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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Headsets Good (Albeit Flaky)

There's definitely something to be said for having the wireless headsets when playing online with friends, as a bunch of us did tonight. But I had to leave the game two or three times to go re-register the headset with the PS/3 in order to keep it working. Where the device was really handy, though, was at the end when it was just Boneman and I playing in whatever game we could find, because we didn't have to type messages at all! Really sped up the communication, as you'd expect.

Here it is end-of-day Wednesday and the stats still haven't been updated in the game since Sunday! I'm a little unimpressed that there's been no communication from Insomniac (the game providers) on the forums that they set up specifically for R:FoM players. I've worked in software long enough to know that it's entirely possible they've been working on the problem since Monday - or not! - but even a simple "We're aware of it and working hard to solve the issue" message would go a long way. I'm getting awfully sick of seeing my "XP To Level" value of 4309, after all the times I've checked it since Monday morning. And I really hope we don't lose all the XPs we picked up this week, especially seeing as they're showing up on the webpage. That's a lot of points to not get credit for, in my case anyway (probably up over 9000 now).

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

And the fat lady hasn't sung yet on my biking streak, after all! Despite the piles of snow everywhere, I decided to take the plunge and ride my bike to work today! It meant sticking to the city streets, as the bike paths aren't passable, which made me appreciate just how nice I have it the rest of the year. Weather-wise, though, it couldn't have been a finer February day: sunny, around the freezing mark, and no noticable wind gusts.

So now it's 14 straight months of biking at least once, January 2006 through February 2007. Here's hoping March is a friendlier month to cyclists than its predecessor was!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two Days With No Promotions Makes Me Cranky

Not because I haven't been playing Resistance: Fall of Man online - I have - and not because I haven't earned enough eXperience Points over the last two days to at least gain me a pip - I have. No, it's because of a problem with the game servers themselves. I can see my stats on the webpage, and it looks like I've added over 700 kills and 350 assists over that stretch, which would work out to somewhere around 7700 XPs. That would be enough to earn my 3rd pip as a Lieutenant General, and probably take me halfway to earning my promotion to full General. And yet none of that has happened, as my stats remain unchanged from Sunday night.

I've checked the R:FoM forums and there's a long thread there with people complaining about this. Also, I can see that Boneman's stats haven't changed over the same period, despite him playing a couple hours. So I know it's not just me. But it's still annoying!

Bonding With Neil, From A Distance

You may recall that earlier I mentioned how Neil Gaiman's approach to writing had warmed my heart and gave me hope regarding my own style in that regard. Well, two things that he posted on his blog very recently made me feel an even stronger affinity for him. First there's this:

"Back in England I used to puzzle over my (American) wife's tendency to believe in weather forecasts, and to act on whatever information she was given, because the weather in the British Isles does whatever it's going to do with no regard to or respect for weather forecasters, and mostly what they tell you you can also learn by looking out of the window. I don't think I'll ever get used to the American system of more or less functional weather forecasting (much of which seems to consist of seeing what the weather was doing yesterday to the West of you)."

Think about it: not only am I a non-American (like him) with an American wife (like him), but I've also got a very similar impression of weather forecasts in these parts - just look to the West and expect it's heading this way. Certainly my devotion to the Environment Canada Radar during biking season has lead me to validate this belief most days.

But the one that really made my day was this:

"If it's any consolation, I also had to do a fair amount of snow-shovelling yesterday, most of it while being harassed by Fred the cat, who seemed to think it was my fault too."

Neil Gaiman. Shovels. His own snow! He doesn't have a snowblower, or an assistant who does it for him, or anything else I might've imagined long before I'd ever have pictured him outside his house - all dressed in black, of course - heaving piles of the white stuff this way and that! The image nearly boggles my mind!

It's like we're soul brothers, really, when you get right down to it!

I Need A Change Of Underwear!

And my buddy Tim may need one, too, after he reads this!

As I said to Vicki, the most welcome comic news I might hope to read these days would be that Alan Moore had mended fences with DC Comics and has signed on to write one of the monthly Superman titles (or better yet, JLA!). A close second, though, has long been the dream of having Neal Adams return to do some new Batman material. And here he is, announcing that he's doing exactly that, presumably pissing DC off in the process as I'm sure they'd love to have done a big press release of their own instead of it dribbling out this way! I guess we'll see how long it is before they stop with the "No Comment" response and start banging the publicity drums like they should be!

Ironically, Adams gained a reputation in the early 70s for being late with his artwork, back when that was an extremely rare event. Nowadays it's common as dirt, so he wouldn't even stand out in that regard. Still, I'm hoping DC gets most, if not all, of his work in the can before soliciting the first issue. It'd be nice to have them coming out on a regular and frequent basis, like comics are supposed to, and unlike the other high profile Batman title right now, All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, which is tending to come out once or twice a year so far!

Hard to put into words how pulse-quickeningly exciting this news is to old-timer comic fans like me... but I'm sure Tim understands, wherever he is!

Damn!

That was one fine episode of Heroes this week (finally got to see it tonight)! The focus on Claire's family, along with Parkman and Nuclear Ted, made it feel much more intense than most of the episodes, it seemed to me. I didn't miss checking in with the Petrellis, or Nicki/Jessica, or Isaac, or even Hiro (who, of course, actually made a cameo appearance). I've maintained, pretty much from his first appearance, that Mr Bennett aka Horn Rimmed Glasses (HRG) isn't really evil. Something about his demeanor has made me think that he believes he's doing good, and not in the classic villainous "The world would be better off with me ruling it" kind of way. I'd say this episode certainly painted him in a more sympathetic light than we've seen before.

I also liked the way Parkman was able to use his ability to switch allegiance so quickly.. makes sense for a mind-reader!

When we learned about Mr Invisible being Bennett's partner, at first I thought that rang a little false, based on what we knew of him. But the more I considered it, the more it explained how he knew as much as he told Peter during their time together. Not quite sure why he didn't just turn invisible when he was being threatened by the gun, though...

The part that really didn't make any sense, though, was the Haitian's part in it. I had thought they'd established in previous episodes that, not only can he adjust other peoples' memories, but he also acts as a power-dampener whenever he's around. Am I misremembering that? (Has he been messing with my memories??!) I thought he'd shown that ability in blocking Parkman's telepathy on a couple of occasions, and that he'd done something similar to Sylar when they captured him. If so, why wasn't he able to 'defuse' Nuclear Ted and bring a calmer resolution to that situation? Also, didn't it seem odd that Bennett's boss was able to get there so quickly? I can accept that the company might have everyone's phone bugged (or moles within the police force), and therefore would've known about Lyle's call to 911, but that doesn't explain the boss getting there in a couple minutes like that. And why the Hell wasn't Parkman trying to read his mind, when he had the chance?

All in all, though, it was a fantastic episode. The show is really clicking right now, so kudos to the writing staff and the cast!

Monday, February 26, 2007

And So Another Long Weekend Ends

I got a lot of online Resistance: Fall of Man playing in, although none of today's results seem to be making it into the game (they show online at the R:FoM webpage, though, which is good). I started the day needing 4309 eXperience Points in order to get my 3rd pip as a 3-star General, and according to the game, that's also how I'm ending the day! I can tell by visiting the website that I actually added about 450 kills today, meaning I should have more than enough XPs to get that final pip... but I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see it!

Otherwise it was a pretty quiet long weekend... just the way I like 'em! The only real trip outside I took was on Sunday, when we did some quick shopping. Otherwise I was successfully shut in once again! Yay!

Next He'll Be Arriving At Work Via Horse-Drawn Carriage!

Read this and then tell me: has the whole world gone mad?

Oh, to have a Time Machine and be able to travel back about six years, tell him what the future holds, and then see his disbelief!

Growing Up Simpsons

Finally got around to watching last week's Simpsons episode, which was in the form of a documentary entitled "Growing Up Springfield". I immediately recognized that it was a satire on the British Up Series that I raved about here, which of course piqued my interest more than most episodes. I thought it was a good send-up, though it missed some great opportunities for lampooning: it didn't really highlight much in the way of cultural differences, which the Up Series is largely based upon, and it didn't repeat the earlier footage again and again, which can sometimes be annoying in the documentary series. But I loved the unexpected twist in the tale of "Eleanor, the doctor-lawyer" who mysteriously transforms into the crazy Cat Lady during one of the 8 year gaps!

Movie Trivia - One Day Only! (Sort Of) - The Answers

What if I posted a trivia quiz and (almost) no one responded?

Despite extending the "one day" quiz over the entire weekend, I still only got one response, which was from the lovely Vicki. Did everyone else spend the weekend on the moon? Or were the questions just too hard? Perhaps we'll never know... The answers, on the other hand, you'll know as soon as you click on the Comments link below!

