Thursday, July 27, 2006

HNT - Good B-Eye Indigo

As I'm preparing to say goodbye to a company that I've worked with for just under 14 years, it's a sad affair. I leave behind some truly tremendous people and several great teams that I've been very fortunate to have worked with.

Yes, I'm delighted for the new job opportunity at McMaster University, and definitely looking forward to the new challenges and fun that lies ahead.

But I must pause and pay tribute to Indigo Books & Music Inc.

Goodbye, Indigo.

Thanks for some awesome memories and experiences.

But thanks especially for the friendships.

People are what make a company great -- and Indigo has great people.

I will miss those people and am fortunate to call them friends.

Go visit Osbasso's blog
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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What's Your Dick Doing Over There Chuck?

Because I'm a horror writer and have a bit of web presence with this and some other bloggy sites, I occasionally hear from horror movie companies wondering if I'd be willing to check out and share feedback about an upcoming DVD horror release.

I've received some pretty cool and fun DVDs over the past 6 months, and they're fun to check out.

But this video clip from the forthcoming The Tooth Fairy had me in stitches. Okay, sure, I love dark humour, but these two "good old boy" characters are priceless, and of course, this movie will offer up the classic and unforgetable line: "What's your dick doing over there, Chuck?" -- it should far surpass such classic memorable lines as "Here's lookin' at you, kid." or "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

For folks who have read any of my stories like "But Once A Year" or "Distractions" (both stories republished in One Hand Screaming) you'd likely recognize that I find mirth in horrific situations, or at least in the way that characters might react to a horrific situation. Psychologists might suggest that laughter is a release for tension and potentially a natural reaction to horror. I just can't help but think that sometimes a situation is so absurd that the character just has to react accordingly. Case in point, this clip from The Tooth Fairy.

This video clip contains, a red-neck pissing in the woods, violence and a slice of male nudity -- viewer discretion is advised.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Baby It's Cold Inside

I keep hearing ads on the radio reminding people that air conditioners account for the greatest portion of our daily energy consumption and asking people to be considerate and try not to crank their AC, particularly during the day when they're not home. The results could be brownouts and potentially, a flashback to that oh so interesting day on August 14, 2003 when there was a major North American blackout.

I just shake my head.

We live in such a "me, me, me" society that pleading for the good of the general public isn't likely to be heard. Not based on the way we drive so aggressively, cutting each other off, not letting people in when lanes are merging, not based on the way I remember seeing people push and shove and butt in ahead of the line during the last railway mishap that cancelled the GO trains and left tens of thousands of commuters seeking bus transportation. Not based on the blatant way we waste natural resources and still barely scratch the surface of reduce, reuse and recycle.

I'm thinking the best way to actually get to people in our society, to try to get them to conserve energy might be to remind them that if the power goes out it'll hamper their ability to download porn and pirated software, music, television programs and movies off the internet. Yeah, maybe then they'll take notice.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Writer's Edge

My podcast Prelude To A Scream received a recent fun jump in daily downloads, likely thanks to the kind words and mention that Georganna Hancock gave me on her wonderful Writer's Edge blog concerning my 2nd episode (which I dubbed the poetry sessions).

I regularly check out her blog because of the interesting and useful bits of publishing and writing related tidbits that she offers up. It was thus an honour to see that my efforts at podcasting rated a mention on her blog. Thanks Georganna. I can't tell you how flattered I am.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

HNT - My Sword Unsheathed

I've been waiting for this day. Yes, I've taken Alexander to McDonald's before, but just this past week there's this little gleam in his eye when he sees those golden arches, and I can see his little eyes fill with the knowledge and excitement that not only is he going to have some fun french fries, but his Happy Meal will come with a toy. Pretty soon he'll be saying "McDonald's Daddy! I want McDonald's." (Actually, it'll be more like Alexander and I saying "McDonald's Mommy! We want McDonald's" to Francine) Man, I love my Big Macs. The only way I'd enjoy McDonald's more would be if they had Molson Export on tap. Big Mac and a beer. Mmmm.

