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Friday, August 22, 2014

Interesting News About Facial Symmetry

One of the very minor plot points in my 2nd novel, No Brother of Mine, involves the fact that a mother-daughter pair (Kelly and Sarah) share a particularly interesting common genetic trait: slightly asymmetric facial features.  The narrator, Mitch, explains in the epilogue that he considers something like that attractive because the less symmetrical a face is (within reason), the more likely it is to stand out in a crowd and draw your eye to it.  He expresses that sentiment in contrast to what he admits is the more common attitude, which is that symmetry = beauty.

Now comes encouraging news that at least one of the reasons often cited for that shallow attitude, which is the notion that symmetry = health, has been called into question by a recent study. There appears to be no relationship between the two, in fact, which means Mitch wasn't so crazy after all!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lovely Judgment In The Sherlock Holmes Public Domain Fight

It's nice to see that sanity prevailed, and then some, in Leslie Klinger's fight against the Arthur Conan Doyle estate and its attempts to bully writers and publishers of new Sherlock Holmes material into paying licensing fees for work that's already firmly within the public domain.  The judges ruled entirely in Klinger's favour in the appeal, awarding him $30,000 for attorneys' fee, and my favourite part of the ruling was:

"[Klinger was] combating a disreputable business practice- a form of extortion– and he is seeking by the present motion not to obtain a reward but merely to avoid a loss. He has performed a public service." 

Yup, that's what the ACD estate's actions have amounted to: a form of extortion. Well said!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Ebola Situation

The headline of this article pretty much says it all: You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Amazing Open Letter To Ferguson Police Chief

David Simon, best known as the creator of the TV show, The Wire, has published an open letter to the police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, where for the past several days community members have been protesting the police shooting of a (black) unarmed young man, Michael Brown. It's a brilliant composition, calling out the decision of the police force to hide the identity of the shooter as the cowardly, hypocritical move that it is.

"If Ferguson police can’t protect one of their own — a fellow officer who is armed, who is allied with an entire department of armed comrades, who are themselves buttressed by their jurisdiction’s prosecutorial arm, who have the full weight of the law at hand in support of that officer — then how in hell are they going to protect me when I go down to the courthouse and testify?  How can they ask me, an ordinary citizen with no armament, alliance or authority, to stand up in open court and be identified?"

The whole thing deserves a read.

The Many Dimensions Of Robin Williams

I've been on an on-again, off-again fan of Robin Williams since I first saw him playing Mork the alien on Happy Days before spinning off into Mork & Mindy, way back in my adolescent days.  I loved him in Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and Goodwill Hunting, though at other times his schtick would completely take me out of a film.

Vicki and I were eating dinner at Crabby Joe's this week when I looked up and saw the TV screen showing CNN with the banner, "Breaking News: Robin Williams Dead at 63."  I actually said, "What the Hell?" to Vicki then, which was kind of cruel as she couldn't see what I was looking at.  Within minutes, of course, incredulity turned to realization and sadness, as usually happens in these situations.

In the wake of his death, we've learned all kinds of things that most of us would prefer to have never learned, such as the fact that one of the funniest people on the planet suffered from deep bouts of depression, and that his death was likely a suicide.  Maybe something good will come of it, though, as mental health is a topic that desperately needs to be discussed more and stigmatized less.

On a more positive note, I saw this wonderful article today, in which it's revealed that Mr. Williams required that all events and jobs that wanted to book him also commit to hiring a certain number of homeless people to work on it, as well.  Imagine that: a celebrity who made it a condition of his employment that some of the less fortunate members of society also benefit.  And considering that I've never heard this before now, I'm guessing he didn't exactly broadcast the fact, either.  Wow.  That's a good man for you.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The First Sale

Speaking of my brother (as I was in the previous post), he gets the credit for the first sale of a comic from my collection.  He mentioned to a friend what I was up to, and the next thing I knew X-Men # 12 was flying out of its long box and off to a new home somewhere in the Strathroy area.  Easiest.  Sale.  Ever!  Thanks, bro!

One down, several thousands to go...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

An Auspicious Anniversary Week

I was reflecting today how this week features the anniversaries of two significant changes to my life.

