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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons


Good Show Sir! - The Worst SF/Fantasy Book Covers

Here a wonderful website featuring a bad SF/Fantasy cover a day, Good Show Sir!


Weekly Update

Last Monday evening I lead a ride for the bike club. Started at the waterfront, went up the Don River trail to Sunnybrook, then east down thru Mount Pleasant cemetery (with the obligatory check that Mackenzie King hasn't come back as a zombie yet) and south down to St. George to close off the loop. It was a great calm evening for a bike ride. Only got a few people out of it, and one of them unfortunately got a flat about 1/3 of the way through (fortunately, he was near home at the time), but it was a good evening outing, about 30 km long. I'm doing a longer ride on Friday, so stay tuned.

Wednesday to Friday I was in Montreal to help teach a training course. it was a 5-day course, but because Thursday was St. Jean-Baptist Day, the Quebec staff had that day off (and most of them were taking the Friday as well), so I had to come in to handle the last 2.5 days of the course. The students were a group of Chinese engineers at Bombardier, so provincial holidays weren't big for them. We nearly got locked out of the building Thursday, but things went ok. The language barrier was a real issue, and I'm not sure how much of the material they came away with a good handle on.

Every day last week I had to get up at 6:30 AM (asked to come in early Monday, Tuesday; flight to Montreal Wednesday; early start to class Thursday, Friday) , which I don't think I've ever done before in my entire life, I don't even get up that early during the anime con. Left me kind of groggy on the weekend, don't know how you morning people stand it.

Saturday had the Anime North wrap-up meeting, which I spent most of writing reimbursement cheques for people. Like I've said I was overall very pleased with the con this year. The big questions to handle over the summer and fall will be the best use of space considering how many more people we're getting. Events may have to be moved out of one location to another for the greater good of the con, however much individual people don't like it. Victims of our own success.

Sunday morning I was at the ROM to see the Terracotta Army exhibit, which is pretty darned fabulous. I was there for 2.5 hours, and I rushed thru the final part (with the Han Dynasty) due to extreme need for lunch, so I'll certainly be going back. The exhibit starts with the formation and rise of the Qin Kingdom, its expansion during the Warring States period (which they've made a lot of Chinese movies about in the last few years, see Red Cliff for example), and how it finally conquered everyone else to unify China under the First Emperor. Then we have the exhibits relating to the burial complex of the First Emperor, including the Terracotta Army figures (of which they have a nice selection, the detail on them is astonishing), and various other items unearthed around the tomb, like a Water Garden consisting of a simulated river bank with bronze waterfowl and clay figure musicians. As well as the artifacts there are several excellent video presentations as well.

The final section concerned the fall of the dynasty founded by the First Emperor (which didn't outlast his son), and the rise of the Han Dynasty, which lasted for about 450 years by keeping the positive aspects of the First Emperor's rule and easing off on the negative ones, like massive building projects that ate up the economy, and resulted in the deaths of a lot of peasants. They used terracotta figures in their tombs as well, but dinky little 1/4 sized ones. I doubt the gods were as impressed.

When having lunch at a nearby Tim Horton's, I noticed that all the stools near the front windows were gone, they must have removed them so crazed anarchists wouldn't smash the glass with them. There was extra police and security around the ROM as well, but other than that I steered clear of any of the G8 security nuttiness.

In the evening was over the Hayden and Charlene's for a very nice dinner with them and their friend Heather, and then some Wii Trivial Pursuit, which I started off slow in, but then came from behind to win. Ha!


