Saturday, February 14, 2015

Frozen

When you live in a place like Iqaluit you get used to being asked a lot about what it's like to live there. Some of it is genuine curiosity, but I've always thought there is some internal measurement system going on. "Could I handle living in a place like that?"

When I used to update my "Living in Iqaluit FAQ" I wrote there are four main considerations/challenges to living in a place like Iqaluit if you're coming up from down south.

1. Isolation
2. Daylight
3. Lack of southern amenities
4. Cold

We've been in Iqaluit for almost 10 years now. As I frequently tell people, Iqaluit has ways to let you know it's not the place for you. We've been here this long, odds are we're here until we retire 15-18 years from now.

But man, Iqaluit has tested us these last two months. We're not packing up, not even close. But we have questioned the wisdom of moving to the Arctic.

It has been cold in Iqaluit the last two months. Yes, it's the Arctic in winter. It should be cold. There was an incident about eight years ago where it rained for a few days at the end of February. You would have thought the Apocalypse had happened. We're used to cold. Cold is expected. It's nice even.

I've viewed the cold (including wind chill) at three levels. There's cold (0 to -20), Cold (-20 to -45), and Fucking Cold (-45 and colder). We've now entered a new realm. It is known as "What in the name of holy fuck is this" Cold.

As I write this on Friday night, there is an Extreme Cold Warning in effect by Environment Canada. It's -37C with a windchill of -55C (-35F, -67F). Which is fucking cold. The problem is it's been that way most of the week. We've had more Extreme Cold warnings this week than we had all last winter. We've had more in the last two months than the last nine years combined. We had a day a few weeks ago where it went -44C with a windchill of -67C (-47F, -89F). That was, by far, the coldest day I've experienced since we moved here.

I asked on Twitter if anyone can remember a cold snap like this. Because we've only been here 10 years. We are not experts on long-term Iqaluit weather trends. I had a guy who has been here since 1989. This is the longest streak of sustained cold he can recall.

(Btw, if you go, "Huh, so much for climate change" I will smack you. Seriously)

But there's a catch to this that I don't think people understand down south when we hit this kind of sustained level cold. I think people believe "Well, that sucks. It's cold, bundle up or stay indoors until it passes." But when it goes on for months like this, there are all kinds of effects you might not think of. I'm not exaggerating when I say the mental health of people in town is starting to take a serious hit.

Let's look at some of the things that happens with this kind of sustained cold.

1. Things start breaking. Everyone has a horror story at this point. Our car battery died before Christmas. It died while the car was plugged into the house with a block heater and battery blanket going (it has died a couple of times previously, so it was on its last legs). So that was a tow to the garage and a new battery. Or, $550. I've gotten off easy.

Pipes freeze or burst. My next door neighbour had some kind of horror show happen where the truck water guys accidentally flooded his house. He can't live in it for months and the repair bill could push $100,000.

Adding to this is the airlines are seemingly having difficulty running in this cold. So cargo is apparently weeks behind on some orders. So when your car breaks, it's taking a couple of weeks to get the parts in.

Trying to get vital elements of your life repaired when it is bitter cold outside...just a touch stressful.

2. The schools/daycares close when an Extreme Cold Warning is issued. Which makes sense. Yes, people who have been up here a long time have a high tolerance for cold. I saw kids playing hockey on a makeshift outdoor rink when it was -50C. I saw a lunatic biking to work this morning when it was -54C. But you don't want kids standing outside waiting for a bus in it, or having kids walk home in it.

But when schools/daycares close, it leaves parents scrambling. Some bring their kids to work with them, or have to burn sick days to stay home. It's a small town; there are limited options for taking care of kids in situations like this, especially when they go on for days. It causes serious spikes in stress levels.

It also means people are getting pretty frustrated with the schools, which are following the guidelines, but it hasn't stopped people from lashing out. So that means kids, parents, teachers and administrators are all in a pretty foul mood right now.

3. Mercifully I haven't heard of anyone seriously hurt by this cold, but the risk is there. It does not take long for skin to freeze in this if you're not careful. Minutes. I try to walk to the post office and back from my office once a day on my break. Just for some exercise and fresh air. It normally takes 15 minutes. I haven't done it in weeks. Too cold to risk it.

