29.3.18

Beyond Burgerdome.

THE SETTING

Burger week. A seven-day celebration in Halifax where over 100 restaurants create a feature hamburger for the public. It's a fun time, but how does one choose where to start? How does one know when to stop?

I figured that since there are seven days in burger week, I'd get seven friends to choose their champion. Specifically, I asked them, "Which burger should I eat?". This didn't always mean they would pick the best burger -- sometimes there are other motivations driving their recommendations.

To make things more interesting, I asked seven friends in Western Canada, with limited knowledge of the reputations of local restaurants. I got eight replies, but that's okay. I was up for the challenge.

And now, it was time to try them all, and decide which one was the best.

THE VETTING

Four stars? 11/14? 92%? Instead of the standard grades, I'm trying a different method of judging: I'm going to compare each burger to a post-apocalyptic warrior of the barren wastelands, based on the qualities of the burger. Then, those characters will be ranked according to fighting skill and general likelihood of survival.

THE THANKING

I honestly did enjoy every one of these burgers. They were all put out by restaurants trying hard to impress, they were all tasty, I had a lot of fun putting this all together, and it was a comforting thought to know that each of these burgers held a connection to a friend of mine.

I thank all eight of my friends for their suggestions. No one chose poorly.

THE RANKING!

8. 3sixty’s "Original Sin" (chosen by J.H.)


6-oz burger, topped with blue cheese, arugula, tomato jam, pickled apple, smoked bacon and avocado dressing, on a sundried tomato brioche bun with fries.





One of my first thoughts when I read this description was, "Tomato jam? How is that different from ketchup?". Much to my surprise, it was exactly as advertised: tomatoes stewed in sugar and pectin. It was as sweet as any other jam you'd spread on your toast at breakfast. The pickled apples were also very sweet.

The smoked bacon was very thin and crispy. Normally that's not how I prefer it, but it was a good decision here to provide a bit of crunch. Besides, it was also the pinkest patty of the the eight I tested, so the bacon provided a necessary counterpoint.
Alas, there wasn't a lot of synergy between the sweet and the meat. The blue cheese had a very strong aroma, and the arugula was falling out of the burger with abundance, but neither of those elements blended with the rest of the burger, either.


In the Burgerdome:


Original Sin? It's not that easy... the conflicts within this burger betray its heart. This burger is the disillusioned priest, still struggling to deal with a world that has abandoned him. He did everything that was asked of him, he helped people and offered guidance and support. He never asked for anything above his station, and he was content with his life. And now the world has fallen. Is this punishment? Is this a test? Devastation this complete, this vast, has to be a divine message. So why can't he understand what that message is? This failure tortures him. He still offers advice, and words of comfort. He protects his people, even though that's required him to do unforgivable things. But he can not lead them. Not yet.

7. Ace’s "Jughead" (chosen by M.B.)


Smashed NS beef, strip bacon and American cheese.

According to the menu, the grill closes at 22h00, but they keep making the Jughead until midnight. It's designed to be the most reliable burger in the kitchen. A basic, no-frills production. 

How is it? The first smell reminded me... of A&W. And that’s a good thing! I’m not too proud to walk away from a value menu. Fast food companies put a lot of work into making their burgers smell good, and these guys got here naturally.

It tasted like a fast food bacon cheeseburger, too, just with more meat and more bacon. Nothing wrong with that, right?

In the Burgerdome:


A burger this simple, this self-reliant, is the scavenger of the wastes. "Rule Number One: Never get involved." Don't waste time bartering, or being suspicious of whether you can trust others. Just don't trust anyone else, and you'll never be betrayed.

Hide all day. Wake up at sunset and go looking for what you need. Take what you find. Eat what you kill. Don't make a name for yourself, don't leave any victims behind to become enemies. Just live for another day, and you'll be better off than most of humanity.

And yes, he wears his hat at a jaunty angle. He just likes it that way.

