I rarely fly Air Canada. Not necessarily because its more expensive than other airlines, but because I dislike their seats. They’re hard on my back. The one thing they do have going for them is the best free in-flight entertainment system of any domestic airline. Each seat-back has a screen full of current TV shows and movies, and a random selection of classic movies.
This week, on the flights to and from San Francisco, there unfortunately wasn’t much worth watching. Having just read The Lovely Bones, I couldn’t make it through the movie of the same title because it didn’t do justice to the story. I thought about watching Invictus, but decided to save it for a better screen. So I decided to peruse the “Canadian” content section.
Most of it was about what you’d expect from Canadian cinema: a collection of artsy shorts that no one but film students would really want to watch. But the poster frame from one movie caught my eye, and since I had 4 hours to kill, I thought I’d give it a try.
The movie was called Defendor, misspelling intentional, and it was a full-length, Hollywood-quality production, made with a paltry $4 million, starring Woody Harrelson. It was also the best movie I’ve seen all year.
Defendor is the alter-ego of Arthur Poppington, an adult construction worker with a learning disability. At night he dresses up in a comical superhero costume, with a giant duct tape “D” stuck to his black shirt, accessorized with his grandfather’s World War 2 equipment. His helmet features two flashlights taped together, and a camera attached to a VCR strapped to his back which he uses to record criminals in action. His super-powers include lemon juice, marbles, and bottled bees.
With these dubious tools, Defendor goes about the city looking to protect the helpless and stop “Captain Industry” — the name and identity that he assigned to organized crime.
Its cute, and at times funny, except that, in typical Canadian style, there’s nothing glossy or superficial about the world that the tragic hero lives in. Defendor is just a mentally handicapped man in a costume, and the bad guys he’s after are real bad guys, who beat the snot out of him as his alter-ego, and terrorize him as a challenged individual. Arthur’s alternate reality doesn’t appear so comical when constrasted against real life drug trade, sex slavery and domestic abuse.
Much better than any comic book movie put out by Hollywood, this is an inspiring and touching story about good vs. evil. It would be in the vein of Spiderman, or the more gritty Batman movies, but because it was made here in Canada, the good guy isn’t extra strong, or extra intelligent, or armed to the teeth, or surrounded by voluptous women. Actually, he’s a less-than-average guy, who genuinely cares about other people, and in his simple mind, seeks to help them.
If you watched Dark Knight, and enjoyed the Hollywood’s latest rebootof the age old superhero story, why not give the Canadian take on it a try. The movie has a fair bit of swearing and shows some drug use and implied sexuality, but by today’s standards, totally watchable for a grown-up. It was filmed near where we live, and funded in major part by Telefilm Canada.
Check out the trailer here, or search for it online — its created a bit of an indie scene buzz.

That 500CCs of roaring thunder is NOT the sound of settling…

When we were in Asia in 2005, we spent a week helping with re-building in Thailand after the tsunami that had hit the previous year. While there, I rented one of the small motorbikes that are so common in Asia, so Nicole and I could get around a little. It was fun.
When we got home to Canada, I determined that being able to ride a motorbike might one day be a useful skill. Although they’re hobby vehicles here, in some parts of Asia a little motorbike might be the primary family vehicle. So I looked around and found a ’78 Honda, fire engine read… I think it was 350cc. It was a wonderful little bike to learn to ride on, and my brother and I both set out to get our permanent motorcycle license.
As part of the graduated licensing program in Ontario, its to your advantage to do your testing through a motorcycle safety program. We both signed up at a local college, and both led our class with perfect scores on all the testing. This gave me an M2 license, which lasts 5 years and grants most of the priviledges of a full M license.
That was 5 years ago this October. Last week I got a letter in the mail saying that I had until October to finish my M license, or lose what I have now and start again as a beginner. I had sold my bike to my brother when we moved to New York, and he had promptly sold it and moved to Calgary. I basically haven’t even sat on one since.
Although it wasn’t overly expensive to go through this process — maybe $3500 spent on the original bike, gear, repairs, parts, and the classes — it seems a shame now to throw it away. Especially given how close I am to having my full and permanent M license. I really only need to take one road test, and I’ll be done.
I’d like to say I thought it through prayerfully and carefully, but I really did the whole thing over the course of the 3 days I had between business trips. I did pray about it, and invited God to steer me away from the idea if it was a bad one. The opposite happened, and everything seemed to line up perfectly for me to buy a 1983 500cc Honda Shadow, in immaculate condition, delivered to my house, in the space of about 24 hours. $2500 even, plus $100 for a helmet.

