my radar for the last third of the year - 25 by my count. I'm fairly certain I will not see all of them, but these are the ones that are piquing my interest right now. I thought about breaking down the 25 into rankings one by one, but then I realized what a futile enterprise that might turn out to be, so I decided to group them roughly by my interest level and how likely I will be to see them when they come out in theatres; it's not a perfect system, but it mostly works for now. Then I figured that rather than just writing a bunch of text, it would be better to include the trailers (as most have now been released). So here, with trailers, are the 25 movies I'm eagerly anticipating in the last third of 2013:

V. The Family-Friendly Fare: Good, clean fun. And an intense story about a little girl that just kind of fits here.

Frozen (Nov 27) - Disney has been on a good streak lately with Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph, so I feel like they should earn some attention despite yet another fairy tale princess story. This is one I'll probably see with my wife. The trailer is just a teaser, but it's still kind of fun.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec 25) - Ben Stiller adapts the classic short story in what is sure to be a movie that completely misses the point of Thurber's original. It still might be fun, and any trailer that uses Of Monsters and Men can't be all-bad.

The Book Thief (Nov 15) - The film adaptation of the young adult novel about a girl living in the shadow of Nazi-occupied Europe is sure to be interesting, particularly considering the content of the book. No trailer yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sept 27) - It looks like the sequel will feature the same kind of zany originality as its predecessor. I like it when animated movies are actually fun.

IV: The biographical Oscar-bait; Sure, it's shameless in its presentation, but some of these might be really good.

Lee Daniels' The Butler (Aug 16) - Okay, so everything in this trailer drips and oozes with Forrest Gump-style shamelessly self-promotional awards season sentimentality. But Forest Whitaker is enough for me to overcome my initial reaction and to legitimately want to see this movie.

12 Years A Slave (Dec 27) - Steve McQueen's latest tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was sold into slavery. 

Mandela (Nov 29) - We have not yet had the definitive movie on Mandela. Invictus tried, but it didn't quite make it. It looks like Idris Elba might have made it this time.

The Fifth Estate (Oct 11) - Whatever you may think about the politics of Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, this film looks like a promising presentation of the story. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch in a dramatic leading role.

III. The Fanboy Event Movies: I know I'll see most of these, even if I know that they might not be that great. Sigh.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec 13) - As if the travesty of the first movie was not enough, this trailer only indicates the further despair that will be invoked by Jackson's complete misunderstanding of Tolkien's story. Seriously - Legolas?! Don't expect me to waste my money on this one.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Dec 20) - I still have not yet watched the entire original film, but it looks like this might just work. Will Ferrell needs it to work.

Thor : The Dark World (Nov 8) - Thor itself wasn't that great - it was kind of unwieldy and felt like it was trying to be too much. Well, with the story and character established, DW might just be able to avoid some of the awkwardness of its predecessor. Or maybe new director Alan Taylor will bring some of his Game of Thrones know-how to make this fantasy-sci-fi hybrid work.

Ender’s Game (Nov 1) - I am the first to admit that it looks like my fears may be realized, and that they may entirely miss the whole point of the classic novel. It looks like Harrison Ford might be entirely miscast, and the whole movie might completely fail. But I still have to see it for myself.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov 22) - There's only one way they really could have gone with this series, and the trailer shows how they're moving into the world of Panem.

II. The intense indies: Some highly established directors, writers, and actors have some movies that look very interesting over the next few months.

The Counselor (Oct 25) - Ridley Scott directs, Cormac McCarthy writes, and a stellar cast looks like it might deliver the best thriller of the season.

Nebraska (Nov 22) - Alexander Payne's newest release looks like it will reverse the manic pace of his previous films and present an interesting entry into the modern Americana-noir genre.

Labor Day (Dec 25) - No trailer yet for Jason Reitman's latest, but the promise of Kate Winslet is enough to keep me interested.

Her (Nov 20) - Joaquin Phoenix does his best impression of "Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl" in Spike Jonze's latest film.

