Friday, December 28, 2007

Movie! Movie! Movie!

In reverse chronological order, starting with "Juno":

Elvi and I caught the late show of "Juno" last night. I've read much praise of the movie, and rightly so. It's a superb story of human emotion crafted with the right mix of comedy and a little pathos. I've also read much praise of first-time screenwriter and ex-stripper Diablo Cody, but I have to disagree in part with that assessment.

Cody's dialogue and characters deserve all the praise, but the plot was fairly simple and predictable. The story holds no surprises, except perhaps in the relationship between Juno and her stepmother. What brings the movie to such a high plane is the acting. J.K. Simmons is brilliant in a supporting role, Michael Cera knows his befuddled teenagers, and Jason Bateman has that middle-aged guy trying to be cool down pat - it was, at times, like watching a new episode of "Arrested Development", and that's a good thing. My only quibble was with Jennifer Garner, who was wooden perhaps because she was trying to play Vannesa as cold, which was a mistake because that then betrays Juno's actions at the end of the story. I'll steer clear of details, but Juno wouldn't do what she did with Vanessa as played.

Despite supporting performances she could lean on, "Trailer Park Boys" veteran Ellen Page as Juno puts this movie on her tiny shoulders and carries it across the finish line.

"Juno" reminded me a lot of "Little Miss Sunshine", with its comic chops, well drawn characters, and, frankly, weak plot - but the plot doesn't matter. You barely notice it, because the character studies draw you in. Ellen Page is so infectiously charismatic, you barely register anything else. I think I've said this before, but this movie is a testament to the power of acting. You'd think as writer, I'd push the writing, but this cast could take any piece of crap to a higher level.

(When Elvi asked me what I thought of the film upon exiting the Katy Mills mall, I said, "Ummm, I dunno." I guess it takes me a while to percolate.)

"No Country for Old Men":

What an oddly structured film - par for the course when it comes to the Coens. It reminds me of "Fargo" with interweaving stories and developments that stem from an initial crime and its loving vistas of American desolation. In both films, all of this falls into the jurisdiction of a small-town police chief - although with diametrically opposed outcomes.

"No Country for Old Men" doesn't succeed as well as "Fargo" because it's not as tidily integrated. More of the loose ends hang unresolved. Who exactly was the Stephen Root character? The assassin Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) exists for two purposes, structurally: to show Moss that he's not safe in Mexico and to show that Chigurh is extra evil, even for an assassin. Wells also discovers the suitcase, but that discovery becomes pointless as he never recovers it. We don't need to Wells to counterpoint Chigurh and the element of danger in Mexico easily could have been handled some other way.

Some critics have complained about the plot, but it holds together. A few have criticized the movie for being slow, but I prefer to call it languorous. Were it not for seeing "Juno" a half-hour later as part of an impromptu double bill, "No Country for Old Men" would have been one of the best movies I've seen in a while. Hmmm - that makes no sense; it still is.

"Bender's Big Score":

Surprisingly, an extraordinarily convoluted plot of time travel does not detract from the movie. What does detract are the lame jokes, unbelievable alien scammers, and a desire to cram in every "Futurama" bit character (on Earth, except, I think, Calculon and Flexo). The lack of good, old fashioned humour is shocking - didn't these writers have two years of jokes pent up inside them? And they came up with this? Where's the memorable dialogue? I can only remember a single line two days later: "I've managed to save the universe and forty percent of your rectum." And that doesn't even make sense, because the operation in question took place on the outside of Fry's butt.

I hate to say it, but it was simply dull. Let's hope for better in the world of tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


My mom got the kids a Wii which we've been putting through paces for the last three days. My shoulder aches, my bicep twinges, my forearm cramps, and my wrist is numb. Good times.... I think the kids have played, too.

So far, we have the sports games, Boogie, Super Mario Galaxy, and Lego Star Wars. he sports are still the best. I have to keep an eye open for a more mature games. Is there a WWII FPS sort of game?

