Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do You Want To See Something Really Scary?

(For those who don't know, that's a famous line from Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

It's Halloween once again, and it looks like we'll have right around our usual number of Trick-or-Treaters (we're currently at 18, and that may be as high as it goes). Most of them have been good at remembering to say "thank you" (occasionally with some prompting by parents) but one kid thought that he got to pick out his favourites and possibly even make requests for ones that weren't being offered...

And Tammy spent her first Halloween as a full-time worker bee off in the New York City area, toiling long into the evening on an audit with no end in sight! Not exactly how she pictured it, I imagine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This Is Worth So Much More Than 1000 Words!

Is that an amazing photo or what?

Being either of those guys, and seeing that view, would just about spoil you for anything else in Life.

Additional incredible photos can be found here. (Thanks to Vicki for sending me the link today.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

San Francisco Trip Now A Go

Dates were confirmed today - around the end of November - and it looks like I'm going to be doing three days of workshops, instead of just two. Add in the fact that Vicki and I are talking about doing two days of sightseeing (Sat & Sun) rather than the original plan of one, and it's become pretty much a week-long sojourn! All this to cover off Story Points for a bunch of people I don't even know!!

Is this the start of a new career as a professional instructor or independent consultant? (Answer: no!)

The World Series That Was

Well, we didn't get the World Series I had hoped for, but at least the fans in Boston have something to celebrate once again (when they're not busy starting cars on fire, that is). This makes the fourth disappointing baseball championship in a row, if you like close ones, with Boston bookending that run:

2004: Boston Red Sox defeat St. Louis 4-0
2005: Chicago White Sox defeat Houston 4-0
2006: St. Louis Cardinals defeat Detroit 4-1
2007: Boston Red Sox defeat Colorado 4-0
(nice time to be a fan of teams with Sox in their names!)

That's a four year period during which only one more game than the minimum was played in the final round. This year reached an historic low across the entire postseason (in terms of games played): of a possible 41 games that can be required across the 4 LDS, 2 LCS and World Series, there were only 28 in 2007, compared to 34, 30, and 30 over the preceding 3 years. 2003 featured an amazing 38 games - with no series sweeps - the highest total since the introduction of the Wildcard (and three rounds of playoffs).

Red Sox fans, after waiting 86 years between championships prior to the 2004 title, had a mere 3 years of patience required this time (or 2, if you consider that only a pair of championships were awarded between their 2004 and 2007 celebrations).

Of the last 10 World Series titles, the Yankees won 3, Boston won 2, and Arizona, Anaheim, Florida, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis all picked up singles. That's a 7-3 advantage to the American League, following a 6-4 advantage over the previous 10 (so the AL has clearly dominated, and not just in All-Star Games recently!)

It should be interesting to see how the Rockies fare next year, since it can be hard to recover from coming up short at the end like that (just look at the Tigers this year).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Age Of Comic Movies

It would've been inconceivable even ten years ago that there'd be as many big budget comic book movies in various stages of production as there are right now. Here are the ones I'm most looking forward to, although I'm sure I'll be disappointed in many cases.

# 6 - Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (December 25, 2007) - Strictly speaking, not a comic-based movie, but there certainly has been plenty of material done on both franchises in comic form. I was in the minority who enjoyed the first AVP (as did Vicki, surprisingly), and I look forward to seeing what they come up with this time (we learned recently that at least one Predalien will appear!) Some of the quotes from the creative staff, including the notion of trying to return to what made each of the first solo movies so memorable, fills me with anticipation. Of course, it could just as easily be crap!

# 5 - The Incredible Hulk (June 13, 2008) - I was really expecting to enjoy Ang Lee's previous Hulk film, because I think ol' Greenskin is a natural for an action blockbuster, and Lee did such a good job on The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Of course, that pairing turned out terribly, and our first inkling of that was the talk of "Hulk dogs" that appeared long before production was finished. I'm encouraged that the upcoming version isn't building on the previous one, and having Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt and Tim Roth as the principles doesn't hurt, either. Hopefully this time we'll get a good, healthy mixture of human pathos and... well, Hulk smashing stuff! And no Hulk dogs or gamma-radiated Nick Nolte!

# 4 - Iron Man (May 2, 2008) - The trailers have looked good; Jon Favreau is directing with at least some intriguing lip service to the fans, and Robert Downey, Jr is a very good actor (just check out Wonder Boys for an example)! I love that they're including the original, clunky grey armour, which is something only a small percentage of the audience will appreciate for its significance. Casting Terrance Howard as Jim Rhodes is brilliant, especially if this first offering leads to a franchise... I can totally see Howard suiting up as War Machine or even subbing for Stark himself. He's got just the right combination of edginess and intelligence to pull it off, which is also a good description of Downey, Jr.

# 3 - Justice League of America (2009 or 2010?) - OK, yeah, this is probably going to suck, but I'll continue to hold out hope for the movie that could be right up until it happens... or it becomes clear that this isn't it! Why is there so much potential? Well, it didn't take the editors in the Golden Age of comics long to figure out that, if one superhero in a story is good, a bunch of them is even better! Thus was born the Justice Society of America in 1940, the predecessors to this very team. Details about the script have already started leaking out, with the biggest points involving a climactic fight between the Big Three (Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman) as well as the death of at least one of the members (mirroring events from the comic world, perhaps). I'd have a true geekasm if this JLA movie turns out great.

# 2 - The Dark Knight (July 18, 2008) - This sequel to Batman Begins, possibly the best superhero movie of all time, has every reason to be outstanding: same director, same writer, same Batman, same excellent supporting cast... and then add Heath Ledger, bidding to make us forget all about Jack Nicholson's turn as the Joker from 1989. Without a good chunk of the plot being set aside for that amazing origin story, I'm very jazzed to see what screenwriter Nolan came up with for director Nolan to shoot! It's hard to believe that this isn't the most exciting upcoming comic-based movie for me, but I had to leave that spot for...

# 1 - Watchmen (March 6, 2009) - The greatest comic book series of all time can't possibly become the benchmark superhero film, can it? It'd certainly be quite the trick if director Zack Snyder pulled that off, but I'd settle for it just achieving "very good" status. After all, the mere prospect of seeing Rorschach, Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre on screen would make up the difference for this fan! And I won't even be that upset if this movie is adored by comic fans and ignored by everyone else... it's not like they need to make enough money to warrant a sequel, after all!

Among the others in this category are X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hellboy 2, The Man of Steel, Wanted, and The Spirit (directed by Frank Miller). Looking slightly further out, you get Captain America, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, something strange involving Green Arrow, Thor, Spider-Man 4, and The Sub-Mariner, among others. Whew!

[Update: In the short period of time since I originally posted this - a day or so - two more movies have been mentioned as getting directors: The Flash, and Green Lantern!]

A Superman Sandwich (On Batman Bread)

We now have the 3 pencil-and-ink sketches that we bid on and won at the charity auction in Chicago framed and ready to go up on the wall! I hope that artists Matt Wagner (left, centre) and Phil Hester (right) would approve of the arrangement; I know I certainly do! We plan to put them directly below this beauty, which is also now framed.

Rockies Rocked In Game 3

Unfortunately, and despite a nice comeback from a 6-0 deficit, the previously red-hot Rockies came up short for the third straight game in this year's World Series, 10-5. Now down 3-0 in the series, I expect it'll all wrap up tomorrow night, with yet another sweep - the fifth out of seven series in this postseason! In fact, if that happens, every playoff matchup that didn't include the Cleveland Indians will have ended in the minimum number of games this year!

Colorado's run-up to this cool-down reminds me of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1992 NHL playoffs. That year, the Blackhawks had finished just seven games over 0.500 during the regular season, but that was more than enough to get them into the postseason. They played St. Louis in the first round, and took the last three games to win the series 4-2. They then swept Detroit in the Division Finals, and swept the Gretzky-less and Messier-less Edmonton Oilers in the Conference Finals. That put them into the Stanley Cup Finals on an incredible eleven-game winning streak, which was practically unheard of with the grueling schedule and wear-and-tear of the hockey playoffs.

And yet, despite all that, they were then swept themselves, by the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who'd arrived there on a bit of a roll themselves, having won seven in a row (including three against the President's Trophy-winning New York Rangers).

So it looks like we have Colorado playing the part of the Blackhawks, and Boston well on their way to filling in for the Penguins. In each case, a hot team would be somehow managing to beat what appeared to be an even hotter team, and making it look easy in the process.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It's Time For A Break (It's Not Me, It's You!)

When a team starts off 3-6-1 in its first 10 games, and only scores 3 goals over its past 4 games, it clearly has some serious problems that need addressing. I'm hoping that the management of the New York Rangers will do just that, and I'm going to give them some privacy in which to do so. For the next month or so, I'm turning a blind eye to whatever the team is up to. I don't plan to check out the scoreboard to see how their doing, or even glance at the NHL standings if I can help it. It's too frustrating to do so, since they've already ruined many a night for me in this young season, but I'm only taking a break ("We were on a break!" - Ross, on Friends) not giving up forever.