6. Durty Nelly’s "Gaelic Steak burger" (chosen by B.G.)


NS beef patty, double-smoked bacon, Jameson whiskey peppercorn sauce, sauteed onions and mushrooms, shoestring potatoes, horseradish, grainy mustard and aioli, served on a sesame seed bun with hand-cut fries.


The aroma here is of a well-marinated steak with mushrooms. Lovely. The shoestring potatoes in the burger add a nice crunch with every bite, and they almost create conduits for the liquids. After a single bite, the sauce is already running down my fingers.

There's a very strong mushroom presence throughout. Bacon only registers in the chewy aftertaste. It's strange that the bacon isn't more noticeable, but it's stranger still that I don't really have any impression of the patty itself. Are the mushrooms too strong? That seems unlikely, since I love mushroom burgers, but other explanations elude me.

The mustard was top-quality, and I wish there'd been a little more. The sauce is nice and peppery, and the garlic mayonnaise tastes great on the bun... but there it is again.  Why can't I taste the mayonnaise on the meat instead?

I do love mushrooms, though.

In the Burgerdome:


The mushrooms and runny sauce are easy clues: this burger is from the Underworld. The towns above needs the underworld to provide fungus for food and energy, and medicine, but the clan below makes sure they're the ones in charge of the negotiations, and if they don't like the deal, they disappear into their caverns and your wells dry up.

They've still got their enforcer, though — when she comes out to brave the sun, she's half-drunk and coated in grease. Between her staggering and her slipperiness, she's impossible to hit. She can calmly take out a whole crowd of fighters, one at a time. She takes no pleasure in the sport, though, and she feels no need to kill if she doesn't have to. This is just business.

5. The Split Crow’s "Smoked Up Crow" (chosen by D.G.)


An all-beef burger infused with Halifamous Chris Brothers pepperoni, topped with sauteed mushrooms, bacon, smoked cheddar and smoky garlic mayo.


"Smoke" is the theme of this burger, and they tackled it with commitment. An aroma of smoke and crispy bacon rises from the burger as soon as it arrives.

They pulled off an interesting trick with this burger: when you take a bite, the first thing you taste is the meat, and then the smoky spice starts to fill in the picture. You keep chewing, and then, right as the smoke clears, you taste the meat again... but this time, it's the taste of pepperoni! I was genuinely impressed -- usually when I read "pepperoni infused", I think, "too cheap to add actual pepperoni". Not only that, but a stick of pepperoni inside a burger doesn't sound that appetizing.

But no, they truly delivered a burger that was more than the sum of its ingredients. That sort of cleverness is far beyond what I expected from a $6 special.

The other toppings serve to set up the deceit: they help the initial taste of a good burger, but after that, their work is done and they're barely noticeable. The cheese isn’t really a contributing factor, either, except that it’s a bit chewy.

In the Burgerdome:


The element of surprise serves this warrior well -- he's the badlands ninja, appearing and disappearing at will. Be it a dark alley, a sandstorm, or a smoke bomb, any distraction is all he needs to gain the advantage.

4. Unchained Kitchen's "Smokey Gator Hawg" (chosen by C.C.)


 Bayou-raised alligator, Acadian pork belly, fried onion straw, apple relish and gator gravy.


Yes, alligator! I'm glad I got the chance to investigate this...

This burger was served tightly wrapped in foil, and we were instructed to unwrap it, and pour the gator gravy over the burger. Unwrapping the burger unleashed a pungent, steamy mix of grease and herbs.

The herbs were also heavily present in the gravy. I think it was rosemary and sage in particular? It was an excellent choice - both alligator and pork belly are light meats, so the herbs complemented the meat and gravy much better than spices would have.

The burger had an amazing texture. It was chewy but with a yielding crispness, like a toasted marshmallow.

I can't overstate the greasiness of this burger, though. Both types of meat are greasy, and I was wishing for a finger bowl of lemon water by the end of the meal. However, it wasn't the heavy grease of a cheese pizza, it was much lighter than that - the level of fattiness was similar to a slice of pork belly in your ramen, which was fine by me... but that grease also had another, less pleasant resonance in the aftertaste. It was so greasy, I feel like the water I drank didn’t actually contact any food in my throat!

