Miserable March – Goodbye Dad

Been away for awhile.

Been one of those months where – life happens while you are busy making other plans.

My dad – Anthony Glenn Sytsma – passed away peacefully on March 2nd, at the age of 81. He had been declining in health over the past year with many hospital stays. He went in on February 9th for the last time. Over his life, he carried a chronic kidney issue that ultimately undid him. Pretty amazing that he lived as long as he did taking into account the kidney issue and a quintuple heart bypass surgery done over 15 years ago.

11 – can’t believe it’s been that long already – years after my mom passed, dad is reunited with her. Dad was a larger than life character. Here is an excerpt from the eulogy I delivered at his funeral:

“Anthony Glen Sytsma was born on January 4, 1937 and passed away
on March 2, 2018.

Dad was a passionate man. And with that passion he often
made us laugh. Sometimes he made us cry. Occasionally he made us do
both at the same time. This was because his passion could run wild
when there was no one to help him rein it in. For most of his life –
nearly 50 years – mom provided the steady hand dad needed. They were
the perfect couple. Dad was the fire and Mom the crucible. They made
each other stronger and better.
So when mom passed that balance was gone and the bedrock she
provided was gone. The transition to being alone was difficult for
dad. The one constant for him was wanting to be together with mom
again and now that has come to pass. And while we are filled with
sadness at dad’s passing we also are comforted by the knowledge that
dad is back where he always wanted to be – with mom.”

See you later, mom and dad.

On a minor level, later in March, one of my wisdom teeth became infected and I had to have it pulled. So that was another week of pain and misery to close the month out with.

But the pain didn’t stop in March. It bled over into April. During the period between my dad’s passing and his funeral, I found out that my oldest cousin, Randy Klein had received horrible news. Going in for an operation to fuse several sections of his spine together to alleviate a crippling back issue, the surgeons found cancer. Cancer in his spine and cancer throughout his body. His prognosis was less than a year. Randy didn’t last a month. His funeral was yesterday – April 7th, 2018.

Gone at the age of 62.

I hadn’t seen Randy in over 10 years but he was always the coolest cousin and his memorial picture reinforced he still was.

So yeah, here I sit typing away, putting this all down contemplating my own mortality. It’s April, 2018 and my 60th birthday is hurtling towards me at the end of this month. Also the March delayed knee replacement surgery number one is less than two weeks away.

A tough month. A time of contemplation. I’ll cherish the good memories of my dad and my cousin.

And strive to create some more good memories for my loved ones to cherish before I go.

 

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Le Bars of January

So January is winding down and all in all it’s been a pretty good month. We had a couple weeks of really cold -40 Celsius weather but no real snowfall since before Christmas. However, that streak ended this last Friday when we got 15 cm of snow. The thing with living in Alberta in the wintertime is that when you get snow it sticks around until spring. But c’est la vie, compared to what I’m seeing on the news for weather and other parts of the world we’re getting off pretty easy.

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On the reading front, I just finished reading Stephen R.Donaldson’s first book in his new series – The Great God’s War – Seventh Decimate. The premise of this book is two kingdoms are engaged in a brutal unrelenting war. A war that is fought with magister’s on both sides that wield the magical decimates of fire, wind, drought, lightning, earthquake, or of pestilence. And that is what happens to the country of Belleger. Desperate to regain the lost power of their magister’s, Prince Bifalt is sent on a desperate quest to the Last Repository to find this book of the seventh decimate.

After the verbal density of the Thomas Covenant Chronicles, this book was a breeze to read in comparison. Not only is the book slim in the number of pages, a mere 302, it is also markedly bereft of Donaldson’s trademark dense vocabulary. In some ways, this felt like reading a Coles note version of a Chronicles book so it was an interesting change of pace. Bifalt does share some characteristics of Covenant in that his character flaws are so deep and pervasive that it makes it difficult for the reader to empathize with him. I suspect, and hope, that as the series progresses Prince Bifalt will grow and so will my attachment to him.

 

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It has a kickass cover too!

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Another book I read was My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

This was a hard read because of the subject matter but the skill level of Tallent – Tallent’s got talent! (sorry had to go there) – is quite evident in this book.

My Absolute Darling is a book peopled with archetypes rather than actual characters. This is plain to see in the dialogue. And the inner dialogue of Turtle. The characters are avatars playing the part of the oppressor, victim, the experienced, the naive, and so on.

Certainly, understand why many will balk at the sexual content that is used as the driving force of the story. This happens whether or not one wants to have to deal with it, either in real life or in a piece of entertainment. Facing ugly things is never pleasant. The power of this book are those tender moments that happen in the worst of circumstances even to the most hardened of characters like Turtle.

Disturbing? Hell yeah! But isn’t that what the best of the arts accomplish by making us face the ugly? It makes the beautiful all the more so.

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On the movie front, my wife and I, sat down to catch a Spanish horror thriller on Netflix called The Bar. This is a bottle type movie where eight characters are trapped in a Spanish café when a man outside the doors is shot and killed. One of the patrons inside the restaurant decides to go and try to help the man and subsequently is quickly shot in the head too.