Iqaluit also has, like most cities, a homeless problem. They go to shelters or stay in over-crowded housing or other situations. Again, the stress of trying to stay warm and safe during this level of cold is high.

Iqaluit just isn't a happy place right now. There's too much sustained cold which is generating a lot of stress and unhappiness. You can't stay outside for any length of time without a lot of bundling, which can do weird things to people. It really does feel like people's tempers are quicker. People aren't happy. This can be a rough time of the year, just from the lack of daylight (although it's getting better each day). But the cold is certainly adding to matters.

It also doesn't look like it's going to break anytime soon. The forecasted high (without windchill) for the next week is -28C. I don't think I've seen warmer than -25C since well before Christmas.

Yes, I live here and I choose to live here. And yes, this a freakish event. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't get a single Extreme Cold Warning at all next winter.

Still, if you talk to someone from Iqaluit in the next couple of weeks, treat them gently. We've all had a rough winter.

Last Five
1. Always look on the bright side of life - Spamalot Cast Recording (seriously) *
2. Love to lover - Florence and the Machine
3. Sentimental tune (live) - Tegan and Sara
4. London burning (live) - The Clash
5. Message in a bottle - The Police (live)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Best Graphic Novels of 2014: 10-8

So onwards with the list that literally six of you are reading....

10a. Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More
10b. Ms. Marvel: No Normal




Yes, I'm cheating already. But these two books are linked. Recently, Marvel Comics noted that there are more than white guys in the world and that some of them might like comic book characters that were more like them. Such as women. Or non-white people. So they're in the middle of a push to diversify some of their line. She-Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow, Ghost Rider (hispanic male). Thor is now a woman. Captain America is black.

This is not gone over well in some narrow minded geek circles, and not all of these books have succeeded. But they've all gotten pretty good critical attention. My two favourite of the bunch are these two books.

This is the second run of Captain Marvel by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and it's much better than the first. Her first time on the Captain had some iconic moments (punching a dinosaur is always a win), but the writing was a bit erratic, and the art ranged from awful to quirky. She was also handicapped with too many cross-overs that took away momentum.

This time she has a top notch artist with David Lopez who brings a fun, energetic and clean art style to the book. And DeConnick seems like she has a better idea of where she's bringing the story. Sending her into outer space so she's helping people being harassed by pirates and threatened by a galactic empire works much better. Throwing in the Guardians of the Galaxy as guest stars doesn't hurt sales either. The book is much more fun this time around, but just as importantly, much more focussed.

Ms. Marvel is following a tried and true Marvel formula - misunderstood teenager gets super powers and decides to fight crime. It's almost impossible to do it better than Spider-Man. But G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona come pretty damn close. I've read a lot of teenage superhero origins. This is one of the best I've ever seen.

Kamala Khan is a teenage girl in New Jersey, who has a huge heart, but between her strict Muslim parents who are terrified of what impact western culture is going to have on their daughter, and people at school who mock her because she's "different" it can be hard. Then, like you would, she gets super powers (she's technically an Inhuman, if you care about such things). She can change her appearance, heal quickly and grow or shrink in size.

Some wrote this book off as Marvel trying to political correct, which is insane. I'm not the target audience for this book, but you can still see quality from a mile away. It's fun, it's got energy and Khan might be the best new comic book character, and costume design, I've seen in years. As I said, she's got a big heart, but right now she's terrible at being a super hero. Which she should be. I'm just glad to see Alphona back doing comics after Runaways. And Wilson is crafting something special.

Peter Parker's mantra has always been "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility." In a stroke of genius Wilson quotes the Quran as to what drives her. "Whoever kills one person, it is as if they have killed all Mankind and whoever saves one person it is as if he has saved all Mankind." And that's why she chooses to be a hero.

They're both ones to watch. Captain Marvel gets her own movie in 2018. If there's any justice Ms. Marvel won't be far behind.

9. Moon Knight: From the Dead

From the Dead is the kind of book you want to study and rip open the guts of if you want to be a comic book writer or artist. Learn from it and steal it's magic.

Moon Knight is a character Marvel hasn't been able to figure out what to do with for decades, coming off as a poor man's Batman. Even the great Brian Michael Bendis couldn't get a series to last longer than a year, a rare misfire for someone who hasn't had many in the past 15 years. But writer Warren Ellis specializes in taking damaged characters, fixing them up and given them to others to play with.

