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Monday, March 31, 2008

Reading Binge

Yesterday I decided to make a significant dent in my unread pile of comics. I brought small stack after small stack out to the living room over the course of the day, and was quite happy with just how many I'd blown through by the time I went to bed. At that point, Vicki commented on what she'd noticed in that department, and asked how many I'd read. I paused about 2 seconds, and then said, "27." She laughed, and asked, "Did you somehow know that figure or did you just make up a number to shut me up?" And so I responded, "Well, I took 7 to read the first time, 7 the second time, and 7 the third time... then I switched to a group of 4 late in the evening, and just finished reading 2 in bed. So that's 27."

That still left me with over 20 unread to deal with, but that's a much more manageable number than I started Sunday with!

Good Grief, Doctor Manhattan!

I particularly like the swirl of dirt at the feet of Nite Owl...

Found here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Can't Trust Those Monkeys!

This cracked me up today. I happened to be directed to the Wikipedia page for the Infinite Monkey Theorem (the notion that monkeys typing randomly on a keyboard would eventually tap out the great works of literature) and the following sentence made the trip there more than worth the cost of a click:

"In 2003, a humorous experiment was performed with six Celebes Crested Macaques, but their literary contribution was five pages consisting largely of the letter S."

So much for my plan to hire monkeys to help with the sequel to my Agile book...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nearly 100,000 Copies Of Watchmen Were Sold Last Year?!

According to this column article by DC Comics bigwig (and former writer) Paul Levitz, DC sold "almost 100,000 copies [of the Watchmen collected series]... in 2007"!! That absolutely blows my mind, at a time when the vast majority of monthly (new!) comics aren't selling at even half that level! Sure, that's new crap and we're talking about Watchmen here, but it originally came out over 20 years ago! No wonder DC has continued to keep it in print continuously since it debuted (much to the disgust and disappointment of Alan Moore, who I believe would get the rights to the series if it were to go out of print). That's a huge money maker for the company, especially when you consider that the cheapest collection is cover-priced around $24 (and the high-end ones, like the Absolute Watchmen that I own, is more like $100).

As with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album - which continues to move new copies every month, despite being over 35 years old - it's great to see that some gems are finding new audiences with each new generation. Quality doesn't go out of fashion.

Action Comics # 1 In The News

This most-famous-of-all comics was being talked about early in the week because we're approaching the 70th anniversary of its publication, which every comic book fan knows ushered in the beginning of the Golden Age of Comics, as well as launching the superhero genre. That makes it kind of important, to some of us!

However, yesterday Action Comics # 1 made headlines of another sort: in a story that I don't fully grasp all of the implications of just yet, a court ruled that the heirs of the Jerry Siegel estate now hold (or co-hold, with DC) the copyright to the contents of that historic comic! Jerry Siegel, along with Joe Shuster, created the Man of Steel in the mid-1930s and eventually found him a home at what would later become DC Comics. There's a link at the bottom of the article to a FAQ that sheds some light on the whole thing, but it's still fairly complicated (to my simple mind, at least).

Could more copyright reclamations be forthcoming? Is that why Marvel killed off the Steve Rogers Captain America (also created in the Golden Age)? These are certainly interesting times.

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Home For Marvel_Boy

The maybe-real, maybe-fake "disgruntled low level Marvel employee" blogger has started up a new blog (to replace the one that was shut down not long ago), and today announced that Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada is within two weeks of being shown the door. It's a pretty funny rumour to start up, but it also kind of invalidates Marvel_Boy's credibility if it doesn't happen. It seems too good to be true, especially considering that the "spoiler" indicates Joe's decisions around the Spider-Debacle known as "One More Day" are a major contributor to his impending termination (I'd certainly love to see that happen). I want to believe that it's real, but I'm firmly in the "skeptic" category at this point.

Nothing To See Here! Move Along!

I'm sure that the wives must've won at Bridge tonight, and yet, once again, my card-playing companions insist upon claiming that AgileBoy and I prevailed for, what, the fifth time in a row? It was a very surreal experience - again! - as this time I was playing on about 2 hours sleep (last night): I lost track of what was trump (once) and also trumped my own partner's trick (once) in a situation where playing it correctly would've made the difference between victory and defeat in that particular hand. Yes, I played that badly! When the others started up a third game (or leg or rubber or whatever) I hung on for one more hand but then had to beg off as I could barely think straight.

Most of the lost sleep this week can be laid at the feet of my job, meaning that I really need to start letting go. It's not worth the cost when I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle most days anyway. Repeat after me: "It's only a job! It doesn't really matter." That's the place I need to get to. And really, that's where everyone should live, anyway. I just have trouble getting there sometimes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm Not The Only One Sick Of Winter

Yeah, someone else is on the lookout for signs of Spring, too.

Unfortunately, as I sit here typing these words and a whole new layer of snow falls from the sky outside my window, I think we're both going to be disappointed for at least a little longer.

