Chasing Atlantis: Something You Should All Know About

November 23, 2012

Hello again, everyone,

I’m going to start with an apology: Once upon a time I resolved to write on this blog regularly, making a point to have at least one entry a month, come what may. That was a pretty easy thing to commit to when I had a couple hundred readers a day –many of them personal acquaintances– but my most recent post from three months ago now has had 168,597 readers to date, and I found myself paralyzed by a feeling of inadequacy. I’ve been retweeted and reblogged and followed on Facebook to the point where I know what I write next will be read by a thousand people expecting at least a few minutes of entertainment and possibly something worth thinking upon deeply and making their own. I’ve found myself gun shy: What can I possibly say next to all of those people who are going to read this blog one more time? What would hold your attention and give you value for your visit?

And then I remembered what my friend Matt Cimone has been up to lately.

As a rule, I don’t mention my friends by name on this blog. I do so now after careful deliberation. Let me back up for a moment and give some context to what I hope is going to be a worthwhile read: I have had the great good fortune to know a man for the last twelve years who I believe will one day make a positive mark on the collective human experience. I look forward to the day when I can say with pride I knew him in his youth. After my late grandfather, I strongly suspect Matt Cimone is the finest man I’ve ever known. When I find myself confronted with an ethical or moral dilemma, I ask myself, “What would Matt Cimone do?” I rarely follow that course, but it’s an interesting question to pose for the sake of finding one’s bearings.

I could give any number of examples of why I’m fortunate to know this man, but for the sake of brevity I’ll say he was a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in his mid-20s; he’s founded his own charitable organization that uses the micro-credit model to empower entrepreneurs in third world countries, and he’s dedicated his life to being the change he wants to see in the world, a humanitarian who speaks openly and often about how we can all contribute in our own small way to a better future.

A year and a half ago, Matt Cimone asked me to go on a road trip with him to see the very last space shuttle launch. With deep reluctance I had to decline: I’d just quit my job, and I had to commit all my efforts to finding my next step. I watched Matt pile into a car with several friends and drive to Florida to join a million spectators as Atlantis hurled itself towards the heavens. In his usual above and beyond approach, he decided to create a short documentary about his experience on a hand-held digital camcorder. But that initial vision has since grown.

“There are a hundred films about the shuttle technology, but we are more interested in the people inspired by human space flight; those like us who always stood in wonder of the night sky.” Matt told me. “It began as a simple video about our trip. I thought we could put it online. Thankfully one of the five who came with us was my friend Paul Muzzin, founder of Riptide Studios. Paul is a filmmaker, and his expertise breathed new life into the film.”

“I’ve known Matt for almost 2 decades and I saw his passion for this trip,” Paul said. “His story is compelling, and I believe will resonate with an audience. While something shot on a handicamDigital SLR and put on YouTube would have still been from the heart, I believe that with some work this documentary could have a place in festivals and theatrical exhibition. I have also been a fan of the space program and always wanted to see a launch myself. In a sense, between directing this film and seeing the shuttle, I was fulfilling two dreams.”

Space exploration has always fascinated Matt, and witnessing the last shuttle launch was a catalyst for him. Human spaceflight brings out the dreams and aspirations of people from every walk of life, and so both he and Paul started interviewing people: Witnesses of the last launch, NASA spokespeople, fans of science fiction –both Matt and Paul are huge Trekkies, and Wil Wheaton even agreed to do an interview—even the astronauts themselves. The duo asked them what they thought, what they dreamed about.

Matt calls the story Chasing Atlantis, and from the humble beginnings of a road trip video of five friends to see the shuttle launch, it is evolving into a professionally shot, edited, and scored feature-length documentary about space exploration, ambition, and the freedom to imagine a future where the best that we hope we can be is given voice.

“Initially I only dared to think we’d make it this far.” Matt said. “When we combined the initial concept with what Paul envisioned we could accomplish with his production company behind us, doors started to open. We asked if we could conduct interviews, and people said yes. Suddenly we were doing something bigger and better. I would have never thought I’d be sitting across from future ISS commander Chris Hadfield or cast members from Star Trek when we first started planning all of this…well…I hoped, but I thought it would be a long shot.”

The common thread through all those interviewed is that the end of the shuttle program is just the turning of a page in the story of human ambition, of human discovery, of human aspiration and that regardless of if your dream is to go to space, or make a film, we all must chase the “Atlantis” in our own lives.

Here’s the current trailer:

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In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?

August 22, 2012

Hello everyone!