From the Dead isn't even Top 10 Ellis, really (When you have Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority and Global Frequency on your resume, the bar is set pretty high on new work). It seems deceptively slight. I burned through it pretty quick my first time through. But the second read is when I started paying attention. Ellis is always trying to find new ways to tell a story. This might be the least talky book Ellis has ever written. Instead, he lets artist Declan Shalvey do the heavy lifting.

There are six, stand alone stories in this book. The art is marvelous in all of them, but has a unique feel. Each story sees Ellis and Shalvey trying new techniques. But one has something I've never seen before. Eight people being targeted by a sniper. The way their story is told, and how their deaths are handled is a masterclass in storytelling. Shalvey deserves awards for his work on that story alone.

As for Ellis, as always, he finds the angle to make the story work. And it's a simple one. What kind of man wears a bright white suit (literally, in this case. It's a white three piece suit with a hooded mask) and goes out at night to fight crime when you can see him coming. That he wants his opponents to see him coming. Is he just plain crazy, or is he the kind of crazy you want to run away from very, very quickly?

There are a few answers to that question hinted at here. And like he's done before, Ellis is happy to lay the groundwork and offer hints before moving on. Moon Knight was never a character I cared much for. Six issues was all it took for me to wish Ellis and Shalvey were sticking around.

8. Magneto: Infamous

The best X-Men book of the year is about their greatest villain.

Lord knows there's no shortage of X-books. There was All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Amazing X-Men, X-Men, and then spin-off books with Nightcrawler and Storm. Plus however many dozen Wolverine books there were. And I read a few of them. But Magneto was top of the class.

Then again, he's always been the most interesting character in that universe. A deeply conflicted man who went through horror as a child, grew up vowing "Never again" only to discover that he had the power to make good on that vow. He's been cast as a villain, a hero, a teacher and now he's just dangerous. Enemies of mutantkind are re-emerging, more dangerous and clever than before. He won't allow that to happen.

The premise is that due to a big crossover that you should in no way care about, his powers are broken. He can no longer throw tanks into orbit with a flick of his finger. Moving the smallest metal thing require effort. And somehow this makes him more dangerous. He can be terrifying using, literally, a paperclip.

There's clever writing going on here. It's a fascinating character study of a man who knows he's far from his glory days, finds dark humour in it, but is still determined to do what he thinks his right, no matter what the body count or his own personal damnation. There's smart story structure. My favourite being the hook in the open few pages, where a Starbuck's employee compares what he does to what Magneto does. And it absolutely works. It even gets reference later in the story in a clever way

Gabriel Walta and Javi Fernandez but provide solid, occasionally very flashy artwork. It's nice stuff. But it's Cullen Bunn's story that sings. I'm looking forward to see where he takes Magneto next.

Last Five
1. Tighten up - The Black Keys
2. Lost together - Blue Rodeo*
3. VCR - The XX
4. Go to sleep - Sarah Harmer
5. Alice Springs - Liz Phair

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Favourite Graphic Novels of 2014, part 1

Part 1 is striking fear into your hearts, isn't it?

I've been thinking for ages that I should do a few Best of 2014 lists. The problem being that the way I listen to music makes it kind of hard for me to judge albums. I kind of throw them on my iPod, hit shuffle and away I go. It can be weeks, or months, before I hear all the songs. If I had to pick some favourites, in no particular order:
- First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
- Amelia Curan: They Promised You Mercy
- You + Me: Rose Ave.
- Gary Clark Jr: Live
- Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
- Begin Again OST
- Lykke Li:  I Never Learn

And a few others. My favourite movies were simple. Top 3 - Snowpiercer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Now my favourite graphic novels....that'll take a bit longer.

I went through my shelves. I have 16 series/books I would recommend. Which would make this an epic blog post. So instead I'll break it down into a few posts.

First, the honourable mentions:

1. Letter 44: Escape Velocity

Science fiction and government conspiracies are hardly new grounds to plough. But through in presidential politics and you have something interesting. It makes the honourable list because writer Charles Soule is dropping lots of tantalizing hints of things to come. It doesn't make the Top 10 because Alberto Alburquerque's art leaves me unmoved. Volume 2 comes out in a few months. We'll see how it develops.










