Halloween ain’t what it used to be

 

Before I begin let me point out that I’m fully aware that Halloween in North America is windfall for junk food companies because homemade goodies are believed to be dangerous, even fruit gets chucked into the trash can as worried parents can’t even be bothered checking for needles and razor blades embedded inside them anymore.  I’m forty-four, I think I’m from the last generation of people who went trick or treating in the glory days of shelling out – the 1970’s. But even back then, my mother chucked all the home made goodies and fruit because there just might be someone with a hate-on for kids out there.

But that’s not what this posting is about. Instead, I raised my eyebrows when I read about this news story from my hometown of Calgary: Two Calgary Schools ban scary Halloween Costumes. Why? Because scary costumes might offend someone. Yep. You read that right … someone (presumably a student or two?) might become upset if they see a fellow student dressed, for example, like, I don’t know – Frankenstein’s monster. The other reason we’re hearing is because someone might not celebrate Halloween, and we need to “strike a balance” between those who celebrate Halloween and those who don’t.

The solution? Well, kids are still allowed to dress up in costumes at school this coming Monday, but the costume has to be “caring”. So, no violent costumes with toy guns or knives (duh, that’s a no-brainer) but I haven’t found a list anywhere dictating what is violent and what is not. I’d heard on a talk radio show that kids weren’t even allowed to dress up as superheroes.

Also, it’s not Halloween at the two schools this Monday, it’s a “celebration of caring” where the kids will have an assembly in the school gyms and they’re going to learn about healthy eating which is kind of pointless since the parents are going to be chucking out all the fruit the kids will be receiving after an evening of trick or treating … assuming they actually go trick or treating because fewer and fewer children do it these days.

Now I could rant away about the political correctness gone to hell overtone in the decision the school principal came up with when they decided on a celebration of caring instead of a celebration of all things spooky, but I won’t. I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the education system in Canada is determined to homogenize anything that might be considered fun or in politically correct groupthink terms “offensive to a certain group.” But come on … it’s Halloween! Kids love spooky stuff! They love it so much that they continue to love with when they become adults – that’s why shows like The Walking Dead are massive hits on TV!

I know that Halloween went commercial even before I was born, but it was still a fun night out. It was always a big thing for me and my friends growing up to come up with the spookiest home made costume. Back in Grade eight, my friend Wes and I spent four hours pasting small dabs of freak fur to our faces because we’d just seen An American Werewolf in London and we were bound, set and determined to go to the school dance dressed up as proper werewolves. (Yes, I got a rash from the freak fur, but dammit, we had a blast!)

Even when I was in grade school, it was a big thing to come up with an original spooky costume. For me, it was all about the realism – I’d spend weeks immersed in books about how Lon Chaney came up with his dazzling makeup effects for The Phantom of the Opera or London after Midnight. I’d experiment with all kinds of home made concoctions to create a believable ghoul. I even won a costume contest.

But time marches on, doesn’t it? We can’t risk offending anyone so we might as well come up with school policies that eliminate anything perceived as being spooky or violent.

So does this mean a kid can’t come to school dressed as an infantry soldier avec camouflage paint on his/her face, a helmet and combat fatigues? Is that too violent? And while we’re at it, what’s so darned violent about Superman because you can’t dress up like him this year. No Man of Steel for you, thank you very much. (Note to the principal – Superman is a really nice guy. He loves everybody. Seriously, look it up!)

Maybe I’m romanticizing Halloween because it was always such great fun when I was growing up and that’s why this story bothers me so much. I’m mindful that we must never offend, but I do long for the days when fun wasn’t banned from the public school system over fears of marginalizing another group. And this brings me to a final question: what happens if a child comes to school dressed up as a vampire? Are they going to be shown the door?

Time will tell, I guess. I’ll read the papers on Tuesday morning and see how the celebration of caring went. Maybe the schools in question will have figured out a way for worried parents to get that fruit into their kids after all. You know, healthy eating is important when there’s free Kit Kat bars available for only one night of the year.

 

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Walking Dead recap – Vets don’t get no respect

 

 

*** Warning Spoilers ***

Episode two starts off with a flashback to just days before the zombie apocalypse and Shane arriving at Carl’s school to let Lori know that her husband Rick has been shot. (This exists to contrast the fact that Lori has to learn that Carl was accidentally shot by a hunter at the end of episode one last week, I think.) Flash forward to the here and now and we find Rick carrying his badly wounded son Carl to a farmhouse with Shane and an obese hunter who accidentally shot poor Carl hot on Rick’s heels. They’re headed to a lovely looking farmhouse that doesn’t have plywood nailed into the window frames – it’s a doctor’s house, well, a kind of doctor, but we’ll get to that.

