Saturday, March 31, 2007

Heroes Still 3 Weeks Away

For some reason I'd thought Heroes was returning on April 16th, and hence my Five Weeks Off, Five Weeks On post back on March 2nd. Instead, it turns out, the return is scheduled for April 23rd, meaning that we're expected to suffer through six consecutive Heroes-less Mondays (three of which are already under our belt) before getting the final five in April and May.

Those five weeks, with new episodes of Heroes and Lost on each week, both building up to what I can't help but believe will be amazing finishes, should be pretty special. And with Spider-Man 3 premiering in the midst of that run (May 3rd), I may just plotz!

Grumpy Old Men

I just read a great summary of the Gary Groth v Harlan Ellison libel suit that's of minor interest to science fiction and comics fans because of the parties involved. (Groth is the venomous publisher of The Comics Journal magazine, and Ellison authored hundreds of SF short stories, wrote a few comics over the years - including Hulk, Avengers and Daredevil, if memory serves me, - contributed the screenplay for Star Trek's "The City at the Edge of Forever" episode, and was a creative consulant on Babylon 5, among many other accomplishments.)

The article, from the Seattle Weekly, provides a great history of the emnity between the two men, as well as the particulars on the upcoming libel case. You get a good sense of just how much these two men hate each other, but it still leaves you wondering, "Why bother?"

One of the more interesting insights I gained from reading the article was about the legendary status of the as-yet-unpublished (after 40 years) The Last Dangerous Visions collection, edited by Ellison. Vicki owns the first two in the series, Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions, but I'd had no idea there'd ever been plans for a third one. This revelation even lead me to check out Wikipedia's entry for the non-existent book! (Kind of reminds me of Alan Moore's Big Numbers comic series based on fractal theory, although in that case at least some of the work saw the light of day!)

Friday, March 30, 2007

First Big Biking Week Of The Year

I worked from home on Thursday this week, but every other day I biked to work. It was a fantastic week for that sort of thing, flat tire or not! There's nothing like getting back into the routine where I can bike everyday, and know that I'm getting nearly an hour's exercise each day, just getting myself to and from work.

Unfortunately, next week's forecast includes a couple days with snow predicted! I choose to remain optimistic that it won't be as bad as all that, but that's mostly because I don't want the little bit of leg muscle that I just got back to atrophy again!!

Buffy Meets Batman?

The latest rumour circulating around The Dark Knight film has Sarah Michelle Gellar appearing in some capacity. This seems strange to me, as I'd think that, if she's trying to distance herself from the Buffy label, doing a genre film like this wouldn't be the best way to do it! Of course, on the other hand, she's not exactly set the world afire with her post-Buffy stuffy -- umm, stuff!

Of course, it's only a rumour so far.

(And Bruce could totally take Buffy in a fight... don't kid yourself!)

First Impressions And Second Chances

Thanks to the encouragement of one of my co-workers, Vicki and I are giving Battlestar Galactica a second chance. We'd watched the mini-series a few years ago, when it debuted, and thought it was just OK. Having been a fan of the original 1970s TV show, I admired how much of its original spirit they retained while still updating it in significant ways. But I lost interest about 2/3 of the way through the mini-series because I hadn't really bonded with the characters enough to care if the father-son relationship was ever going to be repaired, or if the tough-as-nails female pilot would get her chance to show she wasn't just a bad attitude, and so on. And the prospect of Dr Baltar, who'd inadvertantly aided the Cylons in killing all of those billions of people, getting away with his crime, and then committing further perfidy among the surviving fleet, just made me tired.

However, in the several years since then, BSG has continued to garner positive reviews and so it's been in the back of my mind to at least give it another shot. Popularity doesn't equal quality in my mind, but on the other hand, first impressions can sometimes lead one astray. So when the opportunity presented itself - in the form of an enthusiastic co-worker who really thought I should watch the show! - I brought the first season DVDs she proffered home and we started by re-watching the pilot/mini-series. I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around, though I could still see all of the same flaws. More importantly, we watched it all the way through, so a good chunk of it was new, including some revelations about who's a Cylon that came in the final act, and provided a good hook.

Tonight we watched the next two episodes, both of which were entertaining but have left me wondering if it's written tightly enough? Some interesting concepts have been introduced but not paid off, and seem unlikely to ever be paid off. In one episode, the Cylons arrive exactly 33 minutes after the fleet 'jumps' to a new location, but - unless I missed it - we don't learn why it's always 33 minutes. (And that's not even delving into why they'd be using a 60-minute hour since they're not from Earth.) We've also not learned whether it was an incredible coincidence that the seemingly-picked-at-random sacrificial lamb fingered by Dr Baltar actually turned out to be a Cylon, or whether Baltar's 'test' actually worked, or whether something else was at play. Again, I don't get the feeling this is going to be answered, so it feels a bit like sloppy writing to me. But I'll keep watching and hope that I'm proven wrong as the story progresses.

So far both of us are intrigued enough to keep watching.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Paulo Lies

Last night's Lost was unusual in a lot of ways, but luckily it continued the recent trend of greatness. As I told someone today, it's a sign of how good it was that I didn't even mind that last week's shocker of a final scene wasn't followed up on this week. Some examples of the uniqueness of "Expose" included:

- it was a "done-in-one" episode, meaning that it started a storyline, played it out, and finished it, all in a single hour (no lingering mysteries, and nothing that you needed to know as background)

- old friends Shannon, Boone and Arzt were brought back as a special treat for the fans

- all of the regulars were fit into the episode, albeit via flashbacks in some cases, but interesting nonetheless in this season of split plotlines

- it gave us all the clues we needed to solve its mystery, and I know this because I solved it about 15 minutes in (once Arzt showed Nikki the spider I was sure, but I suspected it was paralysis once Hurley provided his interpretation of what Nikki's last words were)

- it made us consider some past scenes in a new light, including something as mundane as Paulo coming out of a bathroom in the Pearl

- it ended with a gut-wrenching final shot of a simple mount of dirt that meant so much more than it ever should have considering who was buried there

- we got a very specific timeline for how long the group's been on the island and when certain events occurred on the line

- Charlie actually did something right, and noble, for a change!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nothing To Say, Really

It hasn't been a banner week so far, and tonight I just have had no energy or enthusiasm for blogging. I'm going to work from home tomorrow, so maybe the muse will appear Thursday evening.

About the best thing I can say about this week is that it's been great weather for biking, although I did have to contend with a flat tire on Tuesday morning and ended up walking about 1/4 of the way to work after the tire went. That pretty much sums up the week so far.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Mar 27th Edition)

A little light on excitement this week, but we do what we can with what we have.

52 # 47 - Black Adam followed up his genocide of the previous issue by going after the mad scientists on Oolong Island who were responsible for creating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who killed his wife and brother-in-law... OK, so it's complicated but it's leading up to World War III, DC Universe-style. And that's pretty exciting.

Batman # 664 - Grant Morrison's last issue was a little too out there for me - and it sounds like I was far from alone - but I remain ever hopeful that he'll return to the form he showed in his "Batman and Son" storyline that kicked off this run.

Wonder Woman # 6 - The most exciting thing is that Allan Heinberg and his perennial lateness are gone from this relaunched-in-the-worst-possible-way title. Fiction writer Jodi Picoult is an unknown quantity to me, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt since Brad Meltzer, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka have all worked out pretty well.

Daredevil # 95 - And speaking of Mr Brubaker, here he is writing one of the best DD run's since Frank Miller left in the 80s. His Matt Murdock, while still the driven and living on the edge character he inherited from the previous writer, feels more real to me than any version published in a long time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Vicki's Choice

OK, so based on the suggestions that we received (that I liked), here's the menu from which Vicki gets to select one, for her 25 Blog Point achievement:

1) I can write a short story using Vicki - the real deal - as a central character

2) I can write a blog that lists the Top 25 Things I Like About Vicki

3) I can attempt to conceive of a reality show that Vicki and I would both enjoy watching

4) I can write something interesting based on a suggestion of a topic from Vicki

Once Vicki makes her selection, I'll figure something out. No promises as to how quickly I'll crank it out, since I don't know what it is yet.

The Feel Good Hit Of 1980

Perhaps you've all seen this already, but I only stumbled across it today while reading Neil Gaiman's blog. This Shining film looks like a lot of fun and I can hardly wait to take my kids and maybe even Reverend Johnson to see it! Also looking forward to the soundtrack, based on this preview, of course!

Says a lot about how trailers can lie...

News That Makes Me Sad

Marshall Rogers, the artist of some of my favourite Batman stories of all time, has shockingly died at the tender age of 57 (the same age my mother was when she died, coincidentally). No word yet on what he died of, but I'm sure we'll hear eventually.

His most recent work - Dark Detective, a Batman miniseries from last year or the year before - wasn't very good, but some of his earlier work in the 70s and 80s was groundbreaking.

