VIFF – Hyena Road

27 09 2015

Went to a showing of Hyena Road at VIFF last night. Horrified to have to sit through many excruciating minutes of bagpipe playing before things got going. Delighted to learn that Writer/Director/Actor Paul Gross was there to give a bit of a spiel and do Q&A. Also Vancouver-born actor Rossif Sutherland, son of Donald and half-brother of Kiefer. This seemed fair compensation for the tortured cat.

Paul Gross explained how he’d been part of a group of entertainers/celebrities who’d gone to Afghanistan to boost the morale of Canadian troops out there. He’d spent some time “outside the wire” and determined that there was a Canadian story to be told. He went back later and shot lots of footage of “interesting stuff” – stock footage of heavy artillery, planes, etc. Later he’d woven the story and went to Jordan a couple of years later to shoot film in the desert for 30 days to create this well-crafted tale. “The Ghost” and “The Cleaner” were real people he spoke with, and the events of the film were drawn from conversations with Canadian troops.

I thoroughly recommend the film. It’s well balanced and devoid of any “gung-ho” sentiment. Au contraire, the narrative revolves around how nothing is quite black and white in such situations. There’s even a gratuitous plug for Timmie Ho’s in the early frames.

Go see it when it’s on general release… you won’t be disappointed!


For the love of Ada! 12 TV show pitches with a female engineering hero

25 07 2015

I always struggle with projects like this. I totally accept that women, “people of colour”, folks who self-identify their sexuality as something other than society might assume etc. are all under-represented in the mainstream, and are often still denied opportunities due to discrimination. Day-to-day ignorance can at best be annoying, and at worst down-right discriminatory.

This I do not dispute. Believe me – after a lifetime of using scissors designed for “normal” right-handers, I totally understand silent institutionalised discrimination, and the very real pain it can cause. Not to be flippant (being a left-hander is hardly causing me the same level of lost opportunities that being born female, even now in the 21st Century might), but there are many many forms of discrimination in this world, and not all are so obvious or acknowledged as is sexism. The power of these discriminations is that they are often unpremeditated. They are endemic in the way society behaves and defines “normal”. In the same way as having only right-handed scissors makes life awkward for me, expecting a nursing mother to use a smelly public toilet to feed the next generation, or only having steps to the entrance of a city building is not an active demonstration of cruelty. It is merely the result of catering for “the norm” and almost accidentally causing discrimination. The deliberate cruelty comes when such situations are recognised, acknowledged and still left unresolved.

On that level then, I applaud attempts to try and rectify the imbalance. The problem though is that it tends to do little to rectify the underlying issue. It simply addresses the results of the discrimination in one or two small, personal ways. This “positive discrimination” helps the beneficiary overcome the prejudice in one small situation – say a job opportunity – but does little if anything to address the underlying problem. This needs a much more slow and steady approach. And education. And consideration.

In the specific case of sexism for example, I firmly contend that to say “women are equal to men” is false. Indeed, in many ways and in many situations, women are far superior.

The real issue isn’t equality of the gender, but equality of opportunities available. There is no reason to exclude women from applying for even physically demanding jobs based on their gender. Based on some objective test of strength, capability, skill, sure, but not explicitly their gender. Many men would fail such tests too. The equality should be in the access to opportunity and the objective meeting of some requirement, not in being of a specific gender.

Particularly in intelligence or creative spheres, women are easily as capable as men, and there is no reason on Earth that women should not be better represented in the fields of say management, software development and car design. Here, the challenge is as much one of perception and the need is at least partially to encourage women themselves to not buy in to the mantra that “that’s a man’s job”. This project – to launch a TV show that has a central female character in an engineering-based role – is an attempt to address the latter. To have a role model for today’s young women that they can indeed excel in what may otherwise be still perceived as a male domain. The recent women’s FIFA World Cup tried for all its worth to portray strong female role models, and I wait eagerly to see if it has had any positive impact.