Meanwhile, Darryl is in a leadership role and by golly, they still can’t find that rotten Sophia who doesn’t ever freaking listen. Remember her? She’s the kid who bolted for the bush last week when the migrating zombies of doom decided to march through the highway of death. (They still haven’t found her by the end of episode two, incidentally.) Darkness is setting in pretty soon, the searchers will have to head back to the Winebago and resume the search in the morning.

Back at the Winebago, Dale Horvath has discovered that T-Dog has blood poisoning from that amazing cut he sustained during last week’s episode. T-Dog, in a delerium, suggests that both he and Dale grab the Winebago and go on a road trip because Dale is old and T-Dog is black whereas everybody else is not old and not black and clearly of the redneck variety. Dale chastises T-Dog and begins a search for antibiotics in the hundreds of cars on the highway of death because poor T-Dog is losing it.

Back in the woods, our intrepid searchers begin to head back to the highway when Andrea (who is my least favorite character on the show) nearly winds up getting chomped on by a rogue zombie when she is saved by a woman on horseback brandishing a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. She’s the daughter of that sort of doctor I mentioned earlier. She’s there to grab Lori and bring her back to the farmhouse.

Oh, and the Doctor is a vet. He’s doing the best he can to save poor Carl (including turning Rick into a vampire by using Rick’s blood for transfusions) but there’s a lot of bullet fragments inside Carl and the Doc needs to do some surgery. Turns out there’s a FEMA station at the high school up the road. The last time Otis (the guy who shot poor Carl) was there, it was swarming with zombies. Otis volunteers to go with Shane to get the stuff the good Doctor needs to save Carl’s life amid Rick’s protests that he should go, that it’s his fault Carl was shot. Shane threatens to break Rick’s legs if he goes and Otis hops into a truck with Shane to get the goods.

Lori arrives and has a bit of a meltdown. She also comes remarkably close to bitching at the Doctor about the Doctor not being qualified to perform surgery on humans because he’s a vet. I believe she made reference in a snide way to the Doctor having performed surgery on cows and pigs. Rick cuts her off, thankfully and back at the high school, well, it is positively infested with the living dead.

Back at the Winebago in the best scene from the entire episode, Daryl it turns out has a pharmacy worth of illegal drugs including antibiotics in case he gets the clap, so it looks like T-Dog is going to make it. They’ve been told to head to that farmhouse but darn it, Sophia is still missing so they ain’t goin’ nowehere until they find her.

Darkness has settled in as Shane and Otis scope out the high school They find some road flares in the back of an abandoned police car and toss them away from the FEMA trailer as a diversion and the pair sneak into the trailer to get the goods … but, who knew, the zombies got bored with the flares and have resumed shuffling aimlessly around the trailer, so Shane and Otis have to make a run for it. Hijinks ensue. (Meaning, duh, of course they’re going to be chased into the high school Saw that coming from a mile away.)

That’s how last night’s episode ended. Carl is still at death’s door. Rick looks like he’s turning into a vampire. Andrea is still a bitch. Dale is still the spiritual leader of the group. Darryl is turning out to be my favorite character. Lori is probably still pregnant and kind of a bitch. Rick blames himself for pretty much everything and the zombies, well, they’re still zombies. (Oh and we still have no idea where one-handed Merle is.)

I have mixed feelings about the episode because, like episode one, it was really … really … slow. The zombie that Lori nearly succumbed to happened about two-thirds of the way through the episode and I guess what bothers me is that all of what happened last night was really, very predictable.

What makes zombie-lore so damned scary is, well, zombies. It’s the fact that the monsters are everywhere and I found myself at the halfway mark last night wondering if there were going to be any zombies in last night’s show about the zombie apocalypse. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy watching and I’m not ready to write it off. But geez, this season is so grindingly slow right now that I could actually feel myself aging while I watched.

Hopefully next week the pacing picks up.

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Behold – The Kobo Vox

 

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s Kindle Fire announcement a couple of weeks ago, we now have the Kobo Vox priced nicely $199.99 Canadian and unlike the Kindle Fire, it’s available to Canadians right now for pre-order. It’s a tablet that is powered by Google’s Android operating system and on top of allowing you to read books and newspapers, you can watch movies, play games, browse the web and check your email. The Vox isn’t exactly the same thing as Apple’s iPad, but it does let you do most of the things that you can do with an iPad save for all of the apps – meaning iPad’s apps. There’s still about 15,000 open source android apps that will be available and really, there’s bound to be an app for you with that many to choose from.