The recent themed toys that come in the Happy Meal are from the new Pirates of the Carribean movie. Right now we have two blow-up swords (that we've been having fun dueling with), and a skull with one of those "magic eight ball" floating die in it.

So, in the theme of my buddy Rainy Pete's HNT play on words (of course I'm just a pale imitation trying desperately to be funny like he is), make sure no kids are in the room as you scroll down to enjoy a picture of me playing with my sword.

Ahoy matey, get yee over to Osbasso's blog
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Breakfast Food For Thought

Knowing that it’ll only be a couple of more weeks that I make a daily trek in to Toronto makes me pause a bit to consider some of the small things that I’ve often taken for granted since I started the commute back in 1999.

Among them are things that define the true character of a city, IMHO, such as watching the different parking lots get converted into condos that very quickly rise up into the skyline, the regular cast of commuters and homeless people who I share the “street-stage” with every day but whose names and real stories I’ll never know, the changing billboards up high and the handbills stapled or taped to lamp posts and on buildings, the evening call of the scalpers offering up “Leaf tickets” or “Jay tickets” (“who’s buying or selling?”), watching various restaurants and businesses open and then close, walking through countless movie and television show setups, and of course, glancing up at the CN Tower as I walk under its shadow, still feeling like a little kid marveling at its wonder.

But one of the things I think that I’ll miss greatly is a relatively new “tradition” -- my good buddy and lifelong friend, Greg Roberts (pause here for commercial break -- check out his awesome photography skills at both his regular website and here) works just a few blocks away from me. We bumped into each other a few times on our way from Union Station to work, and the conversation was great but always too short. So about a month ago, we agreed to meet on a Wednesday for breakfast. And we’ve only done it a few times since, but informally planned to make it a twice monthly event.

I’ll miss that. Greg is a lot of fun and the conversation is always interesting and diverse. And I continually find myself deriving wonderful pearls of wisdom from him. For example, a recent bit of advice he gave me was in regards to working excessive uncompensated overtime.

In a nutshell, overtime, particularly overtime where there is no extra pay nor any time off in lieu, is a pretty standard necessity to get certain projects and tasks done. Sometimes you just need to put that extra effort, that extra time into getting the job done. And that’s fine. But when overtime becomes a regular thing, a day in day out personal life-killing thing, consider this: Unless you work for a charity or a charitable cause, the excessive time and effort you’re giving to the workplace is being used to line someone else’s pocket.

My initial response to this, of course, was, but I love the place where I work, I want to see it succeed, the team I work with is spectacular, I can’t let them down.

Greg smiled in that way he does that lets you know he gets it and was expecting that response, and he said that’s what they’re counting on. Many of the team members often feel similarly and can get caught in that mind-set. But at the end of the day, unless it’s some sort of short-lived “let’s all pitch in and get this done for the good of the team” if you’re always sprinting at full speed, always giving 200% and doing the work of two people, you’re actually cheating the company out of realizing the actual resources likely required to get the task done, and only setting yourself up to be worked to death. And you’re ultimately giving your own time and energy (time better spent nurturing relationships with friends and family) to a non-charitable organization’s bottom line.

I should end this note by saying that while my buddy Greg is intelligent, wise and earnest, he’s not a cold and bitter person, and that’s not the basis for his advice. He’s actually one of the most generous people I know, and a loving husband, father and friend. He’s the kind of friend you can count on for support and help with little notice -- he has bailed me out of messes and been there when I needed a hand countless times over the years. But that just shows you his wisdom. While he works hard and is a dedicated employee, he invests his extra time and energy into his friends and family. One of the smartest kinds of investors you’ll ever meet.

But I’ll close by borrowing wisdom from Del Griffith, the character that John Candy played in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, who said: “Like your work, love your wife.” But perhaps in this case, I’ll push it further and say: “Go ahead and love your work, but cherish your friends and family.” Thanks Greg. Thanks Del.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Resigning To Make A Change

I resigned today from Indigo Books & Music, Inc.