All things considered, it's actually pretty surprising that I've managed three biking days in the month of March so far (including today) and didn't miss a month over the Winter. I think we've had snow on the ground almost continuously since the beginning of December, and certainly all through this month. Crazy, crazy weather.

There Isn't A Big Enough Drool Bucket In The World For This

Are you kidding me?


Is it Summer yet?


What about now?


Now?


Please??


Somebody???

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

That's "Professor Kimota94," To You!

OK, not quite... but I did do a guest lecture at a local university today on the topic of "Agile in the real world." Ironically, the person who asked me to do so didn't even know (when she originally requested it) that I'd just written a book on that very topic.

It was an interesting experience and further validated my belief that I've lost the ability to get nervous when speaking in front of an audience. In that situation, I like to try to get my pulse up by thinking about how stressful it's supposed to be, but it just doesn't have any effect anymore. I guess that's a good thing, but it's also a bit weird. Friend and co-worker Danelle attributes it to me just not giving a shit, and she might be right.

The other pattern I noticed exhibiting itself in this morning's scenario was around "warming up an audience." Just as I've had happen elsewhere - including in the three Story Points workshops that I held in San Francisco late last year - it was a very cool reception at first, and it wasn't until about thirty minutes into the lecture that I started getting any laughs where I'd expected them. Clearly it takes strangers a while to adjust to my... unique... sense of humour, and I tend to forget that when I spend so much time around people who know me (as I usually do). At one point I felt like doing a little Rodney Dangerfield, "Tough crowd!" response, but fortunately I didn't give in to it. Like 19 year olds today would know who Dangerfield was anyway!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Order Now Placed

With the arrival today of the latest print draft copy of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile), I was finally ready to place the large-ish order of 32 copies. That's enough to cover off the ones I plan to give away, plus the one that's already been paid for, with about 10 left over for additional (perhaps mythical) sales.

The submission of that order has now been completed. The estimate was 6 - 8 business days to produce all those duplicate copies, after which it'll take a couple more working days for shipping, and then hopefully this sucker can be considered "published!" It's been a long haul and it's not quite over yet, but maybe I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel...

A Couple Of Wild Rides

Today's decision to ride my bicycle to work was all about the environment. Vicki wasn't heading into work today which meant that my commuting option wasn't there. However, Vicki was still perfectly happy to give me a ride there in the morning, in order to keep the car for something she was doing later in the day. Unfortunately, that meant a completely wasted round trip downtown which I didn't want on my Eco-conscience, so as far as I was concerned I was either taking the bus or riding my bike. About the only knock against biking was the temperature (around -2 or -3) but that seemed within my threshold, so off I went!

I suspect that the wind this morning made it feel cooler than it actually was, but boy that was one cold ride! It didn't help that my iPod conked out 10 minutes in (low battery) after which I became even more aware of just how frigid it was!

Then a snowstorm (mixed with rain) moved into the area in the afternoon, and it looked dicey for making the return trip on two wheels. But when radar showed that the worst of the system had passed by, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Turns out that that wasn't all that was thrown to the wind, though, as I had some of the worst "turbulence" I've ever seen before I got home. It was the sort of crosswind that threatens to blow you off your bike every once in a while, mixed in with the snow, rain and freezing rain that was alternately coming down on me with every revolution of the tires. I'm embarrassed to admit that this particular ride took me about 40 minutes to complete, which represents a more than 50% increase over my usual time! I was soaked, I was exhausted, and I was cold... but I did save two round trips for our car, and that counts for a lot with me!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some Problems Never Go Away

One of the Agile topics that I devoted an entire "chapter" to in my Agile book, and which I characterized as being the most hotly debated of our many discussion points at work, reared its ugly head once again today! It seems like this one never gets resolved, no matter how much talk happens around it. Somehow I think we'll still be squabbling over that particular topic well into our third year of Agile, at the rate we're going...

What is this oh-so-contentious Agile concept? Keeping the mainline tests green (passing)...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lifting The Embargo, With Great Trepidation

Boneman has been after me on a daily basis lately to end my second embargo against New York Rangers news. This current moratorium has been in place since Dec 16th, and it's allowed Christmas, my wedding anniversary and birthday to come and go without the usual ups and downs that accompany each thrill and disappointment provided by the Broadway Blueshirts over that span. But perhaps more importantly, I was able to coolly focus on the writing and editing of the Agile book during the past three months, during which time The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) went from a third of a first draft to its current nearly-published form. So the embargo served its primary purpose, as far as I'm concerned.

Unlike the first Rangers blackout of the season, during which I managed to hear virtually nothing about how the team was doing, I found this most recent attempt at ignorance much more often thwarted. Sometimes it was well-meaning friends, who either didn't know about the embargo or didn't care, but mostly it was my own fault, as I'd stumble across a final score as I was flipping around TV channels (sports tickers are everywhere now!) It's harder than you might think, in this Information Age in which we find ourselves, to remain oblivious to news of this sort!