What follows is a swirl of conspiracies, finger pointing, group dynamics breaking into little cliques – only to fall apart as new accusations are raised. You have your stereotypical characters and how they act is conventional but how they interact is not. The characters literally end up swimming in a cesspool of human waste as they struggle to find their way out.

This one was quite fun.

 

 

2017 Year End Post

Colorful 2017 New Year date in sparklers

There is the old Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times” – and the year 2017 has definitely been that.

On the micro-level for my family and extended family, it’s been a good year. There were no major illnesses and everybody has been able to continue with their lives pretty well unaffected by things that are happening at the macro level.

2017 was a good year for the arts. There were a lot of great movies, music, books, and TV shows produced. However, there is no denying that there are fracture points along socio-cultural lines taking place today in the world. Viewpoints on social matters have never been more polarized. Technology has removed the middle ground. It has never been easier to communicate but social media removes the human component of communication. Without that human component, there has been a loss of empathy for other viewpoints.

We are more connected to each other today but we are also more isolated from one another. The chasms between different viewpoints have grown deeper. These are interesting times indeed and much of what’s Alvin Toffler predicted in his book – “Future Shock”, is coming to pass. If you have not read this book I highly recommend that you seek it out. It’s amazing how relevant this book is today even though it was written in 1970.

Tina and I closed out the year watching two really good movies.

Wind River is Dir./Writer Taylor Sheridan’s latest movie. In it, Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer who finds the body of an 18-year-old woman on an American Indian reservation in snowy Wyoming. Fellow Avengers alumni Elizabeth Olson plays Jane Banner, an FBI agent who was called in to investigate when it is found out the girl was raped.

wind river

Taylor Sheridan does an amazing job both directing and writing this movie as the dialogue really pops and he uses the snowscapes of Wyoming to great use to create the sense of isolation the Indians live in. The movie has a great cast. Other cast members include Kelsey Cho, Julie Jones, Gill Birmingham, and the always great Graham Greene. Greene was also in Dances With Wolves and The Green Mile.

The movie builds to an explosive and unexpected climax that literally blows the story wide open. It is one of the most intense sequences I’ve seen in the movie in several years. To top it off the anticlimax is also very powerful but much more understated.

This is the best thing I’ve ever seen Jeremy Renner in. He gives a great performance.

Three_Billboards_Outside_Ebbing,_MissouriThe other movie we saw was Three Billboards Outside Epping, Missouri. This is another movie from a writer/director – Martin McDonagh. Another movie with a great cast and great writing. The inciting incident is also a rape-murder of a young girl. In this movie, Francis McDormand plays the aggrieved mother of the murdered girl.

The rest of the cast includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, and John Hawks. All of them are fantastic in this movie with special notice due to Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.

Unlike Wind River, this is a very funny movie even though the subject matter is dark. Francis McDormand is a force to be reckoned with as she will not put up with anyone else’s excuses in her quest to find the murderer of her daughter. I highly recommend you check out the trailer for this movie and you’ll see just how funny it is.

This is a real character movie with deeply flawed individuals who despite their own weakness and prejudices are able to reach across the gulf of their differences.

A timely movie, indeed.

Keene

 

 

Our last Stephen King podcast of 2017 including a guest interview with horrormeister – Brian Keene. A podcasting highlight to be sure. Check out my previous post to find out where to listen to it.

 

 

 

Well, that does it for 2017. Still using Dragon to dictate and things are moving along well.

To you and your loved ones, Happy New Year!

2018

Learning To Speak Naturally. Dragon Style.

Hi there.

So one of the things I wanted to do on a more consistent basis this year was blogging but as you can see by my posting history that has not come to pass. But I think I found something that will kill two birds with one stone.

dragon

I picked up a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking as a dictation tool to help me with my writing. The software seems pretty awesome and has a lot of functions but it also has a learning curve. So I thought I would blend my blogging with learning how to use this tool and see how it goes.

So far I am very impressed with the accuracy of the software after a small set up exercise where the software learned the tone and diction of my speaking voice. Right now not finding it much faster but then again I’m still trying to find the best way to blog and do that through dictation. If you start seeing a lot more blog posts than I guess you’ll really all know that this experiment has turned out to be a success.

So how about that Last Jedi? Without a doubt, this Star Wars directed and written by Rian Johnson has generated more conversation than any Star Wars more movie ever. I think it’s a really good movie I just don’t think it’s a very good Star Wars movie. By that, I mean Star Wars movies are designed to appeal to the mass audiences and so the plots are pretty straightforward. The Last Jedi most definitely does not have a straightforward plot. Rian Johnson has crafted a movie that that does its best to break out of the mould of the previous Star Wars movies and deliver something new. Depending on how deeply you associate yourself with the Star Wars movies, you’re going to find this one does not give you the typical Star Wars experience.

