Thursday, January 28, 2016

New airline...

Flying into Iqaluit has almost always been a horror show. It's bloody expensive, and getting a meal and a slightly higher baggage allowance only goes so far in taking the edge off when you see how much it costs. Even using special codes, tickets are still around $1,500. Without them you're looking at a ticket closer to $2,400.

So it's hard to get out, but it also hard to get people to pop up for a visit. I mean, you might have friends and family who love you, but you can got to some pretty interesting places in the world for $2,400. My parents have never been up for a visit. Cathy's are coming up in June, but it took about 90 minutes on the phone with Aeroplan to find dates that worked.

And before you roll your eyes and go "pffft, typical Aeroplan" it was mostly First Air and Canadian North's fault. They're computer systems don't play well with Aeroplan, timing out and crashing on a regular basis.

Earlier this week there was a contest that CTV ran in conjunction with the Northern Lights trade show that offer three nights in Iqaluit with accommodations included. That contest went viral pretty quick in Iqaluit, with everyone sharing it with friends and family down south. I've got a bunch of friends I hope win it.

However, this evening we got news that might change things a bit in Iqaluit. Might. At that same trade show a new airline, Fly Savaq, announced they were going to start flying into Iqaluit. Twice a week from Ottawa and once a week from Halifax.

More competition against the other two airlines is good, especially since with codesharing they're essentially the same airline. But what's caught people's eye are what they're charging for a ticket - $499 each way, taxes and fees included. Now, that's the introductory price, so I'm sure it will go up. I'm also sure by this time tomorrow First Air and Canadian North will match it, trying to crush the competition in the bud.

It pretty much worked with Air Canada. Not sure it works as well with Fly Savaq. There's a lot of anger directed at the other two airlines. People are going to throw their business at them just our of irritation. I know we will. We're flying down on a Friday this summer, so we'll probably give them a try. I won't be flying back on a Monday, but oh well. I'll have done my part to support airline competition in the North.

Does this mean I'm expecting friends to suddenly fly up and see us? Well, no. Probably not. $1,000 still isn't exactly chump change. But hey, who knows. My friends are weird, anything is possible....

Last Five
1. Slow and steady - Of Monsters and Men
2. Forest Serenade - The Joy Formidable
3. Shadow of a man - Bedouin Soundclash
4. Talk tonight - Oasis*
5. To much love with kill you - Queen

Monday, January 18, 2016


So, another trip around the sun successfully completed.  My 45th year wrapped up quietly this weekend, with a day spent at home putting together some birthday Lego, walking the dog, going out for a pricey supper and just generally relaxing around the house with Cathy and doing some reading, when I wasn’t cursing on making mistakes with the Lego.
So how was 45? Pretty good, over all. Let’s sum up a few high and low points.
  •  Things with Cathy and I are still rock solid. All marriages have highs and lows, but I think the last year was mostly good. And hey, we celebrated being married for 10 years. The only time it had the potential to get a little stressful, I gave the heads up that things were going to get hectic for me last fall, and that she might need some extra patience. And she did. So yeah, I’m pretty happy there. Still the smartest decision in my life.
  • We also celebrated 10 years of living in Nunavut. It's not always the easiest place to live; there are times when you can get deeply, deeply frustrated. But there's no question that our lives have changed for the better in the 10 years we've lived here. Let's put it this way, there's no question we're in a much better place living in Nunavut than if we had stayed in Newfoundland. And given that Newfoundland is sliding into what I think is going to be a solid decade of economic horror, I don't see us moving home anytime soon
  • A couple of very nice trips made the year good. Three weeks in Europe, including 15 on a Viking River boat from Budapest to Amsterdam, then a few extra days in Amsterdam and a few more days in London. That’s a pretty good, albeit in very expensive, vacation. Although I really should get around to writing my review of the Viking boat, because we always get questions about what the cruise is like.
  • I also went to New York for a week, which I’ve already written about extensively. That was good. Also the last time I’m likely be there for a long time given how bad the Canadian dollar is right now.
  • And everything else was fine. I think when you get older you appreciate less drama, or at least work hard to purge unnecessary drama from your life whenever you can. I’m healthy, Cathy’s healthy (well, the usual complaints, but we’re use to them by now), most of my family and friends are healthy. It may not be an action packed life of excitement, but it’s a good one. If nothing else, writing a post like this is a useful reminder how rare and lucky a set of circumstances that can be. So I’m going to pause and enjoy that.

