Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Name Dropping (Page 3 of 16)

To the Ships!

Certain projects that I worked on generated “take aways.” Lines that were too good just to forget about. The project might have been good or lousy, it didn’t matter. What mattered was the quality of the take-away. Some take-aways were crude and cannot be repeated in polite company. Others were crude and can perhaps be repeated in polite company. Others were just funny… at least to me.

For instance, I once worked on a radio play called “Heart of a Dog” in which a character kept muttering (in a Russian accent) “arsefessor” (don’t ask me why) to refer to another character who was a professor. For years afterward I would hear my colleagues muttering from time to time, “Arsefessor!” (Hey, I never said these take-aways were in any way socially beneficial.) The thing is, after you’ve worked on one of these plays for a month or two (or three), certain words and lines got burned into your brain.

Another take-away came from an adaptation of the play Trojan Women. The play called for one character to summon the warriors to the ship by calling out, “To the ships!”

So one of our sound effects engineers — I’ll call him Pat — was called upon to utter these immortal words, as all the actors had left by the time the crew realized that this line hadn’t been recorded. Pat was a brilliant sound effects foley artist but a quiet, unassuming man. So when called upon to cry out “To the ships!” he said it as if commenting on the weather, not as if summoning an army to battle as the script called for.

On the second take Pat generated enough enthusiasm to make the line sound like he was asking for someone to pass him a jar of peanut butter.

The third take sounded like a question: “To the ships?”

Each take fell woefully short of the necessary vigour, but became increasingly hilarious for the crew in the control room. And the line, “To the ships!” became the rallying cry of the CBC Radio Drama department.

To the ships!

Nora’s Mental Tune-Up

Here’s another fun bit I got to produce on the summer replacement show NEXT with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss.

We hired actor Andrew Gillies (Orphan Black) to do these bits. I’d worked with Andrew before on my adaptation of Tom Godwin‘s The Cold Equations. Andrew had played the captain of the Stardust for us. Now he played a Scotsman trying to tune up Nora’s brain.

I’ve pasted the script below, with the actual produced bits at the bottom of each one.

Photo by David Cassolato from Pexels

Part One

NORA: It’s easy to spruce up your body… okay, well maybe not easy, but you do have the option of going to the gym and hiring a personal trainer.  But what about your brain?  What if you could give your brain a tune-up too?




NORA: What?  What is it?


McSCOTT: It’s nae wonder you cannae do arithmetic in a brain like this.  Your neural net… it’s all gummed up.  Och, and that basil ganglia. (BLOWS ON SOMETHING)  Tsk tsk.

NORA: Oh my.

McSCOTT: But dinnae you worry, lass, I’ve seen worse.

NORA: You have?

McSCOTT: Aye.  This monkey once.  Couldn’t count to two if its life depended on it.

NORA: What did you do?

McSCOTT: Lipid soluble molecules past the blood brain barrier.  Before you knew it that monkey could count to five.  Nae… you leave it to me, lass…

SFX: Power Tool Roars to Life

McSCOTT:    You’ll be doin’ math in nae time.



Scottish Brain Guy Part One

Part Two



McSCOTT: That should do it.  Tell me, lass: are ya feelin’ at all perspicacious?

NORA: Excuse me?

McSCOTT: Peripatetic?  Cogitative?  Erudite, scholarly?  The least bit sagacious?

NORA: I’m sorry?

McSCOTT: Are ya feelin’ any smarter, lass.

NORA: Uhhh…

McSCOTT: I’m guessin’ that’s a “nae,” then.  Nae worries, got a few more tricks up me sleeve yet…


Scottish Brain Guy Part Two

Part Three


McSCOTT: Och!  It’s nae use.


McSCOTT:    I kin make ya smarter…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT: But… but not without changin’ the fundamental chemistry of your brain.

NORA:      I see.

McSCOTT: But if you dinnae mind me sayin’ so…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT:     I think you’re just fine the way you are…



Scottish Brain Guy Part Three

Spring Cleaning

Astute readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been sprucing it up a bit lately. Less astute readers will not have noticed anything. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t noticed anything; many of the changes have been subtle. Why, I myself might not have noticed anything had I not been the one doing the changes.