For myself, I found it a refreshing breath of fresh air but that doesn’t mean the movie is problem free. The whole casino planets sequence is a waste of time. Time that could be better spent on the Jedi characters in the movie. Specifically, Mark Hamill who does a great job as Luke Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, Mark Hamill gives his best performance as Luke Skywalker. Carrie Fisher also gives her best performance as Princess Leia. However, the story arcs these two characters follow in the movie do not adhere to the conventions of the Star Wars movie and this is why a significant portion of the fans are upset.

It’s interesting that before these new Star Wars movies came out there were probably two things that seem like slam dunks to deliver to Star Wars fans. First up, at least one scene between the original cast members. A scene between Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia should’ve been a given. Secondly, fans have been dreaming for 30 years of seeing a kick-ass action sequence with Luke Skywalker as a Jedi Master in full control of his powers. The Force Awakens to took care of the first fan wish and now The Last Jedi has taken care of the second one. Two big fan moments that would’ve wowed audiences and, specifically for The Last Jedi, a Luke action sequence probably would’ve quelled a lot of fan grumblings.

For a franchise whose premises based on a war amongst the stars, there’s only so many things that can be done with that. Rian Johnson tried to do something new. I thought it was successful but there’s a lot of fans that are not happy. And I can understand that because I too was jonesing for a full-on Jedi, Luke action sequence.

Okay, the last thing I want to blog about is Virtual Reality. VR, for short, has been promised for the last decade or so and the geek dream of a Star Trek type holodeck seemed to be destined to gather dust like everybody owning a flying car. However, in 2017 VR headsets were released and this time it looks like VR may finally become a reality. A variety of headsets for the PC have been created but you need a hefty machine to be able to run VR games. Plus the usual amount of tinkering and fidgeting with settings to get the games to run properly. Sony has released their own version of VR with the PSVR. It had definite shortcomings when compared to its PC counterparts but it also is pretty easy to set up and is about as close as you’re going to get to a plug-and-play solution for VR.

xwing

Sony also knows how to make and market games and so far the PSVR has in its first year sold over 2 million units. In one year it has overtaken its PC brothers and is really pushing the VR envelope. This despite having the most limited technical platform upon which to deliver their games. I picked up a bundle myself and I must say I’ve been blown away by the experience. There is a definite crudeness to the graphics compared to what you get with 1080 P or 4K gaming but the immersion of VR trumps all of that. You quickly forget all the graphical limitations and just experience the game. There is a VR mission in the Star Wars Battlefront game where you get the pilot a X-Wing and it’s just fantastic!

I’ve also sampled some of the other games such as Drive Club VR and Resident Evil 7, which will scare the crap out of you, and they are just a blast to play. On the practical side, you can also use your PSVR are with the PC, though that takes a lot of tinkering, and what’s really cool is that you can use Google Earth VR which just recently added a street view. So you can stand in Times Square, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, at the Grand Canyon, or anywhere on earth that you want to. This is a fantastic tool that will, I believe, help flush out story settings for writing. I’m really looking forward to testing it and we will see how that goes.

So this is my first blog post using dictation and I have to say it’s actually pretty cool. I definitely wrote this, or dictated it, quicker than if I had typed it out. So as a proof of concept, I’m encouraged.

Later!

Lou

No Bones To Pick With Hannibal

There are many things our family loves about living out in Western Canada – the open spaces, the mountains etc but the weather can be a bit trying at times.  The last week of April saw spring like conditions finally arise only to have it all undone by snow the last two days.  It is very deflating to wake up to see snow falling at this time of the year.


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Hannibal  – really enjoying this atmospheric and intelligent take on Thomas Harris‘s characters.  Especially the show’s serialization of story – not killers! – carrying the impact of Graham’s shooting of serial killer Hobbes in the third episode.  The show has done a great job of avoiding the case of the week syndrome that the CSI clones do.

The sub-textual handling of Bella Crawford’s – so nice to see Gina Torres again –  cancer and Graham’s  realization of it during the questioning of a suspect was wonderfully played. Both actors gave very controlled but amazingly poignant portrayals.  Highlight of the episode.

And a wonderful example that what is NOT being said or is only being intimated, can be just as powerful, even not more so, that what is being shown or told.

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Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka  – literally a real page turner.  I knocked off over a 100 pages in my first sitting.  This is a Michael Crichtonesque style thriller.  The prose is lean and clean – complex emotional beats and ideas reduced to tight single lines of writing.  It all revolves around a unique find of ancient human bones and the book is filled with much scientific jargon around genetics but never becomes dull or boring.  The book dwells in the same conspiracy theater that books such as The DaVinci Code do.

The interesting thing about the author is that he works as a writer for the videogame company Valve – maker of the classic Half Life series and Portal games.  He writes the same brisk pace and economy of words employed with video games.  Not my normal cup of tea but I enjoyed.

The major caveat with the book – as with most books of this type or TV shows – Hello Lost & X-Files – the buildup surpasses the payoff.