Other than Tim, this probably won't mean much to anyone reading this. It certainly saddened me greatly, though.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

DC & Marvel: Headed In Opposite Directions?

Both of the major comic publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, are in the midst of fairly large-scale redefinitions of their respective universes. For whatever reason, it recently occured to me to think of how those developments relate to each other, if at all.

At first, it seemed to me that they were going down diametrically-opposed paths. Marvel's using Civil War as a springboard to tell tales that are parables for what's going on right now in the real world. The Superhuman Registration Act, for example, reminds us of the Patriot Act, as both involve the casting aside of civil liberties in the face of fear. We've watched an increasingly paranoid U. S. of A. going crazy by degrees on our TV screens and in airports and at borders, while in the Marvel Universe the same sort of thing has happened where superpowered individuals are concerned.

By contrast, DC initially seemed to be on a road toward a brighter, more upbeat tone than anything we'd been subjected to since Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns changed the landscape in the mid-80s. And, in fact, we've seen some of that in the pages of Batman and Detective Comics, where the Caped Crusader was pulled back from the edge of madness - where he'd been teetering for a couple of decades - to a more well-balanced blend of intensity and mellowness. In fact, that's the sort of thing many of us expected post-Infinite Crisis, but it hasn't really been that evident elsewhere. Had it, that would've been a stark contrast between the two companies: one going darker, the other going lighter.

Instead, though, what we have upcoming in the DC Universe, we're lead to believe, is the return of the multiverse. The concept of parallel universes, a mainstay of DC between 1960 and 1986, allowed the superheroes from the 1940s to exist on Earth-2, the Marvel Family (Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr, etc) to operate on Earth-S, a villainous JLA called the Crime Syndicate to wreak havoc on the reversed-history cities of Earth-3, and so on... all while our current heroes delivered thrills and chills every month from the familiar confines of Earth-1. Crisis on Infinite Earths, in 1986, eliminated DC's multiverse - forever, we were told at the time - because it was allegedly too confusing for new readers. And yet every indication right now is that DC's bringing it back, as they teased us with in last year's Infinite Crisis mini-series. Think of it as the ultimate nostalgia trip for older fans, were the multiverse to really return in all its former glory.

Which would, in fact, make the directions being travelled by Marvel and DC more alike than different. Marvel's Civil War was intended to make the Marvel Universe a less comfortable place than it's been of late, returning it to the edginess that it had when its characters were new and Stan Lee was writing all of the stories. So with Marvel doing that, and DC potentially bringing back the Silver Age's parallel Earths notion, they might both be characterized as working toward a position of "everything old is new again."

It all boils down to how you look at it, I guess...

Seven Hundred And Fifty Reasons To Visit This Blog

Or at least seven hundred and fifty posts to read, if you do visit...

Here we are, 3/4 of the way to one thousand, a little less than six months in. I've definitely been slowing down of late. A small part of the blame, I think, lies with the rest of you out there in BlogLand, as none of you seem to be saying much on your own blogs lately. But mostly it's just me being lazy, or not having enough free time, or not having much to say, or wanting to say something but deciding against it because of who it might piss off at work.

I did get one piece of positive feedback last week, though. Co-worker Nhan told me that, based on my blogging about Michael Apted's Up Series here, he'd gone out and bought the DVDs himself, watched them all, and loved them! I had to confess that we haven't gotten past 28-Up yet ourselves, but Vicki and I'll have to fix that soon. We've got quite the backlog of DVDs built up, but the good news is that re-run season is less than two months away. That's usually when we catch up on non-TV watching each year.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

C'mon People! Make With The Suggestions!!

Is it really that hard to come up with a few good ideas, as asked for here?

I really expected better from you all...

Yet Another Cautionary Tale About Debt

I've read two articles in the last week about the "mortgage crisis" currently underway in the U.S. In the most recent article, from CBC News, they cover it from the Canadian perspective: could it happen here?

The U.S. turmoil stems from a large number of Americans being enticed into signing up for "subprime mortgages" where the payments required in the first year or two are substantially lowering than in subsequent years, often combined with a floating rate. This means that people start off thinking they can afford their house - and more! - only to have reality crash down on them twelve to twenty-four months later, including the possibility of a mortgage rate double what they'd gotten used to. From what I've read, some people agree to such a dangerous setup out of ignorance - they don't understand that the payments are going to go up because they didn't pay attention or just didn't comprehend what they were being told - while others are seduced by the prospect of seeing ever-increasing values for their home such that they could re-finance every few years and never be in the hole. I personally can't imagine taking risks like that, but then again my only mortgage experiences have involved paying two of them off early, not having my home foreclosed on! Several hundred thousand Americans have lost their houses through foreclosure recently, and hence the "crisis" label.

As tempted as I am to say that this is just another case of people trying to live beyond their means, it sure seems as if there's more to it than that. It sounds like these "subprime lenders" targetted people who they believed wouldn't be able to fully grasp the risks they were taking, such as immigrants or the elderly. That's more than just instant gratification gone bad; that's unethical greed at work. I guess in the States anything goes; I was happy to read that Canada has checks and balances in place to make it less of a problem here (or maybe Canadians are just better at reading the fine print?)

Stories like this do nothing but confirm my belief that debt is evil!

A Sixty-Four Year Old Comic About Bugs

I just finished reading my wedding anniversary gift from Vicki, which was a copy of All Star Comics # 18 from 1943. (The cover shown here isn't from my copy, but rather one that I found on the 'Net.) It was a fun read, with lots of interesting little historical bits.

"Knowing your oats" was apparently quite the expression in the early 40s, as slang for "being right." It was used in various forms three times over the 64 pages!

"A good man can lick anything" probably didn't evoke the same laugh all those years ago that it would today, I suspect.

The Spectre was repeatedly referred to as The Dark Knight, despite the fact that Batman was also around in the 40s. Not sure who got the nickname first.

This story featured a set of Spider Men (bad guys, or really more dupes of bad guys) who could spin webs from their hands. This was of course nearly twenty years before the debut of Peter Parker.

Whoever wrote the Johnny Thunder adventure (the JSA starts out together, then go off and have individual battles before re-forming at the end) didn't quite understand how his interaction with his Thunderbolt (genie) worked, as he was able to command the lightning-shaped imp without saying his magic word of "Cei-U" (pronounced "say you").

Similarly, the writer of Sandman's chapter seemed to think Wesley Dodds' superhero identity simply a fighter, as there was no use of any of his weapons or gadgets, including his trademark sleeping gas.

Overall, it was great to see what's stayed the same over six decades, and what's come a long way.

Friday, March 23, 2007

'Nuff Said?

Great TV Writing Is Such A Treat!

We just finished watching a 2-part CSI tale that we'd seen before, but it was so good the first time around (maybe a year ago?) that we both wanted to watch it again. It's a story that starts off with several cops getting into a shootout on a Vegas city street with a car full of drug dealers. One cop gets killed, and part of the CSI group's job is figuring out who shot him, since it was pure chaos for a few minutes. Before long, it's obvious he was hit by friendly fire, but none of the other cops remember hitting him.

As I mentioned before, it's always a joy for me when I'm expecting stupid behaviour and it doesn't happen. In this case, it's the final scene of the 2nd episode, in which the cop (Brass) who now knows it was his bullet that killed his fellow officer has gone to see the young man's widow to pay his respects. Based on the look on her face, you expect that she's going to flip out on him once she realizes who he is. He starts to say, "If there's anything I can ever..." but she raises her hand quickly, as if there were nothing he could possibly say to atone for what he did. But then she leans in and embraces him, and whispers, "I know it wasn't your fault" before they both are wracked with tears in each other's arms (as is any viewer whose heart isn't made of stone). And really, any reasonable person, having been married to a police officer, is more likely to react that way than to fly into hysterics like TV would have us believe is normal. I love well-written TV!

Boneman Gets His Cherry Popped

Just one day after Boneman and I were talking about how great it is to win your first Deathmatch game in Resistance: Fall of Man, and how sure I was that he'd get to have that experience before too long.. this happens!

In case you can't read it or make much sense out of it, Boneman8 won the game (finished 1st), with a score of 254 and 23/15 kills/deaths tally (or, +8). He tells me this was on BusYards, which is a fun map because it's fairly self-contained so you're never far from the action. Boneman also recounted how, as the game progressed, he kept noticing that he had the same score as the leader, and thought that was pretty coincidental... until he figured out he was leading! Then of course he started to feel the pressure one always feels when leading, especially because you can't see how far behind you the 2nd place person is...

Pretty nice way to start out on a new System Update and Game Update, as this was the first game he played after downloading both of those last night.

And for the record: he was a 2-pip Colonel when he got his first win.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lost Fans Rejoice!