It was with some shaking of my head then that I read the pitches for the show. They can be found here: 12 TV show pitches centered around a female engineering hero.  Fashion designer Tilly Tailor? Really?! @Gnosis: Veronica Mars meets Gossip Girl meets Hackers? Oh dear Lord… These pitches say as much about the current low expectations of TV as they do about the continued stereotyping of women, but given the project’s goal, I expected more.

The clear leading contender for me was one based at least partially on a real female engineer… though she would never have been called that in her day. Only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace (after whom the programming language Ada was named) was real. As was Charles Babbage. He is much more well known in computing circles as the inventor of “The Differencing Machine” – the first attempt to have a programmable computing device. The technology of the time didn’t allow it to be completed but a working version is now on display in the UK’s Science Museum. Ada though… she developed the first algorithm, intended to run on the machine. Arguably she’s the mother of programming.

Mashable: Ada Lovelace

It’s not clear from the piece in Mashable whether the pitch is based on the recent graphic novel “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer”. I already have this on my goodreads “To Read” list. I’m waiting for the paperback version. It was only published in April. I hope so – the book looks like a rollicking good yarn by British graphic artist Sydney Padua.

It would behove new students studying computing to not just focus on the likes of Babbage, Von Neumann, Holerith, Turing etc., but also give Ms. Lovelace her due. Credit to my own teachers back in the late ’70s… she did indeed get a mention.

A Library That Plummets into an Abyss by Susanna Hesselberg for Sculpture by the Sea

30 06 2015

I’m always a sucker for books, and home libraries in particular. I think I was hooked when I first saw “My Fair Lady” as a kid. (I also remember being amazed when I bought it on DVD that – just like the cinema rendition – it had a 20 minute intermission!). Professor Higgins had an amazing home library complete with one of those wheeled ladders. Now one of my life goals. That and the fishing lodge…

Anyway, this art piece is titled “When My Father Died It Was Like a Whole Library Had Burned Down.” Only true bibliophiles can relate to the feeling of devastation that alludes to.

Check out the link to Colossal to learn more: A Library That Plummets into an Abyss by Susanna Hesselberg for Sculpture by the Sea | Colossal.

Happy Towel Day!

25 05 2015

Remember to take your towel to work today… just in case.

Happy Towel Day: 9 Zaphod Beeblebrox Quotes for Any Occasion | Anglophenia | BBC America.

Culture Shock on The Minnow

9 05 2015

This last week, we had a visit from a new member of our team. Due to an organisational reshuffle he was now reporting in to our Vancouver based marketing team, despite being physically based in Venlo, The Netherlands. The main result of our company being split over these two sites is that the Vancouver members are expected to attend regular con-calls and video conferences at obscene times in the morning. The Dutch, being very “socialised” largely refuse to take calls past their 5pm nominal finish time. Being 9 hours ahead, it leaves a vanishingly small window of overlap. Taking a call in your pyjamas, eating breakfast, slurping tea – and hoping “mute” is engaged – is one thing; being physically in the office and attending a video conference at 7am is quite another. I really should start questioning this whole “Canadians are so nice” thing. It was in the small print of my citizenship test though. :)

Since all but one of the newly configured team is living in Pacific Daylight Saving at the moment, our newest crew member came to stay for a week and get to know the oddballs he was now working with. I had a business trip to Chicago in the middle of the visit, so didn’t personally get to see much of him, but quickly decided I liked his enthusiasm and lack of world-weariness. (He’ll learn soon enough! It was good to form the “before” impression though.)

Anyway, our boss graciously offered to take the entire team for a couple of hours sailing around English Bay on his 37′ C&C yacht.

C&C 37 yacht - under way

C&C 37 yacht – under way

The wind was up, and we had a few high-speed, 45 degree tilted runs across the bay, weaving in and out of the various empty freighters anchored there.

Freighter and North Shore Mountains

Freighters and North Shore Mountains

At one point, I glanced back over the city and saw a huge pall of black smoke. It looked so dark I thought it might be oil and feared the worst – there’s recently been a lot of highly emotional talk about Vancouver’s oil terminal, pipelines feeding it and the potential development of the LNG industry in BC. Technology (Twitter in this case) answered the question and told us there was in fact a fire at a Vancouver church.