You can do your part by respecting my choice and keeping comments about the team to yourself. And you know who you are!

Tonight's The Big Game!

No, not that game (being played at Madison Square Garden) but Game 3 of the 2007 World Series. What makes it so important is that it's the point in the proceedings where we'll find out if this is going to be a series, or a series! With Boston up 2-0 and the next (up to) three games in Colorado, either the Rockies will (finally) flex their muscles and make things very interesting, or the Red Sox will go up 3-0 and virtually assure their second championship in four years. Clearly I'm rooting for the home team tonight, as I suspect most fans are who have no affiliation with either team.

Some of us still recall 2001's version, after all, in which Arizona won Games 1 and 2 at home fairly handily (9-1 and 4-0), before heading to New York where the Yankees took what looked like a stranglehold on the title, winning all three. Back to Arizona it went for a blowout Diamondback victory (15-2), setting up one of the great Game 7s in recent World Series history. Down 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th, and facing the safest bet to ever wear the title of 'closer' - Mariano Rivera - the hometown Diamondbacks did the unthinkable and unseated the three-time defending World Series Champions from New York.

That was the last time that we had a World Series where every game was won by the home team. Could this year be a repeat? As of right now, it still could be!

Ask The Damn Question!

Nothing frustrates me in fiction more than when a character neglects to ask an important question at a crucial moment. I don't know if it's more commonly just a case of bad writing - the author didn't think to have his character ask it - or bad writing - the author realizes that, were that question answered at this point, some much-needed suspense or future shock would be destroyed - but I suspect it may come down to bad writing.

The most recent example of this came in the last episode of Heroes, where Matt Parkman had tracked down his long-lost father, who apparently was tied into the big mystery of Season Two (Who were the previous generation of 'heroes' and who's killing them now?) Matt handcuffed his old man - smart - and then berated him for deserting him all those years ago - annoying - before taking the handcuffs off again - stupid! Parkman the senior claimed that he wanted to tell all, and he even dropped a clue or two, but rather than taking advantage of actually having the upper hand on someone who may know what's going on, Parkman the junior blew his chance by removing the cuffs and ultimately letting his father get away, sans answers. Would a rational person, when faced with a mystery like the one going on this season, really not insist upon finding out what's going on?

A movie that didn't fall into this trap was The Matrix. I had the good fortune to see it on DVD with no idea of what the story was about, and so during the scene were Neo sits down with Morpheus, and certain coloured pills are discussed, I was cheering even before I knew where it was going. Yes, I thought, a script where the obvious questions are asked, and the person in possession of the answers doesn't even dodge them!

Like most people, part of how I enjoy a work of fiction involves immersing myself in it. I think that's the willing suspension of disbelief that people speak of: you'll invest yourself in the story, no matter how unreal its circumstances may be, as long as that trust isn't violated. I don't, for instance, think that the disbelief in question refers to turning your mind off and accepting complete improbabilities. In that light, then, I expect each story to make sense, and its characters to act like real people. And that extends to asking "what the Hell?" whenever a flesh and blood person would.

Comic writers have gotten particularly lazy in this regard of late, it seems to me. Things like characters returning from the dead are the most extreme cases - after all, are you going to tell me that someone who actually came back to life wouldn't be besieged by questions about the afterlife from, like, everybody? - but even more mundane issues like supervillains who never seem to stay in jail seem to get no attention whatsoever. If I were a hero who put my life on the line to capture a homicidal killer like the Joker, or Venom, I'd damn sure want to know why the place they got sent to has a bloody revolving door on it! And yeah, sure, that indelicate question might get in every comic scribe's way of being able to use that villain whenever he or she wants, but that's part of the job. Or at least, it should be!

As Vicki will tell you, I see this sort of thing all the time, and I'm never shy about pointing it out to anyone who'll listen (usually: her and the cats!) I'll suspend my disbelief alright, but only as long as you keep it real!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The San Francisco Treat

It's looking more and more likely that I may be heading San Fran-way sometime in November, in order to provide some Story Points training to a sister company of ours out west. I've been to California exactly one time before - three years ago? - when I got to see Hollywood up close and personal, including the theatre where the Oscars are held, and San Francisco through a taxi window.

This time, it'd be the north only, and I'm hoping that Vicki will be able to come along (she's never been that far west). It seems like I rarely travel without her anymore, anyway, and that's a good thing! Right now we're simply crunching the numbers to make sure that it'd be enough of a treat for her to make it worthwhile having to pay her way (obviously my expenses are taken care of by work). From what we're hearing, SF is a great city to visit, and the sort of place you'll want to go back to. So we're definitely leaning toward making it all happen.

And if you've got a favourite story about the city by the bay, please feel free to share.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We'll Have A Gay Old Time

For the one person out there just emerging from a month in their Sensory Deprivation Tank, author JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, recently 'outed' one of the characters from that series of books. I read the first Potter years ago - on a 'book exchange' deal with young Tammy, who read War of the Worlds for me - and thought, "Yeah, nice enough for a kids' book but give me Neil Gaiman any day of the week" and haven't picked one up since. So I wouldn't know Dumbledore from Rumpelstiltskin, personally. But apparently he is a homosexual, according to the one person in the world who would authoritatively know: the woman who created him from whole cloth.

Which, I read today, has caused a furor in various circles. The Harry Potter books are among the most-read stories in the history of the universe - my having not read most of them notwithstanding - and so the number of people potentially impacted by this revelation is pretty significant. Millions and millions of readers are possibly re-examining their feelings on the character, in light of this new information.

What I love about this story is that Rowling is making a statement, whether she intended to or not (I suspect that she did, but I'm only guessing). She's saying, in a way that most people couldn't, "This old fellow that many of you adored... he fancied other men!" She's able to say that because she owns the rights to all of the HP characters outright, and has been very smart about controlling them every step of the way. If she says one of them is gay, there's not a person in the world who can contradict her... no matter how much some of them might want to! I applaud her for this, and she actually rose in my estimation by using her unique position to put a friendly face on a segment of the population who still take a lot of shit, despite in-roads having been made in the form of shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will & Grace. Good for her, I say!

Of course, on the other hand, maybe Rowling simply did it as a poke in the eye to all the conservatives who complained about the un-Christian nature of all that magic stuff!

Now This Is Hilarious!

I don't always appreciate Bully's sense of humour but this prompted a laugh out loud moment.

Batman's rarely that funny in the real comics...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Can The Red Sox Cool Off The Rockies?

Nobody's been able to do it over the past month and a half, but Boston's well on their way. With 3 runs in the 1st inning and another one in the 2nd, the Red Sox are now up 4-1 in the bottom of the 4th. What I like about this sort of start to the World Series is that it's going to force Colorado to deal with an unfamiliar situation of late: coming back from a significant deficit! This should give everyone a good idea of what they're made of (including the players themselves).

Also, I really don't want to see Colorado take Game 1 with Games 3, 4 and 5 all coming in Denver, especially after watching the Rockies come out of Arizona with a 2-0 lead in the NLCS, which ultimately set up the sweep because of the huge psychological advantage of going home for three with a good chance to end it there. Ideally, this series will either be 1-1 or 2-0 Boston as the scene shifts out west.

About the only downside that I can see to Boston winning it all is that showboat Manny Ramirez would get another ring. The rest of that team's pretty likable, as far as I'm concerned, and of course the Rockies would make for a pretty great Cinderella story if they pull off the upset. So I'm happy either way, as long as it's not another short series (the last three years, the World Series has finished in 4, 4 and 5 games... not exactly classics). We're overdue for a nail-biting seven game World Series, as were more common earlier in the decade.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back To Back Shutouts!

The powerhouse New York Rangers followed up Saturday's 1-0 shootout loss to Boston with a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh tonight! In fact, I just checked and in addition to having been shut out 3 times already in their first 8 games now, they've only scored in 6 of the 24 periods (not counting the 5:00 Overtime period in Saturday's game, during which they also tallied zero goals)! How could the team possibly have fallen this far from how they finished in the Spring (both the regular season and playoffs)? This is extraordinary!

And also of interest are the "next games" for teams that have beaten them recently. After their 2-1 win over NYR a couple weeks ago, the Islanders proceeded to get smoked by Toronto to the tune of 8-1! So the Rangers struggled to net a single goal over 60 minutes, and then the Leafs put 8 of them behind the Islander netkeeper! Similarly, Boston's impressive shutout on the weekend was followed up last night by a 6-1 loss to the Habs!! And finally, after the Thrashers earned their first win (against 6 losses) by beating the Rangers 5-3 (a veritable explosion of goals by the boys from New York, although they all came in the 3rd period, after Atlanta had gotten up 4-0), the lowly Thrashers proceeded to lose 6-2 to the Lightning! Notice a pattern there, anyone?

I suppose a better fan than me would take solace from the total of 1 goal given up over the past 2 games - which is admittedly something - but I'm sorry: if you can only keep the GAA down by not scoring any goals yourself, then you're going to spend the entire season in the basement, like they're well on their way to doing! This 2-5-1 start is beginning to look a lot like how the team played between 1997 and 2004, when it missed the playoffs seven straight years. Someone stop the bleeding!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sixth Time Lucky?