It’s a darned attractive price, frankly and I have to wonder if we’re going to see a price drop on iPads coming from Apple any time soon. Released just in time for the Christmas shopping season to kick in, the Kobo Vox lets you do all the stuff you can do on a  Kindle Fire save for buying a book at Amazon – you can do that through Canada’s big box book chain Chapters/Indigo. One thing I do like is the fact that Kobo built the Vox with social networking in mind: so that means Facebook, Goodreads, Librarything and Twitter – I suspect apps promoting the social aspect of reading will be built into the thing, though I am just speculating right now.

I like that it has an external 32GB slot, there’s cloud storage … I could go on. Frankly, I’m interested in checking it out, though I am somewhat skeptical if my eyes would be comfortable reading a book on a lit screen as opposed to e-ink. Does anyone have any negative experiences with a lit screen? It’s the one thing that would keep me from buying it. (That and I love my PRS 505 thank you very much.)

So … what about the price of a plain Jane Doe Kobo reader? It’s $139 for a Kobo Touch and $109 for the bare bones Kobo reader – I think the price on those two is going to drop because when you can get a tablet that does a crap pile more stuff for just  sixty dollars more, my inner economist thinks the low price of the Vox will cut into the existing Kobo reader sales.

Time will tell, but there you have it. I don’t have to wait to get a Kindle Fire because I live in Canada. I can get something just as good and likely have it in time for Christmas.

 

PS – Kobo is a Canadian company. As a fierce lover of all things Canadian, I do hope that if the Vox achieves stunning success, Kobo won’t go the way of Research In Motion.

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Review – The Walking Dead Season Opener

It has been a long, long hard slog with no new episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead since last December. For a zombie junkie like me, it forces you to watch the entire first season over and over and over again because they really did get it right.

I won’t go into my feelings on the canning of Frank Darabont because this posting is about whether the season premiere kept me glued to my seat like the season finale in December. (You know the one, where we saw the brain scan showing the virus taking hold of the brain stem inside the crazy CDC doctor’s wife. That scene, by the way, will go down as a classic scene for zombie freaks like me.)

Anyway what did I like about the season opener? Well, I enjoyed the zombie migration on the highway of death. That was kind of cool. I liked that Rick is struggling with the leadership role he’s assumed. I liked that he feels responsible for everything bad that’s happened, you know, hero’s journey and all of that. I like that Rick’s wife Lori is putting Shane in his place once and for all, but I’m surprised that nobody knew until the season opener that Shane and Lori were boinking buddies. That was a bit of a stretch. Loved the zombie horde. Loved the scene where Rick and Daryl (who was much less redneck white trash and more determined zombie killer in this episode, thankfully) checked the innards of the zombie they whacked. Lots of gore. Gore is always good in zombie lore.

Here’s what I don’t like, though, because while the show was a strong first start for the new TV season (7 million people tuned in) it’s not without faults. Notably, children who freak out and run off into the bush when the zombie horde has just walked by your improvised shelter underneath a car. (You’d think that after living in a post apocalyptic world of the living dead, kids would have figured out the best way to survive is to, I don’t know, NOT run off into the woods shrieking.) I don’t like that the pace of the show slowed to a crawl when they decided that it was getting dark and they’d be wise to wait until daybreak to continue the search. (Much more drama could have been presented along with a variety of nightmare scenarios had they gone looking for the girl in the darkness. THAT would have been cool.)

I didn’t like that Andrea is all “why didn’t you let me kill myself back at the CDC you’re a big jerk Dale Horvath, Mister I don’t have a radiator hose for my Winnebago, who died and made you the spiritual guru for our rag-tag band of survivors.” That got old really fast and Andrea, frankly, is the weakest link on the show as I see it. Mostly because I hate whiners. She whines. A lot.

I know The Walking Dead isn’t just a show about zombies. I know that we need to get into the head of each character in order to understand their motivations and secrets, but monsters are everywhere and there were far too many “quiet times” during the season opener.

Finally, did anyone NOT see Carl getting shot coming from a mile away when he went to pet the deer. (I was secretly hoping the buck would gore him or something, but no, he got shot. Ugh.) And while we’re at it, what’s with the whole “Carl is old enough to go searching for the missing girl” when the reason she is missing is because children, apparently, don’t freaking listen when the zombie apocalypse is happening? What’s wrong with, “Carl, get your ass up the highest tree you can find. Shut the hell up and wait until we get back. If you come down, I’ll belt your ass for not listening.”