Out of the Furnace (Dec 6) - All I needed to see was Christian Bale being a vigilante; everything else is bonus.

Don Jon (Sept. 27) - Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings Jersey Shore to life in this tale about a young man and his porn with his debut directorial effort.

I. The must-see movies of the season: These are the ones I have been waiting for, the movies I will feel the need to see as soon as possible when they are released. If these are as good as I hope they will be, this could be one of my favourite few months as a cinephile ever. Seriously.

Monuments Men (Dec 18) - George Clooney directs the true story of a team of architects and bookish guys who trained and served in World War II to preserve the monuments of Europe.

Gravity (Oct 4) - Alfonso Cuaron is the master of atmosphere - and this movie (ironically) looks like it has plenty.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Nov 15) - Even the trailer screams "Scorsese"! DiCaprio looks like he might completely own this movie a la De Niro back in the day with a look at who Gordon Gekko might be today.

The World’s End (Oct 25) - Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost finally deliver their conclusion to the "Cornetto trilogy" with a story of some buddies who go on a pub crawl and face killer robots...Yep. I'm all over this.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec 6) - The Coens return with their first film since True Grit with their take on the folk scene in Grenwich Village in New York in the 1960s.

American Hustle (Dec 25) - David O. Russell directs this story of con men in the early 1970s. Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence star, and he's worked with them all before in Oscar-nominated or winning roles. And yes.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Top 5: Super Smash Bros. Edition

Last weekend, I played Super Smash Bros. for the N64 for the first time in years. I was amused to see only twelve characters on the screen, considering that the two subsequent editions - Melee for the Gamecube and Brawl for the Wii - have included 26 and 39, respectively. I think the right number is somewhere around thirty, with a few extras thrown in as non-playable characters as bad guys (or even bonus characters). Three new characters have already been announced - Villager from Animal Crossing, the WiiFit Trainer, and Mega Man, which is seriously the main reason to buy this game. I think there are just over twenty other characters who still are interesting enough to keep in the series, based on their past entries: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Link, Zelda/Sheik, Ganondorf, Fox, Samus Aran, Kirby, Meta Knight, Pit, Captain Falcon, Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Marth, Snake, Sonic, Ness, Olimar, and Donkey Kong. That leaves five spots open for other new characters in my dream line-up, so here are my top five characters I would like to see as new playable characters in Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS:

5. (Tie) Captain N: The Game Master (from the eponymous cartoon) / Nester (mainly from the comics in early Nintendo Power): Two early promotional characters from different media that I think would be cool to bring back for the nostalgia factor (like R.O.B. in Brawl). Nester might be a fighting zilch, but Captain N would be fun to use. Plus, it would bring the Zapper into the game, and wouldn't that be awesome? 

4. Mike (from StarTropics, NES): Sure, he didn't have much going for him other than some wicked tile-jumping skills, an awesome watercraft, and a killer yo-yo, but I'd love to see Mike come back from C-Island after a twenty-year absence. 

3. Bomberman (from Bomberman series, various consoles): If Mega Man can cross-over, why not Bomberman? (Probably because Konami, which now owns Hudson Soft, will not license the character, but let's just work this out anyway.) Bomberman would bring a new primary skill to the game, as only a couple of characters (Link, Samus) have used bombs at all. Plus, new puzzle-style levels would be a blast! (pun intended)

2. Little Mac (from Punch-Out!! series, NES, SNES, Wii): How Nintendo has not included Little Mac yet is beyond me; after all, he's a boxer! He would have a mainly close-quarters fighting style, but it would be unlike any other character's skills. Maybe Mac would make a great unlockable character for the game.

1. Geno (from Super Mario RPG, SNES): I know that Square Enix probably still has copyright on these characters and that they will probably never release it, but Geno (or Mallow, for that matter) would be seriously awesome as a fighter. The Star Gun and his other specials would be amazing!

And, just because I had more ideas and I wanted to include them all, here are my top five opponents to face and/or levels to incorporate in the next SSB:

5. (Tie) Mario with FLUDD (from Super Mario Sunshine, Gamecube) / Ghost hunter Luigi (from Luigi's Mansion, Gamecube): Two alternate versions of the plumbers might be really interesting as bad guys, even if their skill sets might not be well-developed enough to feature as full characters. 