Perhaps that's the reason they suggested pairing the burger with a citrusy cider -- I can see how that would have been a perfect match.

In the Burgerdome:


Exotic light grease that needs backup cider: this burger is an example of an exceptional tool and a rare skill, each one useless without the other. But when combined, it's incredible to behold, the stuff of legends.

She's the sky pirate, the only one in the whole blasted territory who has an autogyro and knows how to fly it. Everyone loves her -- even when she's stealing from a caravan with your supplies on it, you're a little bit excited that you'll have a story to tell. Besides, she's not all that bad. She's saved everyone's life at some point, with her warnings about storms or bandits approaching from the distance, and by the time you're ready to pay her price for transport, your cause is usually dire enough that she'll take pity on you and do it as a favour.

But it's always in the back of her mind... without the gyro, what would she do? Could she survive? The thought haunts her, and keeps her a little bit on her guard, removed from everyone else. But even so, it's probably for the best that she doesn't get too friendly with people. She's a pirate, after all.

3. The Press Gang's "Roo Burger" (chosen by J.G.)


Angry Orchard hard cider bun, kangaroo with chimichurri, foie gras butter, curried caramelized onions, triple cream brie, arugula and fries.




This one was a surprise. It was far and away the most expensive burger on the list, at $25 -- I figured that such a price was a consequence of sourcing a limited amount of an exotic meat. However, I'd never been inside The Press Gang before. As the side picture demonstrates, it's a candlelit wine cellar with a grand piano.

This city is always full of surprises. And sometimes, they're $25 surprises.

Anyway, back to the burger. This one was... impeccable. As you can see from the photo, the burger was neat and tidy. Well-packed. It smelled of sharp wine and soft herbs.

The sauce was thick and finely minced, more of a pesto than a spread. It had just a little kick to it, similar to a smattering of horseradish. It paired wonderfully with the smooth buttery cheese. The onions were fully caramelised. Not just "fried until soggy and brown", but steadily and slowly cooked until they were softer than the brie.
All the toppings were homogenous and smoothly distributed - I believe this is because the meat patty was very thick, and dense. Chunkier toppings would have bounced right off of it.

Similarly, the bun was also very heavy and dense. Once again, it makes sense. Pressed against that burger and soaked with sauce, a lighter bun would have been torn apart in my hands just by holding it.

The meat was delicious, but distinctively dark and lean. I suppose there aren't a lot of kangaroos out there with marbled layers of fat, eh?

The only downside to the considerable densities of each ingredient was that it resulted in the bun pushing the burger out, meaning the last four bites were bread-only. (But very good bread.)

In the Burgerdome:



As a fighter, this burger plays a defensive game. It’s not the hunter, but the hunted - he’s the bunker sniper, the guy who learned to get his defences up, let the enemy take their hopeless shot, and then retaliate. Preferably at long range, with a rifle. That helps him to choose the battlefield, and keep him in control of the conflict. But even if someone does close the distance, he's prepared. No matter the attack, he's got something to help him survive it. He doesn't go anywhere without scrap steel armour plating underneath the leather. It might get messy at that point, though, which he considers distasteful. His game plan is to be the one that hits last, and he prefers it if that last hit is as neat as possible.

2. Brewster’s "Seoul Burger" (chosen by L.H.)


House-made beef patty glazed with Korean Bulgogi BBQ sauce, topped with seared pork belly, gochujang ketchup, pickled daikon and red cabbage and kimchi mayo.


The initial aroma was promising - spicy, and just a bit sour. With the first bite, though, I was confused. Still a lovely aroma, but only a very little of that transferred into the taste.

At first.

As I kept eating, I got to the section that was better mixed with the sauce. That's when the synergy really started to kick in. The burger got better and better with each bite, the sauce complementing the bun, the other toppings, and the meat.