Blog Points awarded:

Vicki - 2 BPs (# 2, and for being within 1 year of the right answer on # 8)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

And The Oscar Goes To...

Remember when they used to say, "And the winner is..." right before opening each envelope? I think they changed that so as to make it seem less about winning and losing, but maybe that was just my interpretation of why the wording morphed into its current state.

Anyway, we'll be watching tonight's festivities on "tape delay", as we have guests coming over for dinner. I'm thinking that, given how boring some of the sections are anyway, this may be the right way to view the Academy Awards every year! As usual, neither Vicki nor I have seen many of the nominated films. That often takes away from some of the investment I might otherwise have in the outcome in each category. But it can't really be helped, as I'm not about to go out to the theatre more often than my typical two to four times each year, what with how annoying it is to sit with hundreds of people who mistake the darkened venue for their living room - where talking through the movie, after all, is somewhat acceptable. I'll be rooting for An Inconvenient Truth, of course. And I'm sure Pan's Labyrinth must be up for something, in which case I hope it wins because it was thoroughly enjoyable. There're probably a couple more that I've seen that I'll cross my fingers for (or against) while watching the show, but that's about it.

Play Ball!

OK, so I'm five weeks ahead of myself, but I can't help it: I'm excited by the prospect of the 2007 Major League Baseball season starting in a mere 35 days!

There are two games on Sunday, April 1st, including the World Series Champion Cardinals playing the Mets in New York. The Jays open the next afternoon, in Detroit, facing off against the World Series losing Tigers. I'll be interested to see how the Tabbies from Motown bounce back from their disappointing performance in last year's Fall Classic, as they rolled into it looking like world-beaters.

And of course the Jays made at least one eyebrow-lifting off-season acquisition - Frank Thomas, the Big Hurt - in addition to thankfully re-signing Vernon Wells. They were a pretty good team last year, and had the pitching staff stayed healthy the whole year, they could've contended for the wildcard spot. Will they build on that this season, or fall back into the pack again?

I Wonder If I've Caught Up To PeterJ Yet?

Back when I was hitting the 300- or 400-post mark, I asked PeterJ how many posts he'd done on his personal blog, as I wondered if I was approaching his total at that time. I remember him telling me that he was well over 600 posts already, so I knew that I had a ways to go yet.

But now, as I close in on 650, and his output in the meantime has tended to be... light?... I'm wondering again.

Perhaps he'll let us all know, assuming he - or anyone else - is even still alive out there in the blogosphere.......... (Certain folks who used to be reliable haven't posted anything in days and days and days.)

Can You Hear Me Now?

I just played my first game of Resistance: Fall of Man with a wireless headset on. I bought the Motorola H300 model because it's small, takes a AAA battery (which I'll be able to replace with a rechargable version as soon as the supplied one runs dry) and was available at Future Shop, where I still had money left over on a gift card I'd gotten for Christmas (making the headset free to me!). It took me awhile to figure out how to get the PS/3 to recognize the new device, but once I got past that, I could chat with the other headset-wearers during the staging period of a Deathmatch. Vicki will be happy to learn - as I was - that the other voices come out via the TV speakers, rather than in my headset, so she'll be able to hear everything that's said, instead of just my comments. In the game itself, I didn't hear any chatter, but I suspect that's to do with how the game is set up, where you probably only hear/speak to your clan members, or teammates in a team-based game. I'm hoping to be able to try it out more effectively once some of my clan-mates get themselves some equipment.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Red Letter Day

Today, I won not one, not two, not three, not four, but five different Resistance: Fall of Man online matches! My previous record for wins in one day was two, so this represents quite the aberration.

What makes the day's events even more unusual is that one of the wins was on a map I'd never won on and had only played on once (Thames), and another was in a Conversion match, which I never play. It's a last man standing mode where each player initially spawns as a human. After you die once you come back as a Chimera, and then if you die, you go into Observe mode while the remaining players battle it out. The player who's still around when all of the others have been killed twice wins. This particular game was on Nottingham, which is a map I know really well from playing on it in dozens of Deathmatches.

So as soon as I spawned, instead of looking for someone to kill, I ran to what I figured would be a good hiding place. Once there, I watched the updates appear on screen: "8 players remaining", then 7, then 6, then 5. Around that time, a Chimera found me, but I managed to kill him without dying. "4 players remaining" appeared on screen, then 3, then 2. I could see the other player running around from my vantage point but it took him awhile to spot me. Eventually he did, and came running towards me. Since he was Chimera and I was still human, it should've been easy for him to kill me, but I guess he wasn't particularly good at playing as a Chimera. We went toe-to-toe, and we each managed to kill the other simultaneously, at which point the "Kimota94 Won The Game" message came on-screen. As Vicki said, it was a pretty boring way to win a game, but then again it was the easiest 200 pts I've ever gotten!

Community Players

The creation of, and the enjoyment I'm getting from, our online clan of co-workers currently playing Resistance: Fall of Man makes me appreciate the concept of community. Our company has lots of communities within it, which is something I wrote about on my work blog a month or so ago. The simple action of commenting on what already existed prompted one employee to start up a photography group, and another to launch something related to knitting. And while I wasn't personally interested in either of those two new initiatives, I loved the idea that the people I work with are so ready and willing to form new, open societies at the drop of a hat. I joked to someone at the time that, no, I wasn't going to create any sort of comic book club at work, because, after all, who the Hell wants to associate with those social misfits? OK, so I was only partially joking! But the fact that I probably could do something like that, and find kindred spirits in the process, is pretty cool.

And yes, I'm blogging about something positive to do with work in order to try to re-balance the universe. At least I'm trying!

Making The Most Of The Weekend

I guess I forgot to mention that I'm taking Monday off, so this is officially a long weekend in my little world. No particular reason for the vacation day, beyond a high number of hours built up that'll result in forfeiture soon if I don't use some, along with a general desire to not be at work as much as possible right now!

I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a return to high blogging output from me over these three days, especially since this is my fifth posting already today (before 6:00 pm!) compared to the three or so I've been averaging recently.

The World's Greatest Heroes: Coming To A Big Screen Near You?

In what Tammy would call either "amazing, or guaranteed to be garbage?", news came out yesterday of a Justice League of America film being initiated by Warner Brothers. When you own some of the world's most recognizable characters - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman - who also happen to make up the backbone of one of the best-known super-groups, wouldn't you think you'd have gotten them onto the silver screen long ago? I guess the argument could be made that it's an expensive undertaking, considering that most of the main characters requires special effects of a non-trivial nature: Superman's flying and super-strength, Flash's speed, and Green Lantern's ring in action, not to mention Wonder Woman's defiance of gravity in keeping her costume in place! On the other hand, who wouldn't want to see a good JLA movie, among the millions of people who went to see Batman Begins and Superman Returns, considering each of those blockbusters only showcased one measly superhero?

Personally, I suspect the script - if it ever gets written - will be crap, because even the JLA comic has proven tough to write well over the years. The most obvious challenge is simply coming up with a threat that can challenge that collection of powerhouses in a believable manner. If I had any say in it, I'd suggest they follow the lead of such successes as Sin City and Batman Begins, and find strong source material to adapt, instead of trying to make it up from whole cloth. Grant Morrison's "White Martians" storyline from JLA (Vol II) # 1 to 4 would be a cool choice, in that regard. Of course, even that approach is no guarantee, as Daredevil proved; but at least it'd provide a strong starting point!

Manhunter: Saved!

Although no explanation has been provided yet, the news came out of the New York Comic Con that's underway this weekend that DC's Manhunter series is no longer cancelled. This comic has had a checkered history so far, making it somehow appropriate that it would be involved in such a strange turn of events this weekend ("uncancelled?"). It had previously been announced as being cancelled about a year ago, then given a reprieve of five additional issues after a break of a few months. Then we heard that those five issues were it, as advance sales on them hadn't warranted more life for the title.

I actually only started buying and reading Manhunter after the initial story broke that it was being given the temporary reprieve. I thought, if DC is behind the book enough to give it a second chance, that's usually a sign that it has something going for it. So I bought a few random issues, read them and liked them, and them embarked on filling in the roughly 20 issues in the series. I've had it reserved at the local comic store ever since, adding my one copy per month to its feeble sales figures. It's a smartly-written comic, with a female protagonist who's neither a complete bitch nor a slutty character - the two favourite representations of strong women in comics, it seems. She's likeable without being perfect, and complex enough that you're never quite sure how she'll react to what Life serves up to her next. Not the greatest of series, but thoroughly enjoyable. So I'm glad to hear it'll continue.

Another Week, Another Star!

As of last night's extremely fun online clan gathering with Boneman, Snowman, Phaz and RagingBender, I managed to pick up enough points to receive my 3rd star, making me a Lieutenant General in Resistance: Fall of Man! As far as I know, there are only two more promotions I can receive: 4-star General, and 5-star General. It looks like the first one requires about 20,000 additional eXperience Points, which I expect will take me more than a week to accumulate!