Angela Misri kindly did the heavy lifting a few years back, establishing the look and the template and so forth. Since then I’ve long wanted to do some serious tweaking, and lately have found myself in exactly the right head-space to do so. Head space that should perhaps have been directed at working on novel number two (working title Captain’s Away), but I’m at a part of that project that requires some extra heavy thinking, which I’m doing as I putter around this blog.

So what have I done? Well, first of all I’m generating posts at a rate I haven’t matched since about fifteen years ago. A lot of them are from rooting around my laptop, peering into old files, where I’m unearthing all sorts of interesting treasures (well, to me, anyway) that I’d long since forgotten about, and that have proven good fodder.

I upgraded from basic Dreamhost to DreamPress to ensure better stability, better support, and faster loading.

I added a newsletter sign-up form in the right side bar (though I’m still not entirely sure it’s working properly. If you’ve signed up, best let me know via [email protected] so I can double check that your sign up worked).

I added content to my Media/Interviews page. Allow me to reiterate here that this blog does not itself generate any revenue (other than indirectly selling a few books, theoretically) and all the content I post I do so under the Fair Dealings provision of Canadian Copyright law. I think some of it is of historical interest to some people. I do my best to give credit. If I’ve posted anything (pictures, audio, etc.) that you own or have anything to do with that you would prefer I not post, just let me know and I will take it down. Check out my disclaimer here.

And oh yeah, I’ve updated that disclaimer.

A while back WordPress changed the way posts are created (from classic to something called Blocks) which screwed up the formatting of a lot of my old posts. I’ve cleaned them up to make them easier on the eye.

I’ve tweaked some of the content on various Pages, editing and adding bits here and there.

And I’ve updated links to other blogs, removing stale links and adding new ones. I was sorry to see some go, but in some cases the blogs haven’t been updated in years. And there were a few blogs that I should have added long since, such as Dr. Robert Runte’s blog, and, and Pigdump, and the Five Rivers blog. And I just find everything Den Valdron writes inherently interesting, so I’ve added a link to his blog.

Is any of this worth it? Well, it hasn’t resulted in any additional book sales that I can see. If that was the only reason I was doing it there certainly wouldn’t be much point. So, it’s worth it only in the sense that keeping up this blog is something that I enjoy. It relaxes me. And from time to time I hear from people who tell me they derive some enjoyment from it.

And that’s enough for me.

A Host of Data

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

I worked on a summer replacement radio series called NEXT once with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss. They were so great to work with, and indulged my passion for high production radio with bits like this one, which introduced one of the episodes.

Boy I loved making stuff like this.

Here’s the script, with the actual produced version at the end.

NEXT: A Host of Data


NARR: Indefatigable Nora Young surfs the net, quietly sipping tea.


NARR: She is thinking furiously:

NORA: Hmm… I wonder what today’s show should be about? 

NARR: Friend and colleague Alison Moss appears in the doorway.

ALISON: Hey Nora!



NARR: Startled, clumsy Nora knocks her tea onto the computer.


NORA: Dag nabbit!



NARR: A freak chain reaction occurs.  Our hapless host is drawn inside the computer!

NORA: Noooooooo!


NORA: Oof!  (GRUNTS IN PAIN) Where am I?

NARR: Nora is trapped in a virtual landscape of ones and zeroes.  Drowning in a sea of binary information, Nora comes face to face…. with herself.

DRONING NORA VOICE: Nora Esmerelda Young, born nineteen sixty-four, daughter of Clem and Doreen, brothers John, Alfred, Immanuel, postal code L2N 3G5, (CONTINUES BG) 

NORA: (OVER VOICES) All this information… about me!

DRONING VOICE: (CONTINUING) Favourite food: schnitzel, last purchased July 28th, 2004 at Loblaws on the corner of Dufferin and Brock…

NARR: Clever Nora can only to come to one conclusion:


NORA: That’s it!  I’ll make the show about data!


Nora Young: A Host of Data

A Few Words on Motivation

A bit of speechifying I did a few years back on the subject of motivation:

Photo by Olenka Sergienko from Pexels

How do we stay motivated?

How do we stay motivated in the face of long hours, lousy shifts, hard work, thankless tasks? Or worse, when sometimes it seems like life is actively working to demotivate us. I mean motivation beyond just getting paid, and putting bread on the table. Because psychology tells us that once we earn a certain amount of money, once we have food in our bellies and a roof over our head and can afford a few of the pleasures that life has to offer, then money no longer motivates us. Beyond a certain point it doesn’t matter how much more money you throw at someone, it’s not going to make them work any harder.