After fourteen plus years with the same company (okay, it hasn't been the same company -- when I started in the early 90's, the company's name was Coles The Book People, then in the mid 90's SmithBooks and Coles merged to form Chapters, and in 2001, Indigo bought out Chapters and the company name was changed to Indigo Books & Music, Inc.) I've decided to pursue a new chapter in my career as a bookseller.

I've seen a lot of changes over the years, and worked with some really phenomenal people. It is the people I will miss the most. What I won't miss very much are the 60+ hour weeks that I've been working on a regular basis for the past 6 months. But I'll definitely miss my colleagues and team members -- they've been like family to me, and I will always treasure the opportunity to have worked with so many talented, passionate and intelligent people. I was considering harping here a bit about some of the painful and morale killing things that have been going on at work recently and which helped inspire this change -- but I don't want to cheapen my experience. For the most part, I've learned some great things and worked with truly remarkable people over the years, and helped build both Chapters and then Indigo into the company that it is today. I'm proud of those efforts, proud of my achievements and proud of all of the friendships and colleagues I've established over the years both within the company and in the Canadian book community.

I'll be starting as Manager, Book Operations for Titles (The McMaster University Bookstore) in August. And I am absolutely delighted with the opportunity and challenges that lie ahead. The staff that I've already met are wonderful people (I've worked with three of them in the past, and they're all awesome dudes and dudettes), and I'm certainly looking forward to being part of the Titles family.

On top of the wonderful work environment (and working for a University again -- back in the late 80's early 90's I worked as a theatre technician at Carleton University's Alumni Theatre), this new job is a 10 minute drive from my home (as opposed to the 1.5 hour commute) -- that shaves about 3 hours off my day alone -- Though I will miss my GO Train buddies, and I did take advantage of the commute for writing, I'm looking forward to reclaiming my mornings and either jogging or writing on my own terms.

But the very best this about this new job is that since it's in Hamilton I will get to spend more time with Francine and Alexander. And THAT, to me, is like winning the lottery.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Turn And Face The Strange

Today is likely going to be a very interesting day. 'Nuff said for now. I'll post details later.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I'm Brian And So Is My Wife

I was reading in the newspaper this morning about the screenwriter who is suing Disney, claiming that the whole Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise was based on his ideas.
It reminded me of recent courtroom activity where Dan Brown was alleged to have liberated ideas from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail for The Da Vinci Code, and of the woman who claimed that J.K. Rowling ripped off her ideas for Harry Potter from her work.

I guess I have a much bigger lawsuit when I announce that I was the originator of the whole lot, with my blockbuster combo novel-screenplay about a young sleight of hand magician named Harold Porter with a zigzag lightning bolt scar on his cheek who gets adopted by a pirate lady named Elizabeth Sparrow and their quest to resolve the mystery behind what Mona Lisa was smiling about.

My work was called: Harold Porter & The Tropical Pirates: The Case of the Mona Lisa Smile. And I wrote it the very year I was born.

Hmm, come to think of it, I can likely also sue the producers of that Julia Roberts film for borrowing my term, because I’m pretty sure I’m the very first person in history to use the term “Mona Lisa Smile.”

But I’ll wait to see how this lawsuit turns out before I start any activity on my lawsuit regarding the screenplay I’d written three years before that: The Return of Super Guy from Kryton and the Quest for the Holy Grail of Brian of Nazareth.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

HNT - The Gift of Beer

I've never had so many brands of beer to choose from in my own private bar all at the same time before. On tap, I have Alexander Keith's and in the bottle I have Corona, Moosehead and Lakeport Honey.

But on top of that I have two special selections that were gifts.

Janice, an IBM consultant from California that I've been working with for the past few months brought a few bottles of the very special Reaper Ale brew that I'd discovered through my 365 Days of Beer Calendar and which is produced in her home State. And after reading Monday's post about my history with Molson Export, my neighbour Trish dropped off a case of that for me as a thank you for some chores I've helped with while her hubby and my good pal Chad recovers in the hospital.