I have the summer, then, to get it on the road (still need certification and insurance), get comfortable riding again, and prepare for my road test. After that, I’m perfectly happy to sell it, for close to what I paid, and forget riding for the foreseeable future — if that’s what God wants me to do. For $2500 I’m equally happy to keep an awful cool, wonderfully noisy toy in my garage… but given that we have two toddlers, that does feel a bit like keeping a gun in the house.
On my street, everyone has a hobby vehicle in the garage — some more than one. Its like the mark of settling down. You buy the house for the family, and constrain your male tendancy for toys that make noise to the old Camero, dirt bike, or 4-wheeler in the garage. We pretty much live in the country, so toys with wheels are commonplace.
I didn’t buy a bike to settle down. This isn’t a mid-life crisis, or an impotent rebellion against a society that continually discourages healthy male energy (from the day our boys enter kindergarten, until they’re fully castrated in a cubicle somewhere) …although I might blog impotently about that some day. I bought a bike because even though the season of life that we are in right now dictates that its a good idea to have a steady, stable home base in a country where we can count on at least some basic resources being available to us, we have not settled here.
It is our intention to be equipped to go anywhere God sends us, and to learn whatever we can now so we can be effective where ever He happens to put us later. Its why we both set out to learn to drive standard, and its why I was convinced 5 years ago that being able to handle a motorbike would be a good skill to have. And though I don’t have quite the unwavering certainty now that we have kids that I did when there was just the two of us, I feel like this is an investment I need to see through.
If you’d like, you can pray that I don’t get hit by a car during that process 😉

Hath Hell Frozen Over?

It used to be that there was a host of things that a Mac could do better, or more elegantly, than a Windows PC. Now there’s only one or two.
I’ve long maintained a heterogenerous home network. We’ve had all brands of gaming devices, a range of mobile devices, PCs, modern Macs, and historical classic Macs. They all talk to each other, share files, and when capable, stream our media library. But Apple devices were always best for media, and the PCs were best for work.
Not so any more. We’ve been using a hacked Apple TV, connected to a Mac Mini, as our primary home theater PC, because it handles a wide range of media formats and a pretty UI. I’d played with Windows Media Sharing, and Windows Media Center, but the only option that really worked for all the file types I needed was TVersity. If you have a simple home network, and relatively simple media device connected to your PC, TVersity is a decent solution. But its far from pretty, so Apple TV with the added bonus of the iTunes Store’s library at our finger tips, won out.
The problem with the Apple approach is iTunes (and you can extend that to iPhoto) — while they were innovative apps when they first came out, they now feel like prisons for your media, insisting on maintaining a tenuous connect to your file system, and building their own data island. I’ve dealt with it for a long time, but with 20 GB of music, 10 GB of photos, and over 300GB of videos that iTunes refuses to acknowledge, I’m sick of it.
Windows Media Center is the answer. Its awesome, it plays everything, and it maps its Library to what you do in the file system, instead of forcing you to live by its rules. It easily connects to a device on your TV without any hacking, and it looks beautiful. It does have a Store associated with it (although I haven’t explored it yet) but it also allows Extras where other providers can connect their own media libraries.
Next week I’ll be installing Windows 7 on our Mac Mini, replacing OS X. This won’t eliminate Macs from our home — the Mini is basically just a file server anyway. But everything it does, like watching RSS feeds, finding our TV Shows, and syncing and backing up our documents and PIM data, can now be done better in Windows. We still have an old iBook for Nic to surf on, and a MacBook Pro that remains the best video editing machine we own. I’ve yet to see a real competitor to Final Cut Express on Windows, and this is one case where Apple’s habit of integrating everything actually is useful.
I know, I know, has Hell frozen over? Am I drinking too much Kool Aid at my new job? Nope. It turns out that Windows 7 is just really, really awesome…