Busy Week (and the end of UTARPA)

A busy but fun week. Got together with handful_ofdust for dinner (which I have to do more often) and got caught up. Got a free lunch from the Doubletree and discussed how the con went (they had no problems to discuss with me, which is always good to hear). Had a Friends of the Merril board meeting to review all our activities over the past few months (we have a quiet summer planned in order to recover). Met up with Charles at Cinematheque to watch two James Mason movies, The Man Between, where he's an East German agent in post-war Berlin and Claire Bloom gets mixed up with him (brilliantly directed by Carol Reed), and A Deadly Affair, based on a John le Carre novel. In that one Mason is supposed to be George Smiley, but another studio had the rights to that name so they had to change it. In the first film he's the smoothest guy around, and in the second he's such a hangdog he can't even get too mad at his wife for sleeping around.

Friday Nate Phelps was speaking at U of T, presented by the Center for Inquiry. He's the estranged son of Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church, the "God Hates Fags" guys, who pickets military funerals because God let soldiers die because we all don't hate gays enough. Nate left home midnight on his eighteenth birthday. His talk on growing up in that household was beyond scary, a testimonial to what blind unreasoning devotion does to people, and frankly it's amazing he's turned out to be such a well adjusted guy.

Saturday was busy. First there was the Space-Time book club, where we were doing Dangerous Visions. I haven't read the book in years, so it was a good excuse to (some of the introductions by Harlen Ellison were longer than the stories), and we got to discuss if the stories were still "dangerous" after the passing of 40 years. After that it was down to the Small Press Book Fair, where I ran into handful_ofdust again, at the ChiZine publications tables, headed bykelpqueen and jack_yoniga. I picked up a few things (gotta support the arts), and then zipped up to the ROM of a lecture on the Terracotta Warriors Exhibit, which opens soon. Except I got the day wrong, and there was no lecture that day. So I bought some comics instead.

In the evening it was over to U of T for the last UTARPA showing ever. UTARPA (University of Toronto Anime and Role-Playing Association, although the role-playing part never really materialized) was the anime club I was involved with before Anime North. It had its first showing in May, 1995. U of T has been increasing the room rental rates for a few years now, and they can't afford space anymore with the 30-odd people they get per showing (as they don't have U of T student majority membership, they don't get funding from the University), although a few of the exec hope to carry on with informal events during the year. Anyway, I got there in time to see My Neighbour Totoro, which I haven't seen in years. A girl in the front was doing Totoro dialogue whenever he was on screen (he has no dialogue in the actual film) which was pretty funny.

Fifteen years isn't a bad run for any club, although it's still sad to see it go (full disclosure, I haven't attended a showing in about two years). In the late 90s there was five anime clubs going in the Toronto area, some bi-weekly. YAMA at York is the last one now, and they get their space free from what I hear. But there's been an explosion of Anime cons, with ConBravo being held in Oakville in two weeks being the next one.

Sunday it was on my bike for a nice long ride. With a detour first to the ROM at 10:30 AM to catch the lecture I thought was on the day before. It was quite good, a lot of background on the Terracotta Warriors, the process of arranging the exhibition, how the display space was planned out (with the gift shop constantly asking for more space), etc. There was some great video footage from the actual dig site in China, of one of the major pits (two football fields long and completely covered like a vast airplare hanger). Most of the figures had been broken when the original ceiling of the excavation collapsed (hundreds of years ago) so it's been the work of decades to reassemble them. There was a segment where they were talking to the farmer who discovered them in the late 60s while digging a well. He looks like the stereotypical Chinese peasant, but the presenter said he was very media savvy, asking the cameraman "Do you want to to look left? Right? Point at something?"

After that I took a ride east on the Waterfront Trail out to Oshawa, one of my favourite rides. What with stuff and bad weather it was the first time this year I've been able to do it. I go out to the Oshawa GO station and take the train back. It's about 74 km in all, and a lot of it by the lakeshore thru parkland. Since the train only runs once an hour on weekends it can get tricky to make sure you get to the station in time (and not have to either sprint to get there or end up waiting 40 minutes) but I timed it nicely this time. Got back home in time to have a shower and head out to again to join my brother down at davemerrill and dwinghy place for an evening of watching weird videos, including Anime Hell, a collection of deranged animation that davemerrill puts together each year to show at Anime North and the Atlanta Anime con. It's a highlight of the con, we put it in our biggest room this year and it still filled to capacity.