Anyway, I'm "caught up" now. I don't know everything that I missed, but I'm aware of many of the high and low points. Among the former would be a 13-game unbeaten-in-regulation run by the boys (10-0-3) which was pretty damn impressive! Unfortunately it ended when they traveled to the state of Florida only to lose back-to-back games - in regulation! - to the lowly Panthers and Lightning! Oh well, it was still a good run. Apparently the nadir occurred when the Rangers held a 5-0 2nd period lead against the much-hated Montreal Canadiens, only to allow the Habs to come back and tie it before the end of the 3rd period, and then win it in overtime! Ouch!! I'm glad I wasn't watching the updates on that game!

Here's a quick recap of how the team from Manhattan has done during each of the distinct periods this season:

Pre-Embargo # 1: 3-6-1
During Embargo # 1: 9-2-0
Between Embargos # 1 & 2: 4-5-2
During Embargo # 2: 23-13-7

That's right.. they're a combined 4 games below 0.500 while I've been paying attention, and a whopping 17 games above 0.500 when I haven't been!! Which undoubtedly means that I'm a fool for ever lifting the current blackout!! However, the run up to the post-season is one of the most exciting times of the year, so how could I not want to watch it all play out?

Unfortunately, the Rangers haven't clinched a playoff spot yet (in fact, no team in the Eastern Conference has!) as they sit in 6th place, where the top 8 make the post-season. They have 88 points, with 7 games left (all against division rivals) and probably are going to need about 91 or 92 points to clinch. Now, generally speaking, requiring a mere 4 points with 7 games left would usually make a team a shoo-in, and I'm sure many are regarding the New York Rangers' prospects that way right now. This particular Rangers fan, however, clearly remembers how they finished the 2005/06 NHL season: with 6 consecutive regulation losses!! So at this point, nothing's guaranteed, or even close to it! Having said that, I can't help but be pleased and impressed with their performance during this embargo, as that 10-0-3 run appears to have made all the difference (after all, they were only 13-13-4 otherwise). They could still miss the playoffs, finish 1st in the conference, or do just about anything in between! It should make for quite the wild ride in the last two weeks of the season.

And Boneman... if they do miss the playoffs, it's going to be all your fault!!

[Update: I got the greatest summary today, from Shane T, of all the New York Rangers games that I missed during Embargo # 2! It was about 15 pages thick, and had little write-ups on each game, as well as the standings following the game. That guy may just be the greatest hockey fan I know!]

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Viral Marketing Or Disgruntled Employee?

The Internet comic book community has been mildly abuzz lately about this blog, purportedly belonging to a low-rung Marvel employee who's become increasingly dissatisfied with his lot in life at the House of Ideas. Lately he's been posting apparent spoilers, including several pages from an upcoming issue of New Avengers (or so I've heard.. he then received a Cease & Desist letter from Marvel Legal and subsequently took it down, the story goes).

So is it legit, or just a subtle viral marketing ploy to get more people talking about what's going on at Marvel these days? Well, the blog very recently identified one of four Skrull imposters (part of the upcoming Secret Invasion big crossover series) and that hardly seems like the thing Marvel would do to itself (if true)... but I guess we'll have to wait and see if the other three also get outed! Definitely fun to watch these days...

[Update: Not sure what to make of it, but just now when I tried to check the aforementioned marvelboy's blog it appeared to have been deleted!]

Friday, March 21, 2008

More Doppleganger Fun

The cover to Captain America # 39, due out in a few months (and shown to the left) is not only a beautiful piece of artwork... it also suggests the possibility of the real Cap's return (from his very public death about a year ago).

Or it could totally be a red herring by series writer and comics superstar Ed Brubaker... you just never know what to expect, where Bru's concerned! And that's part of why he's such a terrific asset to the world of comics!

JMS Still Tight-Lipped About His DC Work

I guess it's still too early for any announcements about what J Michael Straczynski is going to be doing at DC Comics now that he's no longer exclusive to Marvel, but that doesn't stop Comic Book Resources from trying to find out!

I would imagine that, if JMS really wanted to get his hands on Superman (as his comments in the article suggest), then DC will likely just create a 3rd solo title for their flagship character - in addition to Action Comics and Superman - or possibly set the Babylon 5 creator loose on the very poorly named Superman/Batman (or is it Batman/Superman?) series.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to seeing what JMS can do for the DCU. It's not like he could make it all that much worse than it is right now!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Quite Possibly The Craziest Development Ever

Today, Vicki informed me (via e-mail) that she had a cheque for $20 made out to me, as an example of something "guaranteed to make you smile." Because of the amount involved, I surmised that she'd conned some co-worker of hers into buying a copy of the still-as-yet unpublished Agile book of mine. That would've been surprising enough, but then I found out that no, it wasn't anyone she worked with. Instead it was the husband of her massage therapist!

Apparently Vicki had spent much of her massage time today talking up The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) (presumably as a way of killing the time) only to find out that her therapist's spouse was dealing with leadership challenges in his workplace! For whatever reason, the two women came to the conclusion that my book would somehow be helpful to this poor soul. So, by the time Vicki went to pay for her visit, the historic $20 cheque was waiting for her at reception!