ABC has announced that Lost is being renewed for a fourth season! Considering how great the episodes have been since it started back up last month, this is fantastic news!

Just last night I was saying to Vicki, "Don't assume Lost will be back next year, given how much the ratings have dropped since Season One." Glad to see I was worrying over nothing.

What hasn't been announced yet is how they'll schedule next season. I'm personally hoping it'll be a January - May show, like 24 has become, and like Alias did at the end. It's always best to get weekly doses, even if you have to wait longer to start them. It's the same reason I'd prefer that comics that are being done by habitually-late creators be stocked up before making them available to order.

What's 25 Blog Points Really Worth, Anyway?

Although no one's mentioned it yet, Vicki's reached the 25 Blog Point milestone. When Hinckley did the same, he received some interesting choices for what he could do with them (and don't I love the way that sounds?)

Rather than repeat the same menu for Vicki, I'm going to offer an additional Blog Point to the person who suggests the best option (in my opinion), which will also be the one I offer to Vicki. The only groundrule is that all options must be blog-related... so never mind with the "Matt has to make her breakfast in bed for a week" sort of suggestions.

Bowling For Respectability

I had a silly experience yesterday afternoon with my current team at work. We were out at a bowling alley for a celebration, and split into 3 groups (3 lanes) to roll a couple games. It was 10-pin bowling, which I've played probably a hundred times in my life. Vicki and I often go bowling when we travel in the States, just because we both enjoy it and we're close enough in skill that the games are typically close (she usually wins by a nose). Anyway, my usual score is anywhere from 110 to 130, depending on how many times I choke after a strike or spare. I can also score the game - although you never need to now, what with electronic lanes - and explain why a perfect game is 300 (450, for 5-pin bowling), and so on. So I know how to bowl, and do OK at it for an occasional bowler.

And yet, there I was at this bowling alley that has been converted to an entertainment centre or something, looking like I couldn't bowl at all! The reason? They took the lanes and shortened them, such that the distance from the start of the approach to the foul line was only about 8 to 10 feet, with tables situated at the start of the approach so that you couldn't even 'extend' it backwards if you tried. For those who don't bowl, the approach is the area in which you stride forward prior to releasing the ball, and is supposed to be "not less than 15 feet" (I just looked it up). Like anyone who bowls very often, I have a very specific technique for lining up my feet before I start, and involving the number of steps I take, at what point I swing the ball back, and so on. I didn't even notice the shortened area when I first got there, but when I went to throw my first ball, I had to release it in mid-stride as I'd suddenly found myself on top of the foul line much earlier than expected. Needless to say, the ball went straight into the gutter. Next ball: same thing. My score at the end of the 2nd frame: 1! I don't know if I'd ever before, as an adult, thrown a gutter ball other than when trying to pick off a corner pin... and yet there I was bowling 3 of them in my first 4 attempts!

I tried all kinds of adjustments over the rest of that game (final score: 77) and in the second game (final score: 87) but never could figure out any workable cadence to use. I felt like a baseball pitcher who's suddenly being forced to do their windup from behind the mound or something similar. It was totally frustrating, and the group I was out with were all very amused by my claims of "being a lot better at bowling than this!" None of them seemed to even realize the approach was short, as most had only bowled a handful of times before, some of them at that same obscene establishment.

Anyway, that was one of the more unpleasant bowling stories I could tell. Much better was the day the friend at IBM and I - this was during one of my co-op terms in Toronto in the early 80s - sneaked out of work to go bowling. While there, we saw a big sign advertising "All You Can Bowl - $10 - Sunday Morning Only" and decided to come back that weekend and take a lane each, to see how many games we could bowl in 2 hours. We did something like 8 each, after which our arms fell off (figuratively, not literally). Now that was fun!

Is That Why They Call Them Comic Books?

A former co-worker of mine supplied this link that you might find amusing. I know I did!

Despite my many decades of reading comics, I still didn't know that the Joker obsessed so much over his boners!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


We were recently watching this week's episode of the show called Ebert & Roeper, formerly known as Siskel & Ebert, and currently really Roeper & Guest Reviewer, while Roger Ebert continues his long recovery from surgery.

Anyway, one of the movies reviewed was Maxed Out, a documentary in theatres right now. From what I could tell from their comments, this sounds like a 'cautionary tale about credit card debt,' meaning the film maker follows the travails of various Americans who've lived way beyond their means and in the process gotten into the downward spiral that you'd expect (borrowing more money to pay off their most immediate bills, having items repossessed, losing their homes, etc). Sounded like a mildly interesting film that I'd probably watch if I came across it as I was channel surfing.

What was disturbing was the reaction expressed by both reviewers (Richard Roeper and some movie maker whose name I forget but no one I'd ever heard of). They both raved about how much they'd learned from the documentary about how credit card debt really worked, to the point where they were considering paying off that balance they've been carrying on their own cards! Here were two well-educated men in their 40s or 50s, indicating that they hadn't understood - before watching a documentary - that the lending companies were making them pay several times over for all of the items they'd been charging, as they made their minimum payments each month! No wonder the card companies are making out like bandits, despite the losses they take on any disputed charges!

I remember Tammy telling us in high school about one of her teachers covering this material in class (she'd already heard it from us before then, of course). I wonder how common that experience is among school kids, and how much of it actually sinks in when they do hear it?

As an aside: If memory serves me, one of the two critics also said something like, "... these people are literally drowning in debt..." which reminds me of another pet peeve of mine: saying "literal" when you mean "figurative." People don't "literally drown in debt" unless, somehow, their debt has taken the form of liquid that's filling their lungs and killing them... whereas, it's easy to imagine them "figuratively drowning in debt."

"This Is Gonna Be More Complicated Than We Thought!"

What a great, great opening line for a Lost episode, delivered as only John Locke can do! Kind of sums up the whole show, I think.

And... wow. This show just keeps getting better and better this season! My reaction, after watching the season three premiere way back in October, was that so much information was being provided, I could barely take it in. And I think that's been the theme of the whole season so far. It's going to be a fantastic season to re-watch, when the DVDs come out in the Fall.

I'm looking forward to finding out just what this "box" really is, that has the ability to serve up whatever you want... including Locke's scummy father. Do the Others have hostages for each of the Losties, for occasions just like the one we watched?

I also loved the twist at the beginning of this week's flashbacks, where we naturally assume that the disability Locke's receiving support for is his physical one.

Vicki pointed out that Locke's gaining quite a reputation for blowing things up. He was responsible for the hatch imploding, and then the listening station going up... and now a submarine!

Making it so that we only have a week between episodes? Amazingly good idea!

Funny Little Story

Boneman and I were messengering back and forth this morning (since we currently sit on different floors at work) about recent Resistance: Fall of Man online events, as we often do first thing in the morning, and I happened to mention that I didn't remember what rank I'd had when I got my first Deathmatch win. I remembered the map (Grimsby) and I recalled taking the photo of the TV screen and posting it, but I couldn't have said if I was a Major, or Colonel, or what.

I typed, "I may have to check out my blog tonight to find out" and promptly stopped thinking about it, and then about a minute later, Boneman wrote back, "You were a Lieutenant-Colonel, and it happened on Feb 7th!"

Two things occurred to me as I read his message:

1) It's great to have an online diary, where things like this are captured for posterity and are so easy to find.

2) It's great to have a friend like the Boneman, who'd go looking for someone like that, without even being asked, just because we're talking about it, and because he's as into the game as I am!

That sort of thing can go a long way toward making up for some of the crap that happens at work on occasion.

A Good Sign

Today, there was actual Lost conjecturing happening over e-mail, between a few of us who enjoy the show (you know who you are). I've really missed that sort of thing for awhile, as it seemed like people had stopped trying to figure out the mysteries, possibly because they had no confidence that any would ever be resolved.

An interesting one put forth was that cloning is involved, and that possibly the Others have been cloning people for decades. So the fertility issues could be because of the cloning, or the cloning could be because they'd become infertile. This theory also speculated that the smiling, happy Jack Shepherd shown at the end of last week's episode was a clone, not the one we're all familiar with. (Part of this was fueled by a belief, without having re-watched the episode, that "Jack" in that scene was missing his trademark tattoos... but having just checked that out, I can report they're still there, just mostly covered by a shirt sleeve.)

I love it when people are engaged enough to spend time thinking about these sorts of things...

I Have A Serious Crush On This Woman

Yes, I've got "a thing" for Olivia Munn, host of Attack of the Show on G4TechTV (whatever you do, don't tell Vicki!!) For those who don't know, AOTS is a daily program all about video games, as well as occasionally touching on other popcult areas like comics and SF. Hmm, an attractive brunette who's into video games, comics and science fiction? No wonder I like her so much... she's just like my wife!! (Good recovery, eh!)

Oh, hang on, I'm told I should've called her the "co-host" of the show, as apparently there's some guy on the show, too.