My mom also got me "Bender's Big Score". I had a hunch, so I deliberately avoided it until now. I'll report after I watch it. I've read mixed reviews.

Bonus art:

During the expected layover in Philadelphia (not my extended, self-imposed one), Child Three decided to draw. The result was no doubt meant to pique the locals:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bonus Philadelphia story

I had what was called a cheesesteak but sized like half of one. Just because the half was cut in half into quarters does not make it a whole. It came with 15 fries and a diet Pepsi. After tax and tip: slightly above $13.

The place I ate at was fairly deep into the B concourse. I'd hung out at gate C22, our original Houston gate, all day until I went in search for food.

I trekked back to C26 for my 7:45 p.m. flight and was not there more than 15 minutes the agent announced that our flight would be delayed until 8:25 - and that it was overbooked and the airline was looking to reward volunteers with a flight voucher should they give up their seat. Five minutes after that, they announced a gate change to B3.

So here I sit at B3, and the agent here just repeated the call for volunteers, but this time she announced that the next confirmed seat to Houston is tomorrow night at 7:45 p.m. - but that US Air would provide a hotel voucher and meal vouchers for tomorrow.

Nobody is lining up. They need to sweeten the pot. (No, not for me - I'm getting out of here, free wireless or not.)

On the whole...

I'm at Gate C22 of the Philadelphia airport. We drove to Albany last night, slept at a hotel, and left our van there as we caught a shuttle to the airport at 5:45 a.m. We fly here, and discovered that US Air was offering round-trip vouchers to volunteers who surrender their seats. I sent Elvi and kids ahead and took the voucher. I'm on a flight that leaves at 7:45 p.m. today.

I did not tell the ticket agent, "On the whole, I'd rather stay in Philadelphia," but I should have. How often will that opportunity, fraught with comedic potential, come again?

US Air overbooked the flight, but ultimately that's not why I was not on it. It was a weight issue. The passengers had too many bags. In addition to the free ticket, US Air provided a $10 meal voucher. In airport terms, that's a slice of pizza.

Some observations:

- Not that it implies causation or even correlation, but very single person I've seen in a Santa hat at airports today has not looked like the sharpest point on the rack.

- This stuttering laptop is driving me *@^#$*(@# crazy. No obvious cause shows up in the Task Manager, neither in CPU or memory usage. It's not the network card, because it happens with the card removed. Virus scans show nothing. The only straw left for me to grasp is a horribly fragmented hard drive.

- A very cute flight attendant just walked by, talking to another flight attendant: ..."You've never been to Montreal? Really, an above average number of really attractive people."

- Free wireless in airports is awesome.

- A man came up to me to ask me about WiFi because he just bought a computer in the airport. He peppered me with questions, which I was able to answer. Only after he left did it occur to me that that might have been the perfect scam, because he had my complete attention. Fortunately, my carry-on bag is still on the floor beside me.

- When US Air offers return-trip vouchers, it's for travel within the 48 contiguous American states only.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lucy in the science museum

We're off to Houston at the end of the week, where we'll meet with old friends, new family, and this old fossil at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Guess which I'm most excited about?

I used to lug real dinosaur skulls and mammoth tusks around the lab, and I've sorted through the remains of Native Americans but Lucy is a whole other bag of bones.

Brain games

As Elvi drove us in Minivan One to her aunt's place for our postponed Christmas-y dinner Monday night, she and I chatted with Children Two and Three while Child One read in the back seat.

I don't remember what we were discussing, but Child Two mentioned that when she's in a car, she chooses a spot and makes it jump. Child Three said he did, too. Elvi was confused, but without ever having discussed this before with the kids, I knew exactly what they were talking about.

I explained that you can choose a speck of dirt on the car window and, using parallax, you can make it "jump" over bushes, cars, fences, or any feature of the scenery you're driving by. I did it too when I was younger. I was right.

I welcomed my darling children to the world of mild OCD. I didn't tell them I sometimes softly click my teeth between streetlights - although, curiously, only when I'm a passenger, never when I drive. There's time enough for them to adopt that habit by themselves.