I'm back

Well, I haven't posted here in a long while, haven't I?

In brief, Anime North went well. On to recent stuff.

Erratic weather has made getting a lot of cycling in a problem over the last month. I did do the full 75 km in the Ride for Heart two weekends back now (and got rained on while doing it) which I am pretty proud of, especially as I had to get up at 5:30 AM to make the start time (between 6:45 - 7:10 AM). So when it was over I found myself back home having cycled 85 km total before noon and the whole day still ahead. Which I pretty much spent lying on the couch watching DVDs. But the fact that practically every weekend is gloomy and raining is going to make it tough for me to make my goal of rolling my bike odometer over this year.

moon_custafer and green_trilobite had their 5th anniversary party on the weekend in the party room of their building, with Doctor Who theme and incidental music in the background and a Dalak on the cake. We made very merry (to quote Samuel Pepys). Big Congrats to you two! Caught up with a bunch of people.

Sunday was busy day. Had brunch with Joel and Melanie. Through begging and pleading I got them to help out with the autograph lines at the con this year (short of people for a whole bunch of reasons) and a) they had fun, which was good, and b) I got some good feedback from Joel about it. After that I watched some baseball in Christie Pits, the Toronto Maple Leafs clobbered the London Majors 6-1 in the first half of a double header. They won the second one as well, which I didn't stay around for because...

I was off to the Foxes Den for the boardgame meetup. Everyone was already playing when I got there, so I watched a game of RoboRally (and figured out the rules). When one player had to leave, I too his place, but then the game was won at practically the beginning of the next turn, so I'll have to wait till next time for a real chance to play. But I came in second in a game of Ticket to Ride (Europe), and second in a game of Carcassone (I was too cautious, if I had taken a chance in building that city bigger I would have won). But I had to leave at 7:30 PM because ...

I was meeting my brother at the Keg Mansion for out post-Anime North steak dinner, which the Keg is a good place for. Last time we were there we made the mistake of asking for a bread refill (it's good bread), which filled us up too much for the steak. Didn't do that this time. After that we took in the season finale of Breaking Bad, which was very good, it'll be a long wait till next season.

And that was the weekend.



Peter Watts found guilty of assault.

This is total bullshit. He's being sentenced April 26, and faces a max of two years in jail.

Damn it damn it damn it.



It was so nice on the weekend I got my bike out. On Saturday I was at the ROM for most of the day at a Greek Archaeology Seminar (eight speakers on a wide range of topics, and I caught up with my friend Mici as well) but got home in time to oil by bike, check the tires, and take a spin about the block. Sunday I had plans to go down to a bike show at the CNE with a friend. I set out in the morning on my bike, but it was so overcast and cold I was worried I had made a big mistake. But after I left the show the sun was out and it was a lot warmer, so I made it out to the end of the Beaches boardwalk and back. Still, I'm out of shape, that ride would have been nothing to me last fall, but I was kind of tired in the evening.

The bike show was really for people willing to drop a few grand, if I wanted to get a $6000 bike for only $5200 it was the place to be. But I got a lot of bike maps and info on cycling in different areas around the province. The Bike Train is really expanding east or west now which will open up brand new territory for me.


Stephen Hawking moving to Canada!

According to this news item Prof. Stephen hawking is leaving England in protest over UK science funding cuts, and is looking at spending at least the next little while at the Perimeter Institute of Physics in Waterloo, with an eye towards making it permanent.

Now let's see how long it takes the Canadian government to piss him off. 15 minutes anyone?


Why You Want to be an Engineer...


It's Darwin Day!

Happy Darwin Day everyone!