2a. Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick
2b. Velvet: Before the Living End

Under most circumstances these would be in my Top 10. However, Image (the publisher) does this marvelous little thing. They offer up the first volume of most of their series for $9.99. Which is ridiculously cheap. But if you wait long enough, and the series is popular enough, they do these very pretty hardcovers. The Sex Criminals hardcover is coming out in March. Velvet isn't announced, but I'm pretty sure it's getting one. So expect to see them on the Best of 2015 list.

For the curious, Sex Criminals is Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky's loving story of two people who discover they can stop time when they orgasm so naturally they rob banks until the Sex Police catch on and try to arrest them. It's very funny and sweet, actually.

Velvet's high concept pitch (which Hollywood seem to completely miss the point of when they came knocking) is that the most dangerous person in the British Secret Service isn't all the make agents; it's the secretary sitting by the door of their boss. Imagine Moneypenny circa. 1974 going around and having all the fun. Steve Epting's artwork adds to the fun.

3. Seconds. There was no way that Brian Lee O'Malley was going to catch the lightening in the bottle he had with Scott Pilgrim. However, in almost every way this is a better book. Funnier, less smug, better art, more confident storytelling and a more likeable lead (the problem with Scott Pilgrim is that six books is a long time wanting to punch the lead character in the face). Katie is a hot chef who makes a mistake and wishes she could fix it. And she can, with some magic mushrooms. But then she starts eating more to fix other mistakes. Things go pretty much as you might expect...








4.  The Spectre: Crime and Judgements, The Wrath of God
It's a reprint of the 90s series of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. With few exceptions the 90s was a terrible time for comics. This series, even with it's flaws like fridging a female character (a term used for killing women to give male characters something angst over/avenge) in the first book, is still a hidden gem. Not many mainstream 90s super hero comics dealt with AIDS, Wall Street corruption, the genocide in the Balkins, and pollution/climate change.

The title character is literally the Angel of Vengeance, bound to a human host, to comprehend and confront evil. Being bound to an angry dead cop means the instructions get a little messed up. It's also surprisingly spiritual. Throw in Mandrake moody and terrifying art (the only flaw is the frequent fill-ins because he couldn't complete the book monthly for any lengthy stretch) and it really is a nice series. I'm glad DC is digging into the archives and reprinting it, 20 years later.



5. Red Sonja: The Art of Blood and Fire
Yeah. Seriously. The redhead in the chainmail bikini who used to have a terrible, terrible origin (very rapey). Mercifully Gail Simone saw something in there worth saving. The first volume was ok, but I think Simone had to spend a lot of time fixing the character, which made the story drag a bit. This volume is where she cuts loose. Sonja is set up a quest by a mad, dying king to find some of the greatest artists in the world, such as a swordsman, cook, dancer, etc in 30 days. If she does this, he will free thousands of slaves. Of course, nothing is that easy.

But it's not just the action adventure, which is great, but the genuinely twisted humour. The biggest running gag is that perhaps someone who spends all her time in the wild, and killing people, might not smell the best. Plus, no one wants to sleep with her, despite her best efforts. Full of heart and humour, and solid artwork by Walter Geovani, it's one of the most surprising books of 2015.

Next post, books 10-8.

Last Five
1. American Man - Jenn Grant*
2. Boxer - The Gaslight Anthem
3. Murder me Rachel (live) - The National
4. Blue Jay way - The Beatles
5. Daily routine - Animal Collective




Monday, January 26, 2015

Nippy

So it was, in a word, fucking cold in Iqaluit today. It's January in the Arctic so it's not like this is an unsual event. However, it was impressively cold today, which caps off an impressively cold month. It sank to -43C today. With windchill it actually went to -67C at one point during the early morning hours.

Despite all that, it wasn't record breaking cold, as this Nunatsiaq News story says. We've had colder, but by less than two degrees. Which is kind of disappointing, really. If you're going to be that cold, you might as well get the record-setting kind. But alas...

It's the coldest I've experienced in Nunavut. I think the previous lowest was in 2006, when I got -63C with windchill. That was delightful. As I recall, it froze the transmission of our wee little Hyundai Accent. That was a $3,000 cold snap.

