Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Year Ends

2007 was notable in these parts for being my first full year of blogging. I even managed a complete year of blog posts on the work blog, as well as starting up - with several others - a third blog, The Studio Has A Few Notes.

As far as non-blogging activities are concerned, I enjoyed most of 2007, with special mention going out to my five consecutive weeks of vacation in the summer! On the other end of the spectrum, I could've done without the whole Boil Boy experience, but you take the bad with the good.

As the clock ticks down on this year, I hope everyone's looking forward to 2008. I'm sure it's going to be an interesting year, whatever the future holds for us all. Too bad the Watchmen movie's not due out until 2009!

How To Ruin A Great Character

A few days later than expected, I got my hands on Amazing Spider-Man # 545 today, which contained the final chapter of the "One More Day" storyline. To the surprise of no one - including your Humble Blogger - this sad tale ended with Peter Parker and his wife Mary Jane choosing to erase their own marriage in an effort to save the life of Peter's 100-year-old aunt, May. About the only twist to be found here that wasn't expected involved the undoing of Spidey's secret identity being public knowledge (hey, it lasted for more than a year, but only just!), which simply serves to confirm this one little comic book as the Single Greatest Cop-Out of All Time! (Way to go, Joe Quesada!)

My head swims at the notion of how many stories from the past 20 years are now invalidated by the fact that Peter and MJ never married (retroactively-speaking), as well as all of the tales from the past year, that revolved in one way or another around everyone knowing that Spidey and PP were the same person, which can no longer exist. In fact, that sucking sound you hear is my willing suspension of disbelief evaporating. What a craptacular way for Marvel to finish off 2007! I guess it's fitting somehow, though.

As someone on the Internet suggested, "One More Day" is so bad that it actually makes the "Gwen Stacy had children with Norman Osborn" disaster of a few years ago seem benign by comparison!

[Update: If, for some strange reason, you'd like to read more about this assinine development in the life of the Web-Slinger, click here. Several comic journalists post their thoughts about "One More Day" there, and it ain't pretty!]

[Update # 2: The controversy continues to build on the various Internet sites. One person brought up the whole question of, if Peter believes "With great power comes great responsibility" then how is that in line with making a deal with the devil? That prompted me to think that perhaps we should change the famous Spidey refrain to "With great power comes great deal-making!"]

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Wacky NFL Tie-Breaking System

With the finale of the NFL season happening today (and tonight) - so as to leave New Year's Eve for college football bowl games, I guess - there are still a few questions left to answer. One of Washington, Minnesota and New Orleans will join Dallas, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay and the Giants in the NFC playoffs. The Redskins control their own destiny (win and they're in) while each of the other two need to win and get help.

In the AFC, the Chargers and Steelers are still fighting over the # 3 spot (with the loser getting the # 4 seed) and San Diego owns the tie-breaker so they get it if they win, or if both teams lose their final game. Tennessee gets the final playoff position if they win, but apparently Cleveland gets it if the Titans lose. If that's true - meaning that Cleveland doesn't even have to win today; they just need Tennessee to lose - then I have to assume there's some weird tie-breaking rule that facilitates that. Think how strange that is, though: right now, both teams are 9-6. If they both finish 9-7, then Cleveland gets in; if they both finish 10-6, somehow Tennessee gets the nod! I can see how that could happen, since they presumably didn't play each other this season - one of the earliest tie-breakers after seasonal record - but it's still kind of wacky. It certainly makes for some fun scenarios at the end of the season.

Anyway, either the Browns or the Titans will join the perfect Patriots, Peyton Manning and the Colts, the Chargers, Steelers and Jaguars in the AFC playoffs.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wow, What A Game!

The NFL playoffs haven't even started yet - some berths are still up for grabs, with a weekend left on the schedule - but tonight's "big game" managed to live up to the hype.

For those who don't know, the New England Patriots were playing the New York Giants in a game that shouldn't have meant anything - both teams had already secured playoff spots in previous weeks - except that the visiting Pats were attempting to go undefeated for the season. They came in with a record of 15-0 and had no real choice but to play their first-stringers with a chance at history on the line. The Giants, similarly, would've preferred to rest many of their starters tonight, especially with the post-season looming for them, but couldn't really roll over and let history wash over them like that.

I've been looking forward to this game all week, because you don't get that many chances to see something as amazing as a perfect season in the NFL (the last one was 35 years ago, when Miami went 14-0). But just how big was this game, really? Well, in Canada, both TSN and CTV were showing it, and in the U.S., it was on the NFL Network, CBS and NBC! That's right, five networks across two countries were airing this supposedly meaningless match between two playoff-bound teams! So apparently I wasn't alone in my high level of anticipation.

Happily, the two teams put on a Hell of a show! The Giants held several leads, and actually put the Patriots behind by 12 in the second half. But Tom Brady and his teammates were just too much for a very game New York squad, despite a final push by the Giants. Final score: NE 38, NYG 35.

One of the many incredible stats posted by Brady and the Pats this season involves the touchdown-to-turnover ratio. If I read it correctly, Brady finished with a ratio of better than 6-to-1 for TDs-to-interceptions (48 TDs, 8 Ints). As a point of comparison, the opposing quarterback tonight, Eli Manning, came into the game with more interceptions than touchdowns on the season! And Brady was over the 6:1 mark!! Incredible!

There are a few key NFL games tomorrow, after which the playoffs begin. A lot of people are assuming that the Conference Championships will feature Dallas vs Green Bay and New England vs Indianapolis, because of the records of those four teams this season. I'd love to see those matchups, but history of late has rarely given us those sorts of results. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

On The Topic Of Natural Resources

I've almost finished Thomas L. Friedman's book, The World Is Flat, but just read something that really struck me as profound. Toward the back of the book, in sections that were added following the initial (hardcover, maybe?) publication of The World Is Flat, Friedman tackles some of the most interesting aspects of the globalization that we all see occurring around us.

As one example, he's added several pages on the topic of natural resources and what things will look like as more and more Third World countries begin to realize the increased standard of living that First World citizens have enjoyed for decades. He cites the statistic that the current ratio between those two segments of the population - First World vs Third World - stands at about 32:1 in terms of resource consumption and waste production. In other words, someone like me uses 32 times as much natural resources, and produces 32 times as much waste, as a rural Indian or Chinese farmer does, living in poverty. And yet India and China are both moving forward with astonishing speed to enter the Modern Age, with all that that suggests.

Friedman quotes author Jared Diamond, who wrote the related book, Collapse, as saying:

"There are many 'optimists' who argue that the world could support double its human population... But I have not yet met anyone who seriously argues that the world could support 12 times its current impact, although an increase of that factor would result from all Third World inhabitants adopting First World living standards."

All of which probably means that we're headed toward a big war that will either significantly reduce our world population or keep the have-nots in their current have-not status quo (or both).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Getting Ready For Season Four

We picked up Lost Season Three on DVD today. With the fourth season scheduled to start - albeit in an abbreviated form, thanks to the WGA Strike - at the end of January, we really wanted to revisit the fantastic third act before then.