So here’s a little story about how I personally address the question of motivation.

The other day a friend came into my office and said, “I hear it’s your birthday and you seem a little depressed. Is it because you’re getting old?”

I said, “No! I like birthdays. I get breakfast in bed and I get to buy myself a present and me and the family make a big day out of it. And who’s getting old? Not me! I’d rather get old than the alternative. I know people who never got the chance to get old. I will only start to feel old when I actually am old.”

So my friend said, “I heard that one of the ways you’re celebrating your birthday is by getting a colonoscopy. Is that why you’re depressed?” And it was true, I was getting a colonoscopy a couple of days after my birthday, but that did not depress me. That’s preventative maintenance, and we all know how important that is.

No, I was depressed because at a meeting the day before someone important had made a cutting remark at my expense. I had said something stupid and I was called on it and made to feel stupid and look stupid in front of everyone present. And in that instant I was, completely and utterly, demoralized. Demotivated.

Cause here’s the thing. Since the last quarter my department has dealt with, and resolved, massive problems. We have upgraded and expanded important systems. We have prepared extensively for the Olympics, setting up equipment, testing infrastructure. We launched a documentation committee to figure out how to retain and make long term documentation available. I personally worked ten, eleven hour days for an entire month. I deal with one hundred to one hundred and fifty emails a day and then go home and work another hour or two to get caught up. I get called in the middle of the night. I work weekends. I turned my life upside down, as many here have, to work shifts during the Olympics.

And what do I get for all that? Humiliated in a public forum in front of my colleagues. Actively demotivated.

Maybe I’m over sensitive. It doesn’t matter. I don’t mean to dwell on it other than to use it as a teachable moment.

So the question I’m posing is, how do we stay motivated in the face of that kind of nonsense? And everything else actively working to demotivate us? Why even bother?  Why not just give up, start phoning it in, dial back the effort, the long hours, the passion that brought us here in the first place? Cause operationally there is definitely a need for us to remain motivated. There’s so much left to do. For my department, we’ve got a system expansions, system rollouts, unresolved technical issues, new systems to implement, virtualization, tons of training to organize. We cannot afford to be demoralized.

Here’s the answer I came up with for myself. We stay motivated for ourselves. If we do not stay motivated, we are cheating ourselves. We’re letting the bad guys win, the bullies, or whatever other forces might be grinding us down. I know people who continue to do a good job despite being dealt bad hands. They don’t always get the training opportunities. They don’t always get the praise. They don’t always get the promotions. But they continue to excel. Many of them are in this room. Many of them are you.

Why? Partially because it’s their nature. They can’t stand the thought of performing poorly. They couldn’t live with themselves, couldn’t look themselves in the mirror. But also, they know on some level that it’s the smart thing to do.

I have heard intelligence defined as the ability to maximize options. Limiting your options, that’s dumb. Maximizing your options, that’s smart. Allow yourself to become demotivated, demoralized, and people might start to look at you and say, well, I don’t know what happened to them, but they’ve clearly checked out. We can’t give him or her that opportunity because they won’t do anything with it.

Or worse, I know someone who got dealt a bad hand and took it out on everyone around them until finally he was frog marched out the door. This person later called me and asked for a reference. I told him I would give him a reference, but if I got called, I would tell the truth. This person had seriously limited their options.

Finally, I don’t mean to hand the responsibility entirely back to you. Yes, you are ultimately responsible for your own state of mind and your own conduct. But as a leader, it’s my job to help keep you positive. Here’s a quote I like from someone who used to work here. She’s not here anymore, but I think her opinion is still valid.       

I’ve never slammed a door. I’ve never, ever yelled at anyone at work. I would never let my mood infiltrate the room. Working my way up from assistant I think taught me how unfair it was when others got subjected to bad behaviour through a mood of a leader. I said I would never want to be the boss people knew was having a bad day.

Kirstine Stewart. Twitter Canada’s Managing Director. Quoted in Flare magazine.

You will never hear a cutting remark from me designed to make you feel bad. If there’s something about your performance that you need to know, I will tell you, but I will do so discretely. In a way that, if at all possible, will leave you motivated to do a better job. And with that will come those opportunities. That promotion you’ve been bucking for.

In other words, options.

Which will be good for both you and the company.

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