Fan Service

Easter weekend gave us some wonderful family time together, in some incredible weather. After being gone for most of 2 weeks, in another season of pretty heavy travel, it sure was good to just be still. Here’s some pictures, as promised, for those who only want to see our kids — not that I blame you. They are awful cute…

Abi is finally getting a little interested in the TV (as well as books!) Her favorite movie right now is the “Monster Show” which is Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.

The weather was so nice that we let the kids go for a swim in the hot tub with us. They loved it, and are both getting much more comfortable in the water. They can touch, even at the deepest part, so its a pretty non-threatening (and warm) way for them to stretch their sea-legs. Of course we turn the temperature down for them.

Ben (and daddy) needed a haircut, with this warm weather, so we finally (after 3 years) decided to take him in for a real (cheap) haircut. He did very well, after watching daddy go fo first.

After our haircut, which was in a nearby little town, we took a walk and had a picnic along the water front. The kids were so good that we all shared an ice cream cone after lunch.

This is Abi’s Easter outfit — sweater from Grandma and Grandpa in Malaysia.

We sent them on their first Easter Egg hunt… they didn’t really get it, and we had to do most of the hunting, but they looked awful cute wandering around with their little buckets, proudly carrying their chocolate-filled eggs.
Both kids are doing very well. Ben continues to potty train, with near 100% success on pee, but continued struggles with not wanting to poop. Abi was initially interested, and still occasionally makes it to the potty, but Ben’s poop drama seems to have scared her off for now. Ben’s pretty much communicating at an appropriate level now, while Abi is way ahead of where she should be. The funniest things come out of her mouth, in this tiny, still baby-like voice, and totally surprise you.
Ben and Abi have little friends in town this weekend. Ben is excited to have Kaeden over — a boy his own age who was born in Malaysia. Nana and Papa gave us a bunk bed for Christmas, the top bunk of which has been used as storage pretty much since we got it. I’m working on making it useable for a sleep-over on Saturday night. It has a big railing, but I won’t be surprised if Ben ends up on the floor at some point. Worse things have happened…

Keynote Speakers

I promise there will be a gratuitously cute post about fair-haired toddlers, full of lots of pictures, sometime soon. For those of you who only come here for such things, please click the “Recent Photos” link on the sidebar for more pictures from Abi’s 2nd birthday.
However, I have something else to blog about today: keynote speakers. One of the huge privledges of my new job is the speakers I get to listen to at conferences. I mentioned before that I got to hear Butler Lampson speak. At Mix in Vegas I attended a session given by Douglas Crockford and another by Bill Buxton. And at TechReady I was in a Q&A with SteveB. One can only hope that whether by osmosis, or actual learning, some of that combined brain power might start to rub off.
But by far the coolest speaker I’ve seen, in person, at one of these events is a man named Dr. Bill Stone, of Stone Aerospace. He’s an extreme caver, having been deeper under the earth than anyone else (who wasn’t in a submarine), a leading robotocist, and a part of the new entreprenuereal space race. His Wikipedia entry is deceptively humble, this lanky, geeky-looking middle-aged guy has a combination of more guts than any extreme athlete you’ve ever seen on TV, and more brains than your average Phd… along with a business sense that’s, at the very least, been good enough to get funding for pretty much the coolest projects ever.
His talk for our audience was an hour long, and everyone in the room was on the edge of their seats for most of it. You can watch a 20 minute version here on YouTube — but be forewarned that whatever you’re doing today that makes you feel productive, will look awful small and ineffectual compared to what this guy is up to…
I’m giving a little talk on Thursday myself — on computer history. Maybe someday I’ll be given the opportunity and passion to speak on something of more lasting value.