Geez, I totally never noticed him...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Mar 20th Edition)

We're back to normal sized weeks after a few big ones, but there's still some good stuff coming out this week.

52 # 46 - With less than two months of weekly issues left, things are really heating up in this series. Last week, Black Adam went nuts and killed about a million people... literally!

Brave and the Bold # 2 - The debut issue was everything I'd hoped for, thanks to Mark Waid and George Perez, not to mention Batman and Green Lantern. All of them except Bats hang around for # 2, and GL teams up with Supergirl, who's actually not very skank-like when written by Waid (yay!).

Justice Society of America # 4 - Just loving this series so far. It's the sort of book where I can already imagine the fun I'm going to have re-reading these issues a year or two from now!

Amazing Spider-Man # 539 - So, in the final panel of last issue, Aunt May took a bullet in the gut. And this month Spidey's "Back in Black", so is that because his aunt's dead, Captain America's dead, his side lost the Civil War, or all of the above? I should know by tomorrow!

Ultimate Power # 4 - Continuing the Ultimates/Squadron Supreme crossover with outstanding artwork by Greg Land. If memory serves, this begins the 3-issue stint written by JMS, which means the writing might actually be up to the calibre of the art! I definitely found the first three a bit light in that regard, so I'm hopeful JMS will raise that bar.

Quick Sports Trivia For Blog Points - The Answers

To see the answers to the most recent quiz, click on the comments link below.

Blog Points awarded:

PeterJ - 3 BPs (#s 2, 4 & 5)
Tammy - 2 BPs (#s 2 & 5)
Jimmy - 5 BPs (#s 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
cjg - 1 BP (# 2)
shane - 5 BPs (#s 1, 2, 3, 6 & Bonus)
Boneman - 2 BPs (#s 2 & 3)
Vicki - 2 BPs (#s 2 & 3)

(Interesting that, while no one got them all, all of them were got!)

Monday, March 19, 2007

The View From The Top Of The World

Tonight, while playing online with Boneman, I got the final eXperience Points that I needed to reach the summit of ranks within Resistance: Fall of Man. I'm now a Supreme Commander with 3 pips, and can go no higher. You do get a special promotion message when you achieve that rank, which I wondered about.

I've almost made it to another short-term goal in the game, which is to get my kills-to-death differential to +1000. As of tonight's play, I'm sitting at +974, so it shouldn't take too much longer. As Boneman pointed out, another goal should be to get additional awards in the game, which would require me to start using some of the weapons I've not gotten many kills with as of yet. I actually used the Auger a bit tonight, and added 4 more kills with it in one game, taking my total to 64. The toughest ones for me are sniper rifle (currently: 2 kills), flamethrower (13) and arc charger (16). If I could build all four of those up to 100, I think that would be 4 more awards.

It's good to have goals...

Superman Solo, Or In The JLA, On The Silver Screen?

I know which one I'd pick, if I had to choose between a Superman Returns sequel, or Supes in a JLA movie. And my lukewarm response to Singer's first super-foray only has... well, a lot to do with my choice!

Anyway, the rumour today is that they'll skip the solo sequel - for awhile - in order to fasttrack a JLA film, including Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. I particularly liked the observation that Marvel's sort of pioneered this approach by making the second Fantastic Four movie showcase the Silver Surfer. One of the great assets both Marvel and DC have is their pantheon of fascinating characters, which Hollywood has traditionally done poorly at taking advantage of. I know the business reason is that it costs more to option additional characters, but the publishing houses need to make it happen in order to benefit in the long term.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Suprisingly Quiet For A Sunday

This blog, that is. I just realized I'd only posted one entry today, despite it being a weekend day... which is kind of strange. Unlike yesterday, though, not much was popping into my little noggin today that could be transcribed into blogfare.

Looking at the forecast for the rest of the week, it's potentially highly bike-able. Tomorrow will probably hinge on how much snow we get overnight, as well as how concerned I am about getting rained on during the ride home (which is usually: not very). I'm hoping this is the week where I start biking more often than not, as that turning point in the Spring always provides me with some small amount of joy.

And my boss returns from a week's vacation tomorrow, so who knows what work will look like. I've learned not to even try to predict such things anymore, given recent history.

Code Breaking

Among my many flaws is an inability to see a coded message somewhere without taking some time to try to crack it. Single-character substitution codes are usually easy enough to solve if the message is long enough (half a dozen words or more, typically) and you have any necessary contextual background.

I was reading the 2nd issue of Jeff Smith's Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil mini-series this morning, and the chapter titles were in code. I'm not sure if anyone unfamiliar with Captain Marvel/Shazam! would have the contextual information to de-code it like I did, but I'll post it here in case you want to try:



Anything you might need to know about Captain Marvel/Shazam! to help you crack this code can be found in the first several paragraphs of the Wikipedia page for the good Captain, in case you're interested.

I'll post the answer in a few days if no one's cracked it by then. And I guess I'll award a Blog Point to the first person to get it. (It took me about 20 minutes to solve... Hey, I never said I was good at it!)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

If Only He'd Stayed Safely Away

Back in the 70s, Steve Rogers gave up the Captain America identity for the better part of a year. He did so after wrapping up a case in the previous issue in which the head of a secret criminal empire within the U.S. government was revealed to be none other than the President himself! (This was the mid-70s, after all, when Tricky Dick Nixon had just been outed for his coverup of Watergate and left the White House in disgrace.)

Anyway, Steve tossed his shield aside - you can still see it bouncing on that cover! - and renounced the star-spangled outfit to show his disgust over how corrupt his government had become. Of course his use of the word "forever" leaves a little to be desired...

In looking back, it's interesting to note that two of the key figures in Cap's current situation - if being dead can be considered a situation - are shown on this cover from 30 years ago. There's Iron Man, the semi-villainous figure behind the Superhero Registration Act, and right beside him stands Cap-girlfriend Sharon Carter, who inadvertantly delivered the death blow to her beloved man.

I'll admit to having a disproportionate fanboy nostalgic love for this cover, considering how exciting it was to teenage me to consider a superhero giving up his job in protest of a political scandal. Sadly I can't imagine any modern day hero reacting that way, though.

Quick Sports Trivia For Blog Points

Vicki and I've spent the day watching the NCAA basketball tournament, so I figured it was time for a sports trivia quiz. Answer anytime between now and Monday night, get 1 Blog Point for every right answer, and answer from memory only.

1) Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most goals in an NHL season. How many goals did he score in that record-setting season?

2) By what name is Cassius Clay better known?

3) In the 1990s, San Francisco won two SuperBowls. Name the two quarterbacks, both named SuperBowl MVP, who lead the 49ers to their championships during that decade.

4) By what name is Lou Alcindor better known?

5) What are the two types of squeezes in baseball?

6) Which NHL team holds the record for most wins in an NHL season? Bonus Blog Point: How many wins did they get that season?

Buffy Comic # 1 Review

I read # 1 last night and really liked it. The characters were well-written, the art was absolutely gorgeous, and the plot pulled me in right from the first page. About the only criticism I have is that it felt a little more "big budget" than the TV show typically did, which kept it from really feeling like the eighth season. The bad guys looked better, the effects were way more impressive - impossible to have done on a TV budget, I suspect - and the sky seemed to be the limit in a few scenes. But that's a minor quibble and pretty common of genre-jumping properties (it would've been impressive if Whedon had avoided it, though).

Overall, it was a great read, with the Nick Fury humour by Xander, the bizarre - to say the least! - development involving Dawn, a new group of monsters, the mystery of a floating (flying?) man, and a logical miltary reaction to the proliferation of Slayers that happened in Season Seven. I really loved the joke about Willow being an authority on men, but of course missed her all the more as a result.

With Whedon writing the first arc, and Brian K. Vaughn lined up for the next one, I've got a good feeling about this series.

New Recurring Dream

I'm not happy about this, but last night I had a dream - the premise of which I've had before - that I have to assume is now going to be a recurring scenario. Which means it'll join my "stuck far from home and unable to get home", "trying to dial a phone number and keep screwing it up", and "about to take a university exam but haven't been attending the lectures or studying" repeaters, among others.

The dream goes something like: Vicki and I (and last night Tammy was there, too) are back at our old house, but after awhile I realize that we shouldn't be there and the dream morphs into us having gone into the house while its current owners are out. There are various reasons for this - last night, I don't even remember what it was - but there's always a panic point when I realize we've trespassed and need to get out of there before we're caught. In the most recent version, it was the next morning, and guests of the other people were waking up and coming out to find us in the living room, just as we were about to pack up and get the Hell out of there. Apparently they'd been so drunk the night before that they didn't remember we hadn't been there partying with them, so then all three of us started making up stories about what had gone on during the drunkfest. And meanwhile I'm trying as hard as I can to collect all of our stuff, not wanting to leave anything behind that could identify us once we're gone and they finally realize we shouldn't have been there.