The kimchi mayo and bulgogi barbecue sauce combined into something special, but the real surprise was the pickled daikon. It had a nice chewy crunch, a stronger texture with a pleasant (if subtle) taste. I'd seriously consider using them instead of pickles in future burgers.

Aside from the slow start, the only other drawback was the seared pork belly - I could barely notice it.

In the Burgerdome:


This burger is unassuming at first, and then spicy. She’s not a bomber -- that's too chaotic and quick. Instead, she’s a trapper. A minelayer. She’s keeping her edge in the arms race by turning the land around her into a deathtrap only she can navigate. On supply runs, she mines a choke point and waits for payday. This isn’t merely an “evil genius” at work — these plans take effort and resources. You might wonder: How did she get so much gunpowder to begin with? Rumour is, she was one of the arms dealers that helped ignite the war in the first place.

In the saga of these eight characters who survived the apocalypse, this woman is the arch-villain of the story. She's the true threat - the one who holds the power, and can't be taken down easily. She's capitalizing on the anarchy in the world, and turning it into a type of fear and chaos she can use to gain more power.

But maybe somebody can stop her...

1. Lot Six’s "Six Meat Under" (chosen by M.A.)


6-oz patty, bacon jam, smoked gouda, onion crisps, lettuce, tomato and Sriracha aioli, served with frites.



There's a subtle sweetness from the bacon jam, and a little spice from the Sriracha that was kept under control by the aioli (garlic mayonnaise).  This was a pleasant surprise, since both bacon jam and Sriracha are a bit overplayed due to their current trendiness. Instead, there was a balance of flavours in this burger, where neither sweetness nor spice took over, but both contributed to the mix.

The same thing goes for the vegetable assortment. It's a little surprising that none of the other burgers had lettuce and tomato -- but it's more surprising how much I appreciated their presence here.

Nothing here overpowers the sizeable patty, it's allowed to succeed on its own strengths, juicy and well-cooked.

Finally, the toasted sesame seed bun absorbed all the relevant juices, and helped shape the texture of the burger to make sure that with every bite, the full complement of flavours was delivered.

In the Burgerdome:


This burger has a bit of everything. Points in every skill, knowledge of old techniques, and equipped with new tech. How does this fit into a post-apocalyptic world? It's part of the secret organization known as “Lot Six”, that’s still holding on to all the tools and technologies of the old civilization. Their orders are to save the world, but they know that opening their doors to share all the advances they've saved will only benefit the warlord with the biggest army. 

So they hide. They watch. They train. And they send their agents out into the wasteland, to keep people alive, to help them find their way back to civilization, and to keep the warlords in check.

He looks like just another drifter, so no one looks too closely. But if they did, they might notice that the buckles strapping his patches of leather together are decorative. The rust on his machete is paint. His pocket knife doesn’t get jammed when he opens it. His watch tells the time. Everything works.

That’s because this man is on a mission, and once he gets to the Western Capital, he’s got all the skills he needs to complete his objective in any way he chooses, and then disappear before the sun comes up. But first, this outpost he's found in the wastes is having a problem with a local baroness, who's  turning the area into a minefield. 

Not on his watch. He gathers the other wanderers around the fire, and pulls out an old scroll of paper. If we work together, we can make this land safe, he tells them. 

He's got a plan.

16.4.14

Welcome to wherever you are.



The Halifax Regional Municipality rolled out its new branding today: they want to be bold, they want to just be known as "Halifax", and they've got a new logo for the city. The full explanation is at halifaxdefined.ca, but here's the important part.

This is the old logo:


And here's the new one:



Personally, I like it. It's simpler, it's bolder, and it's really, really new. I've seen a lot of welcome signs on a lot of cities, and many are charming, and some are clever, and a few are even modern and dynamic... but "simple and bold" is a bit of a rarity.

Let's go on a tour, shall we?

It's a V, it's pretty, and it's water-related. It certainly covers the main points - and as a bonus, the blue and white stripes echo the provincial flag, as is fitting for a capital.