Elvi was flabbergasted that the three of us had this game in common. It has to be a function of neurology and not nurture, because all three of us developed the habit independently.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What 40 cm of snow looks like

The wife took some photos this morning while doing carpool. I think the Children Two and Three's school is the only one open on the Island of Montreal.

Meanwhile, the wife's aunt's Christmas dinner has been pushed to tonight, meaning there's a good chance I won't make Alex's industry schmoozefest tonight.

Bonus photo of a gingerbread-cookie mock-up of my dog:

I'm very proud of my handiwork.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The weather outside is frightful

We have about a foot of snow so far today, and expect another half foot to come. My hockey players played their first game of a the NDG-hosted tournament this morning and the drive home at 11:00 was certainly hairier than the drive in two-plus hours earlier as visibility had dropped to about a long block.

We lost 5-1 to Greenfeld Park, more specifically to #66 on that team, who scored four goals. Child Three in net let in two goals in the first period, one of which he definitely should have stopped, but played well in the latter two periods despite the score.

Yesterday was another hockey day, as I was coach for an all-star team of western Montreal players against eastern Montreal. We hopped out to a 2-0 lead but lost 8-2. Despite the loss, the goalie from our NDG team won an award for best goalie and a skater won for hardest shot (30 mph or so) during the skills competition before the game.

There was another skills competition yesterday at the tournament and our representative won fastest skater there.

We were supposed to go do Christmas-y things at my wife's aunt's house in the West Island (we'll be out of town during the actual holiday), but the weather has kept us home. We might get out there tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Finding the jeopardy

I'm writing a biographical screenplay about a fascinating author, a true giant in his field. He had his share of reversals in his life but frankly overcame them rather handily.

He had a love affair with an older married woman, but he broke it off. He argued with his publisher over the editing of his second book and severed the relationship - but quickly found another publisher to take him on and succeeded there without a hitch. Everybody in his hometown hated hi - but he quite happily lived far away.

This writer had some fascinating issues that manifested in his actions, but he took no real risks. If he hadn't been published, he had gainful employment to fall back on. He wasn't a tortured soul, just a capable one.

This story is there, waiting to be told, but it's not going to be easy. It may be the hardest task I've bitten into yet.

Bonus humour:

Take a gander at the LOLcat Bible. Screw Tuscan whole milk. None of those reviews holds a candle to the oeuvre of Henry Raddick. I'm sticking to the LOLcats.

"Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem...."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fun with bad journalism

In the past, I've brought some awkward moments in journalism to light for your amusement.

Here's more, from Regret the Error, a blog devoted to entertaining newspaper and magazine corrections. The site presents Crunks '07, its list of top corrections over the past year. Don't miss the link to the same site's 2007 Plagiarism/Fabrication Round-Up.

The Get It in Writing Blog offers us a similar selection of unfortunate juxtapositions in online media and outdoor advertising. I love the lickable dumpster.

Bonus mini-rant:

The Gazette has an article on union reps who addressed the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on xenophobia accomodation of foreign cultures in Quebec. One union president, representing 150,000 workers, suggested Quebec needs a fundamental law that sets public institutions, laws, and governments are neutral with respect to religion. She told the commission that such a law would mean that employers and schools would not have to permit Muslim attire. I wonder how she and her members would react when they realized that such a law would raise the question of the official government holidays of Christmas and Easter (the government long ago changed Fete St. Jean Baptiste to the Fete Nationale...). To its credit, the anti-English Societe St. Jean Baptiste is against the idea.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hockey weekend

Assistant coach Neil arranged for our Novice B team to visit the Habs practice Saturday morning. We watched the Canadiens do break-out drills and practice shooting and missing the net, it seems. Assistant coach and former Canadiens captain Kirk Muller came out to greet us afterward, although Child Three had chosen that moment to go to the bathroom and missed him.