There was also a little subplot about how the front door lock didn't work, which I think is how I finally realized (outside the dream) that we didn't really live there. I knew that we'd have been robbed blind if that were the case, since (in the real world) we'd been broken into twice in eight years while living there, with a very good lock!

Anyway, it's a very frustrating dream for me to have, because I'm in an elevated state of stress pretty much all of the way through, once I realize we don't live there and therefore shouldn't be there.

Work Ponderings

We're in the process of introducing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in our workplace. There are a couple of forces behind this, which I'll describe without commentary for now.

1) In order to help us inspect and adapt, as good wannabe Agilists, we need some way to measure things and tell if we're actually improving. So a Feature Team might, for example, start tracking a KPI such as "how many Story Points of functionality are we delivering, per person day?" You could even argue that maintaining roughly the same value for that KPI is fine, once you reach an acceptable velocity.

2) Our parent company, we're told, wants to have some KPIs by which they can monitor our progress and tell how we're doing.

You can see how those are not necessarily the same usage of KPIs, although a broadminded person might allow that they could be.

Anyway, as I was sitting in a management meeting this week, a particular issue within the group came up that we were discussing how to resolve. The suggestion was made that perhaps these folks should own the problem, or those folks ought to create a process to solve it. Then I said, a little more than half-seriously, "Why not create a KPI for this and then track it and report on it every month?" That got a big laugh and then the discussion moved on to something else.

Which got me thinking: in how many areas are we not practicing what we preach? In other words, it's easy enough to impose mandates on others - some would say that's a part of what management is - but how often are we holding ourselves to the same bar? I know it happens, but is it happening enough? I've had questions like that asked of me, as the Agile Manager, and I don't know what the answer is. I don't, for example, have a list of tasks for every Iteration that I commit to and which then get reported on. Should I? Could I work effectively in that way, given how often my priorities change and that I don't actually generate product? More importantly, would things be better at work, if I and all the other managers had to work that way?

These are the sorts of things that wake me up in the middle of the night...

Friday, March 16, 2007

2007: Everything Old Is New Again?

While writing that previous entry about the Buffy comic, it occurred to me what a nostalgic year 2007 is shaping up to be. Besides Buffy fans getting an 8th season they never expected, you've got at least the following:

First, when Spider-Man 3 comes out in May, the Venom craze from the early 90s may just start all over again as a whole new generation gets introduced to Spidey's meaner version.

Next, in July, it's going to feel like the late 90s once more as Babylon 5 returns via a direct-to-DVD Lost Tales movie that's the first in a series.

Then you've got the first of DC Comics' direct-to-DVD animated movies due in September, which takes us back to 1993 via The Death of Superman.

And still-unscheduled but hopefully to come out this year, is the flashback-to-the-70s known as the mind-blowing prospect of seeing Neal Adams drawing Batman again.

I'm sure I've missed some other obvious ones... anyone?

The Early Returns On The Slayer's Return

A couple weeks back, I blogged about how Buffy To Vampires: Die! was crossing over to comics for an 8th season. In that post, I speculated that the sales numbers should be huge, in contemporary comic terms, since most Buffy fans, of which there were enough to keep a TV show alive for seven seasons, would probably want to 'see' the additional season, even if it came in comic book form. My guess was that it would sell in excess of 100,000 copies, and possibly even as many as several hundred thousand copies, by the time it had come out in serial form and then been collected.

Well, issue # 1 came out this past Wednesday, and there was news the next day of it selling out the initial 100,000 print-run and that a 2nd printing was going to be done and available in a couple weeks. For those who don't follow comics, it's not that unusual to get a 2nd printing, but selling out that large a print run immediately is. Civil War had much bigger upfront numbers, but the vast majority of comic titles sell under 100,000 these days, even weeks after the comic debuted. (Captain America # 25 would obviously be another exception to that statement.) So this bodes well for the series, and possibly to the notion of doing canonical followups via the comic industry.

Haven't read the issue in question yet, but maybe this weekend. Tammy (unsurprisingly) enjoyed it a lot.

No Canadian Love For The PS/3?

I was shocked to read this article that reported only a little over 6,000 PS/3s were sold last month in Canada, compared to more than 23,000 PS/2s! I realize the price is daunting to many, but it amazes me that there were almost four times as many people willing to buy - new! - a console that came out over six years ago! Weird.

Me, I love my PS/3... (worth every penny so far)

More Excellent Blogging

Tammy will have already read this, but for the rest of you: here's the funniest blog entry I've read in awhile (reprinted w/o permission but I can't imagine Luke would care):

"today i was waiting for a bus at dundas and richmond with my headphones on when i was asked by a random guy if the 12-wharncliffe bus had passed by in the last few minutes. i told him that it hadn't in the five minutes i'd been waiting at the stop, and put my headphones back on. then he told me that he was going to costa rica. i briefly mulled telling him that the 12-wharncliffe didn't go that far, but instead reluctantly took my headphones off and listened for several minutes while he regaled me with stories about his brother and sister-in-law living in costa rica and how they'd been peed on by monkeys, while my 2-dundas bus broke new records for tardiness."

You can see it, and others like it, at Luke's blog.

Blogging Done Right

In the last few weeks, my favourite blog to visit has been Newsarama's. This comic-related blog site often reminds me of my own, since it gets multiple updates daily, has a variety of topics covered (all comic-related, obviously) and is fun to read (I like to think mine is, anyway...)

In looking at it today, though, I realized for the first time that it's actually authored by a host of contributors! I'd never bothered looking at the tagline of any of the articles, but today I did, and counted at least half a dozen different names just in the last few days! Funny that I'd finally discover another blog as prolific as mine only to learn that it uses a bunch of people to do what I have to accomplish all by myself!

Which made me think: maybe all of us in this part of the blogosphere should start up a group blog, on some theme that we're all interested in, and then contribute individually to it? No, that's OK, I didn't really think you'd be interested...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

PS/3s: Not Just For Killing Anymore!

Despite the 10,729 deaths I've been responsible for in online play of Resistance: Fall of Man so far, it seems there'll soon be a way for my idle PS/3 to help cure diseases!

I wonder if I could get a charity receipt equivalent to the cost of the electricity it uses, though... (I'm just asking!)

Losing It For Lost

My God, Lost has been good this year! It's been moving at a fast clip - which should make the A.D.D. Gen'ers happy - but doing so without sacrificing the character bits that the rest of us love so much. Over the last few episodes, we've:

- seen how Jack got his tattoos
- learned who Eye Patch Guy is, why he was there, and how his story finishes (hint: not well for him!)
- discovered the identity of the illegitimate child Christian had in Australia
- had it confirmed that the Others and Dharma aren't, and weren't, the same group
- been thrown for a loop, along with Saiyid, Locke and Kate, by seeing Jack frolicking with the Others on the Compound!

That's some good stuff, and then you throw in all of the great backstories for Desmond, Saiyid and Claire, and you've got a winner of a TV show!

More Watching For Watchmen

Oh yeah, you'll be wanting to check out this for a few more nuggets from Zack Snyder about "the movie."

I'm just going to spend a little while pretending that:

a) Watchmen will finally get made into a movie;
b) someone who understands and appreciates the material will direct it (Snyder would seem to qualify); and
c) it'll be at least half as good a movie as it was a comic (which is a ridiculously high bar).

How about you all just let me go on believing that for now?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy Birthday To Vicki!

Today's Vicki's birthday and we've already done the dinner out, and the visit to relatives (her choice)... and now we're watching this week's Lost. So not much time at the moment for blogging, but we all have our priorities!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March Is In The Bag

Got a bike ride on the books today, so the streak is now up to 15 months. It was a bit tricky getting into work, since the bike paths were still snow-and-ice covered (had to go on the road most of the way). But coming home was a delight, as not only was it about 12 degrees out, but the majority of the paths were clear, making it feel much more like a real biking day!

The forecast looks like it'll be next week before I can bike again, but maybe I'll find another chance this week.

Because No One Demanded It: More Cap Stuff!

Today I got my final birthday presents from Vicki for this year: two pieces of original artwork! The first features both Captain America and his girlfriend Sharon, as they race across some rooftops (shown to the left; Captain America # 20, page 4). Ironically, I'd pointed this page out to Vicki, and she'd ordered it from the artist's agent, long before the significance of having those two characters together in a piece of artwork became such that it is, following the events of last week. But it was with a heavy heart today that I looked at the two unsuspecting young lovers, there in all of their glorious pen work by Steve Epting...

The other piece that I got from Vicki was a 2nd page from the Superman: War of the Worlds one-shot by Michael Lark. Like the other page I have, this one shows a Golden Age style Man of Steel going up against some Martian war machines, and what could be cooler than that? I now have pages 23 and 33, for those that wonder about such things.