Variety is reporting that the writers of Superman Returns have chosen not to return for the next Superman flick, which is good news, if you ask me. I don't know if the lion's share of the blame belongs to Dougherty and Harris, or director Bryan Singer, but, boy, that was one messed up movie! I probably had my hopes too high, following the amazing job that Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins, but shouldn't something like that raise the bar? I mean, I have a great deal of fondness for Superman I and II - and a great desire to forget ever seeing III and IV - but in the 21st century, the yardstick is clearly now Nolan's Bat-flick and Spider-Man 2. You don't need to exceed or even match those two gems necessarily, but you have to at least be in the ballpark. (I still consider Spider-Man 3 to be just that, but others will disagree.) And when you consider how important a character Superman is in comic terms, he should be at or near the top of the heap.

So I'm hoping they either ignore Superman Returns or take its sequel in a different direction: more action, better villain(s), and less goofiness. Give us the Superman movie that some of us have been waiting our entire lives for.

Oh, and it didn't take Marvel writer Mark Millar long to throw his hand up and offer his services in providing a Super-screenplay. I personally don't trust the guy enough to want to see that happen - after all, he's the genius who had Captain America surrender at the end of the Civil War mini-series, and we all know how that ended! - but it probably wouldn't be much worse than the last three! Maybe they should ask me to write the damn thing...

The Power Of Posting

It's of some interest to me that, thanks to the data collection of Google Analytics, I can see how this blog and The Studio Has A Few Notes compare in terms of traffic. I've heard differing opinions voiced, over the year+ that I've been blogging, as to what drives up hits when you're not a well-known site (like Neil Gaiman's blog, for example). The three main camps (that I'm aware of) seem to be:
  • blog a lot,
  • comment on other blogs a lot so that others will follow your link back to your blog, and
  • post about topical subjects so that you'll show up in popular searches.
I imagine there are others. I'm just not well-versed enough in these matters to know about them.

What I've noticed, in comparing the two publicly-available blogs to which I contribute, is that the first theory seems to correlate most to the results. When The Studio was getting a healthy number of posts, and in fact my own production here was down as a result, the home of movie and TV reviews was out-hitting Kimota94's Place by about 10 - 20% over just about any period. Over the past several weeks, though, as my volume here has returned to 'normal' (averaging about two posts per day), while The Studio has tailed off to about thrice-weekly, the advantage has gone the other way, almost exactly (around 20% higher here than there).

Of course, it could still be something else at work, like content matches that are being favoured (or ignored) by popular searches. I'm sure there's a certain amount of magic (just not the 'real' kind) involved. But as someone who reads other peoples' blogs, I've similarly found that my tendency to visit them eventually settles into a frequency somehow proportional to their tendency to do updates. So I guess it all makes some sort of sense.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The World Series I Wanted? Check!

When we got down to the final four baseball teams this year, I wrote about the appeal of Colorado / Boston in the World Series. Thanks to a 4-game sweep by the Rockies (that ended, it feels like, about a month ago!) and a 3-game collapse by Cleveland after getting up 3-1 in the ALCS, we're going to get exactly that matchup, starting Wednesday.

Some of tonight's antics in Game 7 between the Indians and Red Sox resembled the Keystone Kops, whether it be a 3rd base coach throwing up the stop sign on a clear opportunity to tie the game, or two fielders literally tripping over each other in their pursuit of a pop fly (neither of them caught it). When the dust settled, what had been a very close game into the 7th inning ended up otherwise. The Red Sox took Game 7 by a tally of 11-2 and outscored their long-suffering opponents 30-5 over those last three games. It once again sucks to be an Indians fan right now. (Next year they'll be marking their 60th year since the last championship.) Kenny Lofton, on the Indians this year, has the distinction of being on the receiving end of both of Boston's big comebacks in recent years: he was a Yankee when they were up 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, and this year got to re-live that pain all over again, albeit only from a 3-1 series lead. Ouch.

Does this set up a classic World Series, between two unbelievably hot teams? Why yes, yes it does! Let's hope it lives up to expectations, unlike the last couple. I want to see this one go at least six games, fellas!

The Start Of Something,.. Great?

This week, Action Comics # 857 arrives in the stores, featuring the conclusion of the (in my opinion) rather blah "Escape from Bizarro's World" storyline that started in # 855. I don't know if it's the fact that it's all about Bizarros and their sort-of-but-never-really-backwards logic, the rather raw artwork by Eric Powell, or the involvement of Richard Donner (as co-writer), but I can't wait for that arc to finally be over.

Accentuating that feeling is what comes next. Next week, in fact. Yes, seven short days after Action # 857's publication comes Action # 858 (cover shown up above) and the beginning of what I hope will be a very long run by superstar artist Gary Frank. The talented Mr Frank first caught my eye when he drew Midnight Nation for J Michael Straczyski, back at the turn of the millennium (the most recent one, that is!) He has an extremely clean style and a true gift for facial expressions that really appeals to me, and he's impressed me of late on Supreme Power (again, with JMS) and a few issues of The Incredible Hulk. Hearing a few months ago that he would be joining Geoff Johns on Action Comics gave me new hope for that venerable title (and birthplace of Superman).

The first tale those two fine young gentlemen will be tackling is called "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes." In it, we're told, the Man of Steel will travel to the 31st century to find out what happened to his old pals from his early days (back when it was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, although no one at DC is allowed these days to utter the uperboy-say word!) What's a bit weird about this is that, in these post-Crisis years, we'd come to believe that Superman had never been Superboy, and furthermore had no prior Legion connection. What's more than a bit weird is that there are no fewer than three different incarnations of the Legion running around right now, between their own title, the JLA/JSA/LSH crossover of not too many months ago, and now this arc. A few days ago, though, we were given a clue to this mystery in an interview with Johns: in the new DC Multiverse brought into existence at the end of the 52 series, each universe would have its own 31st century, and therefore possibly more than one Legion of Super-Heroes may be co-existing! Hey, I can get behind that idea, especially if it's used effectively to tell a great story!

What worries me a little, though, is that DC is putting the first Frank issue out so quickly (and it's a 40-pager, to boot, instead of the normal 32 page size). While I'm eager to start reading this run, I'm nervous that delays will be inevitable, resulting in most of the wind being taken out of its sails around the 3rd or 4th issue. With the previous issue coming out on October 24th, why didn't DC simply schedule the next issue four weeks later? That'd give the creative team an extra three weeks of buffer, and nobody would've complained about the (entirely typical) four weeks between issues. This just seems like a very strange tactic, to me, and one that could easily backfire on DC.

Having said that, though, I'm jazzed as can be at the next issue of Action Comics. The next one after the one out this week, that is!

A Brief Update On "The Writing"

I wrote the 13th chapter of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan today, pushing me past the 1/3 point, I believe. There are now over 18,000 words to be found there - not all of them right yet, but there's time enough for that later - and three times that total would be plenty for my first entry into self-publishing.

Now if only I didn't have to keep going into that day job of mine...

And Finally: A Game 7!

Yes, baseball fans' long wait for a winner-take-all playoff game this year has ended at long last (the closest we'd gotten up to now was the Colorado - San Diego one gamer to decide the Wildcard spot in the National League). The Red Sox murdered the Indians 12-2 in Game 6 tonight, setting up Daisuke Matsuzaka's date with Game 7 destiny. Will he finally earn some degree of North American acclaim, or does Fate have something else in mind?

And to the winner goes: a World Series battle against the ultra red-hot Colorado Rockies.

New Material Imminent From Mr Gabriel?

Thanks to a link from Ottawa's Craig, I got to read this article about a recording studio "in a shed" that Peter's promoting. Of particular interest to me, though, was this paragraph:

"Fans will get to hear some of Gabriel's fondest memories from The Shed soon, as his Real World Records releases Big Blue Ball, a compilation of collaborations from the 1990s with world music acts including Karl Wallinger, Natacha Atlas and Papa Wemba, written in his garden studio."

A new CD from PG? It can't come soon enough for me!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Depressing Statistic

Following another Rangers loss this afternoon - this time, 1-0 in a Shootout to Boneman's Bruins in Boston - I thought it was time to look at their lack of scoring power so far this season.

After 7 games, or 21+ periods, the boys have scored a measly 13 goals. That's an average of fewer than 2 goals per game, which is anemic no matter how you slice it. But it's actually much worse than that, because more than half of those red-light igniters came in just 2 of the 21 periods of play, during their only 2 wins this season. They had a 4-goal 3rd period explosion in the opener against the Panthers and a trio of 1st period markers in their 3-1 victory over the Capitals. So more than half of their total to date came in less than 10% of their periods. Meaning, of course, that they could just as easily be 0-6-1 instead of 2-4-1 right now, if it hadn't been for a couple uncharacteristic outbursts. Ouch. (On the positive side, at least they've so far managed a fairly respectable goals against average, so there may still be some hope.)