Six years ago, I quit my job and entered the world of semi-retirement / self-employment.  My writing career, which had just barely started while I was still working full-time, has obviously taken on a whole life of its own in the ensuing years.  I can't imagine I'd have seven books and four novels to my name in 2014 if I'd kept slaving away at the salt mines as I'd been doing for twenty-two years at that point in August of 2008.  It's been a great run so far and it's such a great feeling to have zero regrets about such a potentially disastrous decision.

Three years ago around this time, following the death of my Uncle Bruce, there was a family get-together organized to honour his memory.  It was at that barbeque that my brother Richard and I reconnected, and in the thirty-six months since then he and his wife Meena have become close friends to Vicki and I in a way that I could never have imagined before that encounter.  It's one of those things where, were I to travel back in time three years and a day, I doubt the version of me from 2011 would've believed for a second what the future would hold regarding that fractured relationship.

A couple of recent life-changing events for me, both hitting anniversaries as I enjoy the second half of this summer.  Not bad at all!

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Big Sell-Off

For years now, I've been telling Vicki that I'll eventually start selling off the comic collection, since it was never my intention to have it be something that she, or Tammy, or whoever would have to deal with after I'm gone.  In my 40s, "after I'm gone" looked far enough away that I didn't really do anything more than sell some of my doubles (second copies) on eBay or at comic conventions.

Now that I'm firmly esconced in my 50s, however, I figure it's time to get started on keeping this promise.  My plan is to shrink the collection to about 10% of its current size over the next several years, meaning I'd go from around 30,000 to roughly 3000, or 10-ish long boxes in place of the current 100+.  Many of the comics I'll be getting rid of will be easy to sell, but most won't be.  Therefore I expect to give a lot of them away, hopefully along the lines of what we did with Tammy's comics last year, which was helping to get them into the hands of needy children on Christmas morning

Of course, if you're a reader of this blog and you have someone in your household who'd appreciate the gift of a pile of comics to enjoy, let me know.  I'm sure something can be arranged.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Boyhood Currently Has A 99% Fresh Rating On Rotten Tomatoes!

99%!  I can't remember the last time I saw something even close to that level.  It's kind of insane how critically acclaimed this film is, and yet most movie-goers will never see it.  Whereas drek like Transformers: Age of Extinction, totally devoid of any artistic value at all, continues to rake in millions... Sigh.  Sometimes I weep for us as a species.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Another Example Of Comcastic Customer Service

If you haven't already heard about Ryan Block (co-founder of Engadget) and his wife being harangued by a Comcrap service representative when they tried to cancel their service, please do so now!  Yes, the cable company has offered up an apology after the exchange went viral last week, but unfortunately for them, it's not nearly as unusual an occurrence as they'd have people believe.  And when I read how the annoying agent told Mr and Mrs Block they can always go to a Comcrap retail outlet to cancel their service, I wanted to punch somebody.  Too many bad memories of our recent visit to Hell!  I hate to admit it, but I'm slowly starting to realize why so many people pirate their shows instead of paying for a cable subscription... at least in the States.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Can't Wait For Boyhood... But May Have To

The good news is that the reviews for Richard Linklater's Boyhood have been overwhelmingly positive and often downright gushing.  The bad news is that it doesn't appear to be slated for a wide release when it opens in the next week, meaning that Vicki and I, for example, will have to either travel to Toronto to see it or wait for it to come out on DVD. I'm sure it'll be worth the wait, no matter when we finally get our chance, but dang, something's broken somewhere in the system when a film with this kind of reputation and moderate star power (Ethan Hawke) can't get a foothold in any but the biggest of markets.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Comcast: Really Bad Company Or Worst Company Ever?

I used to work for Comcast, so I've long known just how completely dysfunctional and incompetent they are from an internal point-of-view.  I ended up retiring early rather than continue dealing with their idiotic decisions back in 2008, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me to discover just how badly they treat their customers.  There's recognition like this, where they were voted (for the second time) as the worst company in America, and then there's anecdotal evidence like the experience Vicki and I have had with them over the past month.