That evening, we met the third NDG team in our division, having lost the first NDG-NDG match-up against the second team last week. We took it to our rivals, and our kids executed the game-plan to perfection to take the game 3-0. Our final goal was scored doubly shorthanded with the opposing goalie pulled, so that it was six on three. It wasn't a long shot, either. Two of our three penalty-killers kept the puck along the boards in the opposing zone until the goal-scorer was able to deke his way to the slot and put the puck in. The second NDG team, meanwhile, forfeited a game Saturday and that put us back into first place.

Today, we won again, against a team we previously beat 2-0. Child Three could have had a shutout if he'd used his stick on a looong shot instead of going to his knees to make a glove stop. Ah, well.

I had my first coaching crisis as well. I wanted to move one of our forwards back to defence and move our weakest defenceman up to forward, as he wanted to do. I had another kid, who'd been a forward, who asked to go back to defence but he didn't make it to this game. I had to choose a forward to put on defence.

As soon as I told the new defenceman for the day that he'd be playing back, he started yelling, whining, and crying. I assume he felt it was a demotion. He needs to research Bobby Orr. As I explained, I wanted him on defence because he's one of the top skaters and puck-controllers on the team, but he doesn't have much of a shot. In our first five games, he had no goals despite numerous opportunities. He also has periods when he doesn't bother to backcheck, although he's much improved in that area. For one game, I wanted him to play back and quarterback the team. I didn't want to move a forward who always backchecks to D, because such a kid will be back to help defend anyway.

If my chosen defenceman had just decline politely and quietly, I could have accepted that better than his loud outburst and tears (he tends to complain). With his tantrum in front of the team, he devalued, insulted, and demoralized the five kids who do play defence. If I accede to him, I'm agreeing with him in front of the team. When he gave me the ultimatum "If I'm on defence, I'm not playing," all I could do was agree.

In the end, I decided a sulking defenceman would do no good at all, so we went with four defencemen and eight forwards. The chosen non-defender scored his first two goals to lead us to a 3-1 victory. I guess he showed me.

Unfortunately, one of our players received an inexplicable ten-minute misconduct penalty at the end of the game. That lost us a Franc-Jeu (a provincial fair-play program) point in the standings, dropping us into a tie for first place. The refs took off without explaining or even informing us of the penalty, for verbal abuse of an official. This is a good kid, too, who appeared to say nothing. Ah, well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Maybe not such an idiot

I just passed by the dining room and saw Crash peering in through the patio door.

Now, thanks to all the snow, I can tell the only gate to our backyard has not been opened. Nor are there any dog tracks leading to the back yard. Or any people tracks.

The dog has never gotten out of the yard unless the gate was left open.

So how did he get in?

He seems a little stiff and reluctant to move, but that might be from the cold. I don't think he's hurt too bad, if at all.

Idiot dog, #876 in an infinite series

I took Crash to get his nails clipped. That's an extravagant $8 for five minutes work, but he and we are too skittish to accomplish the clipping at home.

We walked down Sherbrooke. He came in with me to the bank machine, then we walked down to the groomer.

The groomer lifted him on the table - "He smells skunk," in a Russian accent - and clipped his nails and Crash looked like he always does when lifted and clipped: like he was being flayed alive. Fraught with twenties and nothing else, I had to go to the store upstairs to pay the $8.

I didn't put the leash on him to go the five feet out of the groomer's basement place and into the ground-level retail store. When I held the door to the shop open, Crash spooked and took off down Sherbrooke, at least in the right direction. I suppose he thought we were going to waterboard him next. He hates water.

I run faster than Crash does, but he already had his adrenaline going and he had a head start, so he escaped. When I got to Hingston, I asked a man if he saw the dog, and he said, "Yeah, he was lightly hit by a car and he took off. He must be at Grand by now."

Apparently, he was very lightly hit, because I couldn't find him during a 90-minute search. There's definitely a grade of light hitting that would keep him from travelling more than two blocks after contact, and this was lighter than that.