Oh, and one of their best point-getters, Martin Straka, broke his finger in today's game. So that should really help in their attempts to score more goals... not so much.

They're Everywhere!

I guess I can add this minor incident to the list:

I was in the "1 - 8 Items" line at the grocery store this morning, with my loaf of bread and my box of cereal, and about 3 spots ahead of me was a guy with his wife, son and grocery cart. I watched him unload his 12 items onto the conveyor belt and thought, "Well, that's a little rude. I guess he's reading the sign as 1 to whatever number of Items I have." And none of the stuff he was buying was repeated, meaning that I'm not counting 3 jars of peanut butter as 3 items or anything like that. So this was mildly annoying - because clearly it was more important that he get in the fast lane and slow it down with his over-the-limit number of groceries than it was that he go in the longer line that was actually designated for his profile of shopper - but whatever. I imagine that sort of thing happens every hour of every day in every Express Lane, in the grocery store world.

But then, as the cashier finished ringing up his 12 items (in the 1 - 8 Items line) and handed him the receipt (he was going to pay by credit card, typically the slowest form of payment... of course), he presented her with a coupon for one of his purchases! So of course she had to get on the phone, and get help, because she only knew how to ring through a coupon before the receipt was printed (something to do with how the tax gets calculated). So the six or seven of us now lined up behind him, all with our 8 items or less, stood and waited for a minute until a senior cashier arrived, at which point they had to rummage through the 4 bags that he'd already loaded into his cart, find the item, void it, and then ring it through again, this time with the coupon included (all to save what sounded like about 40 cents).

So by the time he was done - in the wrong line, because he considered his time to be more important than anyone else's - he'd delayed the rest of us about the equivalent of someone who had 30 - 40 items. At no point did he utter even a single syllable of apology or regret, instead acting like the cashier should have known he had a discount coupon despite not showing it until after she handed him the bill!

How do people get raised so poorly as to behave that way? (He was East Indian, by appearance, but I don't expect that had anything to do with anything.) How do they grow up into adults who believe that rules are for other people, even when violating those rules clearly causes an impact to those same other people? What the Hell kind of value system does that moron and his wife - equally unashamed of all that was going down - hold dear?

Friday, October 19, 2007

More Fun With Restaurants

It was only eight weeks ago that we were trying to eat a dinner out but had a loud live musician to contend with.

Tonight, the Family Three went out to the Keg to celebrate Tammy's graduation. We got there nice and early because the Keg doesn't take reservations on a Friday, and were pleased to be seated in a large area with about twenty-four empty tables and nobody else there. Delightful!

And then, about five minutes later, the hostess brought another party into the same section... and seated them right beside us! I could barely grasp that someone would actually do that, as there were so many other empty tables to choose from, almost none of which were within two feet of us like that, when another party was delivered to the table on the other side of us! I started thinking the place must be filling up suddenly, but no, that was it for the flood of new arrivals... just the three parties, all clustered together in a part of the restaurant big enough to accommodate nearly ten times that many people.

While I was processing all of this, and struggling to hear what Vicki and Tammy were saying over the din of the other two groups, one of the men took a call on his cell phone and proceeded to start a lengthy conversation at a volume appropriate for a bar.

That's when I asked the waitress if it was normal to cluster people together in one area when there was all kinds of unused space, and would it be rude of us to ask to move? She was very apologetic and indicated that she'd thought that the seating arrangement was strange, too. She sweetly moved us to a new table, after which the noise level dropped significantly and we had a lovely dinner.

We're guessing the hostess was new on the job. At least I hope she was.

Is dining out always this much work these days?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back To Beantown We Go

Thanks to another impressive pitching performance by bullpen ace Josh Beckett, some timely hitting by the Red Sox batters and a few Indian errors, the ALCS will go to at least six games. As in the series opener, a lop-sided score favoured Boston tonight, 7-1 in this case. Cleveland continues to be the only team in 2007 to come up short in any game in which they could close out a series, having failed against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS (they'd accomplish it in Game 4 of that series, though). And now they've blown their first chance to knock out Boston, and in the process allowed the series to move back to Fenway Park, much to the delight of the Red Sox Nation everywhere.

Is this the beginning of a major momentum shift in this series, or a mere delaying of the inevitable? If Curt Schilling manages to pull off a minor miracle in Game 6, then it would certainly set up quite the drama for a final, winner-take-all seventh game, including incredible pressure on the overpriced Japanese starter for Boston, Daisuke Matsuzaka. This guy reportedly threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning game while in high school (few hurlers in the majors ever exceed 120 pitches in a game) and was a legend in Japan before signing a very lucrative deal with the Red Sox. Pitching in a Game 7 in order to get into the World Series would make for quite the story, both here in North America and back in his homeland. But there's still the matter of a Game 6 on Saturday night to enjoy before any serious talk of such things can happen.

Need A Win? Play The Rangers!

Atlanta Thrashers, losers of all six of their games so far this young NHL season, are now up 4-0 on the Rangers in the 3rd period. Sure, they fired their coach after their last loss and have somebody new behind the bench, and yeah, I'm guessing they're still smarting after being swept out of their first ever playoff series by New York in April, but when a team that's supposed to be a powerhouse this year can't beat an 0-and-6 opponent on their way to establishing a 2-and-4 start themselves, you know something's not right.

It may be time for some heads to start rolling in the organization. Early season losses have a way of coming back to haunt you late in the year, if you end up in tough for a playoff spot. And how does a team finish so strong, supposedly improve itself in the off-season, and then have such a crappy start to the next season?

Graduation Day

I spent the day out of the office and was spotted by a co-worker wearing a suit and a tie... ah, the stuff of rumours!

No, it wasn't Job Interview Day for me, but rather Graduation Day for young Tammy. She did a commendable job spending time with both of her families (her dad and his parents and girlfriend, and Vicki and I) as well as catching up with various friends (for the last time?).

I barely remember my own convocation (over twenty years ago) but I do know that the only reason I went was to make my Aunt Dorothy happy. It seemed like a lot of silly pomp and ceremony then, and still does now. But what else would you expect from a guy who was delighted to 'get away with' a Justice of the Peace wedding at City Hall?

Hopefully the young lady had fun and the rest of it's just noise.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Baseball Withdrawal? Yeah, I've Got It!

It's only one night without any baseball, but it still feels... wrong.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Boston, behind their ace Josh Beckett, can win Game 5 tomorrow night and send the series back to Beantown for the weekend. If that doesn't happen, then we'll have only managed two games over the minimum through the first six series! That would be such an unheard of turn-of-events, not to mention how unhappy it'd make me to get so little post-season baseball in 2007! For a team that came back from 0-3 in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, I have to think that overcoming a 3-1 deficit this year shouldn't be too daunting for the Red Sox.

Right, Boneman?

And now, I'm off to bed. Those three hours of sleep last night just didn't seem to cut it! And watching one of our cats let a mouse run right by him around 3:30 a.m. didn't help, either.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

He's A Doctor, Damn It, Not A Chick Magnet!

Ain't It Cool News is reporting that Karl Urban will be playing young Dr Leonard McCoy in JJ Abrams' re-imagining of Star Trek. Evil Sylar as Spock. Some hunk as Bones. What's next? I'm thinking... somebody who can actually act portraying James Tiberius Kirk?!?

They said.

It couldn't.

Be done!

Let's get the Hell out of here.

Me Want Black Dossier!

After no new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen material in what seems like a very, very long time, it looks like the Nov 14th release date for LOEG: Black Dossier is finally being confirmed. There's even a 4 page preview out there at the corner of Information Superhighway and World Wide Weed.

How much do I love LOEG? Well, the 2nd volume did show up as # 4 on my all-time Best of Moore list! That's pretty high!

Now all I have to worry about are the copyright issues which supposedly limit publication to the U.S. only. I've been bugging my local comic store guy about looking into whether he'll get copies or not, but haven't gotten a firm answer as of yet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some Rumours You Just Want To Believe!

Resistance: Fall of Man 2 coming in November of next year? So claims one source, as reported at GameSpot. Having just played the demo partial-level of Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction game (downloaded from the Playstation Store over the weekend), I'm more than ready, willing and able to put as much money into that gaming company's coffers as they'll take... especially if they keep putting out more R&C and R:FoM titles! Fun fun fun!

Increasing My Portability

I did something today that I'd been planning for two months. When I returned to work after my five week vacation, I decided it was time to finally give up my desktop and go "all laptop, all the time." I'd previously resisted this because I had continued to use my PC at my desk, and reserve the laptop for meetings and at home. But after being re-located from one cubicle to another while I was off, and realizing that I'll probably move around more frequently in my current role, I decided to go down to one machine. (I'd already given up every other piece of hardware I ever had.)

So what I did was this: for the last two months, I've used my laptop exclusively. I'd already copied any files I cared about off my desktop my first day back, so I wanted to see if I could go 2 months without needing the other machine. I could, and I did, and so I sent it packing today!