Flowers! And also, this is the colour scheme of the 2010 Olympics - surely not a coincidence.

I never would have expected Calgary to have the classiest traditional logo, but here it is. And actually, it's pretty great. You've got a bull, a horse, and a beaver, with a banner reading "Onward!" A cynic might say that Calgary's trying to act more important than it is by giving itself a fancy crest, but a) it IS an important city, and b) fancy crests are a Canadian tradition.



Hm. How old do you think this logo is? I'd wager it dates from the SCTV era, at the earliest. There's a certain boldness in keeping a logo around that long, I suppose...


Wow! This is a surprise - it's colourful, and it sort of looks like a Moëbius strip, making "Infinite Horizons" a bit more profound than just a joke about the landscape. Well done!



Uh-oh. Sorry, Saskatoon, this logo looks like a budget hotel. I can see what you're getting at, though: it's as plain as day to me that this is a picture of the Saskatchewan River. It's a good idea - it just looks a bit boring, that's all.

...maybe I don't know Winnipeg as well as I should, because aside from a "let's all hug" swirl, I have no idea what significant things are being represented here.


T-Bay isn't really in the Top 10 list, but I love this logo. The thunderbird is eye-catching, and the slogan sounds pompous until you realise that it's on the shore of Lake Superior, which makes it surprisingly literal.



This logo reminds me of a magazine ad for a Commodore 64.


Much like Saskatoon, this logo also looks like a hotel sign - albeit a nicer one. Apparently, they're very proud of their High Level Bridge - or perhaps it's more to do with their pride in engineering and construction. Not bad, actually.

Another set of logos designed to look like they want to hug you. 
It's a subtle touch in the Ottawa logo, how there's a maple leaf in the O. 

Unfortunately, it makes the leaf looks like it's swirling down the drain...


Is that crest supposed to be a bunch of Ms shaped like hearts? Or is it a reference to the highway cloverleafs in the city?

Or maybe it's just something strange and beautiful that Montréal decided to run with, because that's how they do things. It looks like it dates back to the days of the Expos, but it still works.
This one's interesting, because of how very similar it is in theme to the old Halifax logo.


Uh-oh. Winnipeg, Montréal, and now Saint John's - I'm not as well-versed in Canadian cities as I thought I was, because this arch in the O has me stumped!

On the other hand, I'm not sure even residents of Moncton know what this is supposed to be. I do like the Moncton slogan, though: "Our Tide Is Rising". It's a reference to the Bay of Fundy, and of their hopeful recovery from some rough years, but it's also delightfully ominous. Sort of like the Maritime version of "Winter Is Coming".


And last but not least, Charlottetown. That's a weird design they're using - it could be a river, or an island, or the Confederation Bridge, or even just a "C" (don't tell them I said this, but I think it's kind of cute that they call themselves C-town). Regardless of the mysterious swoosh, though, it's a pretty generic message - although yes, great things *do* happen there.

So, there you are - a quick tour through the logos of Canada! They're not too bad, and Edmonton's proves that even the bad ones become good over time, as they get accepted and even acquire a bit of "retro" appeal. So perhaps it's not necessary to get too worked up over a new logo. 

But that being said, the new Halifax logo is definitely distinct from all the others here. It's not a direction anyone expected them to take - and maybe that's a good thing.

9.3.14

El Pingüino versus The Malspiel!

A moonlit night on a frozen pond. Torches stuck into the ice offer temporary light. Occasionally, a flame will sputter and hiss as it melts the ground, which make EMILY, HANNAH, and SIMON nervous. Still, they need the light -- otherwise, they wouldn't be able to see the curling rink painted onto the surface.

HANNAH: Are you sure we have to do this? It's dark - maybe we could escape and get help.

EMILY: We can't run from our debts, though, and the Baron's promised to erase them if we beat him tonight. This is the best chance we have to save our home... and James.