In terms of, “well, bollocks” moments for my 45th year.
  •  My weight crept back up. I’m not back to where I was when I just turned 42 and was at a record bad weight for me, but I’m closer to that than when I was 43, and managed to drop down to a weight I hadn’t seen since my 20s. Some of it was a series of nagging injuries that made working out uncomfortable. But let’s be honest, part of it was me being lazy and slipping out of my routines. So I’m back to trying to eat healthier and going to the gym 3-4 times a week again. I doubt I’ll ever get back to 182 pounds, which is where I was when I was 43, but a lot of friends and family were worried about me at that weight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was apparently a rumour going around town that I was sick, because I had dropped so much weight so fast. On the upside, I’m in better shape, just carrying more weight than I would like.
  • I don’t discuss work on the blog, for obvious reasons, but it was a stressful and occasionally frustrating year.  But again, an upside, it was a year where I worked with the same organization for the whole year.  And that’s not nothing. I still get mad when I think about the previous job. So yes, some challenges and frustrations. But that’s work.

So what do I have planned for 46? I like make plans at my birthday rather than on New Year’s Eve.
  • Continue to eat better and exercise. Be content that the weight is not going to fly off like it did last time, but don’t get complacent about it either. Ideally I’d like to be back around 200 pounds. That was a comfortable weight for me…and didn’t freak people out.
  • Read at least 25 books this year. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider all the graphic novels, magazines, newspapers and web articles I read, finding time for 25 novels can be a challenge. I’ve already finished “Career of Evil” by JK Rowling (Well Galbraith, but it’s Rowling) and I’ve started "Ancillary Mercy" by Ann Leckie. After that it’s back to The Expanse series.
  • Write more. I’m doing a little better on the blog, but I still need to write more. I’m actually debating pitching stuff to some of the geek blogs. They pay is utter shit, of course. I attended a panel on geek journalism when I was in New York and they all said “You better love it, because you’re going to find it hard to make a living off of it.” Fortunately, I don’t need to. So maybe try and do some geek writing for my own amusement. We’ll see. That one is still rattling around in my head.
  • Continue to try and be awesome to Cathy.
  • Try and spend less time on the computer. That may be counter-intuitive to the doing more writing, now that I think about it. How about “waste less time on the computer”? That’s better.
  • And go on a decent vacation. Alas, nothing as epic as last summer. It was...pricey. But we were celebrating our 10th anniversary, so it was allowed. I think this summer is going to be Southern Ontario (I've never been to Niagara Falls) and then we're debating either going to Chicago for a few days and trying to get tickets to Adele or taking a quick jaunt through New York state and Vermont and hang out in Montreal for a few days. Also planning on going to St. John's during the summer for the first time since 2007. So that'll be fun. Assuming the weather doesn't suck.

How grown-up can you be with Stitch, Yoda
and Dr. Who Lego
It’s funny, I got asked when I turned 46 if I feel any older. Given that I was putting together a Dr. Who Lego set at the time, I’m going to go with “no”. I have no more secrets to staying young than anybody else. But the combination of exercise, eating a bit healthier, going on cool vacations, enjoying and demanding sloth time (I’m an introvert. I desperately need down time), and being comfortable in my geekery is working well for me. I don’t feel 46. Hell, there are days when I’m geeking out over something (on the weekend it was the announcement of a second season of Jessica Jones and a possible new Punisher series, both on Netflix) I’m not entirely sure I’m 16.
Then I look over and realize Cathy’s talking to me, and since a girl talking to me at 16 was deeply unlikely, I guess I am somewhat of an adult.
I seem to have found what works for me. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good most days.