We had an American relative pass away in early June, and among the tasks we took on as a result was cancelling the relative's Comcast cable account.  I should've known it was going to be a nightmare, but even I was shocked by how crappy their customer service was.  First, we tried to cancel the account over the phone.  One of the options available to us was for removing services from your account, so I selected that one.  I was put into a queue (so far, so good) and then, after several minutes of annoying muzak, I was hung up on!  Undeterred, I tried again: same result!  Finally, I called in and selected "Add a service" and voila!  I was quickly passed on to a live agent!  Unfortunately, that agent couldn't actually cancel an account but he was nice enough to transfer me to someone who, theoretically at least, could.

Next, I found out that the relative's account could only be cancelled if we faxed or emailed Comcast the death certificate, which we didn't have yet at that point.  I even said, "Look, forget that the person died, just cancel it as you would whenever someone doesn't want the service anymore" but no, they couldn't do that.  So we had to wait until we got the death certificate.

A few days later, certificate in hand, Vicki tried her luck.  She was also hung up on if she selected "Remove a service" so she, too, had to get in another way, which she did.  Eventually, she got to an agent who directed Vicki to email a scan of the death certificate to a particular email address within Comcast, and told her that should do it.  Vicki included in the email directions as to where Comcast could pick up the cable box and remote control, and we assumed that was that.

Except, of course, it wasn't.  Upon checking back in a week or so later, we found out that Comcast won't pick up hardware, only deliver it.  So it was up to us to get the equipment to them.  However, the nearest Comcrap retail outlet was approximately 50 miles away from the relative's home, which made it about 150 miles away from here.  We fought to get them to pick it up, but all we got for our troubles was a $130 fee being levied against the relative's bank account for not returning the hardware.

That led to us spending the day today driving to Macomb, Michigan, to drop off the equipment Comcrap had been all too happy to deliver previously.  That location, it turns out, is one of the levels of Hell.  There were 30 customers ahead of us, and we waited nearly an hour for the pleasure of handing back to them the cable box and remote along with a few choice words.  Eight agent stations were set aside in the office for servicing customers but only 3 of them actually had agents behind them the entire time we were there.  Kids ran around unattended while their parents languished in perpetual agony alongside us and while a TV screen blared children's programming at top volume.

If you think Bell or Rogers are bad to deal with here in Canada, trust me: you ain't seen nothing until you've had to deal with Comcrap 'customer service.'  It is, quite simply, the worst I've ever seen, by far.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Overprotective Parent

Wow.  This article blew me away, hitting so many nails right on the head with its look at the effect overprotective parenting is having on the current generation of kids.  Children nowadays are so closely supervised and 'managed' by their parents that they're simply not developing into independent, fully-formed humans by the time they reach adulthood.  I see this all the time, especially when I've been tutoring kids in the past. 

There's tons of fascinating stuff in the article, but here are just a couple of examples to encourage you to give it a read:

"But sometimes it seems as if children don’t get the space to grow up at all; they just become adept at mimicking the habits of adulthood. As Hart’s research shows, children used to gradually take on responsibilities, year by year. They crossed the road, went to the store; eventually some of them got small neighborhood jobs. Their pride was wrapped up in competence and independence, which grew as they tried and mastered activities they hadn’t known how to do the previous year. But these days, middle-class children, at least, skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant."


"It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Converting Story Points To Hours (That Old Chestnut)

Mike Cohn posted a very nice explanation of why it's such a challenge to turn story points, the unit of estimation used by many Agile (and some non-Agile) teams, into hours, the beloved unit of project managers the world over.  As Mike points out, it's a somewhat reasonable question when applied to a single team whose composition has been kept relatively intact over time, but a ridiculous one when applied to multiple teams, each of whom have differing ideas of what represents 1 story point of work and therefore work at differing velocities.

Monday, June 23, 2014

From One Fringe To The Next

We've been incredibly busy lately, which is at least part of the reason for the lack of blogging on my part.  Among other things, the London Fringe Festival wrapped up a week ago, which saw us volunteering and going to shows all while dealing with some family matters.  In fact, we didn't take in as many Fringe performances as we'd hoped to, and that has us feeling like we need more Fringe.

Fortunately, Toronto Fringe is just over a week away, and now we're making plans to take it in with Tammy.  She's already started a spreadsheet for it and everything, so I think it really will happen.  Now we just have to decide amongst about a hundred shows, boiling our choices down to what will fit into a 3-day weekend.  Stressful, and yet still fun!

Summer = Fringe!