JAMES is off to the side of the rink, unconscious and chained to a dozen curling rocks. Torches burn all around him. BARON VON HAMMER smiles as he watches the distress upon the remaining three members of the opposing team, and warms his hands upon the fire, which leap up to meet him. He seems not to mind, and watches HANNAH take her shot.

She makes her delivery, and the weight looks good. The rock slows down as it crosses the hog line, and it's going to rest in the house behind a guard. The BARON frowns.

BARON: Marco! Get ready to watch it "curl"!

MARCO, the BARON'S gigantic vice-skip, grunts, and puts all of his weight into the ice. There's a crack, and the entire sheet of ice lurches and tilts. The three young curlers all slip and fall, and the rock bumps into them as it changes direction. The BARON laughs, and MARCO takes the weight off the ice, restoring it to normal.

BARON: And here I was nervous about all these flames... but it seems as though you were the first to burn a rock! Hahahaha!

EMILY: You villain!

Furious, she charges the BARON, 

BARON: Now, now... that's not very sporting, is it?

He snaps his fingers, and the brutish lead and second restrain her, and drag her into JAMES' deathtrap. The BARON turns back to HANNAH and SIMON.

BARON: It seems that you're short a few players... such a shame. Forfeit is such an ugly way to win.

MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Then perhaps I'll show you a beautiful way to lose, Von Hammer!

BARON: That voice... No! Could it be...?

HANNAH (to SIMON): He came! He got my message! It's... El Pingüino!

EL PINGÜINO enters the scene. His amazing pants are scuffed, and his jacket is torn... but behind the mask, his eyes are blazing with purpose.

EL PINGÜINO: I've finally caught up with you, Baron - your mockery of the Roaring Game comes to its final end tonight! (turns to HANNAH) Do you have room on your team?

HANNAH: Of course! Thank you, El Pingüino - with you skipping, we'll be sure to win!

EL PINGÜINO: Ah, but I won't be skipping... my job is to protect and support the innocent, and as lead, I'll guard your rocks from takeouts just as I'll guard you from injustice! (He flashes the biggest smile he can from behind his mask.) And besides, you might need my help sweeping!

SIMON: So, who'll be skipping, then?

EL PINGÜINO: I brought in a friend of mine! I first confronted her in the Scottish lochs of Sterling, but once that crisis was resolved, I could see the nobility of her character. And... (He glares at the BARON) who better to skip on an unstable sheet, than someone who learned how to curl hanging upside-down in her icy caves? Come out, my friend! Lend us your immortal wisdom!

BRIER MacCRIMMON appears. She is tall and gaunt, and almost perfectly concealed in her black cape. When the wind catches it, though, her highland tartans underneath are visible. Her hair is almost as black as her cloak, making her forehead seem as pale as snow against her widow's peak. Above all else, though, nothing is more arresting in her appearance than the gleam of her fangs in the moonlight.

BARON: What? No! You can't let her on your team - she's a Dracula!

EL PINGÜINO: What? There's no rule against letting a Dracula curl - any more than letting a Frankenstein play!

Everyone turns to look at MARCO, who grunts.

EL PINGÜINO: Enough talk! Your time is up, Von Hammer! Tonight, El Pingüino curls...







FOR JUSTICE!

27.2.14

Stay awhile, and listen.

(This post is about more than just videogames - please bear with me for just a few paragraphs.)

As I write this, my computer is thrashing about madly, trying to download a gigantic, "game-changing" update for Diablo 3, by Blizzard Software. This is also the first time I've thought about Diablo 3 since June of 2012, or one month since its release.

That's actually pretty astounding to me. I'd played Diablo 2 right up until OS X removed the ability to play software designed on PowerPC processors. I thought that the newer and better sequel would be able to hold my interest for ages! But no, I forgot about it after a nice walk outdoors, a good movie, and a long contemplation on the nature of a protagonist. And that's all it took.