One of my most-visited sites on the web is, and one of my favourite subreddits is HistoricalWhatIf, an online community that debates historical hypotheticals. Earlier today someone asked the question, In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why? Someone beat me to the obvious answer that a final showdown would see Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt doing a dagger-wielding version of a Mexican standoff, so I took it too far and walked through how I thought every president would turn out. An hour later the result greatly exceeded the maximum 10,000 character limit for a post, so I’ve decided to blog about it instead.

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:

  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.

With the scenario set, here’s my take on it:

1) George Washington – Commanding presence, strong physique, military training, viewed as a hero by everyone asked to shank him: He makes Top 10 without question. Of the guaranteed top three (I’m going to call them the Holy Trinity for the purposes of this rambling rundown), my money is on Jackson being the one who murders him; he wouldn’t blink, either. They were closer in age, and the hero myth wouldn’t be quite as firmly set. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jackson didn’t blink when he sneezed…

2) John Adams is going out early. Nothing against the man, but portly well-spoken lawyers bring lampoons to a knife fight. It doesn’t end well.

3) Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to say he’d make a good show of it, but he was a bit of dandy… Middle of the pack, but his dying words would be incredibly quotable.

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A Lament For A Lost BlackBerry

January 24, 2012

Today I did a foolish thing.

I was walking home in the rain, and I jammed my BlackBerry down into a coat pocket full of mittens for safe-keeping, and it fell out of that crowded shelter unnoticed onto the sidewalk.

Precious minutes passed before I noticed its absence, and retracing my steps –just a few short blocks– failed to return my lost smartphone to me.

I feel adrift in a way I find difficult to articulate.

I had that BlackBerry for just over a year, and I now have great difficulty imagining a single day without it. Leaving my home even for a short trip to the grocery store without it on my person feels wrong. I should say I am not a ‘phone person.’ I cannot recall ever using up my daytime minutes or exceeding my monthly allotment of text messages. I never exceeded my 1 GB of monthly data, and –with the exception of a poorly planned expedition to Pittsburgh– I never incurred unexpected or excessive charges on the phone in any way. Yet I feel lost without it, adrift and cut off. Naked.

I am consumed with the thought that I let it down somehow. Honestly, it feels as though I’ve disappointed a friend.

I remember my 28th birthday, responding to a hundred well-wishers from the comfort of my bed without even needing to put my glasses on.

I remember my first blizzard with a smartphone, and bundling up appropriately without ever looking out a window because it told me what to expect.

I remember the 7 a.m. fire in my apartment building, and tweeting about it on the long spiral descent down the staircase.

I remember my aunt and grandmother raising a pair of orphaned starling chicks to adulthood, and taking pictures of them eating minced dog food from a spoon.

I remember a hundred early mornings where my phone gave me a two-minute warning when to leave my house to catch my bus.

I’ve composed blog posts on that phone.

I’ve edited my novels on that phone.

I’ve kept in touch with friends around the world on that phone.

I’ve tried and failed to take a picture of my cat with that phone –she distrusts the flash.

We’ve gone canoeing together. We’ve gone skating together. We’ve chased fireflies together. We’ve gone through art galleries and museums and forests and prairies together. We’ve journeyed across North America together, and we’ve shared our discoveries and musings in idle moments with a convenience that staggers me, staggers me such that I can’t imagine how I ever conveyed my thoughts out into the world before it came into my life.

And I dropped it onto a wet and rainy sidewalk carelessly, and a stranger scooped it up. I’ll never see it again.

How thoughtless of me. How careless. How inconsiderate.

With a heavy heart I went to my service provider’s store, cancelled my phone, and purchased a new one, sleeker and slimmer and faster and smarter. I’ve had it less than six hours, and it is now useless: The first OS update has rendered it a gibbering imbecile, unable to boot. It’s a lemon. Tomorrow I will replace it as well, and perhaps one day soon the next new phone will find a place in my existence as comfortable and welcome and familiar as its predecessor.

Somehow that feels wrong.

I cannot shake the feeling I have disappointed an inanimate object somehow. It deserved better from me. It was a trusty friend, asking little and giving much, and it literally fell away from me in a moment of unforgivable inattention.

I’m sorry, BlackBerry. I’m so sorry.

November 17: A Day of Amnesty to Remove People from the Facebook Friends List

November 6, 2011

Hello everyone,

I’ve just posted the following on Facebook, and it occurred to me it’s worth putting up on this blog as well.