So let's consider just how unlikely this turn of events really was:
  • the sale was "sight unseen" since Vicki didn't even have one of the print draft copies with her
  • the customer wasn't the least bit interested in Agile or (as far as I know) software development
  • I don't even have a "publication date" just yet as I wait for the final "final" draft to arrive
  • she was getting a massage, for Pete's sake!!
Now, it's certainly possible that this is simply a "pity purchase" of the sort that can happen when the pathetic 8-year-old shows up at your door selling some crap you'd never actually use in order to pay for her class trip... but it's still a sale! My first ever!!

Now I just need a book in order to complete the transaction...

Learn English Good!

From the brilliant and twisted mind of Alan Moore comes this mock advertisement (found on the back cover of the Mystery Incorporated issue of his Image Comics 1963 series, published back in the 90s during the period when Image was trying to counter charges that no one was actually writing their books!).

At the risk of giving away trade secrets and generally showing just a little too much of the man behind the curtain: a careful reading of the ad may lead the most astute of our blog faithful to discover the source of my most excellent use of emphasis and bolding!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I Guess Sometimes Black Is The New Green

Thanks to another co-worker of mine, I learned today about this environmentally-friendly alternative to the main Google site. As far as I can tell, it's still Google; it just uses less energy in its display (or so the claim goes), thanks to having a black background. I certainly like the thinking behind it, although I don't understand the impact of white vs black screens well enough to say if it's actually effective. Thoughts?

Test Your Awareness

Courtesy of the Man from Mars comes this test, which I encourage all readers of this blog to take (it's very quick and painless!) It's actually pretty cool, although a technical glitch stopped me from getting the full effect the first time I took it. Hopefully you'll have a better result when you try.

[Edit: apparently it was actually courtesy PeterJ, via Man from Mars]

And Lo, There Shall Be A Number, And That Number Shall Be 27

While it cost me a soggy ride this morning, I got a March bike ride into work today, on what I'd say was the first day in March suitable for cycling. Looking at the forecast, there may not be many - or maybe any! - more chances this month, as Winter continues to extend its stay well beyond the point where anyone in their right mind wants it around. I seem to recall that we got our first serious snowfall of the season around the start of December (while Vicki and I were in San Francisco) so those who've been claiming that this year's Winter has felt especially long probably aren't in error.

Usually March is a slam dunk for getting not just one but several biking days in, but I'm just glad to have one under my belt now. I'd hate to have had the biking streak end in March of all months! Instead, the streak remains alive, and is now up to 27 months.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

The Good: After a lazy weekend spent in Louisville, Kentucky, my latest copy of the Agile book decided to make its way to our house today. The things we were looking for in this version - how a particular font worked in the printed form, for example - all came out well. Now I just have to wait on the copy I ordered yesterday as a potential "lock down" copy, and if it's good, then I can place the big order.

The Bad: Today was the sort of day where I spend most of my time wondering why I even bothered to go into work. Some statements were made today, by people in fairly senior positions, that made me question whether we were in our 20th month of Agile, or 20th day! Particularly frustrating was the notion that Feature Teams could make changes (fix bugs) without having their automated tests up and running. Hello?! Have we really come so short a distance in all that time?

The Ugly:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another Lost Convert

I get a possibly-inappropriate amount of joy from turning people onto Lost. It's such a great show, especially when you can watch the early episodes in the quick succession that the DVDs currently available now allow, and I love finding new minds to suck into the maelstrom that is the best show on TV! There's so much going on in each episode that having more people to talk to about them just can't be anything but good!

The latest recruit is a former member of our very own blogosphere, one Jimmy Hinckley. He should be finishing up Season One any minute now, and already has Season Two in hand, just in case he and the missus simply can't wait to see what happens next! As someone who endured the half-year or so between cliffhanger and subsequent season premiere, I can only imagine how sweet it must be to just stick another disc in the DVD player and transition right into the second season.

Another co-worker, this time the kind person who leant us his Battlestar Galactica Season Two DVD set, is queued up to take possession of Lost Season One as soon as the Hinckleys free it up. (I especially like when I can repay a kindness with a kindness!) I'm hopeful about the prospects of adding yet another soul (or two) to the Lost faithful in this way, but eventually I'll lend Season One to someone who won't actually like it. It just hasn't happened yet, thankfully!

Dopplegangers, Anyone?

Yes, that's two Supermen (regular Supes from the JLA and the Kingdom Come version, currently residing with the JSA), two Hawkpeople (Hawkman of the JSA and Hawkgirl from the JLA) and two Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan, JLA and Alan Scott, JSA), all on the same amazing cover to JSA # 17!

Pardon me while I find my drool bucket...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stuck In... Louisville, Kentucky?!

My latest print draft of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) left Lulu on Friday, via UPS, and made it to the U.S./Canada border by Friday night... only to then do a U-turn and head south to Kentucky, where it spent the weekend (according to the tracking information provided)! I remember reading about how delivery companies will sometimes ship items in an non-obvious direction in order to minimize travel times, and I guess this must be an example... but Kentucky?