We watched the first two episodes this afternoon, and it was every bit as engrossing and rewarding as it was the first time through. Juliet's far and away my favourite new character on the show, with a depth and complexity that most prime-time network shows can only dream of. What's especially fun is knowing that this particular season only gets better as it goes along, meaning that it's going to be a great build-up to the new season's launch on January 31st.

Here's to the best show on television!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Day For Accomplishments

For the past several weeks, I've been trying to come up with a solution to my XBox Live problem that didn't involve me spending very much money. Today was a banner day all around, as not only did I stretch my biking streak to 24 months but I also wrestled this latest technological challenge to the ground and beat it senseless. Here's how it happened.

Since the XBox 360 model that I own doesn't provide wireless connectivity to the Internet, I've had to run a long phone cable across the kitchen floor and out to the living room, so that I could hook up my modem and router at that location, and then connect to the 360 via an Ethernet cable. This was the only short-term scenario I could come up with, because there's no phone jack in the living room or anywhere close to it. For weeks I've been investigating and considering different solutions to this problem, including:
  • buying the "wall-plug" Ethernet pair of devices that allow you to provide 'remote' RJ-45 (Ethernet) ports at a location removed from your router ($40 - $80, low availability) by use of your electrical system
  • buying the same sort of devices as above but for phone jack outlets (not RJ-45 Ethernet ports) such that we'd then 'have' a phone jack in the front room to plug the modem into (cost unknown, but had already borrowed a friend's set and they'd worked as phone jacks but my router wouldn't function correctly when plugged into one)
  • paying to have Bell come and add a phone jack to our living room ($99 service call)
  • buying the over-priced Microsoft Wireless Network Adapter for the XBox 360 ($130, high availability)
  • buying a wireless bridge device that would provide RJ-45 ports at a 'remote' location by way of wireless communication with the router ($60 - $100+, medium availability)
  • buying a Wireless Game Adapter that is like the wireless bridge but limited to just one RJ-45 port ($30 - $60, medium to high availability, depending on the model)
  • figuring out a way to run the phone cable through the floor or walls so that I could keep everything the way it is now, but sans the annoying eyesore in the kitchen (free, but requiring handyman skills so as not to wreck our lovely house)
  • just live with the damned phone cable running across the kitchen floor! (though I didn't want to do that to Vicki)
I talked to a couple of people at work about this today. Jamie, in IT, was very helpful, although I did a terrible job describing my problem so initially he gave me a solution that actually wouldn't have done me any good. Eventually I clarified the picture and he pointed me to several commercial options for some of the items listed above.

I also bothered the Man from Mars about this, because I just had a sense that he knew home networking well (he did). He was able to quickly show me why Jamie's initial offering wasn't what I needed, and then he, too, located some devices that would do the trick, for varying outlays of cash. By the end of the day, I'd ordered a $30 Wireless Game Adapter and figured the problem would be solved as soon as it arrived (a few business days later).

But then the Man from Mars sent me a link to some user feedback on the device that I'd just ordered, and the more I read, the more convinced I became that I'd never get it to work reliably! It sounded like you had to really, really know what you're doing when you set it up (I wouldn't) and that you'd run into a whole lot of headaches if you happened to use WEP encryption (as I do now). So as I cooled down from my bike ride home and read negative review after scathing indictment, I was feeling a bit at my wit's end!

So then I took a look at the living room wall that I wanted the modem and router to be near (for proximity to the 360). I noticed a cold-air return vent there, and went to look at it more closely. I thought that it was screwed into place but further examination revealed that it was just firmly wedged into the gap in the floor trim. I gently pulled it away from the wall, and looked at what was behind it. I could see the wide metal duct that was taking the cold air back to the furnace, and started thinking about whether or not I could get a phone cord to come into the living room that way.

The turning point in those ruminations came when I gave up on the notion of getting the phone cord from its current point of origin (the far side of the kitchen), and instead focused on using the phone jack in my study in the basement (almost directly below me). Once I began down that promising path, I realized that all I was going to need was a small hole in the ceiling of that room and I'd be able to thread the phone cable along that basement ceiling, into the hole I'd make in the ductwork, and then up into the room where I needed it, via the vent opening. I wouldn't have to buy anything; I wouldn't have to risk adding new technology to the picture; I'd simply be able to remove the eyesore cable from the kitchen and keep the excellent high-speed Internet availability I'd been enjoying on the 360 lately!

With some invaluable help from Vicki - me in the basement, her in the living room - and my trusty power drill, we pulled it off in less than half an hour! I now have the modem and router in the living room, tucked away out of sight under an ottoman, and the only clue to their existence is a thin, white phone cable running for about two feet - along the wall - between the vent and the ottoman. I still have the Ethernet cable strewn for several feet across the living room floor, between router and XBox 360, but disconnecting that - when company comes over, say - is a 10-second operation, at most. Sweeeeet!

Needless to say, I'm a happy boy right now. And Vicki doesn't have an ugly cable running across the length of her kitchen anymore!

Thanks once again to Jamie and the Man from Mars for taking the time today to assist me in this matter. And each of them did, of course, suggest the "just run the cable through your walls, dude!" angle at various points during the day.

P.S. Naturally, I've canceled the order of the $30 Wireless Game Adapter that would've just caused me endless grief anyway.

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over (Again)

Somedays, when it seems like Nature just refuses to throw you anything but curve balls (crappy weather), you finally just say, "Screw it!" and bike into work in the snow! That was me, today, pushing my biking streak up to 24 months. And now I can take tomorrow and Monday off with a clear conscience, and enjoy my 5-day weekend! (Photo by Vicki)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If Only This Power Could Be Used For Good

A recent (paraphrased) conversation between me and someone at work:

Him: "Hey, you like comics, right?"

Me: "Yeah, you could say that."

Him: "I was crazy about Blue Devil when I collected comics."

Me: "Blue Devil? OK, I never really followed him, but I know who you mean, at least. DC character from the 80s or 90s, right?"

Him: "That's him! He was a stuntman who could turn into this literal blue devil. His real name was Dan something..."

Me: "Dan... Cassidy, right?"

Him: "I'm not sure. I don't remember if that was it or not."

Me: "Well, the more I think about it, the more I'm sure it was Dan Cassidy. Don't ask me how I know... I just do."

This afternoon I recalled that little slice of geek life from a week ago, and went to look Blue Devil up on Wikipedia. Sure enough, his secret identity was Dan Cassidy. How the Hell do I remember crap like that for characters whose series I was never even a fan of? According to my comic D/B, I don't own a single issue of Blue Devil (I would've said that I maybe had one), although the character did show up as a guest star here and there (which must be how I knew enough to recall his alias).

Occurrences like this scare even me sometimes...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

This Year's Haul

Present-opening was delayed until early afternoon today thanks to a certain unnamed 21-year-old sleeping in until noon, but at least it wasn't put off until Boxing Day like happened last year!

Vicki seemed to enjoy both of her big presents this year: a $150 gift certificate to a local spa that I gave her and the new fancy purse that Tammy surprised her with. She also got a $100 voucher for a local cooking class (a perennial favourite of hers), a couple DVDs, the PS/3 Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (her most-loved video game franchise) and a big pile of books (to be added to her 1000+ item library that fills just over one wall of our front room).