Last year Jimmy Kimmel declared November 17th to be National Unfriend Day, and I thought that was a great idea: There should be one day a year where we can just clean out our friends list without guilt, angst, or recrimination. In 2010 I believe I removed something like 50 people. Only one of them complained, and since I re-added him we have not exchanged so much as a ‘like’ to any comment or post. This year I’m going to shoot for 100, and I don’t think I’m wrong in guessing it will be a pretty easy process. For the sake of clarity, I thought I’d write a note ahead of time to explain my reasoning and also perhaps campaign for others to adopt this purge for their own purposes.

What do we really use Facebook for?

Facebook is about keeping in touch with friends and family and acquaintances of all distances and distinctions. I’m all for that, and I revel in the fact that we live in a world where I can remain in touch with childhood friends and old co-workers and people who I’ve never met in person but with whom I share common interests. The trouble is that not all Facebook friendships remain relevant or active after their first beginnings, but a window has been created into our lives that will remain permanently open unless we actively seek to close it.

As of the writing of this note, I have 426 Facebook friends. To my understanding that is neither an unusually high number nor a remarkably low number, but it is certainly not representative of how many people I care about, in all the connotations of that term.

I’ve come up with three questions that I am going to ask every name on my list on November 17th:

1) Would I feel comfortable congratulating you on a marriage or the birth of a child?

2) If I sent you a message or asked a question on your wall, would I expect an answer within a week?

3) Can I recall the last time we had a meaningful interaction –either in person or online– and do I hold out realistic expectations that we will do so again in the foreseeable future?

If my answer to more than one of those questions is a no, exactly why do we need access to our daily thoughts and activities? These questions speak to my levels of trust, comfort, interest, and respect. There’s no reason to feel perpetually awkward with people on your friends list.

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A Few Thoughts on the Life and Legacy of Jack Layton

August 22, 2011

As a rule, I don’t blog about daily events. Things that seem important in the heat of the moment so often fade and blur with the healing balms of time and distance, and I want these posts to have longevity and relevance beyond the moments of creation. I doubt I’m violating that principle now: The world is a little dimmer and darker than it was yesterday, and I suspect a void has been created in Canadian public discourse that will never be truly filled.

This morning shortly before 9 a.m. I read on Twitter that Jack Layton had passed away. I felt like a stone had hit me between the eyes. I’ve spent the last twelve hours in a daze, reading obituaries and an outpouring of grief from Canadians across the political spectrum. Friends and foes alike, no one can ignore the dull thud of sad fact being committed to unchangeable history. Canada lost a giant today, a lion cut down in his prime after an incredible life-long story of struggle and hard work and perseverance.

I ache that Pierre Berton died almost seven years ago: Jack was his kind of character; Berton’s unwritten words of off-hand admiration –the wry twist on a matter-of-fact retelling of the improbable-but-true– would have formed a lasting tribute worthy of commemorating that remarkable breed of Canadian politician, neither boring nor crazy nor insincere.

I appreciate that many of my readers are not Canadian, so perhaps I should take a moment to give a little context: When people say that all politicians are crooks and cheats and liars who will say or do anything to get elected, somewhere deep inside of you exists a belief that there are exceptions, even polar opposites to that statement. The Honourable Jack Layton was that sterling example of what you always hoped a politican would be, could be, should be. Jack really was a dedicated public servant. He really did work incredibly hard to make things better. I didn’t agree with his entire party platform –even members of his caucus often quibbled with some of his decisions– but no one ever said he wasn’t the genuine article. No one ever said he was in it for himself. He wore his heart on a sleeve rolled-up to allow for serious effort, and he did his best to make friends and neighbours and total strangers happier through a combination of optimism, seeking the middle ground, and never letting a lesser politician get a superior quotation in the media.

Thousands of people better qualified than I have spent today talking about his life and his politics and his contribution to Canadian history. I have little to add to that, except to say that I met Jack somewhere between a dozen and a score of times, and I was always impressed that he really did care. I spent three semesters going to school in his riding, and I lived there for a year and a half some years later, at least in part because I admired him as a man and as a representative of the people: He never missed an opportunity to participate in the things that mattered to his constituents, and he never played politics with the things that shouldn’t matter but political handlers agonize over.

The first time I met him he was wearing one of those hand-knit sweaters that even Annie Liebovitz couldn’t make look flattering. A little starstruck, I complimented the woolen wonder for lack of anything better to say, and without missing a beat he said, “Well, I knew it would be cold in here.” I remember reading once that shortly after becoming leader of the NDP someone in the party ran a survey to see whether voters liked his mustache. When he found out, he called over a media scrum and said something to the effect of, “The only person who gets an opinion about my mustache is my wife, and she likes it!”

He was a straight-shooter, and when he shook your hand and made small-talk, you really had the sense that in that minute or two he cared about whatever you had to say. The only politician I ever gave my email to was Jack. Again, I’m not a party member. He was that good.