Monday, March 12, 2007

More Captain America Fallout

Lots of reports coming out now about how comic store owners feel about the whole "Cap is dead" event last week, which they had no warning about. I'll admit that I'm torn, personally, between the annoyance of how limited the supplies were - I was lucky and had a copy reserved, but didn't end up being able to get the one cover, of the two that were printed, that I wanted (shown here) as beggars really couldn't be choosers last Wednesday! - and the enjoyment of being able to actually read the comic without prior knowledge of what was coming. Granted, that last bit took quite some work on my part, but if Marvel Comics had leaked the story months earlier, as so many retailers wanted in hindsight, then it would've been a lesser experience for me as a reader.

So what could Marvel have done differently? My first thought, and one echoed in some of the articles, was to follow the lead DC Comics had shown with the first dozen issues of 52 last year: they did everything they could to encourage retailers to order higher on 52 than they thought they'd need, up to and including offering a generous return policy for unsold copies. This was something that was standard practice up until about 25 years ago, when comics were mostly sold through newsstands and drug stores. With the rise of the specialty comic store, though, those return policies went away and proprietors became much more risk-averse in terms of what they'd order. In a case like this, however, Marvel would've been wise to tell their retailers, "Look, something big, related to Civil War, is going to happen in Captain America # 25. We think you should order 5 to 10 times your usual number of copies, and we'll let you return up to 90% of your order if you can't sell them." Marvel would know they're not taking much of a risk - since they know what's inside - and the store owners would have had lots and lots of copies for the huge volumes of walk-ins that they got when CNN started covering the story. And like I say, DC had some something similar about 8 months ago, when they anticipated that 52 was going to be a much bigger hit than most folks expected (and DC was praised for this, repeatedly, in the comic press).

And while all of that was going on, there was Wizard Magazine, king of the speculator push, putting hundreds of copies of Cap # 25 on eBay for many multiples of the cover price, on the day it arrived! How did they happen to have so many copies? And how did they get some of them slabbed so quickly so as to be able to sell CGC high-grade copies? Well, since some of the people at Wizard would've known about what was coming up, in order to get a special "Captain America memorial" issue of their magazine ready for this week, it seems highly likely that some insider trading must've occurred, in terms of placing orders. If I didn't already have no use for that rag, this would've been enough to turn me off.

Since a new shipment of first printing Cap # 25's are expected on Wednesday this week, it's not looking good for anyone who spent $20 - $50 on a copy last week. I expect the bottom will fall out of that market very quickly, although scummy operations like Wizard will already have made their huge profit. Too bad that this'll leave a sour taste in so many mouths, though.

Watching For Watchmen

Zack Snyder is riding high right now thanks to a boffo opening weekend 300 just enjoyed (bringing in more money in one weekend than it cost to make!) Snyder wrote the screenplay for, and directed, 300, and is on tap to direct the Watchmen movie at last report. I was personally disappointed when Paul Greengrass lost out on that chance last year (or the year before), when the backing was pulled out for it. Greengrass followed other non-starters like Terry Gilliam and Darren Ananofsky before him, except that Paul had actually gotten some significant distance into pre-production before the carpet was unceremoniously yanked. Since then, the project languished for awhile, but now has started up again, but this time with Snyder named as director.

So what should we expect from Snyder? Well, from today's edition of The Comic Reel, on Comic Book Resources, comes the following snippet from him re: Watchmen:

"The thing about Watchmen is that I'm looking to make a movie that looks more like Taxi Driver than Dick Tracy [laughs]. People bring that up to me 'Is it like Dick Tracy?' because that's colorful. Watchmen as a printed medium references comic books itself. It goes 'Look, I'm a comic book' and you read it, you're like 'You're fucking blowing my mind!' But that's what it tries to do, it draws you in by being a comic book. I think my responsibility is to draw the audience in by saying 'Look I'm just a movie' and then you get in there and it fucks you up. That's my hope anyway. It is a weird movie. When you see the trailer and you go 'Okay that looks like Richard Nixon. Dude that blue guy is in fucking Vietnam, what is this?' There's a song you can not put in a Vietnam war movie and it's 'Ride Of the Valkyries' which should not be put it in any movie because of Apocalypse Now. But in Watchmen, you can imagine a sequence in Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan is 100 feet tall stomping through the jungles of Vietnam with Hueys all over him, zapping the Vietcong while 'Ride of the Valkyries' is playing. It is transcendent of itself so you can reference Apocalypse Now and that's okay. It is pop culture."

(You can also read the whole Snyder interview at Suicide Girls which has a tiny bit more about Watchmen but is mostly about 300.)

Well, I have to admit he's got vision! I love that directors are starting to use the comics themselves as starting points for the storyboards, instead of just lifting the characters and then trying to re-define them for the silver screen. With the CGI technology available today, I think you really could pull off Watchmen, at least technically. With that concern taken care of, the other two big questions always used to be, "What do you cut out?" and "How do you change it to work now that the Cold War's over?" At 300+ pages, you're still probably stuck picking and choosing what to keep, if you want to come in under 4 hours. But I really hope Snyder - or whoever eventually gets to actually make it - will keep the context the same as Moore wrote it, regardless of where we are right now politically. As Snyder touches on above, there are some pretty damn fine images in the comic, as only Alan Moore could imagine them. And wouldn't it be mind-blowing to see them put on film finally?

Special Black Armband Comic Trivia Quiz - The Answers

To see the answers to our very own death-themed comic trivia quiz, just click on the comments link below.

Blog Points awarded:

PeterJ - 2 BPs (#s 1 & 2)
Jimmy - 3 BPs (#s 1, 2 & half points for "big alien" and getting Bucky right but for the wrong question)
Tammy - 1 BP (# 1)
Vicki - 3 BPs (#s 1, 4 & 7)
Tim (late, as usual) - 3 BPs (#s 1, 2 & 5)

No one got #s 3, 6 or 8 correct, which is a bit higher than usual.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oh, And I Got Promoted Yesterday, Too

I forgot to mention yesterday that I did in fact receive my promotion to Supreme Commander in online play for Resistance: Fall of Man. As the rank's name suggests, this is as high as you go. I can still earn my 2nd and 3rd pips, but that's about it. It wasn't the climactic moment I'd hoped for, though, coming as it did on a day when I couldn't do shit in the game! I actually had one team deathmatch where I finished with 15 fewer kills than deaths! Vicki walked in during the afternoon when I was in one of the worst ruts, and I said, through clenched teeth, "Now's not a good time to be watching..." which was rude of me, to be sure. For whatever silly reason, I was expecting to do well in the game (I'd been doing well, I was promoted to Supreme Commander, and it was my birthday for God's sake!), but reality had other plans.

Anyway, I decided against playing last night, and we watched Where the Truth Lies on DVD instead. We both enjoyed it, but it's going to be one of those movies I'm going to have think about for awhile before I really form any opinion. I find that's the case with many of Atom Egoyan's films, so no big surprise there.

What If I Don't Like The New World?

This thought occurred to me earlier today, as I finished reading Marvel Comics' Civil War: The Initiative special. Probably part of my negative reaction stemmed from disappointment over the comic itself, as it was less a special and more of a promo piece for various upcoming series and mini-series. Considering that I paid $6.00 for it, I think I was justified in expecting more than what I got, but that's not really the point of this post.

What struck me was the notion: maybe I'm just not going to like the new Marvel universe! Tony Stark's in charge of pretty much everything, and is being portrayed as being about as arrogant as you'd expect someone in that position to be. I also read The Mighty Avengers # 1 this weekend, which similarly has Stark front and centre. In both cases I was turned off by what I saw, as Iron Man struts around re-making the world in his own image. It's like when the Republicans win an election in the U.S. and start bragging about all of the civil liberties they're about to curtail and the sweetheart deals they're cutting with their lobbyists... and who the Hell wants to be reminded of that when reading a comic book?

I'm going to have to think about this long and hard over the next few months. It's just possible that I've found a jumping off point for Marvel, after three and a half decades of loyal readership!

Googley Culture

Interesting article about the lengths Google is going to in order to recruit and retain "the best" employees as it continues to grow in leaps and bounds. I wonder how Herman's doing, anyway?

And by the way, the Michael Gaiman mentioned on page 2, is actually Neil's son, which is how I came to find this article (proud papa posted a link on his blog).

Madness In Fiction

I'm 'reading' two books right now, though one of the two I've about given up on, and hence the choice to put quotes around 'reading.' I thought I'd capture some thoughts on them here, since that's the sort of thing this blog's supposed to be for.