Tammy got a new blender for her apartment and was presented with her Kristin Bell autographed photo - that she got in Chicago in August 2006 - nicely framed in a suitable form for going up on her wall in Toronto.

I was lucky enough to get a lovely Fine copy of the 2nd Ant-Man appearance (Tales to Astonish # 35.. yeah!!), 6 movies on DVD (4 of them from Tammy), the first season of St. Elsewhere on DVD, 2 video games (Call of Duty 4 on the PS/3, and the Half-Life 2 Orange Box for the 360), several issues of Thor from the Silver Age, two novels (one by Ann Tyler and the latest by Michael Crichton), a couple articles of clothing, and a big surprise: a John Totleben pencil-and-ink sketch of Swamp Thing from 1986 (during the heydey of his run with Alan Moore and Steve Bissette on that title) that Vicki had found on eBay (lovingly displayed at the top of this post)! It's screaming out to be framed and mounted on our walls sometime soon, so we'll be making another trip to the framer's shop before long.

All of that, and Tammy and I have been playing Halo 3 (campaign in Co-op Mode, and online with other people) every chance we get. This has definitely been a great Christmas so far!

The new movie list:

The Departed
Eastern Promises
The Lake House
Monster House
Pan's Labyrinth
Spider-Man 3 (on Blu-Ray)
The Wind that Shakes the Barley

It's Christmas! Time To Go To Bed...

The clock just ticked past midnight, and so it's now officially Christmas morning. Last year at this time, both of my household companions were bedridden with the flu, and I was just hours away from waking up and spending most of Christmas Day by myself (when I wasn't playing nursemaid to them both). I'm happy to report that no illnesses have beset us (yet) this holiday season!

And now it's time for bed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why We're Falling Behind

In his book, The World Is Flat, author Thomas L. Friedman makes a lot of very insightful observations about how much things are changing as China, India and many of the former Soviet Union countries begin to take advantage of what modern technologies like broadband, the World Wide Web, and faster computers have made available to them. I'm really enjoying the experience of seeing the world through his eyes, all thanks to Tammy's recommendation (and loan of her copy).

Today, for example, I read a section dealing with how American (and Canadian) education isn't preparing the next generations for competing in this new climate. Of particular interest to me were comments he received from a 5th grade teacher, after the first edition of the book came out, on the topic of the role parents have been playing in this. The letter-writer first described how an Indian-born pair of parents asked him to challenge their child more, and a woman of Easter European descent wanted to know why more intensive homework hadn't been coming home with her son. Then he compared that to his typical experience with more traditional American parents:

"Sadly, many... white, American, middle class parents [told me] that the 5th grade work was too hard on their kids. They couldn't possibly complete it and have time to 'be a kid.' Soccer, gymnastics, [music] lessons and dinner out squeezed their education time. Some parents would ask for my colleagues and I to lighten the load. These worrisome parents merely set low expectations for children by running interference; the scary parents... think everything is great and never demand more. If their kids do OK and have fun, then they must be getting a great education."

He sums up another failing we have here quite succinctly, describing how technology giants like Microsoft's founder are treated like rock stars in Asia:

"In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears - and that is our problem."

It's a great read, if you're interested in works that speculate about the future and where we may - or may not! - fit into it.

Biking Streak: In Jeopardy! (Again)

This month has been characterized by one thing (for me): snow! We've had significant amounts on the ground every day so far, and there's really been no opportunity for me to ride my bike at all. I had high hopes for today, because of the big warm-up that happened over the weekend. I was watching lots and lots of snow melt yesterday, to the point where some of the grass in our backyard had re-appeared! But then I woke up this morning to find out that several fresh inches of the awful white stuff had fallen overnight - so much so, that Tammy and I were out there shoveling before 9:00 so that Vicki could get her car out of the garage in order to get to a fitness class - and there went my plans to bike to work today. I still have three more chances: Thurs, Fri and next Monday. If none of those days pan out, then my streak will end at (a nevertheless impressive) 23 months!

Online Comics

I can't get excited at the concept of reading comics online, because that's just not how I like to experience them. Before too long, the people like me will be gone, though, and each new generation will probably enjoy everything that way more and more, until eventually paper comics, paper books and anything else paper-based will be a thing of the past. I suppose that'll be a good thing from an environmental point-of-view, although all of the power consumption required for those electronic devices can't be good...

Anyway, I re-discovered Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud's online comic for Zot! this morning. He did this project a couple years ago, I think, and I started reading it as each new weekly installment came out. But then I'd forget to check for a new episode, or I would check but he wouldn't have put one out, and then I just stopped looking altogether. Today I saw a link to it, and of course it's long since been finished so I was able to read the entire 'comic' in one go. It's a cute little story, very typical of what the Zot! series was like (which I have a complete run of, in paper form!) If you'd like to see how McCloud formatted the work for reading in a browser (rather than just producing it in a regular comic format and expecting people to click through the pages), you can see it here. I'm not sure if others have followed his lead, or whether those producing online comics are adhering to the more traditional structure.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Maybe There's Hope For DiDio (And DC)

I'm reading a year-end interview with DC's Executive Editor, Dan DiDio, and he's actually showing some signs of realizing that mistakes have been made, especially in regards to Countdown and the delays on many of their flagship titles. I don't think he's ready to acknowledge just how bad things have been, but at least it's a start.

He also makes some very interesting comments about the importance and quality of The Sinestro Corps War storyline that just wrapped up:

"[The Sinestro Corps War] is actually the perfect example of how an event takes place now – it crosses across several books, drives a huge and important story for the line, and more importantly, you feel that the story has serious ramifications on the series and the story will not only be important to what’s going on right now, but also to the future of the character in the DC Universe. It has to feel like a natural progression of what was going on in the series to begin with."


"Readers got so wrapped up with everything that was going on in [The Sinestro Corps War] that they would let everything else figure itself out, because the story is captivating and exciting. Honestly, it’s the best thing that we produced this year. Without a doubt."

At least he finally saw the (green) light...

Another Milestone Passed

Thanks to a burst of creative energy over the past 48 hours, I've already written three new 'chapters' in my long-neglected Agile book this holiday season (and finished one that I'd started weeks ago), taking my word count over to the good side of the 25,000 boundary! Worst case, that means that I'm now halfway home; more likely, I'll come up somewhere short of my 50,000 word goal for the book, which would mean that I'm actually well past the midway point. Either way, this is a good thing.

Soon I'll have to start thinking about whom I'd want to ask to review it before doing any real (albeit self-published) printing. Vicki's the only one, besides me, to have read any of it yet (not counting the tiny snippets I've posted here, of course). As such, I'm not oblivious to the possibility that it may all be utter crap. Such is the life of the writer!

And also: thanks to the Man from Mars for goading me into getting back at it!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Comparing The Consoles

Now that I've had a few weeks of interaction with my new (used) XBox 360, it seems like an appropriate time to post some thoughts on how it stacks up against the PS/3. My opinions may change over time, but here's how things look to me right now.