It occurs to me I keep calling him Jack. I’ve shaken Stephen Harper’s hand. I’ve met Bob Rae half a dozen times or more. I admire them both in their way, but I wouldn’t dream of calling them by their first name, let alone the familiar diminutive of John Gilbert Layton, the man the majority of Canadians would have liked to have a beer with and perhaps see as Prime Minister one day –whether they liked his politics or not.

When Jack announced he was taking a leave of absence –when he looked so drawn and thin and weary– I strongly suspected it would come to this. Maybe not in four weeks, but I worried I would never hear from him again. When Jack had prostrate cancer he said so and wore a blue tie, and he fought the good fight and he beat that damned disease into the dust; then he campaigned across the second-largest country in the world with a strut and swagger only embellished by a cane. This ‘new cancer’ was never labelled, and I’m sure that was a mercy: Jack knew he was going to go, and he didn’t want his name attached to a fatal prognosis in the mind of other Canadians suffering the same dreaded illness. I don’t know if he died of lymphoma or liver cancer or lung cancer, and I hope we never learn what finally laid him low. Fighting cancer is a life and death struggle, and Jack made the conscious decision to throw himself on the grenade and keep his death sentence a private matter, even when you could see it written on his face, hear the quaver in his voice.

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A Random Thought: There Were Perks to Being an Infant

February 18, 2011

This morning I awoke with a stomach ache.

Normally I have the constitution of an ox, but everyone has an off-day. Something I ate the night before must have disagreed with me, or perhaps a particular bacterium in the labyrinth of my intestines found a way to be fruitful and multiply to the detriment of its ecosystem. I don’t care to speculate.

Whatever the underlying cause, I heard my alarm go off, and in the time it took to silence its shrill nagging –before my eyes were even open– I was immediately aware that I was uncomfortable.

To be honest, I was more than just uncomfortable: I was in something approaching real pain, and for a moment of groggy panic I felt helpless and hopeless, as if this sensation in my belly was a reinvented status quo, an unwelcome new forever as fixed and eternal as the stars themselves.

Then it happened: There is a transitory period after sleep but before true wakefulness where one can make a leap of pure imagination as easily as flipping a switch on a wall can illuminate a room. I had such a flash of insight this morning.

For an aching instant of self-indulgence I created a nostalgia for a time extrapolated from the earliest moments of our common but forgotten shared experience. My thoughts lingered longingly and lovingly on the concept that were I still an infant in the cradle, I would be perfectly within my rights to cry at the top of my lungs, and that sound alone would provide the answer to my discomfort.

What am I talking about? Let’s take my premise and extend it to its logical conclusion: Were I to cry –not just like a baby, but as a baby– eventually someone infinitely bigger and stronger and older and wiser than I am would come into the place above my contorted, emoting face. Between my screwed-up eyelids and through my tears I would see this giant try to comfort me. Over my blubbering I would hear cooing and clucking and shooshing designed only to soothe my need for sonic output and compensate for the still-unknown root of my grievance with the cruel universe that was inflicting physical anguish and woe upon my selfish and petulant self.

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Pyrrhus and Hannibal: What Great Enemies Taught Rome

December 31, 2010

I’ve had a lot of fun reworking two of my old university essays so far on this blog, one on the South African War and one on the foreign policy of John Diefenbaker. I’m pleased to say they are among my most popular posts so far, and so I’d like to continue posting content like this from time to time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know anything I put up on the internet is free for someone to use for their own devices, so I’ve taken out the footnotes and bibliography, rendering my essay much less useful to anyone looking for a quick copy and paste. My old homework really isn’t meant to be an academic shortcut for today’s students, but if anyone wants to use it as a good introduction to the subject material available at your library, I’m happy to help.

Today’s essay is about the greatest non-barbarian enemies of the Roman Republic, and what they contributed to the eventual success of the state they sought and failed to subdue through force of arms. If memory serves, it received a very high grade indeed. I also had a lot of fun writing it. Enjoy!

Pyrrhus and Hannibal

What Great Enemies Taught Rome

Pyrrhus and Hannibal were the two single greatest threats to the Free Republic of Rome. They invaded Italy, smashed consular armies, turned vassal city-states against their Roman overlords, and killed thousands of legionnaires in the service of the Senate and People of Rome. Despite victory after devastating victory, they accomplished nothing. They could not defeat Rome, nor even leave her humbled. These two men whose aim was to destroy Rome became some of her greatest builders; they taught the Romans that even a total tactical defeat meant nothing strategically as long as Rome was prepared to endure.

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