4. Duck Hunt (including that dog): It would be so much fun to have a level that incorporates the remote as a Zapper and that uses the ducks as flying weapons. Plus, I would love to get back at that dog for years of laughing at me. Maybe a cool idea for a bonus stage, perhaps?

3. Knuckles (from Sonic & Knuckles, Sega Genesis): Sonic wasn't the greatest fighter in Brawl, but I think they will improve his moves in the new game. Despite the relative similarity in skill set, I think Knuckles would be a great character to fight against and maybe to unlock as an extra playable character.

2. The Kong clan: Sure, Donkey and Diddy have been a part of the series, but what about Dixie, Kiddy, Chunky, Lanky, Tiny, and the rest? I think it would be a great level to have to fight the entire Kong clan one after the other, maybe even incorporating their weapons from Donkey Kong 64.

1. Dr. Wily and all of the bosses from Mega Man 2 (Mega Man 2, NES): If you're going to have Mega Man, you need to have a way for him to get weapons - and which weapons are more iconic than the ones in MM2? Plus, you could replicate parts of the stages, like that crazy laser section in Quick Man's stage. Wait, on second thought...

I am certain that there will be more announcements as the game gets nearer to its 2014 release date, but I think that even the inclusion of Mega Man is enough for me to start saving up for a WiiU. Until then, I have to get back to my old three Super Smash Bros. games and practice that button-mashing - er, those combos.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Portrait of a Perler Artist

Sometime during the past week, I celebrated my first "Perler-versary" - the one year mark of my entry into the world of bead sprites. I remember my entry into this brave new nerdy world well: my first creation was last summer an 8-bit Link during Create Camp on July 25; I man-crafted with a friend that Friday, and by Sunday I had purchased most of the supplies I needed to start, following up the initial surge with a blog post about my new hobby a week later. Over the past year, I have enjoyed a fair bit of this hobby, though much more intermittently than I would like sometimes, and I have amassed a decent collection. I had a lot of fun showing my work to the campers at this year's Create Camp; I'm now a living legend among the 7-11 year old crowd thanks to my sprites. I have really enjoyed my first year of Perler beading, so here, for your enjoyment, is my collection from my first year of making sprites.

 First of all, the tools of the trade (except for an iron and parchment paper):

Mega Man 2 and 3 bosses (except Hard Man - I can't quite figure out the colouring on him):

The Legend of Zelda (NES on the left, SNES and other Links on the right):

And, finally, my assorted Mario sprites, and my start on the Greendale 7 from Community:

I know it seems like a lot, but it really isn't that much. I have had a few spurts of creativity, but not as many as I would like to have had. I have a few projects and ideas that I would like to finish sometime, including finishing the Community sprites, making a Roughriders logo, and making Mega Man X, but we'll see what happens in the next few months. For now, I'm still basking in the glow of my most recent project, which was also my first true work of Perler art. All of the other sprites are simply copied from a pixelated image, but this project took inspiration, interpretation, and dedication, and I found myself engaging as an artist. Here's my story.

My mom is a caricaturist, and she sets up at the Fringe every year to sketch passers-by for a nominal fee. She was looking for something different this year to set her sign apart, so she suggested that I could try making a Perler bead version of her "Angry Monkey" logo:
I took up the challenge, and I had to learn a whole new level of making bead sprites. Her logo did not exist in a pixellated form, so I had to run the picture through a program online to change it into a bead-able format. The first step was to adjust the picture so that it worked with the palette, and then the program converted that image into a bead-by-bead pattern.

Then came the actual beading process. It took four boards, and I had to interpret the pattern a lot since it did not always correctly feature black beads, instead using the light brown beads. I forgot to take pictures of the whole process, but it took several hours and a lot of trial and error to get the design right. As you can see, there were even some differences in the final stages as I went back to the original pattern to get the best comparison I could.