I've also decided to err on the side of caution, and do one more print draft before placing the big order. The thought of getting a few dozen copies after making a few small changes to the source file, only to receive them and realize that there's something wrong with the formatting, has convinced me to pay the time (and small shipping expense) penalty in order to "do the right thing." Sadly this will delay things about a week, but it's better than ending up with $300 worth of copies that I'd be embarrassed to sell or give away.

As I said to Vicki this morning, when explaining my change of heart on this topic, the good news is: I'm learning a lot about what's involved in actually getting a book (self-)published! I'll know how to do it better for the next one. And that's worth something.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good For Whatever Ails You

In the comments to this blog's recent scathing indictment of Dan DiDio's DC Universe, regular reader David very kindly asked to what do I attribute the recent lousy sales figures for DC titles, as well as offering a few ideas of his own. It's a fair question, and a good one, so here's my response.

I don't think DiDio and the rest of the decision-makers at DC have a clue how to develop sustained interest in their comic line. I get that they need to balance carefully between retaining existing readers and bringing new ones into the fold, and I applaud anything that any comic publisher does that accomplishes that. But it almost seems like DC is currently hellbent on doing exactly the opposite of that. Take the return of the Multiverse, for example. When it happened at the end of 52, I pondered how DC might use - or abuse - their old toy now that it was back. One thing I didn't anticipate, but which quickly became apparent, was that the Multiverse was prime material for wrecking, as far as DiDio was concerned. So let's consider that in terms of old and new fans, just as an example.

As a DC fan of almost 40 years now, I loved the concept of the Multiverse when I first encountered it in the very early-70s, was sorry to see it go in the mid-80s (in Crisis on Infinite Earths), but was thrilled with the way in which it went out in such high style. That was classy! Since its return, approximately a year ago now, what's been done with it? Well, a small group of 3rd- or 4th-string heroes have randomly hopped from Earth to Earth, willy-nilly, typically only staying for part of one issue. Virtually no character development of the people inhabiting those alternate Earths has happened, and in fact, the most common result of these visitations seems to be that the planet (if not the entire universe) gets destroyed! What kind of a moron brings that kind of story potential onto the stage only to smash it into little pieces? One lacking in imagination and a grasp of his audience, I suspect.

Things like that tend to turn off the grey-haired fans like me, so that part of the equation's busted. How about someone new, wandering into this without any kind of background in the characters? Would they not simply be confused as Hell, especially as alternate versions of Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc, are introduced without any explanation, and then quickly killed off a few pages later? What would possibly compel that young reader to ever come back? At least in the pre-Crisis days, when an Earth-2 (or Earth-3, or Earth-X) doppleganger was introduced, there was usually some description of what the differences between the various Earths were, and the variant stuck around long enough to display some personality traits so as to at least be recognizable if you, as a reader of that story, ever did come back again!

So I think DC is failing miserably in this department, among others. They need to give up on events and go back to the formula that made them # 1 in the 80s and early 90s: tell good stories! Hire the best writers, let them use the DC characters in any way they like as long as they don't break them. When someone has a killer idea that's, unfortunately, going to leave the heroes in what you believe to be an usable state, follow the Watchmen pattern and create new characters for him or her to use! (And even there, Moore's Watchmen heroes were still better equipped to be used effectively when he was finished with them than anything that's been done with the actual Charlton characters since!) Specific to the Multiverse, pick a few of them and have some of your best writers (like Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka) build up new universes for you to make money off of for the next decade or more! It's like a license to print money, if you do it right. Follow the Marvel Ultimate imprint's lead, if you have to... it's not exactly rocket science, although DiDio and his cronies sure make it look like it is!

The Next Project

Although the Agile book still isn't quite published (though I did get an e-mail overnight indicating that the latest proof copy is now in transit to me), I'm already starting to think about my next writing project. I'm 99% sure that it's going to be a collection of short stories. I've naturally got some material to start with, readable on this blog by simply clicking the My Stories label along the left edge of this page, but definitely want to produce a set of new stories for the collection, as well. My goal right now is that at least 1/3 of the book be new, although that may change once I get into it.

So what that means for this blog, for those few who might care, is that I won't be putting any new short story material here for the foreseeable future. The one exception to that statement, of course, will be the final chapter of Imaginary Stories, which will go up as post # 1500, sometime in the next couple of weeks. (I'll have to think of some new way to mark the "hundreds" in terms of # of posts, but that's a challenge for another day.)

Anyway, that's where my head will be at, once we get through the final few stages of pushing The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) out the door.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Even The Ads Were Outstanding!


One of my favourite weekly columns, Grumpy Old Fan, showcased the original set of ads for Watchmen (the 1986 comic series) last week. These advertisements appeared on the back of some DC titles prior to and during the period in which the series was coming out, and I remember several of them well. However, column writer Tom Bondurant included 2 unused versions, featuring Nite Owl (shown here) and Silk Spectre, which I'm seeing now for the first time. It's amazing how much detail each one holds, and how absolutely representative of the series each is. As Bondurant notes, Moore and Gibbons clearly poured as much into the creation of those images and text as they did everything else Watchmen-related. It's doubtful the movie will be up to that standard, but we'll find out in approximately 51 weeks!