Starting with the obvious - the console's physical appearance - I much prefer the sleek look of the PS/3. Both boxes are around the same size, and each is designed so that you can orientate it upright or lying flat. In our house, each of the consoles is in the latter position, because they're both on top of our big screen TV, and I don't them tipping over and crashing to the floor! Also, the disc tray comes out parallel to the floor when they're set up that way, which I prefer as it's just more natural than trying to hold a disc in place vertically while you wait for the tray to close. I'm sure each console probably comes in a variety of colours and skins, but I have a standard black PS/3 and vanilla white 360, and the former just looks a lot sharper. Not that it makes any difference beyond esthetics, but there it is.

As far as the controllers are concerned, I'm also giving the nod to the PS/3, at least so far. I prefer the rechargeable approach that Sony uses over the removable batteries of the Microsoft hardware, especially because the console itself provides an easy way of charging up the PS/3 wireless device. I like that both have gone wireless but am less than impressed that each also decided not to support their predecessor's wired controller attachments. Where Sony might lose my vote in this category would be if either of my PS/3 controllers stop holding their charge for very long in the future, forcing me to spend another $70 to replace one (shades of my 1st iPod!)... But so far, so good.

When you power on the boxes and start exploring the main menus, Microsoft definitely wins the User Interface battle. The XBox 360 Dashboard is professional looking and ultra-modern, whereas what you get on the PS/3 looks like demoware from the 90s, more often than not. I have to admit that I did find the 360 a bit tough to navigate at first, as there are non-obvious options - like pressing the X-button one way to get one screen to come up and another way to get access to a different one - but once you get used to it you can go anywhere and find anything really quickly. On the flip side, the PS/3 menu is extremely easy to learn and is logically laid out, making navigation a breeze. I was initially impressed that the PS/3 came with an Internet browser built in, and got a thrill out of seeing this very blog displayed on our big screen, but once the novelty wore off, I stopped using it pretty much entirely. However, if I didn't have my laptop readily at-hand in the living room at all times as I do now, I might just consider that browser a much more important feature that's entirely missing from the XBox 360.

I much prefer the all-in-one approach that Sony took with the PS/3, where the units cost more but come with everything included. I'm not sure that that's been the wisest course in general, as I think Sony originally priced themselves out of too many markets, but it worked well for me. I hate that the 360 doesn't have a wireless network adapter built in (although I hear that they do offer some higher end models with that) and how can you compare the value of being able to play Blu-Ray DVDs on any PS/3 versus having to buy an additional HD-DVD drive for the 360? Those two 'deficiencies' of the Microsoft product are huge differentiators for me, and make the PS/3 the clear winner in that category.

Another major advantage of the PS/3, in my opinion, is the fact that online play is not an additional attack on your wallet. After all, you've paid several hundred dollars for the console, another nearly-$100 for each game that you buy for it, so why in the world should you have to spend more money in order to play those same games on that same machine over the internet (which you also pay to get access to, every month!)? Sony believes that you shouldn't have to pay more; Microsoft clearly thinks that you should! Now, the $60/year XBox Live Gold Membership that I purchased is not an exorbitant expense - it's only $5 per month, after all! - but why does it exist at all? Being someone who often makes decisions purely on principle, the mere existence of the XBox Live fee was partially responsible for keeping me out of the 360 world for as long as I was (until a sweet deal finally came along that I just couldn't pass up).

I'm not sure what all of the options are around headsets, but I will say that I'm happier with the wired-to-the-controller version that came with my XBox 360 than I have been with the wireless clip-over-an-ear Motorola piece of crap that I bought for the PS/3. For one thing, the smaller one takes a battery and it ran out of juice at an inopportune time; but more importantly, it has to be re-mated to the console every time I use it! Contrast that with the "it just works, everytime" experience that I've had with the 360 headset, and there's no contest. But for all I know, maybe I could've bought something similar for the PS/3.

As far as the games themselves are concerned, both console manufacturers get credit for hosting good repositories of demos. I was never big on trying out demos in the past, but lately I've been downloading lots of them, on each console, and test-driving way more games than I would ever have imagined. The ease of the downloads, in both cases, makes it very painless to try stuff out, and I'm starting to think that I should never buy another console game without first trying out the demo for it (yes, I'm looking at you, Warhawk on the PS/3!) I give the smallest of victories to Microsoft in this area, because they've combined the download and installation into one seamless step, whereas Sony forces you to do both, separately. It's not a big deal, but it does make me wonder why the testers of the PS/3 never complained about it!

Since I only spend a dozen or so hours gaming most weeks, and thanks to my 360 coming with a bunch of games included, I have more choices of what to load up these days than I have time to play them! Even before the 360 arrived, I wasn't really hurting for games on the PS/3, although that may be thanks to Resistance: Fall of Man providing so many months of entertainment right from the day, nearly a year ago now, that the console came into my hands. However, it's fairly obvious that the 360 has a much richer selection of games to choose from, in part due to it being around longer, and in part thanks to some poor decisions within Sony. For the sorts of games I like - First Person Shooters and platform games for Vicki - both consoles provide more than enough variety to keep me from getting bored. So, from my perspective, this one's a saw-off.

Overall, I'm still more attached to my PS/3, but I'm definitely developing some affection for the 360. If I could find a used wireless network adapter for the 360, for considerably less than the $129.99 (plus tax) that Microsoft's asking for it, I might like it even more. As it is, I'd give the PS/3 about an 8 out of 10, and the XBox 360 somewhere around a 7 out of 10. In case anyone cares!!

A New Form Of Life?

Thanks to Eddie Campbell's blog, I got directed to this fascinating video. I think the inventor has more faith in his creations' ability to survive in the wild than I do, and I don't for a minute buy that this is really a new type of living creature, but it's still pretty incredible. In fact, I'm now having to rethink some of my skepticism around those crazy contraptions that the Professor came up with, using only bamboo and coconuts, back on Gilligan's Island!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another War Ends

With Green Lantern # 26 (and a ton of other comics) due out next week, I finally found the time last night to read last month's GL # 25, which featured the extra-length conclusion of The Sinestro Corps War.

Unlike Civil War and World War Hulk before it, this little gem had a pretty strong ending that didn't leave me wondering where it had all gone downhill. (And unlike Amazons Attack! and World War III, it was actually a good story, from start to finish.) By the time the finale rolled around, not only were the entirety of the Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps at war, but most of the DC super-teams (JLA, JSA, Titans, the Outsiders) had been drawn into it, as well. Happily, though, this didn't mean a massive inter-series crossover... it simply meant that Superman, Power Girl, Wonder Woman and the rest showed up here, as they would if the DC Earth were a real place, and under attack. That sort of thing is what allows me to really lose myself in a comic reading experience, as author Geoff Johns presented a tale that was internally consistent and logical, with no suspension of disbelief required, beyond the whole "people with superpowers" aspect, of course.