We had some great games last night, both in terms of private matches with just the four or five of us, as well as public team deathmatches. In the latter, we generally lost, probably because the rest of the guys aren't used to playing as Chimera yet, making that a tough prospect to win at! I actually did better as a Chimera last night than I did as a human, but I still prefer playing the non-alien role. There's something about spawning with a grenade in your belt that just seems to set the right tone for the battle (Chimera have to run around and find grenades, if they want them).

The only mild disappointment for me last night was: no McChicken! He's the person in the clan who I've played online with and against for the longest, and one of the funniest, without a doubt! We're talking about getting wireless headsets for this, which should open up a whole new dimension of hilarity! Whether it's trash talking when you kill one another, or conveying strategy when we're all on the same team, it really enhances the gaming experience when you've got voice communication, in addition to everything else.

Movie Trivia - One Day Only! (Sort Of)

As a special treat for anyone who reads this blog today, Saturday February 24th (or reads their subscription feed for it), a quick movie trivia quiz for Blog Points. As always, answer from memory only! You don't have to be the first to get the right answer, but you can't look at anyone else's responses, either! I'll post the correct answers sometime tomorrow.

Update around midnight on Saturday: Since nobody but Vicki has commented yet, I'll extend the deadline into Sunday.

1) What movie musical favourite did Malcolm McDowell sing as he doled out a little of the ol' ultraviolence?

2) Who provided the soundtrack for Alan Parker's under-appreciated 1984 classic, Birdy?

3) Who were the three male leads in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven? Bonus Blog Point: Who played English Bob?

4) Which former NFL player punched a horse in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles?

5) In which two Hitchcock movies did Tippi Hedren play the female lead?

6) What's the meaning behind the title of the 1974 Sci Fi movie, Zardoz?

7) Who directed An Inconvenient Truth?

8) In the original Terminator movie, history recorded the destruction of most of mankind as starting in what year?

Friday, February 23, 2007

There Oughta Be A Law...

Well, after starting 4-1 in the Scott Tournament of Hearts this week, Kelley Law and the B.C. rink rattled off losses in 5 of their next 6 games, to finish with a very disappointing 5-6 record. Even one more win in the 2nd half would've allowed them to play in a tie-breaker for a playoff spot, but when you self-destruct that badly, I guess you can't complain.

Hopefully Law and her team will take something out of this experience and come back stronger next year. I think it was, after all, the first Scott for half the team.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Today's Peter Gabriel Revelation

It occurred to me, as we cycled through his second album (Scratch) in the car again, that of the four early, pre-So studio releases, the second one is the only one that has no song on it that's survived from the early days. My definition of survival here is simple: any song that he's likely to play in a concert appearance over the past decade, or that shows up as a "greatest hits" offering these days, has survived. When you look at the first four albums, you see each of the other three has at least couple songs in that category:

1/Car: "Solsbury Hill" and "Here Comes the Flood"
3/Melt: "Games Without Frontiers" and "Biko" (and possibly "No Self Control", "Family Snapshot" and "I Don't Remember")
4/Security: "San Jacinto" and "Shock the Monkey"

The closest the second album comes is "D.I.Y.", which he was performing in concert right up until around the time So came out. And it tellingly shows up on the Miss CD of his Hit and Miss collection from a few years back.

When I pointed this out to Vicki and posed the question, "Do you think this means that, for whatever reason, this is just Peter's least favourite of his studio albums?" she offered up the observation that it didn't really seem to contain any concert-like songs on it. I can see her point, but really you could say that about most, if not all, of his CDs! And yet he manages to find ways to make them work brilliantly live, and I'm sure when he was touring in the years immediately after the second album, he undoubtedly performed every song on it at various points. To which Vicki countered that it didn't seem like the songs had quite the same depth of meaning to them as most of his material, and therefore maybe they weren't saying as much, making it less likely that he'd play them as time went on and his catalogue grew. Certainly compared to a "Solsbury Hill", "Biko" or "Games Without Frontiers", I can't argue with that! So maybe that's it. Peter's definitely into getting messages out there for people to think - and, I'm sure he hopes, do something - about. And of course there weren't any A.M. hits on that album, whereas each of the other early ones had at least some small degree of radio play before "Shock the Monkey" put him on the map.

These are the sorts of things I think about while carpooling to and from work with Vicki in the winter months. Funny, huh!

Biking Streak: In Jeopardy!

February has not been kind so far, in terms of providing me with a day on which I could ride my bike to work. Recalling that all I really need is for most of the snow to be gone and a daytime temperature not too much below zero (3 or 4 degrees below is OK), I had high hopes for today, before the forecast changed to snow flurries. In reality, we've gotten a whole bunch of snow today and it would've been ridiculous to have biked. But with less than a week left in the month, my biking streak looks very much like it's going to get halted at 13 months. Certainly not a bad accomplishment, but it's such a shame to get so close to tacking on another 9 or 10 months, considering that March through November are pretty easy, usually.

Maybe if we all think warm thoughts we'll get one good melt between now and next Wednesday and I can venture out, even if I have to stick to the roads rather than the bike paths. What do you say, gang?

Change Is Bad!

Don't people understand that?!

OK, not all change is bad, but it's always more noticable when it is! Insomniac Games just altered the online interface for Resistance: Fall of Man, ostensibly in order to "give players more control and increase variety." One change they made I like: you can now select "Team Deathmatch" or "Team Objective" instead of having them lumped together under "Team-Based", as it was before. The old way, you'd never know what you were going to get until the match was selected for you. I much prefer Team Deathmatch to any of the objective-style games, so now I can just play that, if I want.

But they made a more far-reaching change that so far doesn't sit well with me at all: they've opened the Deathmatch style up to include Chimera vs Chimera, in addition to human vs human, but you don't know which you're getting until the game starts! It used to always be human vs human, and either Deathmatch (by far the most common) or Conversion (very rare). So this meant that the vast majority of times, it was human against human in a Deathmatch, which is what I want to play almost all of the time. Now, though, I'm as likely to get Chimera vs Chimera, which isn't nearly as much fun (for me) and so I'm going to end up quitting out of a lot of Deathmatches or playing a type that isn't as appealing. All they had to do to avoid this was include a step where you indicate which type you want, and this could've been a good change! This may even drive me to using the search function more, instead of letting the game find me a match.. which was oh so convenient up until now!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Another Great Lost

I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's episode, although it certainly left me scratching my head in a couple ways:

1) They were advertising it as "revealing 3 big mysteries" or something like that. I can see the origin of Jack's tattoos as one for sure. Maybe a 2nd would be, what happened to Cindy or the kids from the tail section? But what would possibly be the 3rd? Or did I mishear the promo?

2) Jack's flashback was fascinating but I can't say as I understand why he was beaten up. Because he insisten on getting tattoos put on him that are normally reserved for natives? Because he slept with the tattoo artist? Because he followed her and learned her 'secret?' Or something else? And did he know why he received that treatment?

I definitely love that the relationship between Jack and Juliet is advancing, and that Benry felt that he had to warn Jack about Juliet (for whatever nefarious reason he might have).

War Is Over (If You Want It)

Spoilers aplenty follow!

So Civil War # 7 came out today (only a month and a bit later than originally planned) and it provided a rousing fight scene in the big climax. It was Captain America's Avengers versus Iron Man's version, initially off in the Negative Zone but then transported to the heart of (where else?) New York City! Cap played his ace-in-the-hole, that being his old World War II buddy Namor, the Sub-Mariner, along with a bunch of deep-sea-hardened, blue-skinned Atlanteans, to which Shellhead countered with his own impressive reserve force, consisting of a robotic Thor and a recently-revived Captain Marvel, among others. Those two groups joined the dozens of heroes and villains already locked in battle, wreaking carnage left and right within Manhattan.

In the end, Cap realized that his group was doing more harm than good, and made like France: he surrendered, allowing himself to be taken away in handcuffs. The rest of his group stood down at his order, and a temporary amnesty was granted while the authorities sorted it all out (and Cap cooled his heels in jail).

Now it looks like the new status quo - for awhile, anyway - will be that superpowered heroes need to register with the government in order to be allowed to operate in the Marvel Universe (in the U.S.A., at least), and some heroes are still refusing to. That certainly creates some fertile soil for a year or two of interesting stories, especially for characters like Captain America and Spider-Man, both of whom oppose the registration. Will we eventually end up back in where we started, with the Marvel U looking more like the real world? Or does Marvel editorial think this storyline is reflective of the real world, given Bush's Patriot Act and the other civil liberties they've suspended in the name of fighting terrorism? I guess only time will tell, as I like to say.