At first glance, a review of Diablo's "story" seems worse than pointless. Even its biggest fans will admit that the purpose is simply to fight an endless horde of monsters, enjoy the graphics, and collect treasure. Blizzard attempted to atone for this by going "epic" -- by stretching the battles across distant continents, and by creating demons of incredible power, woven into a mythology which raised the stakes of the game to a battle for creation itself.

But rather than pull the character's story up with this narrative, it only tore it apart.

Here's what Mark Waid listed as the six qualities of a hero:
  • Competent
  • Brave
  • Moral
  • Selfless
  • Relevant
  • Successful
"Relevant". That usually doesn't come up often. Usually, it's a simple matter, because the presence of a villain is almost shorthand for relevance. But once you start to think about the overpowered world of Diablo, it starts to become apparent that the player actually doesn't do a whole lot.

Act 2 is a great example. Let's ignore the charming set pieces for a moment, and look at the situation before and after the hero journeys through.

Before:
  1. City under martial law
  2. undead wizard not in any position to harm people
  3. sorceress trapped and tortured in the sewers
After:
  1. City in anarchy, is bombarded by a meteor storm
  2. undead wizard revived and then killed again
  3. sorceress rescued, so that she can betray heaven and summon the greatest evil in existence
I love freedom and hate despotism as much as the next person, but let us put platitudes aside for a moment: had the hero never entered the city, fewer people would have died, and the entire world would have been safe for generations, until the sorceress escaped on her own.

But the hero did call out the demon, and the city burned. That's what makes it "epic", and "dark", and "badass". If innocent bystanders perish, then that makes the villain even more evil. It makes the hero look stronger, because they survive when so many others failed. Diablo takes this idea to such a ridiculous extreme that I couldn't help but feel complicit in all the deaths around me. And so, here's Denton's Corollary to the previous six rules:

The more "badass" a character is, the less relevant they are.

Such characters are defined by the system they rebel against, after all, and the more powerful they are, the more powerful the system must be to oppose them. Thus, the great "film noir" stories are intimate in scope - as their patron saint once said, the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in their world. They're not relevant, but they never tried to be. Their conflicts are within the system, but not against it.

And I think that's a problem in a lot of my own writing - my characters tend towards irrelevance as well, but because I never make them rebellious enough. Maybe now that I have a better handle on what makes "edginess" so distasteful to me, I can start to incorporate that into my writing and know where to draw the line.

Preferably before my character shatters the Worldstone which binds all realities together.

18.2.14

This is probably how Scientology started.

I've always loved the occult. That's not to say I *believe* in it -- but there's something fascinating about the rules and connections interwoven into that material. It simultaneously makes the world more straightforward, and more convoluted. If you believe in magic, it makes the world easier to control, but it still allows a greater sense of accomplishment for those who can control it. In some ways, it's the same feeling that a new gadget gives you... I suppose Arthur C. Clarke's maxim about "sufficiently advanced technology" applies to the user as well as the audience!

And with that in mind, I've often wondered about other ways to merge the modern world with the arcane. I've developed zodiacs based on Top 40 hits, and I've written exorcism rituals for scientific equipment. But now, I think I've got a new favourite project:

A tarot deck based on quantum mechanics.


Specifically, I'm working with the above chart - this is the "Standard Model", an organisation of all the categories of indivisible particles in the universe. This will make a deck of 17 cards, and I'll add one more for the Graviton - not only is it still a great mystery, but it'll translate nicely into "the great unknown" when I'm assigning themes and characteristics to each card.

Photon: a massless particle of light, it carries its message to the ends of the universe. It signifies communication and distance, and indicates upcoming travel.

Top Quark: At 173 GeV/c2, this is the heaviest of all particles. Paradoxically, the mass which makes it too short-lived to bond with other quarks also allows it to be viewed independently with relative ease. This suits its other name, Truth, quite well. It signifies judgement and independence, and indicates a challenge in the future.

There's also the means of divination to consider here... I think it'll be based upon drawing the cards in threes, since that's how many quarks fit into a hadron (e.g. proton). Oh, and then, maybe to differentiate this system from Tarot decks a bit more, I'll replace one card with another to symbolise decay... except, of course, that I'll make it known that decay is part of the natural cycle of life and cosmic existence, and it can be a force for renewal as well as destruction, and so on.