Because The Sinestro Corps War was done so well, I didn't feel any of the event fatigue that should've overwhelmed me considering all that's gone on at Marvel and DC over the past couple years. This one was done right, and apparently its growing popularity caught DC by surprise! Word of mouth got around, I guess, and people started picking up issues to see what all the excitement was about. If that deer-caught-in-the-headlights response isn't a good indication that current DC management doesn't have a clue about the difference between good comics and hyped-up crap, then I don't know what is. Probably the best clue that DC wasn't expecting such a response is the fact that none of the issues, as far as I know, featured variant covers! For my part, this storyline got me to sample the companion title, Green Lantern Corps, although ultimately I'm not sure that I liked it well enough to stick with it now that The War is over. But at least I gave it a try, which is the reaction that every crossover is going for, after all. With the other events recently, I've almost always resisted any urge to buy the parts of the crossover that show up in titles I wouldn't normally buy, partially on principle, and partially because history has shown that it's usually not worth the cost. Here I was happy to do that, because I wanted every single page of additional action that I could get my hands on!

Johns, within the pages of Green Lantern # 25, also added significantly to the Green Lantern mythos. He's introduced several new types of Corps, playing off of the emotional connections that we tend to feel toward various colours. So we learned that red, violet, blue, indigo and orange were added to the existing green and yellow schemes, providing almost endless fodder for future stories within the DC Universe... assuming Dan DiDio's editorial edicts don't kill off every new ring bearer before their yarns can even be told! That reinvigoration of a character's background and environment is seeming, more and more, to be one of Geoff Johns' strengths. He has a real knack for turning things on their head just a bit, and out of that providing fertile ground in what had looked for years like tapped-out land. Only Alan Moore does that better, as far as I'm concerned.

The artwork for this issue in particular is stunning, with series regular Ivan Reis holding his own while sharing the stage with Ethan Van Scriver, who started The War off in the one-shot special all of those months ago. This is the kind of comic that you have to read twice, because you simply can't take all of the visual details in on the first pass. Hopefully Reis and Van Scriver knew what they were signing up for in this case, since usually you only get called upon to draw this many characters in a team book, and often not even then! They each knocked the ball out of the park on practically every page, and I can't even begin to imagine how much less I would've enjoyed this had someone less talented been given the art chores. This is one gorgeous comic book, capping off an amazing multi-part arc.

If Countdown were even half as good as The Sinestro Corps War, I'd be enjoying it ten times more than I am!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

All Set For Halo 3 In Co-op Mode Now

I realized today that, if I didn't get a second XBox 360 wireless controller soon, then when Tammy was here for a few days next week, we wouldn't be able to play Halo 3 in Co-op Mode. Then I subsequently thought, "But if I go out to the malls now, it'll be a nightmare... and if I order online, it probably won't arrive in time!"

Fortunately, a hybrid solution presented itself to me: order it online, but pick it up at the store! Yes, it was only about a month ago that I was complaining about Best Buy's "online service" wherein I had no choice but to go out to a store and pick up my purchase. The difference being that, in that case, I didn't want to have to visit a store but was denied the option of having it mailed to me, whereas here I actually desired that outcome, as long as my merchandise was awaiting me there and I didn't have to stand in a long check-out line. In fact, that scenario worked out perfectly in this case - Future Shop this time - as I was in and out of the store in about 3 minutes flat, with controller in hand, which is my idea of the perfect shopping trip!

Now all I need is my shoot-em-up partner who charges fearlessly into every altercation, no matter how bad the odds are, and it'll be Magic Time!

Lost Trailer For Season Four

Oh. Yes. Indeed!

I'm so ready for January 31, 2008!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Feel Lucky

(No, not that way!)

Today, at work, someone sold an "extra" XBox 360 that he'd found himself with (no idea what that story was, and it doesn't matter). What made me feel fortunate was the fact that it was essentially the same model as I have (although new, not slightly used like mine), with no headset (as I got) and only 3 games (compared to the 10 or so I received), and yet it went for more than 50% over what I paid for mine!

Thanks again to Boneman for making my purchase happen, especially now that I've been getting some actual use out of it (which I didn't for the first couple weeks, thanks to other time commitments and travel).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Halo 3 Marathon

I just finished a 3-hour marathon of Halo 3 on XBox Live, with no break at all. Now I can barely get my eyes to focus well enough to type this blog post!

By the end, there were five of us in a party: myself, three guys from work (two of whom I'd joined up with last night or the night before, online) and a 9-year-old player with the gamertag of "Jakerman Can".

The second time I tried Halo 3 online, one of the games that I played had Jakerman in it. He was chatting away, and I didn't even have my headset on initially so I was just listening to everyone who did. But after hearing him trying to be friendly and the other jerks in the game treating him badly, I put my headset on and started talking to him. Despite us being in a deathmatch game, he wanted to team up with somebody, as he wanted a buddy to roam around with. I told him that I'd partner up with him, and then I found him in the game and didn't shoot him (which is always the acid test for teaming up!) We both stunk pretty bad but he was more interested in telling me all of the observations that he'd made in the game ("There's a rocket launcher over there... it's my favourite gun!") than in getting a good score, anyway.

At the end of that game, he asked if I'd go into a party with him, meaning that we'd travel to the next game together. I said, "Sure," and we did that for a few more games, and then I had to retire for the night so I told him that I'd had fun playing Halo 3 with him, and maybe we'd meet up again another time. Before I played the next time after that, he'd sent me a Friend Invite, and we've gone around getting killed together within Halo 3 a couple of times since then. He often just lets loose with a stream of consciousness - again, pointing out whatever he's seen or learned in the game for whomever's interested.

I'm sure it freaked out the work buddies that I brought a young kid into the party tonight, but whatever. I've been used to interacting with younger kids since I was a teenager - when I babysat practically every weekend, for three or four years - and I've always believed that you should set positive role models for them whenever you can. I'm not sure if first person shooters are the best place for that (!) but at least I'm always polite in my conversations with him and try to reinforce the fun aspect over the competitive angle when he's in the party.

Like Resistance: Fall of Man on the PS/3, Halo 3 online has military ranks that you move up through, the more you play (and accomplish). However, I don't find it as compelling as it was with R:FoM, nor do I think I'll ever achieve a high ranking (I'm Sargent 2nd Grade right now, I think). Poor Jakerman's still stuck at the entry-level rank; each of the work friends are way, way above me in both rank and skill.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Type Of Play That Really Makes You Think

Yesterday, late in the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, a very strange play occurred. I missed it, because I'd switched to another game by that point, but I heard it recapped during the half-time of tonight's Chicago/Minnesota match-up and it made me go, "Huh?"

In the dying moments of the game, with the Eagles up 10-6 and in possession of the ball, one of the Philadelphia players had a long run and a clear chance to score a touchdown but instead knelt down at the Dallas 1-yard line. When I saw the replay, I was dumbfounded, as I couldn't imagine a scenario where such a move would make any sense at all. After all, had he continued on into the end zone, his team would've been up 16-6 (and then 17-6 if they made the extra point) which would seem to be an insurmountable lead that late in a game, and seemingly preferable to being up by only 4 points. So why stop short and take the knee?