Selling The Blog

Those of us blogging at work don't seem to be building up the readership that we'd hoped, despite the captive audience. There are lots of possible explanations for this, including that the content being produced isn't engaging - too rambling, not interesting enough, blah blah blah - but I'm attacking a different angle of the problem: that it's not easy or natural for people to visit the blog sites. I certainly never used to go to blogs myself, until shortly before I started this one up. And that was on my own time, whereas these are (mostly) busy individuals at work who are even less likely to think to do so when they have a few free minutes.

So PeterJ has been kind enough to whip up a nice user interface for people to use, in order to subscribe to/unsubscribe from whatever blogs (and forums) they choose with the click of a mouse button. With that small an effort, they can have the content of any number of sites e-mailed to them. I'm the only one piloting his efforts so far (that I know of) but we're going to expand it shortly, and then blow the doors wide open by introducing it to the whole damn company.

I've already started prepping my boss for the fact that, once we've done what we can to get the mountain to come to Mohammad, those key bloggers at work - including him, and PeterJ, and probably me - need to commit themselves to providing content on a reasonable basis, in order to make them relevant. I've been doing my part so far - I blog once a day, almost without fail - but I think the last entry the VP posted was over 2 weeks ago. And that's just not going to engage anyone, especially when I know there are tons of topics he wants people thinking and talking about. So we'll see if that message makes any difference.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Secret To Happiness?

We were listening to the 2nd Peter Gabriel album (sometimes referred to as Scratch) on the drive in this morning, and two lines from "D.I.Y." really struck me:

"Everyone wants to be what he not, what he not.
Nobody happy with what he got, what he got."


If that doesn't sum up why some people who have so much in Life don't seem to know how to be happy, I don't know what does. Whether it's wanting what you don't have, or not appreciating what you do have - or both - it definitely gives one pause.

The irony is that we even have a national holiday intended to remind people to give thanks!

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Feb 20th Edition)

A couple very exciting comics are coming out tomorrow, and that always makes Wednesday special!

Brave and the Bold (Vol II) # 1 - A classic DC title from the Silver Age returns, once again featuring team-up stories every issue! It's the creative team that's so appealing to me, though, as it's Mark Waid and George Perez, two of my favourites. Waid's the comic writer several of us fan-types go up against each year in Chicago (Silver Age Trivia Contest), and Perez is legendary for his work on Avengers, Justice League of America, New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and of course JLA/Avengers! B&B now affords him the chance to play around with tons of DC characters as each issue will showcase a different pair of heroes, along with guest stars aplenty. I've been eagerly awaiting the launch of this title since it was announced a year or more ago!

Civil War # 7 - I wrote about this last week so there's not much more to say, except that rumours about it have already started to circulate and I'm doing my best to ignore them all!

Legion of Monsters: Werewolf By Night # 1 - Possibly the weirdest title I've put on this list in awhile, it's really only appearing here because of the artist: Greg Land! He first came to my attention when he was drawing Birds of Prey, a lightweight DC title, several years ago. Based on how much I enjoyed his work there, I gave his next stop a try, despite it being a swashbuckling comic called Sojourn (which I quickly became very attached to), produced by the now-defunct Crossgen Comics. His art is really quite gorgeous, and I've followed him onto titles I'd not have bothered with otherwise. As is the case with the aforementioned Mr Perez, Land's work pretty much never disappoints. And it's not like Werewolf By Night, as a character, is that much of a stretch for me.. I have a complete rum of the 1970s Marvel series, after all! (Greg is also the artist on the current 9-issue miniseries that's pitting the Marvel Ultimate universe heroes against the Squadron Supreme, by the way.. which I would've happily bought even without his involvement!)

New Avengers: Illuminati # 2 - Tying into Civil War once again, this mini-series retroactively implicates Tony Stark and group as having had shadowy involvement in classic Marvel Universe events of the past 40 years, including the Kree/Skrull War and who knows what else. Well, I guess I'll know, after I get this latest issue!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Looks Good On Him!

A court case that's been in one stage or another for a decade has finally been settled, with Todd McFarlane's company paying former St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist five million dollars for the damage Todd the Rod did to the hockey player's rep in creating a gangster character nicknamed "Tony Twist" in his inexplicably-popular Spawn comic series. It's hard to tell whether McFarlane thought he was providing an homage to Twist with the character, simply believed no fellow Canadian would ever sue over something as 'silly' as defamation of character, or was too stupid to even realize the damage he was doing. Regardless, this result couldn't have happened to a better person.

And that's not even the highest profile comic-related court case that McFarlane's involved in (which says a lot about his character, by the way). He's also fighting Neil Gaiman over whom actually owns the rights to Miracleman. The Toddster thought he bought them when he picked up a bunch of holdings of defunct comic publisher Eclipse Comics a few years ago, when in reality Miracleman's rights had been bequeathed from creator to creator, including from Alan Moore to Neil Gaiman (on the writing side) and from various artists to penciller Mark Buckingham, as Gaiman and Buckingham had been the creative team working on Miracleman when Eclipse went under. This was a unique situation that Alan Moore came up with, as he believed that passing along the rights to the character would ensure that care would be taken by whoever came next. The irony of this situation, where McFarlane had helped co-found Image Comics in the 90s in order to provide a place where writers and artists could own the rights of characters they create - something he doesn't extend to the work-for-hire creative team that's been cranking out Spawn under his auspices for many years now, as far as I can tell - shouldn't be lost of even the casual observer: here he is, trying to steal the rights away from the creators, based on his buying some inventory at an auction. To say that he's an enemy to creators' rights these days would be an understatement. Few events in the comic world have been as reviled as Todd's actions in that particular case, which fortunately Neil Gaiman has been fighting (on all our behalves, I like to say) and so far winning. That's another case that's been dragging on for years. Once it's finally resolved - and I expect Gaiman to prevail, because I don't think the Rod has a leg to stand on - rumour has it that Marvel Comics will provide Neil with a place to publish more Miracleman stories, even allowing the character to resume its original name, Marvelman, with their blessing. And I for one would dearly love to see that happen...

You can read a bit more about the Twist result here if you're interested.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hiro's Blog

I stumbled on this at the official NBC site for Heroes, and found it quite amusing. It's Hiro's blog, as he posts an entry following the events of each week's episode. Not a lot of additional info to be found there, but lots of fun references to comics and other pop culture. I noted nods to Gwen Stacy, Alfred (of Batman fame), the JLA (several times), Spider-Man, and Green Lantern, among others. Considering the popularity of the show, that's a pretty good bit of free PR for the industry.

This really is the new golden age for comics, I think.

A Couple Weird Dreams

Several nights ago, I had a dream in which I came to realize that three seemingly unrelated things actually had something in common. I've had that sort of dream before, but then when I wake up, I realize it's all rubbish once I really think about it: the dream changed some important detail, or imagined a relationship that didn't exist, or whatever. Not at all unusual for that to happen, in fact. But this particular time, when I woke up and was remembering the details, it hit me that it was all true! The coincidences were all there, and yet consciously I hadn't noticed them at all in the weeks leading up to the dream. Clearly my subconscious had picked up on them, though, and decided to smarten me up by way of a dream! I think that sort of thing is incredible, personally.

The other notable dream happened last night, and was all about our former Senior Vice President at work coming back to our company. He was let go two years ago when our office was bought by an American joint venture, and is currently working at another software outfit not too far from here. In my dream, he'd subsequently been let go by that company, as well, and somehow managed to get his old job back. Most of the dream was about how out of step his way of leading was with our Agile environment at work, and how people were starting to suspect his return meant we were about to abandon Agile. I suspect in this case my subconscious was doing some comparing and contrasting for me, but I don't remember enough details to know if it did me any good! Or maybe it was just my insecurity about Agile exhibiting itself in dream form. Only Freud would know!

My Favourite Law...

... is Kelly Law, the British Columbia curler! She and her team had a great run a few years back, winning the Scott Tournament of Hearts a time or two, and even won a bronze medal (if memory serves) at the Winter Olympics in 2002. Then she had a baby in 2003 and dropped off the face of the planet, seemingly forever (at least that's what it felt like to me).

But now she's back, and is in the Scott Tournament of Hearts that's underway right now, representing B.C.! If only she'd come back a year earlier, we could've seen her live and in person when we took in some of last year's games! Even that missed opportunity, though, can't sour my enjoyment over the fact that I get to watch her play on TV again, something I've sorely missed the last several years. She's a very good curler, with a great head for the game and impressive skill at it; plus she's a real cutie, to boot! And when things don't go her way, she always seems to take it in stride, unlike a lot of other personalities in the game. There's pretty much no downside to watching her play, except that I hate it when she loses...

Half of her team is new this year, but I'm still hopeful team B.C. can win it all in Lethbridge!