Let's put it this way - this morning I let the car run for 15 minutes to warm-up and it was still sluggish. Normally I get to work, park, plug the car in, and then walk over to get a coffee, then walk back to the office. That walking takes about a minute. Today, I parked in front of the QuickStop, then drove the car to my parking spot, plugged it in and sprinted to the door. And even that 15 seconds outside hurt. I think it took less than two minutes for exposed skin to freeze today.

We were lucky today (knock on wood). The heat stayed on. The car is running fine (it probably helps that I replaced the battery last month) and none of the pipes froze. It's the kind of cold that punishes the unprepared and unlucky. More than one car today didn't start today. Of course, I found out that at least a few of them were due to people unplugging the cars in the middle of the night. Which meant the block heater and battery blankets stopped working.

In case you wondered if there's a freezing point for assholes, it's apparently colder than that. Imagine being out in -67C windchill and thinking that unplugging cars is a good idea.

Schools closed and the City of Iqaluit pulled their water and sewage trucks. I have no problems with that. Little kids often don't know better in that cold and big kids are often deeply stupid about that level of cold. And I would feel terrible if someone got frostbite delivering water to me.

So yes, damn cold. January has seen more -50C windchill days in Iqaluit then I think we saw all of last winter. Bitter, bitter stuff. Of course, people in the Kivalliq region were mocking people in Iqaluit complaining about the cold. It's always colder somewhere. And honestly, I would rather face this kind of cold than whatever snow related apocalypse that's getting ready to smash into the Northeast United States and then wander into Atlantic Canada

Anyway, it's supposed to go to -18C on Wednesday. I should go and look for swimsuit...

Last Five
1. Stop the world - The Clash
2. Dreaming - Goldfrapp
3. The laws have changed - The New Pornographers*
4. Lady Madonna (live) - Paul McCartney
5. Erie Canal (live) - Bruce Springsteen

Saturday, January 17, 2015

45

It's January 17, 2015. It's currently -54. It actually hit -59C last night with windchill. It's not the coldest I've experience in Iqaluit. That would have been in 2006 when it hit -63C and the transmission in our car froze solid. But it's cold enough to do damage if you're not careful. Skin freezes in minutes. Car batteries get sucked dry in no time if they're not plugged in. Water pipes freeze and explode.

I turned 45 today. I find it amusing in a way I can't really explain that the temperature is colder than my age, but I do.

I was kind of all right with being 44. It was a year of mercifully minimal drama. Forty-three had highs like going to Sri Lanka with a bunch of my friends for a wedding. Which was awesome. I'll remember that for the rest of my life.

But then you have a low like being told by your employer that they've decided to eliminate a few positions because they're restructuring and, hey, you're one of them. Thaaaaat sucked.

But no, 44 offered calm. On the positive side I got to go to Hawaii and Las Vegas. My new job became a permanent new job, which relieves a little of the pressure of, you know, paying mortgages and stuff. About the most drama I faced during the year was when I got a new job offer and had to decide whether to stay where I was or take the new job.

I decided to stay put. My bosses were, thankfully, amused when I said I sooner the devil I know.

Forty-five years old....still having problems with that brain-to-mouth filter.

The only downside is that some of the weight I worked so hard to lose when I was 42 came back. I put on about 25 pounds in the last year. Which is infuriating. But vacations, a few nagging injuries and a loss of focus did the trick. I think I'm back on track now. I'll probably never be back to where I was a couple of years ago. And to be honest, Cathy is ok with that. I was 183 pounds at one point and was freaking out a few people.

(I can only imagine how I must have looked when I was 155 back when I wasn't eating right during my time in South Korea).

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Ed Hollett and asked if I would be interested in writing a piece of his blog. It turns 10 this year. And because my brain works in a certain way, it occurs to me that I had a lot of things going on in the past on occasions when there was a 5 in my age. So let us take a look back...

35. On the upside I was engage to Cathy and would be married in seven months. On the downside I was living with my dad (who is a lovely man, but you don't want to be living with your dad at 35 even if you are trying to save a few dollars), Cathy had just gone back to Rankin Inlet to teach (saving money for our wedding) so I was missing her pretty badly and I was beginning to realize how desperately I hated working with The Express and needed to leave. Oh, and later in the year we moved to Iqaluit.