To figure this out, I went looking on the World Wide Weeb and within minutes had my answer. The rationale, it seems, goes like this:

Since Dallas had no timeouts left, by retaining possession of the ball (at the opponents' 1-yard line), the Eagles were able to run out the clock and have the game end 10-6, ensuring victory. Had they scored (to go up by 10 or 11 points), the Cowboys would've gotten the ball back and had another chance to put up some points, albeit with very little time left on the clock. It's unlikely, but not impossible, that Dallas could've scored quickly to cut the lead, and then successfully completed an onside kick, after which they might've conceivably orchestrated another quick play or two to either tie or win the game! The important fact here, I guess, is that Dallas had no timeouts left. The Eagles had made a 1st down on the play that ended with the kneel down, giving them a whole new set of downs during which they could simply kneel and run about 40 seconds off the clock for each down.

It's the sort of thing that you really have to understand the game to appreciate, and having thought about it now, I think it was brilliant (and very selfless on Westbrook's part)! I love stuff like that!

Who's Richer: Bruce Wayne Or Thurston Howell III?

If you've ever wondered who has more money, The Simpsons' Charles Montgomery Burns or Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies, Forbes now has your answer: check out their Fictional 15, which lists the 15 richest fictional characters, including billionaires Wayne, Howell, Burns and Clampett, not to mention a boy so rich they named him twice (Richie Rich), the "other billionaire superhero" (Tony Stark/Iron Man) and a wonky guy name Willy!

It's a fun read for those in search of a distraction...

Joy Permeates The Watchmen Set

If you want to share in a grown man's excitement over seeing a work of his turned to film, go to the Watchmen blog and read all about artist Dave Gibbons' recent visit to the set where "the film" is being made. Alan Moore may've removed himself from any connection to Zack Snyder's current attempt to bring Watchmen to the silver screen, but his co-creator on that seminal comic series most definitely has not. I've read gushing accounts of such things before, and still had them turn to crap by the time they reached the theatres, but I suppose this one will be the test to end all tests.

With this set report coming on the same day that the new trailer for The Dark Knight debuted, it's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas... if you know what I mean!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Time To Start Another Embargo

The Rangers are trailing Phoenix (a team with a losing record) 5-1 in the 3rd period, at home this afternoon. For the purposes of this post, I'm assuming the home team is going to lose that game, and will shortly hold a seasonal record of 16-13-3.

A few facts:

Prior to my nearly-month long avoidance of all things related to the New York Rangers (referred to from now on as "Embargo # 1"), they were 3-6-1.

During Embargo # 1, they went 9-2-0.

Since ending Embargo # 1 in late November, the Rangers have amassed a record of 4-5-2.

In other words, their non-Embargo record is a pathetic 7-11-3, compared to the impressive 9-2-0 results they posted while I wasn't watching. It seems pretty obvious to me that it's time to stop paying attention again, before they actually manage to dip back down below the 0.500 mark once again.

I'll check back in awhile and see how they're doing. Right now, I'm pretty disgusted with their inconsistency and have better things to spend my time on right now.

Lost Is On The Move

Read all about it at The Studio!

Two Shoveling Sessions Later

Well, we've gotten the big winter storm that was forecast for the latter half of the weekend, as it's dropped about a foot of snow on us so far. Vicki and I have already been out twice to shovel the walkway up to the house, and one car width of our double-car driveway. Now, that won't mean anything if the street isn't plowed, because there's no way our car will make it through the mess that's waiting for us at the end of the drive. But at least we're doing what we can to be ready for the time when the street gets cleared, whenever that might happen.

Of course, the snow still continues to fall as I write this, but leaving the shoveling longer than we have would've meant a much tougher job in the end. As it is, we've done two sessions of less than half an hour each, and mostly pushed the snow out of the way, with as little lifting as possible (we're not getting any younger, after all).

Now it just remains to be seen as to whether tomorrow will be a Work Day, a Snow Day, or a Work At Home Day!

On Achieving A State Beyond Total Suckitude

After Vicki retired early tonight (I'd had a nap; she had not), I played some practice Halo 3 in order to better learn the weapons, since I haven't played more than about 30 minutes of the offline version yet! This is something I should probably do with new games before I jump into the online arena like I did with Halo 3 recently, but my pride can handle being the worst player in the game, at least for awhile.

Tonight I figured out several of the guns, beyond the one you start with, and then I was able to use them more effectively in the actual XBox Live games that followed. I even won a game (after not having finished higher than about 3rd last previously), at the end of about an hour of online play tonight (of course, it was only against other low-ranking types like me). More importantly, I started to feel like I knew what I was doing by then, which hadn't been happening on previous trips in. I'm better with the grenades - all three types - and have found about four guns that I like - shotgun, spiker, mauler and something called a "brute shot" - and will hopefully improve on some of the other ones, too. No real progress was made on the devices you can find - anti-grav lifter, power drain and bubble shield - but there's plenty of time for that, in the days ahead. It's usually around this point that the online activity actually becomes fun, rather than just amusing.

Now I just need the guys at work to want to take part in another Halo 3 night!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Quiet Classic In The Making

For almost a year now, writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez have been working - largely under the radar - to produce what I think may well become a classic comic run of the early 21st century, with the new Brave and the Bold series.

Like Geoff Johns has done recently in Green Lantern and Justice Society of America, Waid manages to blend Silver Age homage with modern sensibilities seamlessly in B&B, which should appeal to a wide comic reading audience - though, sadly, a glance at last month's sales chart shows it just barely cracking the Top 50. Also like his fellow DC writer, Mark uses continuity to his advantage, rather than eschewing it completely or becoming weighted down by it. In the latest issue, that means that Flash's twin children are a central part of the plot, perhaps a logical choice since Waid also writes the Scarlet Speedster's own title right now!

Speaking of plot, some of the nice touches in # 8 really made me smile. For example, the freakishness of the Doom Patrol was highlighted perfectly in the first half of the story by showing the two children's reaction to meeting each of them. It's funny that I've read hundreds of Doom Patrol tales before this one but never once considered just how downright scary each of them really is! And Waid builds up the tension masterfully, first making Elasti-Girl a bit weird with her "smile stuck in place" look (reminiscent of the trippy effect used for presidential candidate character, Ken Wind, in Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin mini-series back in the 80s, whose every appearance retained the same full-on face shot, no matter which way his body was oriented!), then introducing Robot Man with ominous "Clank! Clank!" sound effects followed by his eyes glowing and the dialogue, "Mmmmmm. Flesh." and wrapping up with the small fry running into... well, a guy all wrapped up in bandages (Negative Man)! A classic take on the World's Strangest Heroes that someone should've thought of years ago! (Also speaking of the plot: DC clearly had no idea what this issue was about, as its solicitation for it reads: "A virtually unstoppable force has driven the Doom Patrol to the brink of destruction and despair! And why is The Flash the only hero who can possibly stand between them and utter chaos?" Now, that seems like a reasonable guess at it from the cover image - shown above - but it actually bears no resemblance whatsoever to the story to be found behind it!)