Mr Positive



There you have it.. only took me a little over 5400 kills, and 423 games played, but I'm finally in the positive in terms of kills-to-deaths in Resistance: Fall of Man online! (5415 to 5411, in case it's hard to read.)

Just 2 weeks ago I was -300, and had been for several weeks, to the point where it seemed like a plateau I couldn't get over. I was -300 when it was 700 kills and 1000 deaths, and still around that number when I was at 3000 kills and 3300 deaths, but since then it's been steadily improving. I've actually won about 8 or 9 deathmatches now, including two yesterday! I can still get my ass handed to me on a plate in the odd game, including one today in which I only got 7 kills compared to 15 deaths - and scored less than 100 pts! - but those are getting more and more rare nowadays. Normally I'm finishing in the top few positions, averaging around 180 pts or so, and coming away with somewhere around a +4 result in kills-to-deaths.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Brigadier General No More

I got my 2nd star today, making me (I guess) a Major General in the world of Resistance: Fall of Man online play. It's now taking over 5000 eXperience Points to get a pip at this level, meaning that I should be a 2-star general for quite some time. Besides promotions, my other goal online has been to get my kills-to-deaths ratio into the positive, after sitting at about -300 for a long time. As of last night, I'd gotten to within about 90, despite being -17 after my first 2 games. I couldn't figure out initially how I could be doing so badly... dying 17 times without getting a single kill is more like how I was playing over a month ago. Then I started noticing that I was being killed by players who 'weren't even there', as far as I could see. Turns out there were big network problems last night, experienced by others as well, which accounted for the ghosting effect I was seeing. Eventually it fixed itself and I got back on track. But it was a humbling experience for awhile, to be sure!

Mutants May Already Be Among Us



From YouTube comes this amazing video showing a 7 year old doing pool shots most professional pool players would drool over.

(Thanks to Roopak for the simple instructions on how to embed a video in my blog, without having to sign up for YouTube.)

There Comes A Point In Every Season

I've come to recognize the pattern in recent years. It goes like this: the Rangers aren't doing very well - usually out of a playoff position - but then things start to look up ever so slightly, just enough to get their fans' hopes up, and then they suffer a key injury in a loss that should've been a win. We've reached that point today.

Following a three game winning streak which almost got them back into the playoff race, they blew this afternoon's game to the league's worst team (the Flyers), and in the process of that disgrace, lost star forward Brendan Shanahan to what sounds like a serious injury. With 24 games left, they probably need to go at least 16-8 down the stretch in order to get into the post-season, and now they're short one of their best players. Stick a fork in them.. they're done (again).

On The Craft Of Writing

I was reading Neil Gaiman's blog today and came across this little gem:

"And today I finished writing Chapter One of The Graveyard Book, and it's a real book. I know it's a real book because there are all sorts of things I don't quite know yet, and I can't wait to find them out.

Happiness."

(You can read the whole blog entry, which isn't all that much longer, here.)

The mere fact that Neil writes that way, where he has an idea and begins fleshing it out before knowing exactly where it's going to end up, sparks all kinds of thoughts in my brain. I suppose I should've known that he'd be that type of author, rather than the more conventional type who does a detailed plot outline and then just... writes it! But I didn't (or if I did once, I've forgotten) and so I'm mildly surprised. It also fills me with hope, because I love to create that way at times myself - have an idea, see where it goes - and now I guess it seems less amateurish to me than it used to. Plus it's pretty clear, just from those handful of words just how much he loves the act of writing, with its wonders and surprises and delights. That's great to know about an author whose work I enjoy as much as I do his.

And then there's the added pleasure that I can actually hear Neil's voice as I read that, having seen him interviewed a number of times, as well as being in his presence for a very entertaining panel at the Chicago comic convention.

Thank God That Week's Over

Among several bad events last week at work was the Feature Lead meeting that a couple of project managers crashed (or were invited to, depending on who you talk to) in order to talk about a project-related issue. There'd be nothing wrong with that except that we, the Feature Leads, have been down that path before, and had our weekly meetings co-opted out from under us in the past by a flood of people who thought, "Fantastic! The Feature Leads are all together in one meeting room, so now's my chance to talk to them about ______!" After it got completely out of control a few months back, it came up in our Retrospective and we agreed, unanimously, to restrict this one hour each week to topics that we want to talk about, related to the job of being a Feature Lead, not the current events on a particular project. As someone put it at the time: "we spend the other 36.5+ hours of the week doing project stuff.. this is the one hour for us!"

Anyway, I shut down the project manager who wanted to present something/gather some info from us, and suggested they set up another meeting for their topic, or send an e-mail, or otherwise find a solution that didn't involve stealing time from our Feature Lead meeting. At which point it got ugly, of course ("But it's only a few minutes!" "Can't you make an exception?" "You're being unreasonable!"). It didn't seem to matter that we weren't prepared to answer their questions anyway (no one had told us they were coming), that we already had our own agenda, that less than half of the Feature Leads were there, or anything else that might've indicated what a misguided idea it was. Eventually I prevailed, after repeating "This is not the meeting for that" about a dozen times, but feelings were hurt in the process, and the individuals involved felt it necessary to escalate the matter to my boss. Since one of them was a friend of mine, that's probably ruined that particular relationship for me, since I think behaviour like that - going over someone's head, instead of dealing with them directly - is among the worst workplace politics imaginable. More than anything else, that event has me thinking that maybe it's time to move on, or possibly take a long break. If I can't even enjoy working with my friends, what the Hell's the point? It's not like Vicki and I need the money desperately enough to put myself through bullshit like that on a regular basis.

A Day Without Blogging?

Really not, as it's still Friday to me, but since it's after midnight, I guess it's technically true. I just finished a marathon session of online gaming, that saw Vicki watching part of it but even she gave up before midnight.

Anyway, that, along with being stuck at work until about 6:30 today, and feeling my back go out around 5:30, added up to me not getting anything else accomplished tonight. I'm sure the rest of the weekend will be more productive in this regard...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bonus Day At The Saltmine

Today was the day when everyone at work received their 2006 performance bonus (if they were getting one, which I think most everyone was). The company was kind enough to ensure that it was paid out in mid-February, rather than at the end of the month or in March, because they realized there were people who'd want to put some or all of this windfall into their RSP for 2006. Things like that are what have kept me in this job for over six years now, despite a lot of ups and downs.

A running joke at the office has been around the fact that some people had already spent their bonus long before it was actually paid out, or in fact, in some cases, before they even knew for sure how much they were getting! That kind of thinking is foreign to me, because I'm so conservative in my planning that I almost never count chickens before they hatch. I obviously have known for awhile what I'd do with the money when I got it, but I didn't consider it a done deal until I saw the larger-than-usual payroll deposit in our account this morning (the first thing I checked, after getting out of the shower, by the way). Back to the joke aspect: I actually made the comment last week to one co-worker, after he'd run into an unexpected - and large - car repair expense, that it sounded like he was already spending his 2007 bonus before even receiving his 2006 one!

Despite the fact that more than half of my bonus went to taxes, CPP and EI, I was still thrilled to get what I got and actually felt like I'd been rewarded for all my hard work. I wonder how many others felt that way?

The War Ends Next Week

Among next week's scheduled releases is Civil War # 7, the conclusion of that particular (and significant) Marvel mini-series. So by this time a week from now we'll know... well, who wins!

Will it be the side that's pushed through new laws for Super Human Registration, lead by Tony "Iron Man" Stark and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, or the group of anti-registration heroes, including Captain America, Spider-Man and Hero For Hire Luke Cage? Marvel's given every indication that one side will prevail, and there's a lot of speculation that it'll be the new status quo - at least for awhile - that everyone with powers within the Marvel universe will either be registered, or on the run from the law.

We'll know soon enough. I know I'm looking forward to finding out.

Everybody Keeps Asking Me About The Ghost Rider Movie

And I understand why: it's a comic character being adapted to the big screen, and I actually happen to know a whole Hell of a lot about him - in the comics! What I don't have a clue on, at this point, is whether the movie's any good. I know it's Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. He's turned in some great performances over the years, so he can clearly act. And he's a huge comic fan, from what I've read, so that should motivate him to do a good job in bringing this Marvel anti-hero to a wide audience. (Everyone remembers when he was going to be the next silver screen Superman, right? Luckily that never happened.) But I've heard/read/seen no reviews yet, and I hadn't really followed any news around this particular movie as it went through production. So it could be really good (doubtful), reasonably entertaining (probably) or out-and-out bad (unlikely, but you never know).

But you'd think I practically produced it, based on how many times I get asked about it...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Loved Tonight's Lost!

Backstory on Desmond, but done in the most original of ways... loved it!

Time travel, reminiscent of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five or the events of Babylon 5 episodes "War Without End (Parts 1 & 2)"... loved it!!