Great Customer Service

Back in late January, I pre-ordered Battlestar Galactica Season Three on DVD from Chapters.ca, at which time it was set to be released two months later, on March 25th.

Last night, I received an e-mail informing me that BSG S3 had been shipped to me. I thought that was kind of strange, since it was only March 13th and the last I'd heard, the DVD wasn't due out for nearly two weeks. I went to Chapters.ca to check out the current status, and the release date had indeed been updated... to March 18th! Since this was still several days in the future, I remained perplexed about how the DVD was already on its way to me. So much so, in fact, that I worried that some snafu had occurred and maybe it was Season Two that was winging its way here.

Today, when we got home from work, there was BSG S3 waiting for us in our mailbox! (It was a nice surprise birthday present for Vicki, in that sense.) Even right now, when I check various sites, the third season continues to show a launch date of next Tuesday. So we received it four days ahead of the official release date, which is just plain awesome!

On the other end of spectrum is the non-appearance of my previous softcover order from Lulu. I had hoped that it might arrive in less than a week like the first one had, but as of right now it hasn't even been printed, and I ordered it last Saturday. So I guess this one's just going to take longer. Oh well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hey Dan DiDio: How About Those Sales Figures?

Anyone who pays attention to the "Top 300 Comics" sales lists each month can't help but have noticed recently that DC Comics rarely has more than one or two titles cracking the Top 10. So what, you ask? Well, a year ago the publishers of Batman, Superman and the Justice League of America had at least a healthy three or four entrants among the Top 10. Worse news, still, from last month;s figures was that DC wasn't even dominating the 11 through 20 spots, which was an absolutely horrific situation in the context of trying to be on the same level as Marvel Comics.

Now I read that the average sales on DC Universe titles last month was approximately 33,000. To some, that may sound like a reasonable number (if you sell 33,000 hardcover books, for example, you're doing well unless you're a big name author) but it wasn't that long ago that a DC or Marvel title selling below 40,000 was on the chopping block for cancellation... and now here's DC with the average of their big line existing under that mark! If there's any better indication of just how sad a state Executive Editor Dan DiDio has taken this collection of the greatest, most recognizable set of iconic heroes to... I can't imagine what it would be.

And that's coming from someone who absolutely loves DC Comics, and has preferred them to Marvel for the last 20 years.

Death To Hardcovers!

Having slept on the situation now, I've pretty much decided to forgo any hardcover copies of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) rather than fiddle around and try to come up with a hardcover format that will work. Since the turnaround time on the printing and shipping of hardcovers is about twice what it is for the softer version, I can't really justify further delaying the release of my first ever book by several weeks while experimenting to work around something that I honestly think is just the byproduct of an arcane aspect of how Lulu converts Word docs into PDF form. An unsatisfying Instant Messenger conversation with Lulu Support last night convinced me that I'm not going to get any help from them in terms of solving what seems like a fairly simple issue with the hardcover PDF file. To which I say, "Whatever."

Vicki and I both really like the softcover version, and so that's what everyone who gets a copy will be carrying around shortly! That decision also shortens the remaining wait, since I should be able to get the full bulk order filled more quickly, once I place it (probably early next week, once the latest softcover version arrives and is checked out).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adventures In Hardcover Land

The good news is that the hardcover version of the Agile book arrived today. The bad news is that neither Vicki nor I are thrilled with how it came out. Basically the text isn't centered (top to bottom) on the page like I would've expected. I guess it's my fault for not cluing in to the fact that the different aspect ratios between the two formats chosen would mean that, if one looked good (like the softcover did) then the other probably wouldn't (as the hardcover does not). We considered and played around with various options tonight, including re-formatting the Word document to accommodate a second set of dimensions for the hardcover source, and simply foregoing hardcover copies entirely. In the end, I'm leaning toward going with a hardcover format that's almost identical to the softcover one that we like, even though that's not my first choice. It's a little more money but seems like the solution with the highest likelihood of being satisfactory to me.

One of the interesting results of this experience is that both Vicki and I looked at the format that I'd chosen for the hardcover copy and thought that it would be perfect for a collection of short stories! So when I start that next project (probably sometime in the next few months), I'll likely do so with this format in mind. So it wasn't a complete waste!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hardcover On Its Way

I got the notification via e-mail today that the hardcover version of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) has now been printed by Lulu and is making its way to us. Last time there was about a 2-day delay between the e-mail going out and the book arriving (although I wasn't checking for the e-mail back then and so I missed it for a few days). If that pattern holds for the hardcover copy as well, it might be here by Thursday of this week. And if that happens, then it appears to be about 1 week for softcover and 2 weeks for hardcover, which isn't too bad at all. Assuming I don't end up making many more changes - and I have to stop eventually! - then I could conceivably have my big shipment in hand by the end of March. That'd be pretty sweet!