So yeah, ok, but not great.

25. I was in journalism school in Halifax. So I still have that optimism about doing great things in the world as a journalist. However, I was single, lonely and a few days away from a fairly spectacular soccer related injury that wrecked my life for about six weeks (stitches, followed by almost getting emergency dental surgery, followed by strep throat, followed by the flu) and caused no end of academic chaos. Plus, the rest of the year was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, at finding a job post-journalism school.

15. I was mostly harmless, but deeply clueless at 15. That makes me a pretty typical 15 year old. I just had worse luck with girls than you're average 15 year old. I also transitioned from junior high, where I had friends, to high school, where I had none because all my friends went to a different school than me. So I was fairly angsty and miserable. Typical 15.

5. Was awesome. Can't remember much, but I'm sure it was pretty cool. Things are generally pretty awesome when you're 5. There was colouring, playing, and Lego.

Which brings me back to 45. When there is again Lego as Cathy bought me a set for my birthday. Funny how things come full circle.

Honestly, things are pretty good as I hit 45. I'm content. I'm hoping to shake off at least 20 of the pounds I've put back on. I'd like to continue to make progress about staying out of the "spin cycle" I get into sometimes during high stress moments (where you're so busy being mad about a situation you're in, rather than trying to focus on solving the problem). We're going to Europe this summer for three weeks to celebrate our 10th anniversary and in October I'm hoping to get back to the New York Comic Con.

As for the rest, healthy and happy will do. And maybe to be a little less sucky at updating this blog. But one miracle at a time...

Last Five
1. Complete control (live) - The Clash
2. Strangers - Amelia Curran
3. High & Wild - Angel Olsen
4. Up on cripple creek - The Band*
5. Southern Pacifica - Josh Ritter



Thursday, October 02, 2014

Home work...

Pretty much every day I get a reason to be happy that Cathy convinced me five years ago that we should buy a house in Iqaluit. It'll be five years ago in December that we moved in, but it was around this time in 2009 that we started seriously looking.

Understand, I did not want to buy a house. I was happy in our apartment and I have a deep, deep, deep loathing of owing money to anybody, let alone a bank. Seriously, if I have the option of borrowing $2.50 for a coffee in the morning and paying the person back in the afternoon, or just going without a coffee, I will chose doing without every time.

So owing a bank a few hundred thousand dollars...at a time when I was unemployed, no...that was something I was not going to do.

If you've met my wife she's very...persuasive. Which is another way of saying I find it nearly impossible to say no to her.

But we did find a place and it's worked out well. We were unbelievably lucky, of course. It's a good house, but we didn't do an inspection on it because, well, there were no inspectors in Nunavut at that time. It was the second place we put an offer in on. We didn't use a real estate agent. We had enough money saved for the 20% downpayment, so no insurance was necessary. And we bought just before Iqaluit's real estate market went batshit crazy.

(Although it seems to have cooled. People are having a hard time making the leap of spending $500,000 on a three bedroom, one bathroom house with less than 2,000 square feet).

So yes, lucky. Insanely lucky. I try not to think of how much karma we burned on getting this place as hassle-free as we did. And we're always hearing stories about people living in apartments ready to snap. One friend is threatening to take a fire extinguisher to the next drunk in his building who pulls the fire alarm. I'm not sure if he's going to empty the canister on the person or hit them over the head with it.

Having said that, a house is still a house. It's not like the money is done once you buy the place. We got a good deal, but it's not like we haven't spent thousands since then. Tearing up carpet to put in hardwood flooring. New paint. New laminate flooring in the kitchen, bathroom and porch. New door in the hallway. New furniture and appliances. It all adds up.

But this summer we engaged in the scariest (for me) addition to the house....we hired a contractor.

Understand I am leery putting my fate into the hands of people who have vastly more knowledge and experience than I do, who are in a position of power than me, and who I am trust to do the right thing and giving them thousands of dollars. Because we have all heard horror stories about contractors. I'm not putting them at the same level as consultants (Hey kids! Guy Fawkes Day is coming up. Save your local forests and pitch some consultants on the fire instead!), but they make me nervous.