So, this HNT post is for you, Janice and Trish!
(And of course a special "to your health" toast for Chad)

Refreshing like a nice cold beer, go visit Osbasso's blog
and find out more about Half-Nekkid Thursdays

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Exit Darth

I’ve been working on editing the first episode for the audio version of my collection One Hand Screaming and discovered something that I hadn’t noticed while working on my series of test podcasts Prelude To A Scream.

I breathe a lot.

Too much, in fact.

Right into the bloody microphone.

I’m using Audacity to record and edit my podcasts, and find that it is an awesome application, intuitive and easy to get up and running with quite fast. Among other great features, it has this wonderful noise removal function built into it. For the first few recordings I used it to remove clicking and page shuffling and other circumstantial noises, but with the recording of the full audio version of my story “Browsers” I found I had to edit out tons of pauses where I’m sucking in my breath. It became disconcerting after, I don’t know, the tenth time within the space of a minute. So I removed them. Well, most of them. I did leave a few breath sucking noises in, as well as some lip smacking, swallowing and choking noises, and a plethora of “uh’s” just to give it that realistic “listening to me doing a live reading” kind of feel.

But I’m now leary to go back and listen to Episodes 01 through 03 of Prelude To A Scream, afraid that all I’m going to hear are the Darth Vader breathing pauses between words.

Someone listen to them for me, ok? And tell me how bad it really is.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Meme Monday - Good Friends You Can Count On

Welcome to another installment of, "Come ON -- tell me the WHOLE story!" AKA "I love to talk about myself", or "Me-Me Monday" for short. The object of the game is to refer to your 101 Things About Me list, pick one of your "things" and tell the whole sordid tale. (I don't yet have a full 101 Thing About Me list, but do plan on growing one. So when I play Me-Me Monday" I'll add to my list.)

46. I tend to be brand loyal to the point of annoyance. (Like when I used to sing the “Ex Says It All” song from the Molson Export commercials whenever hanging around with my good friends.

There’s this Molson Export television commercial from the 90’s based on the “Ex says it all” slogan that they’d used for a while that I loved to listen to and loved to sing (I still do when the mood catches me, maybe because I tend to always be surrounded by good friends I can count on. You see how they do that in their marketing -- they get me to associate good friends with a brand of beer. Pretty coy)

We always go the distance
Right up to the wall
Good friends you can count on
And a cold Ex says it all

There’s nothing halfway about it
It’s always been our call
There’s nothing halfway about it
Ex says it all

I’d always been a fan of Export. It possibly stems back to the fact that my father and my uncle used to usually buy either Molson Export or Molson Golden. I remember when they came to visit Ottawa this one time, my roommate and best buddy Steve and I bought a case of Export just for them.

I remember I’d continued to buy Ex to bring to parties because not many people were drinking it (it wasn’t cool with the University crowd at the time -- back then popular brands were Black Label, Miller Genuine Draft and Labatt Blue). That way it was difficult for people to steal our beer without us knowing it.

I remained loyal to Molson Export for a good many years, and it’s still often my default brand of choice. I remember being disappointed when I bought my Kegorator last year that Export didn’t make Kegs in 20 or 30 Litres, but only in the 50L size (which is too big for my refrigerator -- I currently have it filled with Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale).

In the past several years, however, particularly when Molson flipped from becoming a purely Canadian owned company (there is a phenomenal Molson family history of how the empire was built from the ground up) to a merger with the Adolf Coors company, my loyalties started to turn towards beers such as Moosehead and Hamilton’s Lakeport Brewery. It feels good to buy beer that supports a local business and employs people locally, and their Lakeport Honey Lager is a fine tasting beer (and still a remarkable $24 for a two-four. Wow.

So what I need to do, then, is come up with a nice catchy song that I can sell to the good people at Lakeport for use in their radio commercials. One that’s even catchier than the “Good Friends” Molson Ex song and incorporates their "Lakeport. Great Beer. Fair Prices." slogan. Yeah. Good idea.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Happy Birthday Alexander

Alexander celebrates his 2nd Birthday today.