I went back to the store to pay for the nail-clipping on the dog I might never see again, and lost my son's beloved camouflage scarf. I retraced the entire path I took when looking for the dog, eventually returning a third time to the dog store. They hadn't seen it either. I left the store without hope of finding it - but there it was, two parking spots away from the door. Someone had tied it to the top of a parking-spot designator (we don't really use meters at each spot anymore).

The dog's still missing, and I don't have enough time to get into a work groove since I have to do carpool in half an hour. The dog does have tags and it's not the first time he's run away. I expect someone will eventually call us - with good news, I hope - and we'll retrieve him. He never finds his way home.

It's a good thing I didn't take any kids to lose.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Little stinkers

1) If you look closely at the photograph, you can make out the skunk by the curb in front of our house. You can't make out what it is doing, which is tugging at a dead squirrel frozen to the road. Yum! The reason you don't see two feet of snow is that the wife took the photo last week.

2) Speaking of the wife, she's been catching up on her "House" lately. She has choir practice Tuesday nights so doesn't watch the broadcasts. She came down to join me on the couch the other evening and told me I've spoiled her, because the only "House" character she finds attractive is the short Jewish guy (Peter Jacobson).

3) This guy did stink, but just had his equipment washed:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dumped on

By Mother Nature with a foot of snow and by the NDG Cougars 4-2. And my head, by a rhinovirus.

My Panthers did not play well yesterday. They stood around looking at the puck rather than working for it and the defencemen played too far off the blue line so we couldn't keep any sustained pressure in the opposing zone. We had only half a dozen shots and lost. Child Three played goalie and kept us in the game with some nifty saves but couldn't stop them all. I don't mind the loss. It's a good lesson for the kids, and concrete proof of what I warned them about before the game: you can't coast on reputation and expect to win.

Today's a snow day, with both schools closed and the wife home, too. It's a unique day, because even on weekends, we're usually rushing to get kids somewhere. Today, there are no commitments until the evening, and I we may skip Child Three's goalie clinic because of the snow.

Gosh, all my news lately relates to this hockey team.

Our friend Neil, also one of my assistant coaches and a real macher, has arranged for our little team to visit the Canadiens practice Saturday morning. The boys are excited. I will probably miss the event, because I registered for mandatory coach training in Dollard that's supposed to take place December 7-9. I haven't heard about that yet, though. Maybe I'm not registered - but that would mean my team cannot enter any tournaments, which would suck because we're in one in the latter half of this month.

I really ought to get to work now, and maybe plot some strategy for the AGW CMAKdown, a Combat Mission: Afrika Korps tournament of the aging farts who used to/still play WarBirds. I'll post AARs (after-action reports) when it ends.

Bonus curiosity about Google:

Alex E. asked me to look into Google's "define" function. You can do a search for Google for definitions as follows: "define: pornography" - and Google will spit out definitions of the term based on online glossaries and Wikipedia. It's easy to see how Google presents the results. The search engine provides the string of text that follows the sought term on each result.

But I can't figure out how Google decides which glossaries/dictionaries etc. make cut as valid resources for a "define" search. At first, I assumed that if a page used the words "dictionary", "glossary", "definitions", etc. then Google would accept that page as a "define" result. But that can't be it. Alex has for a long time had the glossary from "Crafty TV Writing" online, but Google has not sanctioned it to provide definitions.

Anybody know the magic trick? I've looked at the source code of several sanctioned definition-providing pages and there's nothing special that I can detect. No meta tags, no Javascript, no accompanying robots.txt, no special directory names.

Even the Web is silent on how Google's "define" search works. Are there any search-optimization experts out there with a clue?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Well, the semester's over

My semester's end was delayed by a day as I gave one student a make-up assignment this afternoon.

I corrected some work during those two and a half hours. Now all I have left to correct are 15 papers, 15 Web pages, and 30 QuarkExpress projects. Nothing but nothing is more tedious than correcting desktop publishing.

And I start teaching again in January.