Basically, what was required was this. The house is 15 years old. For those 15 years the prevailing winds have slammed into the east facing side of the house. It take a toll. The siding was getting cracked and starting to bend. By the way, it's the same with every house on our street. We're hardly alone.

Last February we had a delightful windstorm with winds well over 120 km/h. When you're sitting in your living room, with no power, listening to the wind pound the size of your house that you know is vulnerable, and reading reports on Twitter of siding flying off newer houses on the Plateau, you make certain promises to yourself.

So come this summer, after much badgering, we finally got a contractor to give us an estimate on the work we felt was needed. The siding on the east side of the house had to be replaced. And rather than try to match the colour of the new siding to the rest of the house, we just decided to repaint the house. It could use it, to be honest. It was faded and a really ugly green colour we always loathed.

Oh, and while they were at it, check the roof to make sure it was ok and check the foundations to see if it had shifted (the joys of owning a house on stilts) and make any necessary adjustments.

The estimate was...considerable. But we had saved the money, bit the bullet and told them to go ahead.

You know, knock on wood, it seem to go pretty well. The did completely repainted the house, including the deck, skirting and eves, plus replaced all the siding on one side of the house in less than a week. No problems with the roof and while the foundation shifted slightly (all houses in Nunavut go through it) it seems to have settled into it's new spot. They attempted to shift the house back, but couldn't budge it. So she is where she is. They also adjusted the front and side decks to make them more stable. Doesn't appear they charged me for it either.

Oh, and it came in under estimate. They didn't charge me for the foundation work because, well, they couldn't move the foundation. Which I understand is logical, but still surprises me they did it. I suspect some contractors would not be quite that understanding.

So what do we have now? Well we have a house that used to look like this...

Probably four years old, but that green colour hadn't improved with age.

To a place that now looks like this.



So yeah, a much nicer looking house. I would have preferred something a bit brighter, but we just couldn't find a bright colour we liked. Still, we're really happy with it. And I'm not saying we're done. You're never done with a house. You're just in-between projects. But there is nothing that needs immediate doing. And after nearly five years, that's a really nice feeling.

Last Five
1. Dead Sea - The Lumineers*
2. Darkhouse - Spirit of the West
3. Demons - Joel Plaskett
4. Autumn light - Ron Sexsmith
5. Annie waits - Ben Folds


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall TV, part 1

Once upon a time I used to review TV shows for The Express. Television has changed a lot in the nine years since I left the paper. Cable TV programming has exploded and most of the good TV shows are not on the networks. They're on HBO, Starz, or a bunch of other cable stations.

The problem is, they're a bitch to track down. I don't get a lot of those stations and anytime I feel like taking a chance on a TV show by buying the DVDs (because I'm a good boy who doesn't pirate) I end up frustrated. House of Cards started off great but I never managed to finish the first season. The Walking Dead....well, zombie were never my thing and that show is less my thing. Boring. Homeland is so overwrought I couldn't get past the first handful of episodes.

I do like Justified, though. I need to get back into that.

I never watched Breaking Bad. I understand that's sacrilege. I may, one day, once the hype has died away a bit. But I feel no urgent need to watch it.

I guess I'm old fashioned. I like a big slab of TV fighting out in a Darwinian battle to survive every fall. Throwing a couple of dozen shows into the grinder each fall to see which ones last is a deeply stupid way to do things, but I get amusement out of it. Yeah, occasionally I'll lose a show I like, but not often.

I'm not going to be crazy enough to review everything coming out right now, but I've caught a few already, and there are more coming I'll review as well. This also has the usual caveat that pilots are a different beast. A good pilot will not ensure a show's survival (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had a brilliant pilot. It was a disaster after that), but a bad one will handicap it for the rest of its probably very short life.

So let's see what I've seen so far.

1. The Red Band Society - Ten minutes in and I knew this wasn't my show. I mean, I'm not the demographic and that's fine. But the bitchy blonde cheerleader just forced me right out of the show. Teenagers at a hospital for sick kids is a hell of a concept and at least it's set over three weeks in its first season, so there's none of the weirdness that inflicted Glee. But I won't be tuning in. Not my cup of tea.

2. Madam Secretary - Again a good premise, but lacking some guts. It's basically what would happen if you took an apolitical and nicer Hilary Clinton and did a tv show about her. And Tea Leoni is good as the title character. She can carry the show as a Secretary of State dealing with world problems. Hell, it's an interesting job. One of my few gripes about the West Wing was that Secretary of State is one of the most important positions in the US government and we barely heard talk of the character in the show.