The twist at the end, as to who Desmond is trying to save... loved it!!!

Nice to see this show's come back with a vengence. It was worth the wait! And from what we saw (muted) of next week's scenes, it looks like they're at least advertising "big mysteries revealed", so that should appeal to the A.D.D. fans.

Proud New Owner Of...

... my very own DVD of Mirrormask - which I wrote lovingly about awhile back - as well as a nice small bike pump that I can carry around in my backpack. Both courtesy of my sweetie.

All she got from me were a couple of used SF books from her Wants list. I was pretty pathetic this year by way of preparing for Valentine's Day. But I did give her one unplanned present this morning (no, not that!): I shovelled the driveway by myself, which is usually a team activity around here. And I had the sore back for the rest of the morning to prove it!

All Quiet In The Blogosphere

The traffic appears noticably reduced in our little circle these days, including my own output being down by about 40% (averaging around 3 posts / day instead of the usual 5). I can't speak for others - and Hinckley already described his own situation - but in my case it's really two reasons:

1) I've been spending a lot of free time playing Resistance: Fall of Man online, occasionally meeting up with others there to extend my tours of duty even longer!

2) I haven't had that much to say recently, as work has taken a sour turn of late and is occupying a good chunk of my thoughts but not in ways that are appropriate to be blogging about that until it either gets better, I get past it, or I go work somewhere else.

I should probably just focus more of my attention on comics - the old reliable! - but even that's been getting the short end of the stick since I finished the Preacher run. I have three weeks' worth of new comics piled up, not even catalogued yet, so once I dive into that maybe the floodgates will open again.

And tonight we get another installment of Lost, which may spark bloggy thoughts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

You Don't Have To Be Dysfunctional To Work In CTU

Well, actually, it turns out you do! In fact, if there was any doubt left - and there shouldn't have been - then this season's 24 has certainly wiped it all away! Between Chloe, and Morris, and even Milo, you couldn't find a single CTU agent who'd be able to carry a civil conversation for three minutes! One might even conclude, from watching this show, that computer savvy and interpersonal skills are mutually exclusive, when of course we all know they actually go hand-in-hand, right?

Right?

Anyone??

I'm One Lucky Sonuvagun

As I sit here on Valentine's Eve (I'm sure it's only a matter of time before that term catches on), I can't help but think about how fortunate I am to have a wife as incredible as Vicki. I could list dozens of things I should be thankful for in that regard, but these days it's probably sufficient to mention just one, in order to get my point across.

In a more conventional marriage, I'd probably have to work pretty hard to get much time to play Resistance: Fall of Man. Sure, I'd be able to play while Vicki was out, or after she's gone to bed... that would be the normal routine, right? But in this household, I not only get all of those opportunities, but also an hour or so each day when my wife enjoys just sitting back and watching me play R:FoM online. How special is that?

It's OK to envy me... Hell, even I envy me somedays!

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Feb 14th Edition)

You'd think with tomorrow being Valentine's Day that there'd be some love-themed comics to look forward to (!) but you'd be wrong... Which is not to say it's a weak week, cuz it ain't! Just check out this stellar line-up...

Batman # 663 - Grant Morrison returns after a 4-issue hiatus, and hopefully regains the amazing momentum he built up in his first storyline, "Batman and Son"! I really love his take on the Dark Knight here and clearly I'm not alone, as the book saw a huge jump in sales for his previous story.

Justice Society of America # 3 - Possibly my favourite regular title right now, this gem just keeps getting better. This is the book I'd send back in time twenty-five years to convince myself that comics will still be great in the 21st century, if I thought I needed to... and had a time machine... and wasn't worried about cracking the whole space/time continuum wide open......

Manhunter # 28 - Though slated for cancellation soon, I still enjoy the unpredictable antics of Kate Spencer, lawyer by day and superheroine by night! And this issue guest-stars Batman (always a clear sign of impending doom for third-tier titles like this one).

Superman and Batman Vs Aliens and Predator # 2 - The first issue wasn't great, but it was definitely interesting, with the twist that the Predators came to regard Batman as some sort of tribal god because of his array of weapons and fighting prowess. I definitely didn't see that coming, and somehow it still worked.

Astonishing X-Men # 20 - More Joss Whedon and John Cassaday magic, now in Outer Space! And with only four more issues after this one, we'd best enjoy it while we can.

Thunderbolts # 111 - The previous issue kicked off the new Warren Ellis/Mike Deodato run with a bang, as I jumped on board with little background and still was able to enjoy where it went. This is proving to be a good place to explore the ramifications of Civil War without having to cover the same old ground.. after all, this is the villains' book!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Generally Speaking

I spent the past weekend as a full Colonel in Resistance: Fall of Man online play, but now that a new week has dawned, someone decided I still hadn't reached my peak level of incompetence yet, so I got kicked up to Brigadier General! With only ~4000 eXperience Pts required before I get my 2nd pip, I suspect I'll be at this rank for quite awhile! I kind of miss my eagle insignia that went with Colonel, although the star's not bad, either.

And if you were wondering why my blogging rate has been down - other than on Friday, when I had my day off - you need wonder no more! There's a lot of killing - and, uh, dying - required to get to where I am now, as Vicki can attest!

Sure The Police Are Back And Touring, But What Does That Mean For Me?

I'm a pretty big Police fan from my younger days, so the very thought of Sting, Andy and Stewart re-uniting for a tour can't help but excite me. Like the Beatles, the Police managed to call it quits at the top of their game, where they were still musically breaking the mold that they'd previously set, rather than re-treading the same material over and over, or generally losing steam. That early exit, by each band, has certainly added to their allure in the decades since.

So now that I'm faced with the possibility - in theory, at least - of perhaps finally seeing the terribly talented trio in concert (July 25th in Toronto; tickets go on sale this Saturday, apparently) I'm torn. I'm a bit burned out on concerts at the moment, and I can just imagine the hassle involved in getting the tickets along with how lousy the seats are likely to be should I manage to score any. After all, I'm part of an entire generation that grew up on Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost in the Machine. And then there's driving to Toronto and dealing with all of that. On the other hand.. it's the Police!

As tough decisions go, this is a pretty nice one to have, of course.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What's Your Favourite Cliffhanger?

Not sure what made me think of this, but it seems like a good question to ask.

I know my answer: the Season Three finale of Babylon 5, episode Z'Ha'Dum, with Captain John Sheridan having just called down his White Star ship, loaded with nukes, to blow the Hell out of the Shadows' home in a desperate, suicidal move that he told no one about. He's out on a ledge overlooking a deep chasm, with some Shadows and the thing that's taken over his dead wife's body advancing on him, and his blazing ship streaking down toward him. His goose appears to be cooked, when the Vorlon voice inside his head tells him to "Jump. Jump now." And he does jump, falling headlong into a seemingly-bottomless chasm just as the city behind him is enveloped in a nuclear explosion.

Hell, he's not hanging from the cliff.. he's falling off of it! And that's what fans were left with until Season Four started.

So what's your favourite cliffhanger? It can be from a book, TV show, movie or even comic...

Opining On Openers

Recently Vicki and I went to see the Tragically Hip in concert. It was an OK show, considering I wouldn't call myself a big Hip fan (and Vicki's not really a fan, per se, at all) and considering how crappy the sound system was. But what really left an impression was just how unbelievably bad the opening act was.

Notice I didn't say "opening band," as I normally might. There was nothing band-like about "Buck 65". This was two young white guys doing rap. Now, it's no secret that I can't stand rap, and Vicki likes it even less than I do! But I try to be a "live and let live" sort of music fan, since I know that, while my particular tastes are terribly narrow, all types of music should be embraced by those who like it. I have no problem with anyone playing or recording whatever just so long as misguided souls don't try to shove it down my throat. In keeping with that, I think openers should be booked with some consideration of the fans of the main attraction. In other words, having a couple of quasi-talented rappers warm up the crowd for Eminem or 50 cent makes perfect sense. Inflicting them on fans of the Tragically Hip, on the other hand, just seems irresponsible and stupid. For all I know, it was the Hip themselves who arranged this - I have no idea how such things work - but whoever it was ought to have their head examined for signs of activity, cause I'm not sure they'll find any.

I've seen a variety of opening acts over the 30 or 40 concerts I've been to in my life. That includes a few great ones - The Blind Boys of Alabama come to mind - and some good ones, and a lot of bad ones... but until this concert, Vicki and I had never walked out on one before! We actually got up out of our seats, about two minutes into their first song, and spent the next forty minutes wandering the lobby, wishing there was somewhere we could go to better drown out the noise. And we were far from alone, judging by the number of people who poured out of the stands when they realized what Buck 65 was all about. (And the smattering of applause after each selection bordered on silence.)