If we ignore the slow bits, it was still a pretty good first kick at the can for the new season. I’m still wondering where the hell one-handed Merle ran off to, and what about Morgan from the very first episode? Are we going to meet up with him? Did he finally shoot his zombie wife? Is his kid okay, and more importantly, does his kid listen to his Dad unlike the kids in Rick’s band of survivors?

So, a hopefully spoiler free review. Still a great show and did anyone get MASSIVELY excited about the ads for the new AMC show HELL ON WHEEL’S? A western!! A western!! In prime time!! Be still my beating heart!

Happy Tuesday, all.

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E-readers Aplenty

 

I’m losing track of the number of ebook readers now available to consumers. Help! I make this observation hot on the heels of bookseller W. H. Smith’s announcement that they too will be a vendor for the Kobo reader. Now the Kobo is a really nice device. It’s light, compact and its e-ink technology is fantastic. But then so are other ebook readers. (I have a three year old Sony PRS 505 which works dandily IMHO)  So, because I’m a fanatic about these kinds of things, here’s a HUGE chart of currently available e-readers that I found on Wikipedia.

I should mention that W.H. Smith is joining a growing group of brick and mortar booksellers that are selling e-readers. I suspect the reasons for this have to do with ebook sales now accounting for about 20% of total book sales in the industry according various sources compared to less than 5% three short years ago. Now I’m no economist, but from where I sit, a 15% increase in sales to me at least, represents staggering growth! Clearly 2011 is the year that e-readers finally hit critical mass as I’d mentioned in a previous blog post, so it makes sense that brick and mortar stores are going to try to tap into the lucrative online bookselling market though I have my doubts that Sony’s book store or the Kobo book store are even in the same universe as Amazon were we to compare their sales figures. I attribute much of the growth in e-reader sales to Amazon who’ve clearly been first out the gate on a consistent basis in terms of innovation not to mention an attractive price point.

Which brings me to a question that’s been tugging at me: will there be any consensus as to what an appropriately *fair* price for a new book should be if it’s an e-book? Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to isn’t prepared to shell out forty bucks of an electronic version of a printed book when the printed book is forty bucks at the local book store and it’s an actual *thing* that you’re holding in your hands. You see, I love ebooks. I love my Sony PRS 505, but when someone else is controlling the technological means by which your eyeballs actually get to read the printed word, then aren’t e-readers just a gateway to controlling the aforementioned printed word? Yes, I know that e-books are here to stay. but when you buy a printed book, it’s yours! Once you read it you can use it to hold up a chair that isn’t level or you could place it on your beautiful bookshelf and it becomes a decorative feature for your home. You bought the book, it’s yours. Do with it as you please. You buy an e-book, you’re only going to get to read it if you have access to an electronic device.

There are ethical issues in the debate over e-books versus print. People smarter than me are going to hash out what this new, unpredictable world of book publishing is going to look like. But as an author, I can’t help but think that those who will be hardest hit by the pace of change will be the very people who write the words that a reading public wishes to purchase.

Let me be very clear: I don’t know any rich authors. None. I know some pretty well-known authors and most still have a day job. We aren’t writing to get rich, by the way, we are writing because it’s what we are passionate about. At the same time, the era of the e-book has also ushered in the era of e-book piracy and authors who aren’t exactly swimming in wealth now face a further assault on their meager royalty income because some jerk was too cheap to cough up the ten bucks to download the book legitimately at an online book store.

So in a nutshell, this is what the publishing world looks like to me on October 13, 2011:

  1. Big box booksellers are going bankrupt (Borders)
  2. Indie booksellers are closing every day
  3. Fewer and fewer people are reading
  4. Amazon drives the pace of change in the e-reader market not to mention online book sales.
  5. There’s massive debate about how much to charge for an ebook versus a print book
  6. Author royalties (and advances) are declining at the same time as online book sales have jumped to 20% of total book sales
  7. We can now buy ebook readers for under a hundred dollars
  8. Self-publishing is booming thanks to Kindle Self Publishing so now the market is flooded with dreck versus, you know, properly edited books.
  9. A literary agency just opened it’s own publishing arm (Thank you Trident Media Group)
  10. I might be an enabler because I happen to love my e-reader. (Yes, I suck. I know)

Have I missed anything because I’m just wondering how authors are actually going to make any money in this brave new world of publishing.

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