The book that I've been slogging through, off and on, for several months and am about to call it quits on, is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is considered a masterpiece by those in the know, even winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972, as well as receiving one of the most impressive pieces of hyperbole I've ever encountered when the New York Times called it "the first piece of literature since The Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." I really haven't been enjoying One Hundred Years of Solitude, so I guess that's consistent, as I find the Bible unreadable, as well, and would hate to see the billions of non-believers in the world subjected to its meaningless (to them) words. Similarly, this Marquez book just isn't working for me.

The two main complaints I have with One Hundred Years of Solitude are that the characters all seem to have very similar names, and they're all crazy! The former issue I could deal with, if I were interested enough to make a few notes as I read through it, or even to flip back and forth constantly to sort through the specifics of just who Jose Arcadio Buendia, Jose Arcadio, Aureliano Buendia, Arcadio and Aureliano Jose - just to name a few! - all are in relation to each other. Unfortunately, the tales surrounding each of these men, representing a few generations of one or more families (the tree gets kind of complicated) were such a hodgepodge of realism and fantasy that I was never drawn into the story. Most events just seemed to happen without rhyme or reason. I've read that the events of the book are allegorical for the history of Columbia, which is certainly interesting on its own, but does nothing for me as I read about yet another person behaving inexplicably like a lunatic.

Which is the bigger problem I had with the third of the book that I made my way through: everyone seems to go insane at some point! From the women who fall madly in love with some man upon seeing him for the first time, only to decide, once the man begins showing interest, that their love can never happen, to the father who becomes so immersed in exploring whatever trinket a group of gypsies show him that he traumatizes his family, I just couldn't find any solid ground upon which to stand as I read the book! To say that virtually every character in this book acts in ways unlike any non-institutionalized human I've ever encountered would be an understatement. At first it seemed colourful: a young girl eats dirt before being taken in by kindly family, but then relapses as a woman to her old ways. I guess that almost makes some sense. But around about the point where the patriarch of the family has been tied to a tree for several years because he's gone crazy and become given to fits of rage, I just lost my ability to care. Madness without any reason just sort of leaves me cold. And this book, or at least the portion I got through, is sick with it!

I'll readily admit that I'm probably missing something that many others, including Tammy - who considers this one of her favourite books - have been able to thrill to. But on the other hand, liking something because others like it has never worked for me, so I don't lose any sleep over being a dissenting voice. In matters of tastes, there is no right or wrong; there's only what you like and don't like. And as much as I wanted to, I just couldn't like this book. (But more power to those who do!)

While I was ill this past week, I had a couple very bad nights where I was in too much discomfort to sleep. On the first such night, desperate for something to take my mind off my situation, I grabbed the next book off the pile beside the bed, which happened to be The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. I'd gotten this book as a Christmas present from Vicki, who likes to seek out books I've never heard of based on recommendations that are in turn based on books I've liked! OK, that's not very clear. What I mean is that Vicki will talk to someone in the book business and say, "My husband really likes John Irving" or "He loved Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon." From this tactic have arrived books such as Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Because of successes like that, I've learned to be slightly less skeptical than I used to be. I crack open each new book with a blank slate and dive in, rather than trying to anticipate whether the write-up on the back of the book really sounds like my cup of tea.

And thus I started The New York Trilogy in the wee hours of Tuesday night (really, Wednesday morning), with either the best or the worst conditions for appreciating fiction: I needed something to draw me in and transport me away from my body! Fortunately for me, Mr Auster was up to the task!

The trilogy in question is made up of three short novels that he wrote over several years: City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. Each is an example of the mystery genre, I suppose, although they all play fast and loose with our preconceived notions of that type of story. Like One Hundred Years of Solitude, there's no shortage of madness to be found within its pages, but with a difference: the genesis and development of the insanity is a central part of the tale, rather than simply being something that the reader has to suspend belief about. And the madness tends toward obsession, rather than just crazy-for-crazy's-sake, which also makes for a more engaging read, I think.

In City of Glass, a writer of Private Eye fiction, named Quinn, has settled into a routine of disassociation following the deaths, several years earlier, of his wife and small son. He writes under a pseudonym, and deals with his editor and publisher at arm's length, never having even met either. All transactions goes through the mail, and Quinn is able to live off his writing quite comfortably, despite only working at it for a few months each year. His life consists of writing and wandering the streets of New York, never really making contact with anyone beyond a nod or a smile. But then he receives a phone call in the middle of the night, asking to speak to a man who isn't Quinn. The voice on the other end of the phone is barely intelligible, but is clearly distressed. His life is in danger, you see, and only this other person, who the caller says is one of the city's best private investigators, can save him. After blowing off the caller and hanging up, Quinn can't help but think of the irony that someone would mistake him, a writer of P.I. fiction, for the real deal!

His phone rings again the next night, but he waffles on answering it just long enough to allow the caller to give up. By the third night, he's waiting for the phone to sound and has the whole exchange planned in his mind. If he writes about gumshoes, shouldn't he able to play one on the phone? But no call arrives that night. Nor the next night. On the fifth night, though, he pounces when the device rings, and launches into his well-rehearsed impersonation of the private detective. And with that, his carefully-insulated life begins to unravel. There are so many cool moments in this story that I'll probably end up re-reading it sometime soon. If I have any complaint, it's that the ending didn't pay off as well as I'd hoped, but the ride there was fantastic.

Ghosts is the shortest of the three stories, and probably the weakest. The basic premise is that a private investigator is hired to watch a man, but not told why. He's being paid well, so he takes the contract and starts filing weekly reports on what he observes. Unfortunately, all the other man seems to do is read and write, making for the most boring stake-out the private dick has ever taken on. But he also starts to identify with the object of his attention, while not coincidentally beginning to lose control over his own life. His form of insanity develops slowly, and leaves the reader wondering just which bits, of what he claims to be observing, are really happening. It's an interesting little tale that has a nice twist at the end, and also features a running gag in that all of the main characters' names are colours. Mr Blue is watching Mr Black after being contracted by Mr White, and girlfriend Violet loses interest in their relationship. There's also a Goldman, and a Ruby, and several others I've forgotten. Fun stuff.

The final story, The Locked Room, is the one that I'm reading now (well, not right now obviously!) It features a column writer who gets a letter from a woman he doesn't know. The letter writer informs him that she married his childhood best friend, Fanshawe, whom he'd lost touch with over the years. She tells him that her husband has gone missing, and is presumed dead, and that he left behind instructions to contact his former best friend if anything should happen to him. It turns out that the missing man had a closet full of writings that he'd done over the past ten years, none of which his wife could ever convince him to submit for publication. But now Fanshawe's been missing for six months, and his instructions to his wife were to contact his childhood friend, who he knew was now being published, and ask him to read the material. The goal: either try to get it into print, or burn it all, as he saw fit. Yet another intriguing setup, and who wouldn't want to keep reading to see where it goes? Not me, that's for sure! I'm about halfway through it, so I don't know how it ends up yet. I've already seen Fanshawe's first novel be published to rave reveiws, the writer fall in love with the woman, the two of them marry, and the writer receive an untracible letter from Fanshawe, encouraging him to carry on with both the publication efforts and his wooing of Fanshawe's wife! The writer's just beginning to lose it, as he's torn about whether to show the letter to his new wife or not, since he knows he risks losing her if he does. He's also starting to toy with the idea of providing some of his own work under the Fanshawe name, since who would be able to prove otherwise?

Despite the three stories having been published separately previously, they read really well as a collection. Certain small things unify them, such as: in passing, a P.I. character named "Quinn" is referenced in The Locked Room, as a nod to City of Glass. Also, baseball plays a small part in each story, and Don Quixote is referenced in all three. Little bits like that reward the reader for paying attention, and are easier to pick up on when they're likely to be read together.

If either of the books here sounded like something you'd like to read, I encourage you to do so! (After all, reading is fundamental!) Tammy would likely make One Hundred Years of Solitude available to anyone she knows, and I'll similarly lend out The New York Trilogy once I finish it!

You Think I'm Kidding With The Skynet Fears

Found the following linke via Warren Ellis' blog... (and saw it after making my previous post!)

From BBC News: Skynet Has New Launch Opportunity

The Time Change Happened And The World Didn't End?

What a relief to wake up this morning (at 10:31, which quickly became 11:31), see Vicki working away on her PC (it wasn't a brick!), surfing the Internet (it didn't break in half!!), adding comments to my blog (its contents weren't overwritten by a random string of zeroes and ones when Skynet assumed control during the time change!!!) and generally unaware of anything having happened.