I did some pricing tonight on the bulk order, and the results were encouraging. I should be able to get what I want, including a few extras of each type, for about another $400, meaning that I'd be able to keep my total under $500 (including the 3 print drafts). I've also pretty much decided on the pricing scheme for the copies that I don't give away: $20 for softcover and $40 for hardcover. In each case, that's about double the cost to me, which seems reasonable in this sort of circumstance. Not that I'm expecting to sell (m)any, but I still need to have a price in mind, just in case!

Monday, March 10, 2008

40 At 45

Vicki marked my 45th birthday today by giving me my 2nd Golden Age comic in three days! This time it's Batman # 40, from 1947, once again featuring the Dark Knight up against the Crown Prince of Crime (yes, that's a lot of forties!)

I also received a new work shirt, some cologne and a small light that can go on my back if I'm ever biking in the dark. And I gave myself the day off work so that I could spend it at home doing whatever the heck I felt like. Which I did! That included watching the DVD of Justice League: The New Frontier, which was an absolutely joyous experience for this long-time DC fan!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Large Scale Pranksterism

If you're a fan of harmless pranks pulled off in groups, then you probably already know about this, but I certainly found some of the stuff there amusing. I loved the "banana phone" stunt, especially when the one guy informs the stranger who's quizzing him about his fruity cellular that he's in the middle of an important business call! (And I didn't mind the jingle for it, either: "It's the phone with a peal!") The Grand Central Freeze would've just been weird to walk into, and I like how they got a round of applause at the end.

Oh Buffy, Who Have You Gotten Yourself Into This Time?

Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn't read Buffy Season Eight # 12 ('out' this past week) but is planning to: you may not want to have recent developments ruined for you by checking out this!

For my part, all I can say is that it kind of made my day!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Print Draft Take 2

This afternoon I made a bunch of small changes to the official copy of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) that's stored at Lulu, and then ordered a new proof copy in softcover form. I figure the updated softcover should arrive fairly close to the hardcover version that I ordered over a week ago. Then I can check the latest changes, see what the original version looks like in hardcover, and hopefully, finally place the big order that will get some copies into other peoples' hands. My best estimate for that is currently the second week of April, but it's still a bit of a crap shoot.

So far I've spent about $70 on the first 3 copies, but I'm hoping the shipping costs will scale a little better once I begin ordering them in bulk. I'm anticipating a final total of around $600, which should get me 30 softcover copies and 10 hardcover ones. Since Vicki and I got our first weekly payout of $300 yesterday, and will get another one in less than a week, this particular self-gratification exercise of mine is already half paid-for! And of course, if I manage to actually sell any copies, then the $600 figure will just go down, as I'm pricing both versions such that each sale pays for a given-away copy. Not that I expect to sell any, but you never know.

Something For Tim

I abuse him, I ignore him, I make him the butt of my jokes, and I laugh at his musical recommendations - except for the times when he's somehow, implausibly, right on the money - so every once in a while I feel like I owe him one. Now is that time. Here you go, Timmy!

Snowbound But Happy


It's that time once again when gifts are exchanged within our household in recognition of another year of wedded bliss gone by. This year, like last, I got a DC comic from the Golden Age, this time in the form of a lovely copy of Detective Comics # 114 (cover shown here, but mine's actually nicer than this one, I think!) Vicki, again like in 2007, received a new set of earrings, but this year's version are gold, not pearl, and she hadn't picked them out!

We hadn't really planned to go out for dinner tonight since we just did that 2 nights ago, and it's just as well: we've cleared a car's width down our driveway to the street, but I suspect that's as far as we'd get right now. As Vicki said, there hasn't been an hour in the past half-day that hasn't had snowing falling in it. As always, I'm just as happy to stay in the house at any time, so I'm not complaining. I just hope the pizza delivery guy can make it to down our street tonight, or we'll be back to the drawing board on the whole dinner front!

A Ridiculous Run Of Luck

Somehow, inexplicably, AgileMan and his sidekick, the Boy Bidder, emerged victorious on Bridge Night once again (last night). I was sure that this time the wives had finally come out on top (so to speak), especially after one hand where, thanks to my completely useless set of cards, my partner only got three or four of the nine tricks that we'd contracted for, and yet when AgileBoy added up the legs, honours, penalties, insults, games, and reneges-caught-before-too-late, we'd won by a score of something like 1360 to 1330. I know, I know: that sounds like a cricket match gone mad, but that's what the other three claimed the score was.

I actually felt more comfortable during the proceedings last night than I had been before, but that may just mean that I'm starting to get bored with the game! After all, how can playing cards possibly compare to killing aliens or using a Portal gun to get yourself out of jams?

An Excel-lent Breakthrough

Over the last couple of weeks, I've learned more about how to mine data from our bug tracking system at work through the use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets than I would ever have imagined I'd care to!

One of the "ah ha!" moments came this week when I realized that I really could use the IF statement in Excel to exactly describe whatever scenario it was that I was trying to calculate, even as applied to an entire set of results. Anyone who uses Excel for anything more interesting than personal budgets is probably saying, "No duh, Sherlock!" right about now, but I honestly had never expected to be back "programming" in as unlikely a setting as a freaking spreadsheet... and yet there I was!