Fun couple of days. Saw Son of the Horse Lord, a one-man show at the Winchester Street Theatre with Regina. The one-man is a friend of Regina's and the show was a series of stories about his days growing up on a small farm in Ontario, told in a very deadpan style. I've seen bits of this over the years at play readings and the like of the theatre group Regina is in, but the whole show was very funny, if a bit too reliant on humour relating to excrement (of all kinds).

Karl Schroeder did a reading at the Toronto Reference Library from what will be the last Virga book (now if only number three will come out in paperback) and had a great and wide-ranging Q&A session. His thoughts on the recent Amazon fail were interesting, at $9.99 (which I've always thought was too much for an ebook) Amazon is actually losing money on most of them. The printing and distribution costs of a paper book only account for something like 20% of its cost, something which surprised me a lot. It means that we can't expect ebooks to be significantly cheaper than print, unless we really do want writers to starve. Karl thinks that writers being able to make a real living by just writing was a short lived 20th century phenomenon that is now coming to a close (except for the Stephen King's of the world). He's making as much or more selling the multimedia rights to his work now (games, webcomics, etc), and thinks writer should start encouraging people to think of books as services rather than simple products. We have no problem (well, some problem) paying so many cents for a cell phone call when the call itself actually only costs a tiny fraction of that, because we know that there's an entire infrastructure involved. It was a great evening.

Sunday was very busy. Brunch with Joel and Mel, and then the Sunrise String Quartet playing a couple of pieces, one of them written by my friend Colin, who was there to bask in the glory. I asked Colin how to know when to clap (something that drives me crazy with classical, especially with quartets). The short answer is wait for everyone else (no use if that's what everyone else is doing), the long is to know the number of movements in advance so you can count them and applaud after the last.

In the evening got together with my brother, davemerrill, and dwinghy for some bad SF movies. First was the MST3000 version of Time Chasers, which had a time machine built into a Cessna. A surprisingly well-thought out time loop plot was ultimately with an ill-advice time to the Revolutionary War. Next up was an Italian "Classic", The Day the Sky Exploded. Cue davemerrill spending the whole movie going "Come on, let's see the sky explode!". Manned atomic rocket goes awry, pilot hits the escape capsule, rocket flies off, blows up near some asteroids, which start plummeting towards Earth and knock out our magnetic field (?) before they get there, resulting in tidal waves (??). And using nuclear missiles to blow up the asteroids (cue Sky Exploding) was something only one guy in the world was capable of thinking of.

I bring all this up because this is likely the only film in history when air conditioning saves the world. A mechanical calculator is being relied upon to work out the launch times of the missiles. But it requires a stable temperature to work (thermal effects on all the moving parts) and the We-must-submit-to-God's-Will guy (there's one in every movie like this), shuts the AC off and barricades himself in the machine room, so a couple of guys have to rush him and get shot to restore the precious AC. This is actually true about mechanical calculators and was about the only solid scientific fact in the film.

Last night there was a very interesting presentation at the TRL, CSI Shakespeare: Investigating the Portraits of William Shakespeare, with Dr. Jane Freeman, on Stratford's Shakespeare Festival’s Board of Governors. I think everyone is familiar with the Droeshout Engraving, which is on the title page of the First Folio, the first collection of Shakespeare's plays. While it was commissioned by people who actually knew him, and so almost certainly is his image, it's an oddly done, out of proportion work that was drawn after his death. So is there a picture of Shakespeare painted while he was alive? Dr. Freeman went over all the major contenders.

She was thumbs down on almost all of them, citing modern work that shows pigments dating from after Shakespeare's time, x-rays that showed portraits that had been "Shakespeared" (i.e. touched up to fix hairlines, add beards, change dates, etc.), and a great digression into clothing laws at the time, enacted by Elizabeth the first. It was illegal for people of lower social standings to wear certain clothes, and some of the images show a younger Shakespeare (before he was famous) in outfits he couldn't wear. The only one she thinks has a real chance of being Willy is the Sanders Portrait, which she says has passed all the tests so far, and is Canadian to boot! Some really fascinating stuff.