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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!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Final Jar

Nearly 6 years ago Vicki and I spotted a cache of Bick's Dill Pickles with Garlic in the 1.5 L size, a rare bird which had long since gone extinct in these parts.  We excitedly bought as many jars as we could carry home by foot.  In the end, after more than one trip to the Superstore, I think we had stockpiled roughly 20 jars.  And I was in Heaven.

Today I'll begin enjoying the final jar of that stash.  When the NHL playoffs began two months ago, I decided I'd crack open the sole remaining jar once the Rangers were eliminated, as a small form of consolation for another disappointing year.  Little did I know that the Blueshirts would actually make it to the Finals, coming up just 3 wins short of capturing the Cup.  The postseason wrapped up late last night with another heart-breaking overtime loss, but today I'll get my reward on the 20th anniversary of the last time they actually didn't fail in their pursuit of the utimate glory.

This is also the 2nd anniversary of Jonesy joining our family, another event for which I'm extremely thankful.  And yet, even he's not getting any of the precious contents of that jar!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tesla Opens Its Patents To The World

Wow.  This is actually pretty impressive.  Elon Musk has decided that the various breakthroughs he and his team at Tesla have made with electric car technology will better serve mankind and the planet (and even the company itself) by being available to all rather than zealously guarded as is usually the case with secret sauces.  The more I learn about this Musk guy, the more I like and admire him.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Must See Theatre: Roller Derby Saved My Soul

Three years ago, Vicki and I took in Hamilton Fringe and one of our favourite of its shows was called Roller Derby Saved My Soul.  Its creator and star, Nancy Kenny, was a delight to watch as she brought the two female leads to life in the form of a pair of very different sisters.  Her script was full of pop culture references to Buffy, Xena, Wonder Woman and other iconic figures, and the physicality of Ms Kenny's performance was amazing... she actually does a good portion of the play on roller skates, motoring around the stage at a good clip as the story, and her derby skills, develop before our eyes.

This summer, Nancy has brought Roller Derby Saved My Soul to London, as well as several upcoming Fringe Festivals, including Toronto and Montreal.  I was fortunate enough to get a lunch date with her today so I could ask her a few questions about how the play came to be and what it's like to do a one-woman show on roller skates.  She told me she'd been inspired by seeing a one-man show back in 2009 and had decided, more or less on the spot, to write something of that sort for herself.  Not too long after that resolution she happened to see a newspaper article about a local roller derby league and was intrigued by what she read.  Several months of in-arena research and rough draft-writing later, Roller Derby Saved My Soul was born.

The play has been tweaked in some interesting ways since we saw it in 2011, but it's still the tale of Amy and June, two sisters with almost nothing in common.  And it continues to overflow with laugh-out-loud moments, powerful stunts and a terrific all-round performance by Ms. Kenny.  I was able to get out to see the new and updated version last week while Vicki was busy doing some volunteer work, and we're going to see it together later this week.  It's just that good!

And don't let the title fool you: while RDSMS celebrates the world of roller derby in its own funny way, you definitely don't have to be a fan of that sport to thoroughly enjoy Nancy Kenny's creation.  Everything you need to know about it comes out over the course of the hour, and (as Bill Cosby used to say), if you're not careful, you might just learn something while you're at it!

There are three performances of the show still to come this week before the tour moves on:

Tonight @ 8:30
Thu night @ 10:00
Fri night @  7:00

All of them are at the McManus Studio (downstairs at the Grand Theatre on Richmond) and tickets are $10 at the door, although you'll also need to spend $6 on a Fringe Button (also at the door) if it's your first Fringe show of the year (all the proceeds from the ticket sales go to the performers, so the button money pays for the venues and other expenses).  Even at $16 per person, this show will over-deliver, big-time, on the laughs and thrills, trust me.

Don't miss this opportunity to see a truly wonderful one-hour show!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Poopy Birds Defeated?

After nearly a decade of dealing with large quantities of bird crap being deposited around and even into our pool by grackles who nest in the trees of our neighbourhood for about two weeks each May, we seem to have finally found an effective deterrent for this springtime annoyance.

Vicki deserves the credit, as she was the one who read on the Internet that fishing line might keep them away.  Willing to try anything at this point, we set up several garden supports on either side of the pool and then strung lines between them, crisscrossing the entire area.

It's probably hard to see in the photo but if you can click on it to make it bigger that should bring our handiwork to light.  We've received so little bird poop in the time since we put them up that we honestly thought "poopy bird season" might not have even started yet.  However, one of our friends who lives nearby and always has the same problem confirmed for me last week that the filthy spring ritual is in full swing already.  The baby grackles must've been born earlier this month and now the parents are dropping their offspring's crap near a convenient water source (so that it'll be washed away from the nest and not give away their location, a practice that evolution has instilled over countless past generations).

I'll admit to being skeptical of this solution when Vicki suggested it, but not any more!  It definitely seems like a winner, with the only downside being that the pool is less accessible for swimming and skimming while the lines are up.  However, I think we can live with that for a couple weeks every spring if it means not having to clean up hundreds of little piles of shit, as we've had to do for the past eight or nine years now.  Yay for Vicki and the Internet! 

Friday, May 23, 2014

John Oliver's Takedown Of The Climate Change "Debate"

I really miss John Oliver since he left The Daily Show to star in his own weekly comedy program, Last Week Tonight.  He clearly showed just how talented he was during Jon Stewart's summer-long sabbatical last year (to film a movie in Iran) so it's no wonder the British comic was given his own show shortly thereafter.

Anyway, in case you haven't seen it, Oliver did a hilarious bit on climate change and the false equivalency that most media reports give to both sides of the "debate" as to whether it's man-made or not.  If you haven't already seen what he did, you should definitely check it out.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Steve Albini And The Music Industry

Scanning the Boing Boing headlines a few days ago, I stumbled across a strangely familiar name: Steve Albini.  I wasn't immediately sure where I'd seen that name before but I was pretty sure it was in relation to the great Magnolia Electric Company and the late, very lamented Jason Molina.  A quick Google search confirmed my suspicion and made me all the more interested in digging into it.

As I started reading the article entitled Who Cares What Steve Albini Thinks?  You Probably Do, I found myself being quickly drawn in by the historical significance of Albini's career as well as his unique attitude toward the role of "music engineer."  I strongly recommend checking out the article yourself if you're at all interested in music, and especially following the links "Letter to Nirvana" and "The Problem with Music" included in the piece.  It's a fascinating read that I still haven't gotten all the way through, several days later, as I keep stopping to think about whatever I've just absorbed from it.  It's an absolute must-read, if you ask me.   

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lost And The Operational Theme Problem

Here's a really good article by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, one of the people responsible for the much-missed Lost TV show, that sheds a lot of light on why some television programs work while others clearly don't.  I'd never looked at it in quite this way before, but it makes perfect sense to me: the characters on the show all have to be directed along the same "operational theme" axis in order to propel the episodes forward in a consistent and compelling manner.  It's the sort of thing that's obvious once it's pointed out to you, but maybe not before that.  And it's also very much in line with the kind of thinking that I put into each of my novels, though I've now got new insights on the topic to consider.