Last Five
1. Galician Overture - The Chieftains*
2. Hey, Snow White - The New Pornographers
3. Empty threat - Chvrches
4. El Besu - The Chieftains
5. This is our perfect crime - The Von Bondies

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The balmy north

You can get weird weather living in the North. This time last year we were in the middle of an epic cold snap. It had been weeks of temperatures in the -30C range, and that's before you added windchill. Windchill would put it into the -40C and -50C without much effort. Since schools closed when you got Extreme Wind Chill warnings (-50C in case you were wondering) there were a lot of closures...and grumpy parents. On one particularly horrific day, temperatures dropped to -44C with windchill at -67C. I used that day to horrify Americans in New York last October to explain just how cold it could get where I live.

It was a long, hard cold winter. By many accounts the coldest one Iqaluit had seen in decades.

So what do you do to follow that up? Well, how about a day in the middle of January where it was....+1C. Which is what the temperature was here today. Seasonal norms are between -24C and -31C in case you were wondering. Or as I told friends in St. John's, it's roughly the equivalent of waking up this morning and discover it was +30C. That would freak out people.

It certainly was freaking out people here. Normally when you get temperature spikes like that in the middle of winter you get something truly horrific. I remember the last big one we had, back in 2008, I think, when it hit +3C at the end of February. On top of that it was pouring rain and 90 km/h winds. So when everything froze a day or so later Iqaluit was a skating rink for weeks.

But today it was fairly...civil. We had some high winds. Pangnirtung got smacked around quite nicely with winds hitting around 110 km/h. We had some moments of unpleasantness, but nothing epic. I spent the day walking around in a Spring coat. Environment Canada has spent most of the last few days trying to figure out what exactly they should be warning us about. They knew something was coming, and I think we got warning for just about everything. Environment Canada - good for predicting cold, clear and sunny weather in the Arctic, but not much else.

The worse we had to deal with were flights being cancelled. Probably because of the winds, but also I suspect the airlines couldn't believe that something evil wasn't going to happen in town when they were halfway here, meaning they would have to turn around. Its meant no mail in days and NorthMart looks like it had a run on it as if the zombie apocalypse was underway. No fit fruit or vegetables to speak of.

However, we did get this...

Photo: Nick Murray/CBC North
That's what the light looked like in Iqaluit around sunset today. There's no filters on that pic. That's actually what it looked like when you were outside. It was surreal. It was also freaking out a lot of people. Which I think is completely reasonable.

This being Iqaluit, the temperature is dropping to about -22C tomorrow. So that's some whiplash. Also, if you're married to someone who does not handle sudden temperature and pressure changes well because of her arthritis, this all well and good to look and, put it sucks pretty much for her. The warm temperatures were nice and all, but I think we'd both like something seasonal and stable.

Last Five
1. 2 -1 - Imogen Heap
2. Morning light - Eskimo Joe
3. My heart will go on - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
4. Nature of the experiment - Tokyo Police Club
5. Armagideon time - The Clash

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Force Awakens

At some point, and I think the point is when a movie makes $1.7 billion dollars in less than a month, it's safe to take the cone of silence off Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be lifted.

A few of my friends haven't seen it yet. If you're one of them and you've wander here and don't want things spoiled, feel free to drift away.

So, first things first...I liked the movie. I liked it quite a lot. Is it the best Star Wars movie ever? Well, no. I would put it third behind A New Hope and Empire. It's certainly not the best movie of the year, as an over-excited critic of the Toronto Star wrote in his review. I haven't seen some of the major contenders like Spotlight and the Big Short yet, but I can say with certainty it's not better than Mad Max: Fury Road.

But it's a good Star Wars movie. It's been a long time since we've had one of those. I had to see The Force Awakens a second time because I'm pretty sure I was holding my breath for most of its running time the first time through praying it wouldn't start to suddenly suck. And it didn't. There were wobbly moments, like when Han, Finn and Rey gather at the bar. That just felt a little flat and draggy to me. And the big Super Weapon was almost as stupid as Star Trek's Red Matter (almost, but not quite. Do not get Abrams to head your weapons development program).

But there are so many other genuinely great emotional moments - the first time you see the Millennium Falcon, the great swooping chase scene through wrecked imperial Star Destroyers, Han's "Chewie, we're home", "The Scene" (which I will not spoil here, but had me muttering "Oh no. This is bad. Very, very bad."), pretty much anything Rey does, but especially the first time she fires up a light sabre. I remember saying to Cathy "I feel a great disturbance in the Force. As if a million geek girls squeed at once and said 'I'm cosplaying the shit out of that.'"