We were a mixed bunch, in possibly every dimension you could imagine. Six in total, we had 4 blokes and 2 women, one of whom didn’t behave that way (this is the West Coast in the 21st century, after all. We have both expressed an appreciation for the on-coming summer and the attendant rise of skirt hems – it’s always nice to share one’s interests!) Five had current certification to manage a boat on the water, though three readily admitted that their memory of the details were sketchy. Personally, I now only claim confidence as far as which way up the boat should be. Three were born Canadian, four had a Canadian passport, one was waiting for a Canadian passport and one was visiting Canada for the first time. Three also possessed European passports – well, 2 plus a UK one, grudgingly European. Of the three Canadian born members, one was of Scottish descent, one of Welsh and one of German. The remainder were born in the UK, France and The Netherlands, Ties to the old world, it seems, run deep.

We had a fine afternoon under clear, breezy skies and greatly enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually we slackened the sails, pointed almost parallel to the wind to regain a level keel, set the auto-pilot and broke out the picnic.

Terribly civilised!

One of the natural-born Canadians then tried to explain to “Dutchie” that “all North American men”, and indeed “a growing proportion of North American women” who were “of a certain age” had a ready answer to a specific question, namely “Ginger or Mary Ann?”

To prove his point, all three “proper” Canadians (apart from our new Dutch colleague, we were all of “a certain age”) readily replied, with Mary Ann winning 2:1 – Ginger getting her vote from our lady crew member “mainly for being blonde – I have a thing about blondes”. One of the blokes modified his reply with “it depends if it’s long term or over-night” and around this point I became aware of a huge gulf in North American vs. European popular culture.

The three of us born outside Canada had no idea who Ginger or Mary Ann were. None of us had heard of The Minnow; Gilligan; The Professor or any of the other various names thrown around. We stared politely while each of the six of us were assigned a character from “Gilligan’s Island”, though we had no point of reference at all. The low point was when half the crew began singing the theme song with much gusto.

Gilligan’s Island

Comments were subsequently made about the altitude of my eyebrows at the culmination of the singing. I think it was George Bernard Shaw (of Pygmalion and other plays) who said that the US and England were two nations separated by a common language. (He was Irish, by the way…. just sayin’.) It seems equally true that US-TV and Euro-TV can be similarly divisive. Despite having different home languages (one each in fact), we three non-locals culturally had a lot of similarities and shared our own common TV. We chose not to sing anything!

As a child I remember lots of childrens TV in the UK that I subsequently learnt was from The Continent. Animated programmes such The Magic Roundabout or puppets like Hector’s House (both French, I believe) were easy to internationalise. But it didn’t stop there. I remember watching a programme that introduced me to dubbing, as I gradually became aware that the lips and sounds weren’t matching. I recently discovered that The White Horses was in fact German/Yogoslavian! Wikipedia also tells me that the UK audio dubbing has been lost except for a single episode. Ah, the vagaries of pop culture…. Les Amis


Carter Collectables: Hector’s House The White Horses

I can be a real monster (and greatly misunderstood) before my morning tea

17 01 2015

You have been warned!

Karloff c1935 on set for Bride of…

Mashable’s Retronaut of Boris Karloff

Bill’s Sonnet CXVI

14 01 2015

I’ve been watching an old TV series called “Dead Like Me” in which a recently dead girl “finds herself” while performing her new job as a reaper of souls. It’s vaguely entertaining, not least because it was filmed in and around Vancouver, so it’s always fun trying to figure out where the locations are. She supposedly met her demise when hit by falling space debris… outside the Mink chocolate cafe at Hornby and Hastings. Anyway, the episode I watched last night included quite a bit of Shakespeare, so I thought I’d share one of his sonnets. For no other reason than he was the world’s greatest writer, and you really should read some of his stuff!

When he couldn’t find a word to subtly describe a human emotion, deed or thought… he’d make up a new one. And I mean words that are now thoroughly mainstream like “green-eyed” and “mountaineer”. Now that, dear reader, is owning your language!

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


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