Then came the final step: the ironing. Again, I didn't take any pictures, but this time it was because I was so focussed on trying not to ruin the entire piece. I took over an hour to iron because I tried to move the paper up before it was all fully melted, which meant that a lot of the beads fell out of place. I had to gradually iron each small section into a larger section, and I eventually got every part except the top middle of the hair all together. The challenge in ironing is that the beads will curl up as they cool if they are not held down, so I had to continually try to iron as the beads were moving out of place. I was finally able to iron the small section of hair and then integrate it with the rest of the monkey. You can see a little bit of different ironing on the final product below; just look for the two areas in the middle top that look a little less melted (ie. more holes) - the ironed-in portion is between those two sections. Despite my troubles, I am still very proud of how it turned out.

So there you have it: my first real piece of Perler art, a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-duplicated Angry Monkey. It is my largest piece to date, and although it used a small palette, it was easily my most complex due to the nature of the creation process. My mom was ecstatic when I gave it to her, and it is on her sign right now. And I feel great, like I finally really accomplished something as an artist: I took something that wasn't and made something. I did not necessarily get each bead perfect, but I did my best to capture the essence of the original. I took one artist's idea and made it my own, and I'm proud to call myself a true bead artist now. I'm no longer just a replicator; now I'm a creator, and I'm excited to create new pieces that are not merely simple replications of pixellated figures. I will still enjoy making those, undoubtedly, but I can now enjoy being an artist at my craft, regardless of how nerdy it happens to be.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A mountaintop experience

Every time someone visits me in Victoria, I try to do something new that I have not yet done. A friend who was visiting Victoria for the first time thought that we should do something outdoorsy and athletic, so we decided to scale Mt. Finlayson; we were in part influenced by a blog post that included the following challenge to climb the mountain: "if you are physically able, at some point you need to summit this mountain in order to prove to yourself that you can rightfully call Victoria BC your home." Well, with that challenge issued, I had to get on with it, so we made plans for our ascent. Just keep in mind that the last time I did any climbing or hiking was almost five years ago. I started out strong - probably too strong - and about ten minutes in, I got dizzy and had to take a break for about ten minutes. I was able to recover, and we made our way up the side of the mountain. It was quite challenging, particularly for an inexperienced climber like myself, and we had to take a lot of breaks on the way up, but we finally made it an hour and a half later. Here is the proof:

It was an unbelievable feeling to have scaled a mountain with a path length of 1.5 km and a summit height of 419 m. I have never done anything like this before, and I really appreciated the sense of accomplishment my ascent gave me. After just under half an hour at the top, we started on our way down, which was almost as difficult as the way up. We lost the main trail a couple of times and had to reorient ourselves; in one case, we had to do some fancy footwork to make our way around a boulder along a ledge to get back onto the main trail. Just as we re-entered the treeline, I rested for a moment, and that's when I left my mark on the trail:

A giant sweat stain left from sitting against that rock. It took about another twenty minutes to make it down, but a mere three hours after the entire ordeal had begun, we had climbed up and down a mountain. I know that for a lot of people that climbing Mt. Finlayson is not a big deal - I have friends that do it regularly - but for me it was a significant accomplishment.
Of course, on our descent, I could not help but think of the way in which the experience today was a metaphor for my life in Victoria. We came here, had a quick start, and had it scuttled and almost did not continue here; we were very close to moving away, much as I was close to giving up only ten minutes into our climb. But we have persevered, and we have had a lot of starts and stops along the way as we continue to be here. I wish I could say that we are at the summit, so to speak, but I we're still climbing in very difficult territory. The difference now is that I know that there is a summit, a point to everything we are doing here, and that we will reach that point. Just like my climb today, when seeing that summit was able to inspire me to keep on going, knowing that there are good things in store for us here if we persevere is enough to keep on going. It's hard work, I'm sore and achy, and I'm not sure that I would do it again, but I'm glad that I climbed Mt. Finlayson, and I'm glad that we're here, seeing what's going to come of this phase of life. And now I actually have the right to call Victoria home.


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