My next interim goal in this category is to get my stuff at work to fit into just one box, and one shelf-on-wheels piece of furniture that I have. Once that's achieved, then I'll be ready to move with almost no notice at all, and be able to pull it off in a half hour or less. Now that's portability!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hope You're Making The Most Of It!

A co-worker sent out a link to an interesting site where an argument is made that we all just exist inside a computer simulation. I couldn't follow all of the math closely enough to be able to say that I believe things are as straight-forward as the author posits, but it's certainly an unusual approach. (And being in a computer simulation would explain away phenomena like deja vu, paranormal activity and the popularity of Reality TV and Paris Hilton!)

One thing I noticed in the paper was that it makes an assertion which, if taken to its own logical conclusion, would seem to invalidate the larger premise. In writing in support of the viability of a "posthuman" era with completely life-like simulations, the following is provided:

"Moreover, a posthuman simulator would have enough computing power to keep track of the detailed belief-states in all human brains at all times. Therefore, when it saw that a human was about to make an observation of the microscopic world, it could fill in sufficient detail in the simulation in the appropriate domain on an as-needed basis. Should any error occur, the director could easily edit the states of any brains that have become aware of an anomaly before it spoils the simulation. Alternatively, the director could skip back a few seconds and rerun the simulation in a way that avoids the problem."

I love that notion, but of course it completely rules out any possibility of us actually being in such a simulation. Why? Because, according to the author, any detection of the simulation would result in changing "the states of any brains that have become aware of an anomaly before it spoils the simulation." So the entire exercise of writing up this thesis should've been aborted (or rewound so that it could be pushed in another direction) if there were any truth to it.

Still, I get a bit of a thrill imagining that we're all just in a virtual reality here, especially when I think about us playing video games: simulations within simulations, dudes!

So if you were convinced that all of this really was just happening in a virtual reality, what would you do differently? I'd probably eat more ice cream...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Game 2s: Much Better Than Game 1s

Last night's Game 2 between Arizona and Colorado was highly entertaining, but even so I could only make it to 2:00 a.m. (at which time it was 2-2, going to the top of the 10th inning). I recorded another 4 hours - hoping that would cover it! - and then watched the 10th and 11th innings this morning. Colorado won the game in the most unlikely of ways - on a bases loaded walk in the top of the 11th - and ran their current hot streak to 19 wins in their last 20 games. Let's consider that stat for a moment: over the past three weeks, including the final 14 games of the regular season, a 1-game playoff to decide the Wildcard spot, and 5 post-season games so far, they've lost only once! I don't think I can ever remember a baseball team being quite that unbeatable at this time of the year. The Rockies are now up 2-0 in the series, headed home for Games 3, 4 and (if necesary) 5, and I don't think any fans of the Diamondbacks should be expecting to see their team play another home game this post-season. As I keep saying: I wouldn't bet against Colorado winning it all later this month!

Tonight's Boston/Cleveland game has managed to outdo even the thrills in Arizona over the past 24 hours, though. The lead has changed hands several times already this evening, with Cleveland holding 1-0, 4-3 and 5-3 advantages, while the Red Sox have been up 2-1, 3-1 and 6-5, though the game currently sits 6-6 in the 9th inning (and we just passed midnight!). Boston has utilized a Japanese reliever who, incredibly, always has his head turned completely toward third base as he releases the ball! If the Indians lose tonight to go down 0-2, at least they've got three games in a row coming up at Jacobs Field in which to try to climb back into this ALCS. Of course, if Boston loses, they may in fact be playing their last home game of 2007 tonight, if they head to Cleveland for three, tied 1-1 in the series.

[Update: The Indians went to town in the top of the 11th and put 7 more runs on the board, and won the game 13-6. That series is now tied 1-1 as it shifts to Cleveland for three. Yay! No sweep!]

While there's been nothing this year - so far - anywhere near the scale of the Steve Bartman moment of a few years ago, we've had some smaller dramas already. Even the way Game 1 of the NLCS ended, with Arizona down 5-1 only to have a base-running blunder undo a potential rally, made things more interesting than they might've been otherwise. Chase Field in Phoenix has also been the site for some intriguing calls in the first couple games, usually around the second base bag. The so-called "neighbourhood play," in which the infielder just has to be around second base as he turns the first half of a double play, hasn't always been observed by the umpires in Arizona. And we got an interference call there, causing the runner at first to also be called out, as well as bringing a runner back from third to second (I didn't even know the rule worked that way until I saw it in Game 1)!

I just hope that both LCS don't go the way of the sweep, as we're almost out of baseball for another year, and I don't want it to end quite that quickly!

A Very Fine Read Indeed

Several weeks ago I wrote about the bizarre events leading up to and culminating in Green Arrow and Black Canary's wedding night. The... climax of that event came in the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, where bride Dinah was inexplicably attacked by groom Oliver, resulting in her stabbing him in the neck, apparently killing him. And this was all a lead-in to a brand new Green Arrow / Black Canary ongoing title, which launched this past week.

I'm in a minority within the comic book community, because I neither love nor hate the writing of Judd Winnick. Sometimes his style works for me and sometimes it leaves me cold, so I haven't really formed any definitive opinion about the man. Here, I'm happy to say, he hits exactly the right notes for this DC fan. To begin with, the story picks up a month after the events of the GA/BC Wedding Special, so we're quickly informed that the neck wound at the end of the previous tale was, indeed, fatal. So much so, in fact, that Dinah (Mrs Queen?) has the dead body to prove it, preserved in a glass coffin, down in her basement!

Where Winnick wins me over, though, is with his inclusion of other key DCU characters. Pretty much everyone who's closely associated with either Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen or Dinah "Black Canary" Lance shows up, either to offer condolences to the widow or to help her deal with her apparent boatload of denial. She's utterly convinced, it turns out, that the man who tried to kill her, and ended up dying at her hands, was not Oliver Queen! She knows this by his eyes, and she's unflagging in her belief. But of course no one else believes her, until she finds the most unlikely of allies: Batman himself! He's done his usual detective work, as a counterpoint to Dinah's more emotional bias, and has come to the same conclusion as his Justice League teammate. Suddenly the rest of the friends, family and heroes take the Canary's denial a lot more seriously! (Hopefully no one reading the comic will interpret this as a slap at women, as it's clearly not a "male/female" thing but rather a "Batman/everyone else" thing!)

There's lots more on display in this impressive premiere, including a whole lot of very clean, very attractive artwork by Cliff Chiang. He has a deceptively simple style that may not sit well with some, especially on characters like Green Lantern and Batman, but I found that it worked perfectly for me here. He also has the likenesses of the main characters down pat, right from the start, which should help anyone trying out this book who isn't a longtime fan. Consistency is all too rare in comics these days, it seems.

I came into this series lukewarm, especially given the way it was lead into. But after reading this first issue, I'm planning to stick around for awhile, both to see where it's going, and because it's off to a great start! I'll also say, without giving anything away, that I guessed the minor twist that shows up toward the end of the comic, although I saw it just before the big reveal. The clue was subtle, but it was there. And I like when writers play fair like that!

When Good Villains Go Bad

When I was reading comics as a kid, one of my favourite set of characters were the Sentinels who first showed up in X-Men # 14 back in the mid-1960s (I encountered them first in a reprint of that debut). These were thirty foot tall purple robots that were designed to hunt down and capture any and all mutants, who even way back then were feared and hated by the general public (or at least by those scientists with the resources and intellect to build giant robots to go after them!)

While I certainly liked the scary aspect of the Sentinels - imagine the shock of the roof of your house being ripped off and a giant purple hand reaching in to grab you! - what I loved about them was the fact that they analyzed every weapon or superpower used against them, sharing the information between all Sentinels, meaning that however you defeated one this time would never work again! That notion was absolutely thrilling to me, because of the implication that you needed to come up with new ways to overcome a Sentinel each time one found you!

Now, if that concept sounds familiar to you and yet you've never heard of the Sentinels, it may be because you're a Star Trek fan and are thinking "Borg." I consider the two groups to be brothers under the skin - although let's be clear as to who inspired whom! - in terms of storytelling potential delivered by that adaptive-defense aspect. And in fact, when the Collective-loving alien cyborgs first showed up in Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who?", I thought, "Hey, they're like humanoid Sentinels!" Even their team slogan of, "Resistance is futile." seems faintly robotic, and reminiscent of their purple Marvel Comics antecedents. And futility was an apt description of how Picard, Ryker and the rest of the Enterprise fared against the Borg in that initial encounter, saved only by omnipotent Q's capricious nature, flinging the Trek ship back to their own quadrant of the universe. In their second appearance, as the villains of the ST:TNG 3rd season finale/4th season premiere, "Best of Both Worlds", the terror of their threat was accentuated even more, and they clearly became the premiere arch foes of the Trek universe.