A co-worker was nice enough to lend me a Tragically Hip concert DVD from a Toronto show not that long ago, which I watched this morning. It was great to actually see the band members, since we were so far from the stage as to render them unrecognizable. And of course the sound on the DVD was excellent, another big improvement on seeing them live.

Now I've got the fairly-new Peter Gabriel: Still Growing Up Live DVD on. Watching Peter in concert always puts everyone else to shame, but I guess when you've got the best music in the world to perform, it does give you an unfair advantage... ;-) And tying it all back to opening bands, he's often had some of the strangest lead-ins of anyone I've seen, but they all play music that's complementary to his own style. Which makes it work. And are there other artists besides Mr Gabriel who routinely invite the openers to come back out on stage and join the main act on a song or two? I've never seen anyone else do it, and yet he seems to always extend that courtesy. Just all part of being a class act, I suppose.

February 14th, 2007: Not Just A Crass Commercialization

OK, sure the florists will charge an arm and a leg for roses this week, you won't be able to find a table for dinner out unless you have a reservation, all kinds of crap will have hearts slapped across it and be advertised as Valentine's Day must-haves, and you'll be told that finding the perfect Hallmark card is the true measure of a man's love for his woman... but here are two great reasons that day's not going to suck this year:

1) New comics!
2) New episode of Lost!

The rest is just noise, my friends!

(Not to worry, Vicki, I'll still somehow find you a Valentine's Day present, despite the fact that it's only 3 days away... even if I have to recruit you to help in the search!)

On The Cost Of Convenience

Vicki and I watched one of my Christmas presents last night: the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth. I'd been looking forward to seeing it again, even though it's only been about six months since we - along with Tammy - took it in at the theatre. I remembered that there was too much information to absorb and process in a single viewing and knew I'd get even more out of it the second time around. Which I did.

There was also a new "One Year Later" segment on the DVD, presented by Al Gore, on what related developments (good and bad) had occurred in the year between the movie's theatrical and DVD releases. I didn't think that part was as well done stylistically as the documentary itself, but it was still very interesting to see changes happening in such a short period of time. For example, in the main feature the stat was given that the 10 hottest years on recod had come in the previous 14 years (a truly shocking notion, when you stop and think about it); if I understood what Gore presented in the update, 2006 may in fact end up topping that list! He talked about the fact that, in the U.S. at least, cities in each of the 50 states set records for high temperaturs in the summer of 2006! Also, the melting of Greenland seems like it's just around the corner, if things don't change. Venus, here we come..

Following my own rules of lending etiquette from one of my earliest posts, I'm not going to force this movie on anyone. But I am going to make the offer that, anyone reading these words who knows me outside the Blogosphere is welcome to borrow it anytime they'd like. If you can watch this film and still think there's no impending threat, then you're a tougher nut to crack than me!

And if those crazy Americans don't elect a Democratic President in 2008, they may pretty much doom us all.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Going Back In The Zone

As I've occasionally done in the past, I'm going to record some of the thought processes that went into writing In The Zone, my most recent short story. I expect these notes will be of most interest to future Kimota94s, who may've forgotten many of the details by then, as I'm wont to do. Since this post will contain some spoilers about the story itself, please follow the preceding link and read In The Zone before proceeding, if you care about such things.

Quick refresher: Hinckley provided the opening sentence for the story:

I awoke with a start in the "recovery room" of what passes for a hospital in the free zone... free of government monitoring.

First off, I'll say that I loved what Hinckley offered up. It suggested a couple different, but similar, storylines to me when I first read it, so it was really just a matter of choosing between them. In the first, the speaker would turn out to be delusional about most of what was going on around him. The "free of government monitoring" angle indicated possible paranoia to me, and so I could've gone with that. But the other direction that appealed to me more, the more I thought about it, was obviously the one I eventually adopted. Given my current "obsession" with the PS/3 Resistance: Fall of Man video game, the idea of imagining a gaming environment so immersive as to be - by design! - indistinguishable from reality was truly exciting! I'd seen this territory covered before, of course, in the likes of the TV show Harsh Realm, for example, or even the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation. But in a short story you can actually sell it as reality, and have the VR aspect be the reveal at the end. I'd bet money that that particular angle's been done before, too, in short story form, but I don't recall reading one, and so it appealed.

For a story to have a twist at the end and be effective, though, I believe a couple of rules have to be obeyed. First, it has to be possible for the reader to guess the twist, though hopefully not probable. I've read stories where things go in the most absurd directions at the climax, and the reader's left wondering where the Hell that came from! On the other hand, some punchlines are so telegraphed as to be insulting to the intelligence of the reader in suggesting that they should be surprised. It's a tough tightrope to balance on, and I'm not sure how well I did it here (in the absence of much feedback). I used Vicki as my sole canary in the coalmine, as I asked her to read the story before I published it, specifically to see if she'd find it obvious. One thing apparently gave it away for her, which I subsequently changed: I had originally called the Free Zoners by a different name, which was the Resistance (as a tip of the hat to my fave game right now), but she said that immediately made her think of it as possibly being a video game. I took that as my cue that I'd have to give up my homage in pursuit of not telegraphing the twist. Without that giveaway, she said, she didn't think most people would guess it so easily.

So what were the other clues in the story, if I was playing fair? Well, there were a lot of them, which is why I'm still worried that guessing the twist may've been too easy. Admittedly, some are pretty subtle, but here's the big long list:

- "In The Zone" (while seemingly just reflecting the "free zone" from Hinckley's seed sentence, it also suggests the state that gamers often get in, where everything around them fades away as they're immersed in the experience)
- "most school kids today know about it" (kids today know video game stories better than actual real world history)
- "not that hiding out was something I really wanted" (in video games, many players - including your Humble Blogger - really hate levels where you have to sneak around to achieve your goal, preferring all-out action to the more covert sort; plus, in hindsight, you realize he's paying a lot of money for the luxury of sitting in a hospital room)
- "a few precious minutes of [rest]" (first indication of a time pressure, which eventually is revealed to be a pay-to-play scenario for access to the expensive technology)
- "she didn't look like any Shirley I'd ever met" (video game avatars always look a little off, no matter how good the graphics get!)
- "I had no way of knowing what sort of programming she might've had" (I almost didn't leave this one in, because it seemed too much, but I really loved it and hoped the reader would assume the programming in question meant brainwashing/propaganda conditioning, a reasonable interpretation at that point, after all)
- "Would you like a tour of the facility?" ("Shirley", the nurse/tour guide.. I wanted to suggest a weirdness here that would make the reader go, WTF?, but also suggest the notion of an in-game AI that would help the new player get orientated)
- "something about her was just freaking me out" (again, the not-quite-right graphics of the AI player)
- "The clock was ticking, after all" (second reference to time crunch)
- "As soon as the nurse lost interest and wandered away..." (a typical response among AI characters when they've said their lines and aren't programmed for more interaction with the players)
- "a few hypodermic needles that I knew would come in handy" (I wanted this to read like foreshadowing, such that the reader thinks, "Ah, I'm going to see those in action later", rather than asking, "Why would syringes come in handy?" which would lead one to think of some video games using them as health restoration items)
- "couldn't find anything resembling a weapon" (first mention of a firearm, and maybe the moment when some might start thinking "video game..")
- "I felt a burst of adrenaline hit me" (again, in some classic shooters, adrenaline is a game construct to give you increased health, strength or other abilities)
- "If I was to make it past them - or better yet, through them! -" (what kind of lunatic actually wants to fight, rather than avoid, a dangerous threat? only a video gamer who knows it's not real!)
- "I hadn't taken the time to complete my training before being sent it" (many sophisticated games include training levels where you learn the use of the various weapons, how to jump, how to sprint, and so on)

Too many? Maybe. You be the judge. But certainly there were enough to pass rule number one.

The second rule to obey is: Does the ending make the reader reconsider some of what they just read. In fact, ideally it should make them want to go back and re-read it, to see if it holds together under the new perspective they now have. Speaking personally, I love that in a story, not the least of which because you get so much more enjoyment out of it. The first movie Vicki and I ever watched twice, in quick succession, was The Sixth Sense. When we got to the end and the big reveal came out - which neither of us had guessed - we finished the movie and then started it again, wanting to see it through new eyes and look for mistakes (we didn't spot any). That's what you want in a twist ending, if you ask me.

Anyway, those are my reflections on writing In The Zone. I'd like to thank Jimmy for the great opening, as it took my mind to places I really enjoyed. And that's a kindness I'll glady accept anyday!

Friday, February 09, 2007

In The Zone

I awoke with a start in the "recovery room" of what passes for a hospital in the free zone... free of government monitoring. Sitting up slowly, I took in my surroundings: grimy white walls dotted with faded medical diagrams and the standard Do's and Don't's that patients have been ignoring forever, a few medical tables on wheels and another half dozen or so cots besides the one I was on, all empty.