(A quick, interesting aside -- ever since before Mr. Man was born, July 7th has been a "sleepless" night. I mean, the labour night goes without saying, but I was on call last year and ended up getting a middle of the night call that kept me up all night last year on his 1st birthday. Now this year, I'm working on our Warehouse implementation and doing overnight data loads into the new warehouse database -- interesting pattern, but I'm not complaining, because it's fun being reminded of the sleepless night and early morning when Alexander made his arrival)

My Mom made the trip down from Sudbury to spend Alexander's birthday with us. It was a long bus ride for her (she arrived yesterday) - I actually left work on time to meet her at the bus station and she took the 4:30 GO Train home with me (getting a chance to meet many of the usual 4:30 crowd of rowdy and hilarious people I commute back West with at the end of the day -- that is, when I leave work on time, which hasn't been often lately). My Mom seemed to fit right in, being a little zany and fun herself. And when Richard did his "Darth Tater" like snoring bit that he often does, maybe 5 minutes out of Clarkson, my Mom turned to me and said: "Mark, is there someone on the train with an oxygen tank?" We responded by telling her that no, it was just Richard - he always snores loudly. She then proceeded to wake him by tapping her hand on the top of his bald head . . . cracked everyone up. Gotta love my Mom. She's great with kids and Alexander always has such a glorious time when he's playing with her.

Alexander and his grandmothers, Baba Jean and Gram

I could go on and on about how delighted I am to have my Mom down here for Alexander's birthday. How wonderful to see him playing with both of his grandmothers with gifts that both of them gave him. And I could also go on and on about how Alexander is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me, how lucky I am not only to be the father of such a wonderful child but also to be a husband to such a phenomenal woman -- but I don't want to bore anyone to tears.

Suffice it to say, our lives became much more enriched when Alexander arrived, and they continue to get richer with each passing day.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful son! I love you more than I can ever express!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

HNT - Spud Wars Epilogue

Continued from HNT - Spud Wars The Conclusion

As father and son were celebrating the defeat (finally) of their foe, Darth Tater, they failed to hear the creaking of someone coming down the steps.

A shadow fell across them, and they both froze, wondering how they could possible be caught unawares, being so crafty and clever and cunning.

"What the heck is going on here?" A loud voice boomed through the basement.

Oh no! It was Francine. And she was rather angry.

"And WHAT have you done with the Darth Tater toy that I bought you for Christmas? You've completely destroyed it."

"But, hon, we . . . that is . . . I . . . er," Mark tried to stammer out an excuse while Alexander tried to crawl away and hide.

"I can understand this from Alexander. He's not even two yet. But YOU. You should learn to take better care of your things. Just look at that toy -- it's busted into a million pieces."

"But hon," Mark said in a whiny voice. "We were playing. You know, fun make believe stuff. It was good for father/son bonding. And besides, we got lots of people all over the world excited about the whole Darth Tater Spud Wars serial story."

Francine smiled, then started to laugh. "Well, okay, since you were using your imaginations, and also using the internet for purposes other than porn, I guess it's okay."

"Yaaaa!" Both Mark and Alexander said.

"Now c'mon. Get cleaned up. Supper is ready. I'm sure all this adventure and make-believe has given you a huge appetite. "

"Yummm," Mark said. "What are we having?"

"Tater tots!" Francine.

"Yaaaaaaa!" Both Mark and Alexander said, again.

The End

* please note that no actual toys or potatoes were harmed during the making of this serialized story. (Although Alexander did bang his knee, Mark got rug burn and Francine needed to take some advil)

This tale might be over (finally) but the fun never ends at Osbasso's blog.
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Podcast - Prelude To A Scream Episode 03

I’ve just released the third episode in my Prelude To A Scream podcasts.



Have I mentioned that I’m having a lot of fun with podcasting? I started taking some of the learnings from the first two episodes of Prelude To A Scream and have started the recording of the audio version of my book One Hand Screaming. I’ve only just recorded the entire story “Browsers” as well as the notes for it. The good folks at want to ensure an author has at least 5 episodes of their book ready to go before taking them on (ie they want to ensure you’re actually going to finish) and I’m hoping to find the time to finish those up by the end of the summer. I would love to have my book out and circulating by the time Halloween arrives.