Which bring us to where both the Borg and the Sentinels have gone off the rails, over the years. Unlike most villains, these two are necessarily going to be harder to defeat every time they appear, simply by their nature. As a writer of fiction involving either of them, you have to be aware of this limitation at every turn. What I've seen, in both the comics and the Trek appearances, is that there's a tendency to instead water down or de-fang the villains, so as not to have to deal with this escalating ante. In both mediums, instances of each group have actually shown up as "good guys", with Marvel publishing Sentinel, a few years ago, featuring a boy and his 'pet Sentinel', as well as the popular - and sexy - Borg character known as Seven of Nine who was a regular on Star Trek: Voyager for several years. And those were simply two examples of where the once-terrifying concepts were transformed into blah versions (no offense to Jeri Ryan or her legion of fans!).

I think it's fine to take characters in new directions, but just wish in the case of the Sentinels and the Borg, that Marvel and Paramount had instead respectively used them less often, and more effectively. Both started off incredibly strongly, and then soon were diminished with each subsequent appearance. Writing them well is clearly a challenge; it just seems that not that many writers were up to it!

And speaking of challenges, how about this one: who'd win if a bunch of Sentinels fought an expedition of Borg? (Fan Geek-Out # 2,539!)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Memo To Sportsnet, Re: Baseball Playoffs

Let me start off by saying how much I enjoy Sportsnet's coverage of the MLB playoffs. Having one network that broadcasts all of the games, and all in HD, is fantastic, and greatly appreciated by this Canadian baseball fanatic! And the segments between innings with Greg Zahn and others are often enjoyable and insightful.

About the only bone I have to pick with their coverage this year has come up when one game overlaps another, as happened tonight. The 7:00 p.m. Indians/Red Sox game ran late, and so there were about forty minutes during which both it, and the 10:00 p.m. Rockies/Diamondbacks games were underway. Now, in most cases, staying with the earlier game - as Sportsnet did tonight - is the only reasonable choice you have, since you've got viewers invested in it and you don't want to piss them off by jumping over to the new game that's just starting up. However, I don't think that's a blanket statement that can be applied in every instance.

The early game tonight, for example, was 10-3 for Boston in the 8th inning, when the Arizona/Colorado Game 2 had its first pitch. Aside from the most hopelessly-optimistic Cleveland fans and the faintest-of-heart Boston supporters, nobody in their right mind expected any outcome in the nearly-complete contest except for a Red Sox victory. Even if Cleveland loaded the bases in the 9th - as they in fact did - and followed that up with a grand slam - which they didn't - the lead would still have been 3! Could the Indians have come back? Yes, of course they could've, as the whole "you get to play until the final out is made" setup of baseball totally allows for big comebacks (much moreso than in timed games, as we have in the other three major professional sports leagues). But huge rallies, like from a 7-run late-inning hole, are still rare. In most regular seasons, for example, you might have a handful of them (the Jays turned a lot of heads this year when they overcame a 5-run deficit in the bottom of the 9th) but the MLB season consists of 2,430 games (81 home games times 30 teams) whereas the playoffs have, at most, 41 games (4 best-of-five LDS series, 2 best-of-seven LCS series and 1 best-of-seven World Series). Therefore the chances of an historic comeback in the post-season are pretty low.

All of which means: dump the blowout already and switch to the new game when it starts! Worst case, the lopsided abandoned game suddenly gets interesting, and you temporarily switch back to it for a few minutes! That's what I, as a baseball fan, expect to see! It's what I would do if I were in charge of what game was being shown.

Now, for all I know, maybe part of the deal that Sportsnet made with TBS and Fox in the U.S. requires them to stay with any game they show, until completion. If that's the case, then never mind (but maybe try to get a better deal next time!)

And again, I completely appreciate that something like this is the worst thing I can find to complain about so far with this year's baseball broadcasts!

Not Even In The Same League As A Role Model

With all of the more serious examples of bad behaviour by professional athletes showing up in the news these days, this one hardly seems worth mentioning: an NBA 'star' who's admitted to padding his Halo 3 stats by setting up fake games with a friend and taking turns throwing games to one another (think of Boneman and me, driving each other's Resistance: Fall of Man ranks up, by one of us standing in a game so that the other could collect points killing us).

It's hardly worth mentioning except in what it says about the fool's character. He apparently thinks his statistics in a video game are important enough to spend time artificially boosting them, but then - when called on it - claims that there's nothing wrong with doing it because it's not 'hurting' anyone. That kind of rationalization makes you wonder how hard it would be to get him to tank in an NBA game - perhaps one in which he's bet against his own team - since after all, who would that really hurt? Or how often he cheats on his girlfriend or wife, because what she doesn't know won't hurt her? Or how much undeclared income he makes off his star status, as it certainly couldn't harm anyone if he got paid in cash and didn't report it? Rationalization is always so handy whenever someone wants to convince themselves that they're not doing anything wrong, when in fact they know that they actually are.

Not that we were ever likely to mistake many in the current crop of pro athletes for role models, anyway. But this seems like a ridiculously pathetic example of just how lacking in integrity some of them really are.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who Doesn't Love Easy Money?

I was reading something this morning and came across an offhand comment that stopped me dead in my tracks for a moment or two. What gave me pause was a statement along the lines of "Back in the 1970s, when IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) were first introduced and took awhile to catch on..." First off, I hadn't realized that IRAs - the American counterpart to our Canadian RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plans) - had only been around since the 70s, but more shocking to me was the notion that they had originally received a lukewarm or even cool reception from the general public.

Then I started thinking about some of the uninformed comments I've heard about RRSPs just in the time that I've been working (mid-80s onward):
  • "They're a government money grab!"
  • "I'd never contribute to one because I don't want to lose control of my own money!"
  • "RRSPs are just a form of taxation."
  • "I can't afford to put anything into my RRSP; besides, there's always the Old Age Pension and Canada Pension Plan."
  • "What's the difference? Tax me now or tax me later. There's no incentive."
Now, I spent my first fourteen years of full-time employment working for a bank, so probably I'm not only better educated about retirement plans than the average person, but I also tended to hang out with other people who understood them even more than I did, like my wife.

Even so, I'm still amazed when I encounter someone who's anti-RRSP. I can understand if a person's hazy about some slightly more esoteric aspect like the value of a spousal account, or why starting contributions early in their career makes such a difference. Those are a far cry, however, from thinking that RRSPs are a scam!

I think part of the reason why there are still people so willfully ignorant on this topic was also touched upon in the book where I encountered the IRA reference. The point was made by the author that tax breaks were traditionally something that only wealthy people could ever take advantage of. In fact, for decades, the term "tax break" was almost synonymous with "loophole for the rich." Some folks may still make that association today, or have at least formed a negative association with RRSPs from that original connotation.

Then there's the fact that the money is "registered," with a set of rules placed on what happens when you go to take it out, that probably doesn't sit right with some people. After all, the argument goes, if it's my money, why can't I take it out whenever I want? And of course, the answer is: you absolutely can withdraw the funds anytime you choose, but you may end up paying the income tax on it that you never paid originally. That seems to be a tough concept for those who don't get RRSPs. And if you can't get your head around that, then no wonder you'd shy away from them!

I remember having a conversation with someone a few years ago on this subject, and heard the "I can't afford to..." opinion come out. I quickly fired back with, "How can you afford not to?" That of course got a skeptical look in response, like I was one of those infomercial snake oil salesmen who claim you can work just 10 hours a week and make $100,000 per year in the process... So I asked the other person if they'd have some money to invest in a stock, if they were guaranteed to get a 40% return the first year, followed by normal returns in subsequent years... as long as they left it there? The answer was, "Oh, sure, but stocks aren't guaranteed, and things that are don't give nearly that kind of return." Then I had my opening! I have no idea if that person ever did invest in an RRSP after we finished talking, but I gave it my best shot.

In case it's not obvious, I love that Canada has RRSPs! Vicki and I should end up retired (or financially able to retire) in our mid-50s and mid-40s, respectively, largely thanks to the money that has grown in our RRSPs (and company pensions) and the tax money we saved as we contributed to them. I have this idea about slowly drawing our money back out of the registered accounts (and into just regular savings) during the years when we're not working but aren't yet officially retirement age. Why? So that we can get some of it back at a very low income tax rate, by using the graduated tax system to our advantage. Imagine putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into RRSPs with a tax break of 46%, and then taking it out while only paying tax at a 0 - 15% rate! How sweet is that?

In summary, RRSPs (and IRAs): good! People who are suspicious of RRSPs: silly!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Proving The Experts Wrong

Those who were calling for an impressive 2007/08 season from the amped up New York Rangers must be scratching their heads about now. Despite adding Drury and Gomez to their line-up in the off-season, the boys from Manhattan are now 1-2, including a loss tonight to their crosstown rivals. This is the team that's going to challenge in the Eastern Conference?

One Over The Limit

This year's baseball Divisional Series, in which four best-of-five contests took only a total of thirteen games to complete, was the shortest such set since they introduced the concept. But it was more than just a statistic, to this baseball fan.

The fact that no series went the distance, and more, that all but one of them were sweeps, has served to diminish some of my enthusiasm for the playoffs. There just wasn't a whole lot of suspense or drama to the opening round in 2007. That's not to say that I couldn't be revved back up again by a good League Championship Series or two, but usually I go into the LCS pre-jazzed... sigh.