So yeah, good lead, ton of potential. But it's a soft and bit gutless pilot. American held hostage in Syria is a bit of a flat open. A conspiracy over the death of her predecesor. A Chief of Staff with a sinister agenda. It's a little too rote. I'd like to see it get gutsier in the coming weeks, but I'm not overly hopeful.

It's biggest sin, however, is having Bebe Neuwirth standing around and doing almost nothing except scowl in the pilot. That woman can act. For the love of God, let her have something to chew on in the weeks to come. I'll give it a few more weeks to see if it acquires a spine.

3. Gotham - You might have heard they were doing a show about Gotham City in the years before Batman. Maybe spotted an add or two.

Is it good? Yes. I'll keep watching it for awhile. There's a lot to like. Nearly all the acting is solid enough, although Jada Pinkett Smith as the badly named Fish Mooney just about steals the show. I think Sean Pertwee was badly miscast as Alfred, but we'll see. And the rest are good. Ben McKenzie makes a fine Jim Gordon.

But man, is that an over-stuffed pilot. Yeah, it's dark. Cathy found it way too dark and didn't care much for it. But a show based on Gotham City was never going to be sweet and lightness. But there were a lot of characters, plots, subplots and everything else crammed into that show. Really, it could have been two hours. Or they could have stretch some of it out for a week or so. We didn't need to meet everyone this episode.

But there are lots of little things to like. I like that Selina Kyle witnessed Bruce Wayne's parents murder.  I like that Renee Montoya is in the show and they've already made reference to her sexuality. I like the shades of grey already, like Gordon making what he thinks is a compassionate choice, but it's already resulted in one death, and many more to come.

It has a ton of potential. Whether it can do it, and if the audience will stick around for a show more about shades of grey, and no Batman, well, we'll see...

4. Scorpion - One wag called it The Big Bang Theory solves crimes. I like to think of it as Numb3rs meets Harry Potter. Basically, a bunch of geniuses with no social skills get recruited to work for the federal government to solve problems only people with their skills sets possess.

Look, this show is going to redefine technobabble. Anytime a character starts speaking it, just put in Hogwarts spells. It accomplishes the same thing. The show is going to sink or swim on the character interactions. So far, it's fun enough. The actors are likeable. It's very processed (CBS must have a machine that cranks these procedurals out), but not all processed food is bad. Not all processed shows are bad.

The key is going to be keeping it from getting too silly. The pilot featured corrupt software at LAX threatening to bring planes crashing from the sky. The plot was bouncing merrily along, escalating from silly, to very silly, but still entertaining. Until the last 10 minutes when it went balls-to-the-wall batshit stupid/insane.

Don't do that again.

5. Forever - Immortal characters are nothing new in fiction, although particularly challenging in television if the show lasts more than a few years. But one worry at a time. Ioan Gruffudd is a particularly likeable actor (I'll forgive him for The Fantastic Four. That wasn't his fault) and the show is obviously leaning heavily on his charisma. Essentially his character is 200 years old. He's a medical examiner working for the NYPD studying anatomy in the hopes of finding a way he can die. Seems immortality is a bit of a curse.

Now he has a curious detective working with him and they solve crimes. All the way there's the mystery of how he can't die (when he does, he comes back to life in the Hudson River. Awkward) and the other immortal stalking him. Oh, and plenty of opportunities for flashbacks.

Gruffudd mercifully has a good supporting cast. Judd Hirsch can do this in his sleep, but mercifully adds a ton of charm and their father/son relationship (not in the way you think) works. Alana De La Garza and Joel David Moore also are good. I was quite surprised by the show. It's not perfect. The voiceover can get a little purple at times, and they killed him three times in the pilot. That was a little bit of, well, overkill (sorry).

It's got a ton of potential and it's charming. It's my favourite if these five so far. We'll see how it ages over the coming weeks.

Last Five
1. American Skin (41 shots) - Bruce Springsteen
2. I understand - Sloan
3. Your heart - Repartee
4. White dove - Jenn Grant*
5. Songs for Dan Treacy - MGMT