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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Race Car Richie

After several failed attempts due to bad weather, my brother Rich and nephew Dick finally got to drive race cars around a track like lunatics.  It's not anything I'd ever want to do (I'm holding out for jumping out of a plane, maybe along with Rich) but if the look on his face below means anything, my brother had an amazing time:

Not So Fast On Solving Jack The Ripper's Identity

A month and a half ago, I posted a link to a story claiming that the identity of Jack the Ripper had finally been proven, and that it was a Polish immigrant who'd been a suspect at the time.

Now, however, it seems that discovery has been called into question, in a big way.  Either the scientist who did the test has to come forward and disprove the claims that he screwed up the DNA matching, or we're back to not knowing who Jack really was.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Alien: Isolation - Never Has Dying Been This Much Fun!

I've now owned Alien: Isolation for almost a week, or perhaps I should say, it's owned me!  It's easily the scariest and most difficult video game I've ever played, and I couldn't be happier with it.

As someone who normally hates stealth missions in games, it's taken me some time to adjust to AI's style.  It really is all about survival, pure and simple.  Although he takes his time showing up initially, once the titular xenomorph appears on the scene you're pretty much screwed if you don't buy into the strategy of sneaking around slowly and making as little noise as possible.  I've been killed by the big-headed bugger dozens of times by now after trying numerous methods to terminate him (knowing all along that you can't, but it's still fun trying) as well as discovering countless ways to unintentionally draw his attention.  What a great ride!  Rarely frustrated, and never deterred.

This truly is the ultimate gaming experience for fans of Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece like me.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Best And Worst Of Alien Videogames

Tomorrow, Alien: Isolation launches and my copy for the PS4 is already on its way to me!  Unlike the relaunched Aliens Vs Predator and Alien: Colonial Marines of recent memory, this Alien game is actually getting very good reviews (averaging around 8/10 or so) and has me very excited... as well as more than a little bit scared!  Not scared that it'll suck, but rather that it'll be so hard that I won't be able to get very far in it.

Anyway, in anticipation of that momentous arrival, we have this lovely article, reminiscing about the best and worst of the games in the genre til now.  And yes, the original, 1999 AvP game really was every bit as great as the reviewer says!

Twin Peaks Returning From Oblivion

It seems somehow fitting that right after the 10th anniversary of Lost's debut on TV, we get this news that Twin Peaks, the original "full of potential but not really paying off its many mysteries" headscratcher is being brought back by its creator, David Lynch. 

Vicki and I initially heard about Twin Peaks a couple weeks after it launched (right around the time we got together) and were then lucky enough to catch re-runs of the episodes we'd missed.  To say we were hooked would be putting it mildly!  But the honeymoon (with the show, anyway) was somewhat short-lived, as the series seemed to promise so much while delivering so little.  I think we stuck with it to the end, but I can't say for sure as I don't recall how it wrapped up.  I'm certainly curious to see what Lynch will do with this opportunity to give us "answers and a satisfying conclusion."  I guess we'll have to wait to see what Canadian channel will pick it up, of course.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Life In The Post-Snowden Era

It's getting more and more interesting, that's for sure!  We've proven for millions of years that we're a highly adaptive species, and this "arms race" over information ownership is just another example.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Another Ode To Lost, 10 Years Later

I'm still slowly making my way through this one, savouring every point that Andy Greenwald makes along the way, but this line in particular really spoke to me:

"What really rankles is that nothing ever took [Lost]'s place."

I feel the same frustration.  Despite there being lots of other great shows like Breaking Bad, The Bridge (original Swedish/Norwegian, not the crappy American one) and True Detective, to name but a few, I can't think of a single "genre" program that's recaptured the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder that Lost brought with its launch a decade ago.  Fringe looked promising at first but fizzled fast; Doctor Who has momentarily flashes of brilliance, at best; and those are among the best there's been over the past ten years.

I think it may soon be time to dive back in and re-watch Lost from start to finish, just like we said we were going to do after it wrapped up.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

10 Years After The Launch of Lost

Here's a nice reflection on the 10th anniversary of the debut of Lost by Jeff "Doc" Jensen.  I think we all owe a debt of thanks to that much-loved, somewhat-flawed series, as it really did prove that audiences will invest a lot of time and energy into a TV show if you make it worth their while.  Breaking Bad, for example, got great mileage out of that and ultimately, probably, paid its fans more handsomely for their efforts.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bringing Back The 40-Hour Work Week

In Canada, I guess we'd say "the 37.5-hour work week," but other than that small difference, this Salon article applies perfectly to our situation here.  The article presents a compelling case for working at what those of us in the Agile community call "a sustainable pace."  Nice to see that there's not only scientific research aplenty to back it up, but also a couple centuries of historical precedent that apparently most employers have managed to forget.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nice To See "Civil Forteiture" Scam Getting More Exposure

We first heard about it on 60 Minutes, I think, and then engaged in a lively debate as to whether or not it could really be as scammy as it sounded.  I said it couldn't be, whereas Vicki wisely voted the other way.  (In case you haven't heard how 'civil forfeiture' works: basically American cops are pulling over drivers and then telling them they have to surrender some or all of the cash they're carrying on some flimsy pretext of looking suspicious, without actually charging them with any crime.)  Since that 60 Minutes broadcast, there's been more and more coverage of this awful abuse of power within the U.S.  Hopefully if there's enough indignation and noise created, the law will be either rescinded or altered to something that doesn't completely violate the civil rights of every one it comes in contact with.

Monday, September 08, 2014

How To Combat Online Harrassment

It's a problem that just keeps getting worse and worse: more and more people (often, though certainly not always, females) are targeted by online trolls and arrested adolescents for abuse.  Death threats, rape threats, verbal abuse...  It's something I hear a lot about on the comic book sites I frequent, as well as being famously bad within the various gaming communities.

I like the thinking behind this Wired article, which argues that the same sort of community norms that exist within our work environments and social settings (in the real world) need to be expected and enforced online.  I think that's exactly right, and the only reason it hasn't happened yet, I suspect, is that it hasn't really been all that long that Joe and Jane Q. Public have been frequenters of the web world.  Not too many years ago it was only a small, socially-dysfunctional subset of society (among whom I'd count myself, more or less) who were spending a lot of time on their computers, interacting virtually.  Back then, it was more of a private club, and as we all know, those are the sort of places that are usually the last to welcome diversity or adapt to changing social pressures (see: golf memberships not allowed for Jews, or blacks, or ....).

Here's hoping the ideas expressed in the article can be embraced by the main social networks, as this is clearly a problem that needs to be solved. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Jack The Ripper Mystery Solved?

This is a huge deal, if it's true: DNA has reportedly been used to determine that Jack the Ripper was actually Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski.  Genetic testing has proven fairly conclusively the existence of blood belonging to Kosminski, who was institutionalized not long after the final Ripper killing, on a shawl found near one of the victims.

The one key element not mentioned in the article, however, is whether the man had any kind of medical training, either in Poland or England, as it's always been reported that the technique of the murders indicated at least rudimentary understanding of human anatomy.  I think if it came out that Kosminski had flunked out of medical school or trained as a medic in the army, for example, that would completely cinch the deal.

I always liked Alan Moore's theory in From Hell that it was royal surgeon Sir William Gull wielding the knife all those years ago.  But even so, finding out a definitive answer is definitely better than never knowing.

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.