So, I'm definitely more intrigued by the Rockies/D'backs matchup than the Indians/Bosox one, but that wouldn't be true if Boston hadn't already ended their own 80+ year drought. It's hard to believe that anyone will be able to stop the boys from Colorado, but the prospect of potentially seeing them go up against the powerhouse Red Sox holds some definite appeal. In the 90s, the Indians made it to the World Series twice, but each time lost to a team that had never won a championship before (Atlanta in 1995, and Florida in 1997). So I have trouble considering them a viable threat, for all that they did look great against the Yankees in the ALDS. (Maybe they'll face, and lose to, the Rockies this time around?) And back in 2001, I didn't give the Diamondbacks a chance of winning it all, especially when they drew the three-time defending champs from New York, and yet they proved me wrong, in one of the best World Series I've ever seen.

Yeah, OK, I guess maybe I'm just a little jazzed after all!

Golden Oldie: The Incredible Hulk # 3

Hey, see if this sounds familiar: The Hulk gets tricked into a missile and launched into outer space, while an authority figure looks on and exults, "We've done it! It worked! It's the end of the Hulk! He'll never return alive to menace Earth again!"

If you said, "Sure, that sounds like the start of the Planet Hulk storyline that eventually brought us to the current World War Hulk epic where ol' Greenskin returns to Earth in order to have his revenge on those who sent him away!" then you'd be right... and wrong! The scene in question is from The Incredible Hulk # 3, from a mind-numbing 45 years ago! That's right, September 1962's 3rd appearance of the Hulk used that very same mechanism as the springboard for its story, which involved a much shorter stay in space for its title character - approximately 3 pages - while also introducing a change in the ground rules for the book. Up until that point, which is to say for the first two issues of the series, there was a clear delineation point between Bruce Banner and his monstrous alter-ego, with the former presiding during daylight and the latter busting loose at night (perhaps inspired by Wolfman antics). Here, as a result of his trip into space and corresponding irradiation, the Hulk took over full-time, with no sign of scrawny Banner to be found except in flashbacks.

And speaking of flashbacks, I guess Stan Lee figured readers might've already forgotten how the Incredible One came to be all those (two) issues ago, since he provided a recap of that tale here in # 3! I would've called that the quickest retelling of an origin ever, except that I'm pretty sure Peter Parker recalled his own date with destiny in Amazing Spider-Man # 1, the immediate follow-up to Amazing Fantasy # 15! And we think kids have Attention Deficit Disorder today!

The Incredible Hulk # 3 was fun no matter how you slice it, though, as young sidekick Rick Jones ended up in command of the Hulk, once again thanks to the mysterious and inexplicable effects of that outer space radiation! You might expect that he'd have taken the man-monster and paid a visit to that annoying bully who always tormented him in 10th grade, but no, he simply locked the brute away while he went off to visit his Aunt Polly and take in a circus show!

Of course, it's never just a circus show in the Marvel Universe - even back then! - as the evil Ringmaster was hyp-mo-tizing everyone in town and then robbing them blind. It wasn't long before Rick, the Hulk, and two FBI agents who'd been following a trail of bizarre crimes around the countryside all converged on the Ringmaster's scheme, at which point hilarity - in the form of trained elephants, tent posts and humans shot out of cannons - ensued!

Though I've never been a big Jack Kirby fan, and probably never will be, I do have to admit that his rough, blocky style perfectly suited these early issues of The Incredible Hulk and Fantastic Four. Everyone in this comic looks like they were cut out of granite, and that's somehow appropriate with a giant green monster, a hellfire Army general, and a kid who you just know has spent most of his life running away from home. Unfortunately, there aren't many of the big, dynamic splash pages that I usually expect to find in a Kirby comic, and in fact many of the pages sport up to eight panels on them (no wonder it took me twice as long to read as one of its modern counterparts!)

I think my favourite shot of the whole package is the cover, with that squinty-eyed, square-browed Hulk pretending like "he can fly!!" when in fact it's pretty clearly stated inside that he's only jumping really high. I wonder how many kids got suckered into buying this gem back in '62 because they actually thought they were going to see somebody fly? OK, maybe not, considering how many DC characters were already doing that at the time. But still! How about a little truth in advertising, Marvel?!

I'll also shamefully admit that I initially misread the word "FLICKER" as it appeared in the comic, almost causing me to spit Dr Pepper all over it! (Slight exaggeration, for effect only. No actual Silver Age comics were harmed.) That experience did remind me, though, of that old comic book legend that maintained that writers were not to use the words "FLICK" or "CLINT" (or variations thereof) in any of their stories, for obvious reasons. I guess Stan didn't get that memo! Eventually, of course, the printing quality improved enough that they could start running that risk.

When it's all said and done, this was a great read, and every bit worth the much-more-than-12-cents I paid for it recently! Now I just have to get issues 1 and 2 and I'll have finally filled out my run of The Incredible Hulk after all these years!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What A Great Time To Be Alive!

The digital music channel that I often listen to on my TV is currently playing David Bowie's song, "Heroes"... the German version!

Who cares that we don't have flying cars or colonies on Mars in the 21st century just yet, when we can get foreign language variants of classic 70s rock songs on our TVs!

And if that doesn't impress you, it's just possible that you're a member of the Jaded Generation... and your life will always suck! See ya; wouldn't wanna be ya!

Guest Blog: Shane's Detroit Red Wings Dream Team

So Matt and I have discussed all things hockey on various occasions, and recently I offered up a blog topic of Matt’s “All-Time” Rangers line-up. Being the good sport we all know him to be, Matt produced a solid example of the talent that has passed through the New York Rangers organization. Now I’m not the type to make a request of someone, if I wasn’t willing to complete the task myself.

So, with that being said, here is my Detroit Red Wings “All Time” Line-up.

Behind the Bench
William Scott “Scotty” Bowman (1993 – 2002) – He’s been compared to the best coaches in the history of sports. He holds the record for the most coaching wins in NHL history, with 1,244 wins in the regular season (Winning Percentage of 58.2%) and 223 victories in the post season. (Winning Percentage of 63.2%)

He has won NINE Stanley Cups (three in Detroit, five in Montreal, and one in Pittsburgh) No other head coach in the history of the NHL, MLB, NFL, or NBA has won a championship with 3 different teams. Scotty Bowman once joked that “his only regret was not winning a tenth Stanley Cup ring because he has ten fingers”

Honorable Mention:Jacques Demers (1986-1990) – Jacques won the Jack Adams award for coach of the year in 1987 and 1988 while with the Wings, and ties Scotty Bowman for Multiple “Coach of the Year” awards.

Right Wing
Gordon “Gordie” Howe (1946-1971) – Gordie Howe began playing in the NHL at the tender age of 18 as an ambidextrous player. He used a straight blade to allow him to shoot the puck with either hand. Howe has been dubbed “Mr. Hockey” but players who have faced him referred to him as “Mr. Elbows”. He played a very physical style of hockey and it remains a medical mystery how he managed to play professional hockey in six decades. A “Gordie Howe Hat-Trick” is when a player scores a goal, gets an assist, and win a fight in one game. During that time Howe finished in the top 5 in scoring for twenty straight seasons. No wonder he was the boyhood idol of Wayne Gretzky and it was Gordie Howe’s number 9 that prompted Wayne to select the number 99 for himself.

Honorable Mention: Andy Bathgate, Brendan Shanahan

Left Wing
Robert Blake Theodore “Ted” Lindsay (1944-1957) – Off the ice Ted Lindsay helped to create the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), and on the ice, the famous #7 was one third of the Detroit Red Wing’s famous “Production Line”. With the Wings Ted Lindsay won four Stanley cups and the Art Ross trophy for leading the league in scoring. Despite his small size, Lindsay was nicknamed ‘Terrible Ted’ because of his rough style of play. In 1068 career games Ted has scored 379 Goals, 472 Assists for 851 Points. He was voted to the NHL all star team eight times.

Honourable Mention: Syd Abel, Alex Delvecchio

Steven Gregory Yzerman (1983-2006) – So much can be said about this guy. Stevie Y was drafted by the Red Wings 4th overall after having to ‘settle’ for Yzerman when the Islanders took Pat LaFontaine with the 3rd selection. Steve then went on to 10 All Star games, 3 Stanley Cups, an Olympic Gold Medal, A World Cup of Hockey Championship, a Canada Cup Championship, a Lester B Pearson Award (NHL outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA), a Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP), a Bill Masterson Trophy, a Lester Patrick Trophy, and a Frank J. Selke Trophy to name a few. He currently ranks sixth in NHL history in points, seventh in assists, and eight in goals. Yzerman is the youngest captain in Red Wings history, and has been dubbed simply “the Captain”.

On my way to one of the Red Wings games, I can recall seeing a giant poster that hung in downtown Detroit just outside of the Joe Louis Arena. It was a huge picture of Stevie Y and it read “Born: Cranbrook, B.C. 1965 – Adopted: Detroit, MI 1983”.