I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Thanks for reading this, and stay tuned for updates!

25.1.14

The modern remake: 2 North 4 Northwest.

My friend Joe from On The Stick (fine podcasts there, check them out) did the impossible, and found a Facebook game which was both fun AND didn't stink up the Facebook pages of all my friends. Incredible. My contribution to the game is a simple one... find a poster of my Alfred Hitchcock film.

After an hour of crying over having to pick just one, I finally settled on North By Northwest. Possibly not his artistic triumph, but it's one I can watch again and again. You see, when I was just started to discover the classics, I hesitated to explore Hitchcock's library, because his reputation as a "master of suspense" led me to think that I wouldn't be able to handle such intensity.

Of course, I soon learned a suspense film might put the viewer's heart in a vice for ninety minutes -- but a master of suspense speaks to the brain, not the heart. Hitchcock's films are great because they draw you in - you're trying to figure things out, and keep track of the plot, and you want to know how it turns out. That's suspense I can handle!

I still don't have the nerves of my shock-loving friends, though, so that means I have a fondness for the slightly "playful" suspense of North By Northwest, compared to Rear Window or Vertigo.

Next, the surprisingly challenging step of finding a NBNW poster! Not because they're rare, but because they're common. It seems like every graphic designer with a DVD collection has tried their hand at redesigning this poster...

The details are obscured here, which
conveys the panic and confusion of the movie.
 I love how the footprints here actually show
Roger seeing the plane, and turning to run.
It's hard to avoid playing up Hitchcock's legend,
but this is a bit much, isn't it?
In the 2-player mode, one person is the plane.
You don't have to use the arrows,
but if you do... could they not point east? 
It's pretty, but why is the plane going
in the opposite direction?























You may have noticed that all these designers hit upon the same problems:

1) The cropduster scene was pretty cool, but it was a single moment, and mostly unrelated to everything else in the movie. It certainly demonstrates that "Cary Grant gets chased", but it's not actually a defining moment of the film...

2) ...but on the other hand, the film doesn't have many other defining moments to work with, since it ricochets from place to place too quickly. Well, except for the finale, but why would you put that on a poster?

3) North By Northwest is a direction - how can you not include that in the image somewhere? It's just too bad the movie itself never explains the title.

Then again, not only does this official poster do the exact same thing, but it even includes the finale I mentioned!


Only Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock ever gave you so much suspense in so many directions!


I will, however, express my fondness for that tagline - and the cheek required to include Hitchcock as the fifth head of Mount Rushmore!

But sometimes it really is the best idea just to keep it vague, and play it safe with star appeal. And so, here's my favourite North By Northwest poster:


"This movie is made by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Cary Grant, who is shot at by a lady, but also kisses a lady."

I'm sold. Let's get the popcorn started.



14.1.14

The city by the sea with the heart of a mountain.

Some cities are like mansions: magnificent and stately, instantly recognizable and influential. For those with power, living in these cities are a reward for their success, and they like to add to their city's grandeur, as though it were a trophy room. But such cities can also be prisons: imposing and exclusive, a constant reminder of all the things you'll never have.

Other cities are vehicles: sleek and powerful, always charging forward. People can improve them and polish them, and some can develop a deep understanding with their city, which gives them the competitive edge they crave. But even so, should they reach their goal, or find a better way to get there, the city will have hit the end of its usefulness to them.

But Halifax is neither of these... it's an environment. It's more than a city to explore, it's a city which needs exploration. It's a track upon which people race, and an understanding of their city helps them to improve their times. It's a gigantic playground, home to whatever adventure your imagination can find. It's a mountain full of alpine trails, designed so that beginners and experts alike can challenge themselves while enjoying the beauty. Halifax is not something to ride -- it's something to be ridden.

Like a wave.




About The Author

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.