And of course you can't talk about Brave and the Bold, 2007-style, without commenting on the great George Perez artwork. He's one of my all-time favourites, with three pages from the uber-beloved JLA/Avengers mini-series adorning the walls of the room in which I type these words, but it almost seems like he's still getting better at his craft, thirty years in! The art in the first eight issues of this title has been consistently excellent, and it has to be a dream job for George, knowing how he loves to draw lots and lots of characters (this issue, in addition to the Flash and Doom Patrol, also featured the Challengers of the Unknown, Metamorpho, and the Flash's family). There's never any question of who he's drawing, or what they're doing, or - God forbid! - what order to read the panels in! If even half of the men and women drawing mainstream comics were as good at their job as Mr Perez is, I'd probably still be a big fan of the art portion of the genre (instead of largely ignoring it for the sake of my own sanity).

And finally, I love that Waid has made the decision to make each issue somewhat stand-alone while still fitting into an over-arching plot that's been running since the debut of the title early in 2007. That's exactly the sort of thing I want in my comic stories, especially in this age of "event mania" where both publishers seem intent on outdoing each other - and themselves! - in terms of number of crossover titles, complexity and scope. Here you'll find a perfect balance of done-in-one style with just a sprinkling of, "Hmmm, what's the bigger picture here?" that might make a newbie want to read some more.

I'm loving this title and I hope it doesn't end up just being a 12-issue treat, as was originally hinted at when it launched (in terms of how long Waid and/or Perez would be on it, that is). I'm down for several years of more of the same!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Big Storm Coming

One of the local radio stations was reporting this morning that a big winter storm is headed this way ("... from Texas"!) It's always hard to guess how these things will play out, as sometimes they're right on the money, and other times they're way overblown. But being a conservative person by nature (when it comes to taking risks), I've laid out my weekend with the assumption that anything involving the outdoors that I need to do will be done by noon on Saturday! That includes buying a new pair of winter boots - the current ones are falling apart - visiting a co-worker friend, and getting a few groceries. Once that's done, I'm hoping to act like a shut-in for good reason for the rest of the weekend!

Tammy's safely back in Toronto with her new car (new for her, anyway) and will no doubt be celebrating her 21st birthday tonight with friends (family's so passe now for such things when you get to a certain age). We were both glad that she was getting that little trip home out of the way before any dicey weather arrived, because why take silly chances?

Last Saturday I was all prepared to play video games for the day, but was way too sick for any such fun. Maybe this weekend I'll get to make up for it! I'm almost to the point where I don't completely stink at Halo 3, but not quite. Perhaps a snowbound weekend is just what I need... especially if it stretches right through Monday!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toys Aren't Made To Be Broken

There was always that kid in the neighbourhood whose mission in life, it seemed, was to see how quickly he could wreck whatever new toy he was presented with (regardless of whether it was his or someone else's). While I can empathize a tiny little bit - after all, I always like to smash stuff and see what boundaries I can push in each new video game I play - I mostly just hate that kid.

Lately, it sort of seems like Dan DiDio, Executive Editor at DC Comics, is acting a lot like that kid. For example, DC brought the Multiverse back, less than nine months ago, and already some of the 52 universes that were created at that time are being destroyed, corrupted or otherwise wrecked for any future use. There was the recent issue of Countdown in which Superman-Prime - don't ask! - killed several of one parallel Earth's cadre of heroes before going on an even crazier rampage and literally tearing the planet apart... because apparently we didn't know that he was a bad enough bad guy before he did all that! Whatever potential for great stories that particular universe might've ever held, we'll never know now, after only the briefest of existences. Those are the tactics of someone who breaks stuff as soon as he gets his hands on it, if you ask me, and I'm getting sick of it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The question I asked was, "What should I blog about tonight?" and our title (above) was the answer I got... from Tammy!

Yes, she's here for a very short visit (basically a little more than 24 hours) before returning to her busy life in Toronto. She has a few chores to accomplish in town tomorrow in pursuit of getting our second car's ownership switched over from us to her, as we go down from two cars to one (something I've wanted to see happen for years now). Friday is her 21st birthday so now seemed like an appropriate time to make this a reality.

She got to see a little bit of Halo 3 online action tonight, as well as playing through part of the F.E.A.R. demo that I downloaded last night for the XBox 360 (which was just as much fun as the version I own for the PS/3). After three good attempts to get through the demo level, she handed the controller back to me with the comment, "At least none of the bad guys are able to kill me!" (she was three-for-three in committing suicide, having killed herself twice by grenade and once by rocket launcher!) I'll expect better from her over the Christmas break if we do Co-Op Halo 3 then, but that's still over a week away.

And now we're all off to bed...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Evening To Myself

Not that I suffer from a lack of "do whatever you want" time when Vicki's around, but it's still unusual to find myself completely on my own as I do tonight, what with the lovely wife visiting Tammy in Toronto between two work days spent there. It's taken me until now (almost 7:30 pm) to get home, get supper, do a load of laundry and catch up on whatever I'd missed on the Web all day,... but now it's time to hook up my XBox 360 to the Internet and see what fun I can have! This will make only my 2nd foray into XBox Live territory since paying for the annual membership last month, which is mostly a commentary on my need to acquire both a component audio/video switching device and possibly a wireless network adapter for the console but also a reflection of how busy things have been lately.

But enough about that... I've got games to play!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Of Comics And Toilet Seats

Here I am inside one of the most unique comic stores I've ever been to, Isotope The Comic Book Lounge, in San Francisco. And yes, those items lining the top of the wall to the left are, indeed, toilet seats featuring comic artwork on them! The proprietor has been collecting and displaying them for years, ever since some misguided visiting comic illuminatus took it upon himself to decorate the owner's home toilet seat that way. His one rule is that anyone who provides one has to have been inside the store at some point.

Among the celebrity toilet seat artists shown to me were Jim Lee, Warren Ellis (no artwork but rather a piece of script), and Eric Powell, although only about 1/3 of his total collection is up at any one time (the rest, apparently, adorn his walls at home). That's James, the owner, to the far left (in the purple striped jacket!)

This was by far the most upscale comic store I've ever visited, but was sadly lacking in back issues so I contented myself with a couple of current comic titles that I haven't been buying regularly.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Down But Not Quite Out

I've been sidelined with a bad cold all weekend, and have spent most of the time sleeping. During my brief periods of waking, I've read quite a few comics (but am still way behind in that category), watched The Notebook on DVD (and posted a semi-lucid review of it over at the too-often-dormant The Studio Has A Few Notes blog), and lamented the fact that I'm too woolly-headed to be able to play video games right now (not to mention that the Rangers are on a 3-game losing streak!)

Other than that, there's not much to report on at the moment.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Thanks to Jakub at work, I got pointed to this site, called "The Story of Stuff." It has a video that I'm sure some will find over-the-top, or even patronizing, but I thought that it summed up our current "train wreck in the making" planetary situation really well. I don't know how well-researched the statistics in the video are - some of them shocked even me, in the sense that I didn't really think that some things were already that badly out of whack - but in general the tone matches pretty much exactly how I feel on the topic. The section on planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence particularly hit home for me, because it's become so pervasive now. And of course I've been saying for years that all of the so-called "fashion trends" are really just scams to get people to buy new clothes, but hadn't really considered it from the waste point-of-view.