Of a humourous note: our new-ish coffee maker has a clock display on it (making me think of Skynet once again, but I digress) and for whatever reason, it's been an hour fast for the past several weeks. I suspect Vicki accidentally hit one of the cryptic buttons on its control panel, thus prematurely launching it an hour into the future, but that's just a theory... Anyway, I noticed the discrepancy awhile back but decided that I'd just wait for the time change to correct it, since what was the point in setting it back an hour only to then have to set it forward again... which must be how the whole Daylight Savings Time phenenomon strikes some individuals, now that I think about it! Be that as it may, this morning I took special pleasure in noting that the coffee maker was now showing the correct time, and I didn't have to figure out its obscure UI while I was setting the other dozen clocks and watches forward an hour...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Couple Interesting Links

Both from Geek Monthly:

1) GM resurrecting Electric Car: Looks like the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car may've actually had an impact after all! And with An Inconvenient Truth rocking the world these days, perhaps the power of the documentary has been underrated of late!

2) Clint Eastwood to direct JMS's The Changeling film: Couldn't have more respect for Eastwood as a director these days, so having him handed the reins of Straczynski's script can only be a very good thing.

To Boldly Go...

Split infinitive and all, those three words really do deliver!

With this post, I've passed the 701 mark currently held by PeterJ over on his blog. No one's saying it's a competition - I could make a joke here, but I won't! - but facts are facts. That's all they are.

I think today is Day # 161 of my blogging experience, and I like to think I've maintained a pretty good track record over that time. Will I still be at it several years from now, like PeterJ has accomplished? Only time will tell.

Guest Blogging Ain't Easy!

But if it was easy, then anyone could do it!

Check out my guest post on Hinckley's blog here.

And for anyone who missed it, coming as it did over 200 posts ago, you can see Vicki's guest blog entry in these parts here.

Blast from the Past # 8: The Misfit

The Misfit

John smiled and nodded at the people who passed him as he made his way to the laundromat. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew John, knew that he was "special", and most were content to simply smile back at the young man when they encountered him on the street. Others, however, considered John a great source of entertainment.

"Hey, ugloid," said a sharp-nosed blonde woman who worked in a local tanning salon, "how you doin' today?"

"Transportitude reconveyable lectionarially posthasteous," John offered, intensifying his smile.

Two girls who were leaning against a nearby wall burst into laughter at John's reply. One said, "Hey, Ronnie, sounds like the geek jus' called you a 'letch'!" while the other cried, in a very shrill voice, "I think you oughtta cuff 'im one!"

"Consider 'im cuffed!" sneered the blonde, as she gave John a solid smack with the back of her hand. "Nex' time I take the time to say 'hi' to you, shitface, you bedder have somethin' nice to say back!"

John ignored the stinging in his cheek. Seeing that the woman had lost interest in him, he moved on, softly noting, "Malfortunaristic deutoplasmy," to himself as he shuffled down the street.


(May '71 entry)

... Thus, after several months of examination, I must reluctantly pronounce judgement on the subject. Although further research might have allowed a more detailed report, I can say with a large degree of certainty that the patient, named John Doe (#17), and aged approximately five years old, is the victim of a bizarre, hitherto unknown form of autism. Despite the fact that John shows obvious awareness of his surroundings, and thus might prematurely be diagnosed as non-autistic, his speech patterns indicate a complete divorce from reality. All attempts at communicating with John have proven fruitless. He seems incapable, or possibly unwilling, to understand, or be understood by, anyone around him. I've personally spent many long hours trying to get him to identify such simple objects and concepts as 'apple', 'ball', 'cat', 'up', and 'down'; but he resists each attempt and inveritibly launches into non-repeating streams of gibberish (several samples of this nonsense can be found in Appendix A). His will is actually quite remarkable for a five year old. Unfortunately, that trait is completely counterproductive in this instance. His resistance to my teachings virtually guarantees that John will never be able to speak or write intelligently.

Because of objections raised by Mother Susan of Newfield's, I'm forced to curtail any further explorations of areas that might bring John out of his autistic shell. I had extremely high hopes for the electroshock therapy he was undergoing, as well as our plans to re-establish a chemical balance within John through the administration of phenocarbonitrates. As is so often the case these days, small-minded and short-sighted laymen have stemmed the tide of medical science in its ongoing ...

In the laundromat, John performed one of the routines that he had long-since memorized. He then stood patiently by the side of the washing machine as it shook and groaned and occasionally filled the air with shrieks. At John's feet rested his empty laundry basket.

A middle-aged woman wearing a kerchief around her head came up to John and tapped him on the shoulder. "Do you know if the bus that stops outside goes all the way to Wilson Ave?" she asked. Without pausing, she continued, "You see, I just moved to this neighbourhood, and I really haven't had a chance to unpack my good china yet, let alone figure out the silly bus routes! Charlie - that's my ex-husband - he used to always sit down and figure all that stuff out for me, but he also used to diddle his secretary, so I finally told him to 'hit the road, Jack!' Know what I mean?"

John smiled and said, "Compathetic retrogressified catalystees ostentatively."

A look of disgust appeared on the woman's face as she turned away from John. "God-damn foreigners... act like they own the place!"

Meanwhile, John watched intently as his clothes went round and round and round.


(March 2/82)

I have to put these thoughts down on paper, so that I can read them back and see how ludicrous they appear.

Lately, when I've been with John Doe, I've felt something bordering on awe toward the young man. When I see him helping the other children, and I hear such wonderful reports about his conduct at St. Martin's during the school hours, I think ...

So many times, over the years, I've gazed out of my office window and seen one or another of the 'problem cases' assaulting John down in the courtyard. I always race down to stop the attack, of course, but in all those incidents I've never once seen John strike back at his attacker. I know I've written of this before, but it recently struck me that not only does he not retaliate, but as far as I can determine (given John's great difficulty in communicating) he's also never shown any malice toward the other children, no matter what atrocities they perpetrate at his expense!

I know it must surely be mad of me to think so, but there are times when I can't help but wonder ... If our Lord were to come back to us as it's prophesized, wouldn't His countenance most likely be plain and unremarkable, as John's is, and what better description of Divine Forgiveness could be imagined than what I've just written of? Could it be that we are incapable of understanding John because of the sins that rest on our souls, much like the punishment that was visited upon the builders of the tower of Babel? Madness? It certainly must be. And yet ...

When I went to Adam Elliot's room several nights ago, in order to 'convince' young Mr. Elliot to decrease the volume of his radio, I paused at his entrance just long enough to hear some of the words of the song he was listening to. For some strange reason, I thought of John. I can't recall the exact wording now, but the song had something to do with the idea that the mute would someday unite and speak in words which we couldn't comprehend. I think so often of John these days. I wonder just what he thinks about ...

John walked briskly back to his apartment when his laundry routine had been completed. Like so many other things in his life, he had the path between the laundromat and his home carefully committed to memory. While the people whom he met changed from one trip to the next, the buildings and streets remained largely the same.

One block short of his destination, John observed that a young couple were strolling toward him, oblivious to all but themselves. When he moved to avoid a collision with them, however, he was nearly bowled over from behind! Bending to pick up the fallen clothes, John heard a sharp voice barking behind him.

"Hey, pal," growled a man in a jogging outfit and tennis shoes, "whas the madder wit chu? Dint you hear me or what? Get cher head oudda the clouds, ok?"

Although the man was quickly out of earshot at a lively pace, John nonetheless remarked, "Outlanderial reciperious expediacate," with a warm smile.


(June 2, 1984)

... Although I know such a move is completely unprecedented in the history of the school, I feel entirely confident that my appointment of John Doe to the post of 'counsellor' will benefit all concerned. No one who has worked with John over the years would contest his qualifications for the position, other than the obvious lack of educational and verbal skills. In the months since John's eighteenth birthday and subsequent graduation, it's become apparent to everyone that sending John away to an adult centre would be both unnecessary and unfortunate. John's willingness to help the other students, as well as his truly inspiring success at getting through to them, makes it imperative that we not lose him. They respond to him with such immediacy that it leaves me speechless some days.

As for John's best interests, I honestly believe that he will benefit from a continued connection with the school. Since he will be getting his own apartment not far from here (with Mother Susan's kind assistance, she assures me) John should have no difficulties with transportation ...

The moment that John had patiently waited for finally arrived as he was folding up his laundry. A bright white dot appeared in his bedroom wall, and quickly grew to several yards in diameter. Two men walked through the hole, and into the room with John.

While John rushed to embrace the older of the two men, the other said, "Exculpatoriousyndromy neochromosomaticeous spatiallycontaintinuumdistorbit remarkificatory!"

John sighed, and replied, "Exculpatorionegatiousness transientality. Vehicularpolarectum, immediaphilososphere."

Together, the three men strode to the waiting portal. John felt a great sense of relief at the thought of finally returning home. His report, once he'd had a chance to rest and collect his thoughts, would show that this planet was still very much mired in barbarism and stupidity. While a few select specimen, such as those he'd discovered at the school, showed promise, the vast majority were virtually mindless. Perhaps later, after a few thousand years of evolution...

John stepped through the gateway, leaving his human form behind.

Down the street, a radio played:

"On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night."

- lyrics by Pink Floyd, from the song
"On the Turning Away"