They don’t make players like that anymore.

Niklas Lidstrom (1991 – present) – This guy is automatic. Never makes mistakes, always in the right place at the right time, and clearly leads by example. His trophy case is loaded with 3 Stanley Cups, 5 Norris Trophy’s (NHL’s Best Defenseman), 1 Conn Smythe Trophy, an Olympic Gold, a World Championship of Hockey Gold, and has been voted to the NHL all star game 9 times and counting. Filling in for Steve Yzerman as captain isn’t an easy job, but Lidstrom seems to be handling the pressure quite well. As a defender he’s considered one of the league’s best, but his offensive numbers are also quite impressive as Lidstrom holds a Red Wing record for points by a defenseman with 80.

Leonard Patrick “Red” Kelly (1947 – 1960) – Red Kelly was a gifted athlete and one of the few players in the NHL who played forward and defence. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on his defensive achievements. In today’s NHL we think of hard hitting defensemen like Scott Stevens, and Dion Phaneuf. Back in the early years, it was Red Kelly. This man loved to punish opposing players if they dared to skate the puck down his side of the ice. He played the physical game that fans love to watch and players hate to play against. To say he was tough is an understatement. Nearing the end of the 1958-59 season, Red Kelly played the remaining regular season games with a broken ankle. Despite playing through the pain, the Wings missed the playoffs that year.

Honorable Mention: Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey, Viacheslav Fetisov

Terry Gordon Sawchuck (1949-55, 1957-64, 1968-69) – Terry Sawchuck didn’t waste any time making a name for himself as a professional goaltender. Having played in the United States Hockey League, American Hockey League, and National Hockey League, he was named rookie of the year in all three professional ranks. Terry put together career statistics of 447 wins, and 103 shutouts (an NHL record that still stands today) and he accomplished these numbers in 971 games. Who knows how many more shutouts he might have put up before his mysterious death in 1970 at the age of 40.

Honorable Mention: Harry “Apple Cheeks” Lumley, Dominik Hasek

Monday, October 08, 2007

Meanwhile, At The Studio

I've recently posted reviews of several television premieres, along with a movie or two or three.

Just in case anyone around here was wondering why I don't seem to write as much about TV or movies anymore...

"The Stars Are Just The Neon Lights..."

And so another Magnolia Electric Company concert is (sadly) behind us.

For Vicki and I, this was MEC concert number three; for Tammy, her first. This was also the first time seeing them live without being accompanied by the person who introduced us to them, our buddy Tim. He unfortunately had a conflict this time around, as otherwise I'm sure he'd have made the trek to Lee's Palace with us.

During the opening act, which was a female-fronted band called the Watson Twins (who I can't help but think PeterJ would've enjoyed immensely), MEC lead singer and songwriter Jason Molina once again wandered among the crowd for a few minutes. I almost didn't recognize him this time, as he's now sporting a different look: longer hair, mustache, red hankerchief and a fedora-type hat. In fact, as he stood just a few feet away from the three of us, I looked over and was just convincing myself that it wasn't him, when he met my gaze and flashed what I'd love to interpret as a glint of recognition (but which was more likely simply a "oh dear, I've been spotted" reaction). At any rate, I was emboldened to say "Hey, Jason!" and from there we struck up a short conversation.

After I complimented the recent box set, Sojourner, Molina described how it had been a fairly risky undertaking for the band, costing as it did "about a quarter million dollars to produce." I asked him how it was selling, and he kind of dodged the question by saying that they'd only made 5000 copies, since each one required a hand-made wooden box (which is admittedly one of the cooler physical attributes of Sojourner). I hope they've at least sold out of what they produced, since my math would seem to indicate that doing so would represent at best a break-even proposition, seeing as how each box set retailed for around $50 and thus it's hard to imagine that they've made their $250,000 back! Fortunately I did my part and just have to hope another 4999 MEC faithful did the same! Jason mentioned that it was intended as a 10th anniversary gift for the fans (Songs:Ohia launched in 1997), rather than being for the band. Which is pretty damn impressive! At one point I asked Molina if he was making much money off his song-writing (since I'd heard at a previous concert that he sometimes paid the other band members from that source) but he shook his head and made a sour face. Almost immediately, though, he brightened up and said, "No, but it's OK, we're doin' fine" which I hope was more than just politeness.

I didn't ask for a photo opp with him this time around, but contented myself with a few minutes of conversation that would be unheard of with bigger name talent. As far as I could see, not too many others there 'cornered' him as I had, which either speaks to the unfamiliarity of his new look, or just his anonymity in general! By the time MEC took the stage, an hour later, Lee's Palace was packed and really jumping, with the Friday night crowd getting totally into the performance.

In hindsight, I was probably too close to the stage for once. I spent the concert right in front of a speaker, and by the time the show was in its closing moments, I could barely make out any of the words! It was great from an access point-of-view (as some of the photos definitely highlight) but not so good in terms of hearing!

Bereft of any opening chatter, the band launched right into a raucous version of "Montgomery Bound" that set the tone for the evening. This was the loudest and rocking-est show I've seen MEC do to date. Later, they'd add more musicians to the stage (from the Watson Twins, I guess) and things would get even livelier, but even from the start it felt more energized than normal.

Next up was "Hammer Down," maintaining the high tempo and building on it with a longer offering than the two-and-a-half-minute opener. The crowd really started to get into it at this point, as "Hammer" is one of the band's signature songs these days.

"Talk To Me Devil, Again" slowed things down ever so slightly, while providing the second song from Fading Trails for those fans who maybe had only heard that CD (the most recent MEC release that was, at the time, 100% new material).

One of the rare out-and-out-quiet songs of the evening, "The Bowery," followed, allowing the band to catch its breath for the first time. This song first saw the light of day - in my house, anyway - on the Hard to Love a Man EP, before appearing on Sojourner earlier this year.

The crowd revved up again with "The Dark Don't Hide It," another perennial favourite. This was when I realized there were a lot of actual fans in the crowd, as quite a few people reacted to the opening notes before I even recognized the song myself!

Similarly, "Hard to Love a Man," while not as up-tempo a song, was warmly received by most in attendance. It's always a bit of a disappointment to hear this one played live, though, as the studio version has a female backing vocal to it that's missed in concert.

"Shiloh Temple Bell," from the Shohola disc of Sojourner, was next. I didn't recognize this one, but was able to ask the band member on the "steel organ" (my name for it; no idea if that's what it was) what the title of the song was, and he (shown here) graciously supplied it between songs!

The next song was also unknown to me (or unrecognizable, as my ears were really starting to give up the ghost) but featured the refrain "It's time..." so I should really be able to figure it out eventually!

The band then performed "It's Easier Now," from Jason Molina's Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go, but beefed it up considerably in the process (the original features just vocals and a quiet piano accompaniment).

Another unknown song followed, and it was by far the most country & western sounding tune of the evening. Again, I'll try to track it down, as I noted the lyrics "since you been gone" but I suspect those may not be uncommon enough to help!

"Be Simple Again," one of my favourite MEC songs, came at around the time that I expected the band to be wrapping up. Typically, their shows are only about an hour long (what do you expect for $17?) but tonight was going to be different. By the time they were finished, including the encore, they'd played for over ninety minutes! Just another reason why this one was special!

It was also around this point that several additional band members joined the five Magnolia players on stage. This gave them two drummers, four guys on various guitars (bass versus guitar, I can never tell the difference), and a couple of keyboardists. Each of the remaining songs got the royal treatment, with a noticeable increase in complexity and even an amazing drum duet! This all started with an older song, "Steve Albini's Blues," from the Songs:Ohia CD, Didn't It Rain? I was officially blown away during the course of this song!

Another crowd-pleaser, "Farewell Transmission" (from the crossover Songs:Ohia CD, entitled Magnolia Electric Company) closed out the initial set, featuring an extended instrumental section that ended with the aforementioned drum duet and had all of us breathlessly in awe of what we'd just witnessed and heard.

My ears were so far gone that I have no idea what the encore song was, except that it included all of the expanded lineup once more, and also had a mid-song guitar transfer between two of the musicians, which I was close enough to observe in such detail that I can attest to the fact that no note was missed in the hand-off! I was literally open-mouthed gaping at the sight, and got a smile from one of the guys involved when it was all over and done with (I think he liked that somebody noticed!)

Tammy said that she enjoyed it, or at least that the band sounded "better live." I don't think we turned her into a Magnolia fan, but that wasn't really the point. Vicki and I had yet another fantastic concert experience, and the three of us spent the time between bands bonding. Although, in their case, beer may've played a part in the bonding process:

After the show, we wandered back toward Tammy's apartment around 2:00 a.m., making a stop at Pizza Pizza along the way for a post-midnight snack. All in all, it was a wonderful night out for the Family Three.

"When it's been my ghost on the empty road
I think the stars are just the neon lights
Shining through the dance floor
Shining through the dance floor
Of heaven on a Saturday night"
- Magnolia Electric Company, "Hammer Down"