It's good fun. It's obviously very retro, and deliberately so. Look, you don't hire JJ Abrams to give you something you've never seen before. His whole career has mostly been about taking other people's properties and making tweaks to them. Fox wanted him to do something like the X-Files, so he gave them Fringe. Super 8 was updated Spielberg (not good Spielberg, but he tried). Star Trek. Ok, Lost was its own thing, but I've never been so glad to bail on a show after its first season given how frustrated I've heard so many fans get over that show.

So yes, get Abrams to do his own take on A New Hope. Which was needed for the franchise. Desperately.

It's interesting to hear George Lucas snipe at the movie, basically complaining that it's too retro and he would have done something new and different. Which is not necessarily a wrong point of view to have. Episode 8 is going to have to do something different. It can't just be a retread of Empire. Which is why I'm so very, very glad Abrams is not directing it given what a disaster Star Trek: Into Darkness was.

But here's the thing about Lucas sniping...he couldn't have done that "new direction". I'm sure he had ideas, but I guarantee you, it would have been over-produced, with actors who would have been miscast and given no support and dialogue that you would need a jackhammer to chew through. Go take a look at Lucas filmography on IMDB. He's literally directed nothing of any value since the first Star Wars.  He's been involved with creating nothing worthwhile since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He'd never be able to admit that, of course. Not with that much money and ego.

Lucas is practically the poster boy for catching lightening in a bottle. He's the father of this series. I will grant you that gives him a wide latitude to express his opinions. That doesn't mean they're right. Lucas is more a clever marketing genius than any kind of cinematic one at this point.

The Force Awakens had to be the way it is, with so many retro touches and throw backs to A New Hope to ease the mental trauma so many Star Wars fans had from the prequels. Honestly, if The Force Awakens had been as bad as the prequels (I rewatched them for the first time in years in the weeks before The Force Awakens. There's maybe half a good movie in there of the three of them) then I think we might have had to put a couple of million people into counselling.

The people behind the scenes remember that it's not all big flashy CGI battles we love about the movie. There's probably never been a better space battle than the one that opens Revenge of the Sith for spectacle. And yet it's hollow and boring. All CGI flash and no heart.

No, the folks with The Force Awakens remember to bring the fun. And there's a ton of it in there. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments (my favourite remains the Stormtroopers turning around when they hear Kylo Ren's temper tantrum). The dialogue is really good and, as an added bonus, the acting is also quite good. I say added bonus because most of the Star Wars movies have not exactly had Oscar calibre performances.

The other way you can tell the movie is good is the fan reaction. The prequels often lead to spirited defence and trying to explain how they are probably, somehow, better than what they appear to be (they weren't). Or discussions on which order to watch them to cause the minimum psychological damage. With this one, there are fun cartoons on the internet. The relationship everyone wants to see isn't Rey and either Finn or Poe, but Finn/Poe (these shippers are hardcore. Don't mess with them). There's analysis about how Kylo Ren is actually a symbol for over entitled fanboys. It kinda works.

And, as an added bonus, when there was a distinct lack of Rey toys (because who buy toys with a girl character) #wheresrey? trended and shed a ton of light on the general stupidity in the toy industry when it comes to how they market and sell to women.

Oh, and a Men's Right's group claimed they cost Disney millions by boycotting the movie because none of the new characters are white males, which makes them feel persecuted. Which was good, because it brought together millions of people of different races, religions, sex and countries to mock some genuinely deeply stupid people.

So yeah, a good movie. A positive movie. A nice step forward for the franchise and fandom as a whole.  I worry that Disney is going to milk this to death, a similar worry I have about Marvel movies, but that's a worry for another day. At least with The Force Awakens, they managed to land a good movie, against all odds and ludicrous expectations. Not perfect, but pretty damn good.

And that's good enough for me.

Last Five
1. My winding wheel - Ryan Adams
2. I feel fine - The Beatles
3. If it works - Tokyo Police Club
4. Rains on me - Tom Waits*
5. The western isles - Josh Rouse