Episode 03 includes the opening few posts from my online serial thriller “I, Death” -- several weeks ago I recorded a test reading of Peter O’Mallick’s first couple of blog entries and had a friend at work listen to it. She said she liked it, but that the tone in the voice I’d used made it sound like Peter was on the verge of committing suicide (which is good, what I was striving for), but that it occasionally reminded her of Jack Black taking a character and scene over the top for humorous effect. (I ended up re-recording and toning it down a bit, as it was one of those rare times where I wasn’t trying to be funny)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Oh Say Can You See By The Screen's Eerie Light

Yesterday I paused to take pride in my country, now I’m going to pause and take pride in the country Canada shares a continent with.

Thank you, United States of America, for the many things you’ve given us. Your friendship, your vast miles of unprotected 49th parallel borders, the print-saving option of dropping U's from words like colour and neighbour, your network television, (with a few exceptions like that whole Daytime Talk Show fiasco that passes for entertainment); your concept of the American Dream and the simpler things like apple pie and The Waltons; for Silicon Valley and for Hollywood (without which we couldn’t call Toronto Hollywood North -- it’d just be North, I guess). Thank you for people like Hemmingway, Stan Lee, Stephen King and Matt Groening not to mention thousands of other creative minds, dreamers and visionaries that have allowed us to willingly suspend our disbelief and dream and laugh along with them. Can I go out on a limb and dare to judge a country great by its plethora of imaginative minds? I could go on and on, but these are just a few of the things off the top of my head when I think about the good old U.S. of A.

So, Happy Independence Day, my friends. I do have faith that your President Bill Pullman will be a strong leader and be a driving force behind sending those aliens back to their home planet with their tails between their legs. No wait a minute, there I am confusing your television and movie culture with reality (damn you, reality television, for blurring the distinction). I mean, congratulations on Geena Davis as your first female President. I was rather partial to Martin Sheen’s administration, but Ms. Davis is doing a remarkable job, despite the fact that Canadian Donald Sutherland is making things miserable for her. Gee, you’d think he’d spend less time trying to get her booted out of office and more time worrying about his son who spends 24 hours a day trying to keep America safe.

In any case, Happy Fourth of July! God Bless America! (And I'm won't make any underhanded attempts to rub in the fact that, just like with Thanksgiving, we did ours first, we did ours first, nah, nah! No, I won't do that. That wouldn't be very neighbourly)

Monday, July 03, 2006

True Patriot Love

We just celebrated Canada Day (known for a long time in Canada as Dominion Day), and while we Canadian's are not known for our blatant flag waving, I do know that I certainly miss the celebrations I used to enjoy when I lived in Ottawa, our Nation's Capital. Because there, a big deal was made. Yeah, okay, it was masses of drunk people partying like there was no tomorrow, but at least in their drunken rowdiness, they were waving big Canadian flags and painting their faces and bodies with maple leafs.

One thing about this past Canada Day that bugs me, though, is World Cup. I'm not really into the World Cup, but normally I'll put up with those stupid automobile flags that everyone is driving around with, revealing whatever country's team they're rooting for. (Yes, another nice thing about Canada is that you can show pride for your own country -- Canada -- but also the country of your family's heritage . . . the sign of a truly free society is one that allows you to proclaim an affinity to another country's flag).

But enough already with those bloody flags. I was really disappointed that even on July 1st, people were still driving around with those damn little World Cup inspired flags on their cars. If they couldn't put up a Canadian flag just for one day, at least take down the other one -- just for a single day. Out of respect. You know, like maybe for a single day pretend that you're Canadian and proud to be Canadian and proud for all the things that Canada is, such as, oh, I don't know, things like freedom. I'm often jealous of the national pride and unity that our American cousins show. And this past weekend is one of those times.

Now, just one day before the Star Spangled Banner drowns out our meek attempts to honour Canada, please stand for our National Anthem (it is rather easy to sing . . . even when we throw in the French verse) -- Listen to it courtesy of Wiki's detailed info about the song, here.