I'd never been here before but I knew the story well enough. Hell, most school kids today know it! The Free Zoners operated this facility, and a few others like it, and you'd damn well better know where each one was if you wanted to last very long. It wasn't just that they'd patch you up - although they would - but more importantly, you were off the radar while you were inside a MedFac like this one. Not that hiding out was something I really wanted, but I'd take a few precious minutes of it right now, while I got my bearings.

As I climbed off the narrow bed, a nurse walked into the room, saw me, and came over toward me. The name tag on her chest said, "Shirley", but she didn't look like any Shirley I'd ever met. The ones I knew didn't tend to have the rack this nurse had, or the full, red lips and knockout eyes, but go figure.

"How are you feeling?" "Shirley" asked, the tone of her voice very convincingly full of professional compassion and concern.

"Fine, thanks, I'm... I'm good," was all I gave her. This area was supposed to be government-free, but how could I be sure? I had no way of knowing what kind of programming she might've had, and I wasn't about to do something stupid. Like saying the wrong thing, or turning my back on her, for example.

"Well, that's a relief!" she replied. "We were all very worried about you. But you look like you're good as gold again. Can I help you find anything? Would you like a tour of the facility?"

"No, thanks. I'll find my own way around, thanks." I was probably being paranoid, and "Shirley" was probably exactly what she seemed to be, but something about her was just freaking me out. I knew I needed to get out of there. The clock was ticking, after all. As soon as the nurse lost interest and wandered away, I bolted for the door.

In the next room, I saw a few hypodermic needles that I knew would come in handy, so I scooped them up and shoved them into my pocket. I scrounged around for a couple minutes but couldn't find anything resembling a weapon. Not that I'd really expected to, in a MedFac. It was worth looking, though, as you never knew what you might come across, inside a box or tucked away in a corner. I hated going outside unarmed, but it seemed like I didn't have any choice in the matter.

Heading out of the facility, I followed a broken road that lead to the north. I'd only gone a few hundred metres when I saw the signpost: "You are now leaving the free zone!" I felt a burst of adrenaline hit me as I passed it. All around me, Hunter-Seeker Units would be registering a new blip on their screens, and that blip was me! I knew it wouldn't be long before the first one showed its grotesque face, a hideous hybrid of flesh and metal, long beads of saliva and motor oil dripping from its lips. If an HSU found me like this, I was hound-kibble! If I was to make it past them - or better yet, through them - and find my way into the GovAdmin office, I needed more than a pocketful of syringes!

The landscape in front of me was pretty barren, which wasn't good news. The ground was scorched every metre or so, and I wondered what heavy ordnance had accounted for each pockmark in the road, each burning, dead tree and even the shattered glass dome off in the distance. My survival probably depended on knowing the answer, but I hadn't taken the time to complete my training before being sent in. About thirty metres ahead of me, though, I saw what I'd been looking for: a storage shed off to the right of the road.

Inside the small structure, my heart skipped a beat as I saw what had been left behind for me. On the dirty floor rested a six-hundred-round-per-minute machine gun, along with two thousand-round belts, each screaming out to be slipped over a shoulder and carried into battle! Feeling dressed for the first time since I'd woken up in the hospital, I stepped back outside.

And came face-to-face with an HSU, all snarl and claws and teeth! Flipping up my new toy just as my finger squeezed on its trigger, I laughed in spite of myself, as I blew that ghoul's face into a million bits of blood and scrap metal!

God Damn, even at a hundred bucks a minute, this was still the best Virtual Reality game yet!!

Next Up: Hinckley Gets His!

Next post will be In The Zone, the short story I wrote today, using Hinckley's opening sentence that he won the right to provide when he passed the 25 Blog Point mark on this here blog site.

I can only hope he won't be disappointed in where I took the story, but I suppose if he is, he could always write his own version and show me the Hell up!

Who's Her Daddy?

If you saw this week's Heroes, and you managed to see the last few seconds - always a dicey proposition where today's shows and PVRs are concerned - then you know the answer to that question, regarding Claire the super-cute cheerleader. I won't spoil it here, but let's just say it's someone we've seen before.

That sort of thing always reminds me of Charles Dickens, and especially Great Expectations. When I read that book for the first time in high school, I remember it bugged me how Dickens tended to have so many of his characters end up somehow related to one another, through complicated and - it seemed to me at the time - contrived means. My youthful willingness to suspend disbelief was being tested, I guess you'd say. Over the next few years, though, I found that sort of thing bothered me less and less, as I came to realize it was simply a writer's tool in pursuit of telling an engaging story. It could be done very poorly, of course, but Dickens actually did it quite masterfully, in hindsight. He provided the most subtle of clues, usually, and therefore played fair.

I think the same holds true in the case of Claire, and her father, in Heroes. I can think of at least one small clue that makes the revelation ring true, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were others. Which probably means the writers have been planning this all along, quite unlike the vibe I'm getting off this season of 24 so far, for example, where Jack's family seems to have been grafted onto at least one character who was never intended for that role. Doing it well makes all the difference, it seems!

The Funny (And, Sadly, True) Story From This Week

I was in the elevator at work, going up to the 10th floor from the lobby, in the middle of the afternoon. I was coming back from having a chest x-ray taken, as part of my annual physical. I'd rushed out of the lab as quickly as I could, because I knew my parking meter had run out and didn't want to get a ticket (I didn't). Therefore I hadn't stopped to tuck in my shirt after changing back out of the oh-so-fashionable hospital gown, thinking I'd do it at work, since I had a winter coat to cover up the fact anyway.

So there I was in the elevator, by myself. Perfect opportunity to tuck in my shirt, I figured, what with the nine floor ride up. I'd just managed to undo my belt, and unzip my pants enough to let me slip my shirt tails in, when the elevator started to slow for a stop on the 3rd floor! I couldn't believe that anyone would actually be getting on the elevator, going up, at 3:45 in the afternoon - I mean, think about it! - but there it was! I tried to reverse my progress but immediately realized I wasn't going to make it and would be caught, quite literally, with my pants nearly down! All I could think to do was wrap my winter coat around me as subtly as I could just as the doors opened, hoping that my pants wouldn't slip between my fingers and slide down to my knees.

A delivery guy got on, pushed a button for a few floors up, and off we went! I was starting to sweat through my fake smile, trying to think about what I'd do if someone else got on, as I was pretty sure I couldn't have taken even a few steps without losing my drawers! Fortunately, the guy got off on an empty floor, and the doors finally closed behind him. I breathed for the first time in about sixty seconds, quickly zipped up, and buckled my belt, all before the 10th floor was reached.

I felt like I'd just lived through a sitcom moment, right there in my office building.

Since When Have My Tastes Been Common?

Not too ago, I wrote this post about the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths # 7, how it was one of my favourites ever, and how I was going to vote for it in DC Comics' recent poll of favourite covers.

This week DC revealed the results of that popularity contest, and by "a surprisingly overwhelming margin," COIE # 7 won it all! Hey, I only voted once, I swear!! Clearly a lot of other people hold it in as high regard as I do, for probably a myriad of reasons (I covered mine previously).

The next four biggest vote-getters were all good ones: Flash (Vol I) # 123 (the introduction of the whole Earth-1/Earth-2 setup that Crisis was responsible for obliterating!), The Dark Knight Returns # 1 (the start of Frank Miller's groundbreaking 1986 mini-series), Action Comics # 1 (we all know who debuted there, right?), and the chilling image fronting the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland masterpiece, Batman: The Killing Joke, another favourite of mine.

Comics: Now More Popular Than Ever!

At least in these parts, where Comics - as a blog label - just took over the top spot for the first time! Life had been leading since, well, forever, but obviously I've been doing less living and more comic reading, if that's even possible!

Somehow it does seem fitting that Comics would be my most used label, though. I mean, hello? Over 26,000 of them!! What else am I going to write about?

Preacher writer Garth Ennis In The News

Just minutes after finishing that Preacher write-up, I stumbled across this comic news story about Ennis having to take his current series, The Boys, away from DC. Essentially, DC Comics cancelled the series that it had been publishing up until now, allowing Ennis to take his property elsewhere. Why cancel a series that was selling well? On account of Ennis crafting some rather disgusting and disturbing tales involving his own set of superheroes in the title. As summed up by one blogger, this means that normal people doing terrible things to each other, as in Preacher, is fine by DC; but don't have superheroes doing it, as that may be damaging to the corporate brand! Kind of reminds me of how movie ratings boards come down so hard on sexuality but don't really seem to mind violence much at all! One's all about creation; the other about destruction. Or, in this case, one's about more-or-less realistic people doing bad things while the other's about obviously-fictional folks doing likewise.. which one seems more dangerous, really?