It's certainly not the "feel good hit" of the holiday season, but I recommend it nonetheless. (In fact, considering that December is the shopping spike of the year, now's exactly the time to be watching this sort of thing!)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why I Hate People Talking To Me About Rangers Games Before They Happen

Today, before I left the office, hockey fanatic Shane came by to say that he really hoped Lundqvist would get a shutout tonight (because he "has him" in some very complicated hockey fantasy pool), and that of course the Rangers would win because they were playing the Leafs. I told him to STFU because he was going to jinx them, but he just laughed.

The score in the 3rd period at Madison Square Garden currently stands at:

Toronto 5, NY Rangers 2

Thanks, Shane........

3 Days With The Master Coach

Tuesday, Wednesday and today were nearly a blur at work this week, as I spent almost all of my time with the Master Coach consultant who started his eight-week stint just minutes after I got back into the office on Tuesday. There was precious little time to catch my breath before it was right into three days of intense meetings, during which I did my best to bring him up to speed on our Agile progress so far, while also trying to keep pace with all of the ideas and concepts being thrown around in terms of what areas we should possibly be focusing on more.

One somewhat contentious topic between us was estimating. The consultant's stance is that you don't necessarily have to get good at estimating to succeed in an Agile organization (as I was asserting); you simply have to get consistent at it. In hindsight, I think we may've both been saying the same thing, just differently, but it certainly didn't feel that way at the time. To me, "getting good" at estimating simply means that you're becoming reasonably accurate at assessing how long something will take before you do it, whereas the Master Coach kept saying that that doesn't really matter. I think what he meant was that, if whenever you say something will take 2 hours it always ends up taking 10 hours, and anything you estimate at 4 hours ends up requiring 20 hours, then that's consistent enough that you can succeed with it. In fact, you'd actually be better off using some sort of abstract units that aren't hours, because then it's clearer that there's a mapping function involved. And I can understand that and get behind it.

But the point I kept coming back to was: in our work environment, there isn't much of that kind of reflection happening (yet), regardless of what the units being used are! In other words, most teams estimate a task (in hours, say) and then take a certain amount of time to complete it, but don't necessarily compare the two in order to find that mapping function, or to determine that no mapping is required ("2 hours really means 2 hours"). The discipline to do that, and learn from it, is what's lacking, and that's really what I mean when I say, "get better" at estimating. If I'd realized that while we were having the conversation, things probably would've gone better at the time!

Overall, though, I'm fairly impressed with what he brings to the table, and have high hopes that we're going to learn a lot from him during his engagement with us. I don't think I've ever gone through a period in my career where I've had to stretch as much as I'm doing right now, but I guess that's all part of being a so-called Agile Manager!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Messing With 'Reality'

A couple weeks ago I blogged about how quickly the Internet coined the label "One More Delay" for the not-exactly-timely "One More Day" storyline currently running through the Spider-Man titles. Last week (while I was away), the third part of the big Spider-event came out, and tonight I finally got a chance to read it. Spoilers ahead for anyone who cares about such things.

Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada has made no secret, over his tenure at the comic company, that he really and truly hates the fact that Spider-Man is married. Hates. It. Another thing Quesada wasn't fond of was the proliferation of mutants within the Marvel Universe, which lead to 2005's House of M mini-series, after which there were only 198 mutants left (down from the millions there'd been before that). So the second-most famous marriage in comicdom shouldn't have been buying any green bananas, if you know what I mean.

But Quesada's dilemma was clear: if the two characters simply split up, he'd have an icky divorced guy as his leading man, possibly with an adulterous affair in his backstory (either on his part or MJ's). On the other hand, if MJ was killed off, the fans would scream bloody murder (especially after what was done to lovely Gwen). So what to do, what to do?

With the penultimate chapter of "One More Day" now public record, we've gotten a good indication of what Joe Q's solution looks like. Aunt May lies dying from a bullet wound (suffered because the world now knows that Peter is Spider-Man) and our hero can't come to terms with her impending demise (despite the fact that, as one Internet blogger put it, Aunt May's gotta be about 150 years old by now!) so he's therefore primed to make a deal with the devil. At Marvel, the devil means Mephisto, and sure enough he pops up to offer Spidey a simple choice: give up his marriage, or lose his aunt to the grim reaper (not to be confused with the Grim Reaper, the Marvel supervillain)! Although the details won't be revealed until the final part of "One More Day" comes out (at some point in the distant future, if its publishing history to date is anything to go by), it sounds like Parker's life will be reset such that he never married Mary Jane.

And here's what bugs me about that idea: how are we really to believe in - or at least, willingly suspend our disbelief toward - a world where things can be so randomly rewritten? First of all, the ripple effect of such a huge change ought to invalidate all kinds of other stories, involving the vast majority of Marvel's characters, and yet that aspect will likely be ignored. Plus, if things can just be undone whenever the editor-in-chief wants it that way, what's to say that everything happening now won't just be revised by the next guy or gal to hold that position after Quesada? Maybe Civil War will be un-fought! Possibly Hulk never beat the crap out of everyone in World War Hulk? Perhaps it's all just make believe crapola with no attempt whatsoever to keep it internally consistent? When you start wondering that sort of thing, you know something's awry.

Just when I thought DC had cornered the market on revising their continuity, along comes Marvel to join the fun. When it happened in Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the mid-80s, I sort of bought it because it was such a fresh approach. Nowadays it just seems lazy and arrogant. And when I read that J Michael Straczynski, who wrote "One More Day" (from a direction by Joe Q), commenting publicly about how he doesn't agree with a lot of it, I really have to scratch my head.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

He Wasn't Really Evel

Of all the things I've read eulogizing Evel Knievel, this was my favourite (by comic writer Will Pfiefer):

"And that is why Evel was so big. Not because he was “truthful and honest” (for one thing, “Evel” was not, as you might have guessed, his real name — though it is a great one, with the same unforgettable rhythm as Englebert Humperdinck), but because he was just as phony, tacky, loud and bullheaded as America can be — and definitely was in the 1970s. Gas prices were through the roof, the economy sucked, the president had left office in scandal and most major cities were hellholes, but at least some high school dropout with a made-up name that rhymed could climb on a bike, zoom up a plywood ramp and risk killing himself to get on TV.

In other words, he might not have died for our sins, but he sure took one hell of a beating. Rest in peace, Evel. You earned it."

I hadn't thought of it until just now, but I guess the exploits of Evel probably lead directly to the infamous Happy Days episode in which Fonzie... you guessed it... jumped the shark! That American daredevil and the toy motorcycle that he bequeathed to my generation of pre-teen thrill-seekers just kept giving and giving...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Back Home... But Only Barely

After getting up at 3:45 am this morning (West Coast time), in order to get to San Francisco airport in time for a 7:00 flight out, we spent about twice as long driving home as normal. Snow falling in a white-out fashion caused part of the slowness, and traffic volume on the highway in general seemed to contribute the rest. A forty-five minute line-up to get through Canadian Customs back at the airport didn't help the situation much, either.

Note to future self: don't make plans at work the day after returning from a trip! I can't even work from home tomorrow because I have our Agile Master Coach starting tomorrow.