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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wacky Science May Get Our Kids Or Grandkids Into Space

I don't quite understand the science involved but this article makes it sound at least possible that an alternative to rocket-propelled space travel may be within our reach in the next 20-50 years.

Still Biking In Late November

I did the bike ride downtown today for a comic (that's right, it was for one comic this week: Lazarus) and that was in 0° C (-4° C with the windchill) weather, recognizing that this may be my last chance before March of next year.  We've already had one big snowfall this month, though warm temperatures over the past weekend and earlier this week took care of all that.  It's still possible I'll get one more ride in next week if it's not too wet, but I'm not holding out much hope that I'll actually make it into December.

Oh well, as it is today's trip was strenuous (and cold) enough that I feel pretty good about being able to get this late into the year at my age. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Creating A Leader-Leader, Rather Than Leader-Follower, Culture Within An Organization

(Hat tip to Mike Cohn for the original link via Twitter): I really like this article about U.S. nuclear sub commander David Marquet and his approach to leadership. While the language used (on board the sub) might be too formal and stilted to work in a software environment, the ideas behind it - ensuring control, competence and clarity - would work perfectly in an Agile development shop.  Or, put another way, the goal is to have everyone on the team able to make good decisions because they understand the mission (including the relative priorities) and are actively engaged in the completion of it.  No one's "just following orders," nobody feels unappreciated, and every member is pulling in the same direction as the team.

Definitely worth a read for anyone out there still doing the 9-to-5.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Another Book Update

Just to show that progress is continuing to happen: I finished my first cut of the third chapter on the new book today.  It needs some work but hopefully by the end of the week it'll be in good enough shape that I can move on to Chapter 4 next week.  For reasons beyond my understanding, the chapters this time around are turning out to be slightly shorter than they've typically been in the past.  I guess that means I'll either have more chapters in the fifth novel or it'll be somewhat lighter than its predecessors, if this trend continues.  You'd think I would know which, but then again you'd probably also think I was working from an outline on this project.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New Book Project Finally Has Some Steam Behind It

I started it over three months ago, and then completely stalled.  My fifth novel (and eighth book) just wasn't happening for me for awhile, but now it seems to be coming together.  I finished the first chapter, and then wrote the second chapter, all during the four days Vicki was visiting relatives in Baltimore last week.  Since then, Vicki and Tammy have reviewed the chapters and given me edits and feedback, both of which help to motivate me to keep writing.

So there's some cause for optimism that this latest writing project has finally started to take off.  I still expect it's likely going to be an autumn book release in 2015 rather than a spring one, but we'll see.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another Hallowe'en Comes And Goes Like A Ghost

Well, it wasn't a bad turnout this year, despite the cold and rainy weather that descended on us today.  We saw a baker's dozen trick-or-treaters this time around, up nearly 50% from last year's 9.  So it goes.

Here are the up-to-date totals for the 9 Hallowe'ens over which I've been blogging:

2014: 13
2013: 9
2012: 14
2011: 15
2010: 18
2009: 19
2008: 19
2007: 18
2006: 12

And yes, that means that this blog had its 8th anniversary at the start of the month, not that anyone noticed (including me).  How about that?  8 years!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alien: Isolation Just Keeps On Giving

Minutes ago, I finished the main campaign for Alien: Isolation, my pick for the best Alien-based video game of all time.  Alien Vs Predator, the original 1999 First Person Shooter, was probably better but it wasn't as true to the source material nor as much of a love letter to the fans.  I've been so hooked on AI over the past couple weeks (as has Vicki, as an observer), and so absolutely in love with it even as it sometimes frustrated the hell out of me!

I still have more to enjoy with it, too, as there's a short second campaign, Crew Expendable, that allows you to play as Ripley, Dallas or Parker from the original film as they try to drive the xenomorph off their ship.  Incredibly, the game makers got the cast members of Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien to come into the studio and provide their voices to this part, lending it a degree of authenticity that I can't wait to experience.

And then there's something called Survivor Mode which I think is an online Nazi Zombies-style adventure that always ends badly but manages to provide some great fun along the way.  [Update the next day: Nope, Survivor Mode is single player, as well, and basically times you while you try to escape an area and achieve objectives as you go.  Not quite as much fun as I'd hoped, but still OK.]

All of which means I expect to be playing this game for at least another several days, making it more than worth the money I spent on it.  For me, this has definitely been the Game of the Year!

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.