This has, quite naturally, lead me to start thinking about new types of things I can measure with this newfound tool of mine. Those poor Feature Teams at work won't even know what hit them... (KIDDING!!)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Our Wait Is Now Sub-Year!

I was so brain-numbingly busy yesterday (worked late to finish up some bug analysis spreadsheet stuff; went out for dinner with Vicki to celebrate our countdown reaching zero; got the first softcover copy of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) in the mail; played 2 hours of hilarious Halo 3 action in Co-op Mode with McChicken; watched Lost just before midnight!!) that I completely missed the significance of the date: March 6th! That's right, yesterday marked exactly one year to go until the release of the Watchmen movie in 2009!

While I feel bad about the boneheaded oversight, here's a fun set of character shots that director Zack Snyder released yesterday, as a way to make up for it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

An Unexpected Early Birthday Present

I'd ordered proof copies of the Agile book a week ago today, one in softcover and one in hardcover, and was told to expect them within about 2 - 3 weeks. Today when I got home from work, there waiting on our stoop was the softcover copy! Very exciting!!

Vicki and I spent the last half hour flipping through it (in printed form! on actual paper!) and noting small changes that we need to make. So that'll get taken care of this weekend, while we wait for the hardcover copy to arrive (probably next week at the earliest). I'm really thrilled to have actually gotten something before my birthday!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bug Analysis Sometimes Really Bugs Me

I worked most of today from home, thanks to the big dumping of snow that we got overnight. I planned to whip up a new spreadsheet to measure Bug Longevity Trends (how long bugs tend to be open before getting fixed) in the morning and get on to something else in the afternoon... except that as of 10:00 tonight I was still toiling away on the spreadsheet!

The challenge, this time around, was that there's two types of bugs to look at: the ones that have been fixed (by the time you run the report) and the ones that haven't. The first group are easy to measure longevity on, as it's just the # of days between the bug report being opened and subsequently closed. But looking at the bugs that are still hanging around proved more difficult to get a good grip on.

My first impulse was just to measure longevity as being the time between when the bug was reported and now, but that has the unfortunate side effect of making teams look like they're improving as time goes by, without actually doing anything to improve! The reason I say that is, the # of days that a bug has been ignored, as measured today, is smaller the closer you get to now along the timeline. So if a team were completely neglecting to fix bugs each Iteration over the past 18 months, the trend curve would still indicate that the longevity of those bugs was shorter with each passing month (which would look good) when in fact nothing positive is actually happening.

Anyway, I'm still not convinced that I've solved the problem, but at least I got far enough - by 10:00 - that I have something to show a few people at work, and get more feedback on. This has turned out to be the toughest Bug Trend analysis that I've done to date!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Time In A Bottle

Our household's one and only weekly magazine subscription, currently, is to Time. I'd never read it before Vicki got the initial subscription a couple of years back, but it's now one of my favourite sources for catching up on things of general interest (as opposed to various websites, which are much better at catering to specific interests of mine, like comics, movies or sports).

Anyway, I'm always a bit behind in my Time reading, and sure enough, right now I'm perusing an issue from late in December of last year. That means that the first primaries and caucuses in the U.S. election season are just about to start, as far as my Time reading is concerned. What's interesting is that Giuliani was still the Republican frontrunner - he's already withdrawn from the race, I believe - and McCain was barely mentioned. The big question on the Republican side seemed to be whether Romney or Huckabee had any chance of catching Rudy and his 9/11 ticket-to-ride, and yet tonight John McCain will probably be all-but-annointed as the party's choice for November.

On the Democratic side, Time was already forecasting a tight race, although they saw it as more of a three-way: Clinton, Obama and Edwards (and since when has a Clinton ever been opposed to a three-way?) I had thought that, prior to Super-Tuesday back in Feb, all of the talk had been about Hillary being a shoo-in, but clearly that was not the case. So they called that one right, but got the Repubs completely wrong. Go figure.

Of course, if the American public - or the 45% of the eligible voters who actually go to the polls every four years - manage to elect yet another Republican president after the damage that Bush, Jr has done to their country, and the world, in the seven years since he stole the presidency from Al Gore, then all hope may be lost.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Gaming Update

Saturday night, before the flu laid me low for about thirty-six hours, I managed to finish off Half-Life 2 and Portal. Both had really strong endings, as you'd expect from two such breakthrough offerings. Portal definitely claims the title for Best Final Credits of a Video Game of any game I've ever played. The song performed by the sweet-but-psychotic artificial intelligence while the game maker's names appeared on the screen was absolutely hilarious!

Tonight, as I started to feel better, I got in an hour of F.E.A.R. playing on the PS/3 which was just enough to finish off that game, too. I could've done without all the weirdo hallucinatory scenes toward the end, but otherwise it was a great game.

So that makes three games wrapped up in three days, leaving only Halo 3 "in progress." At this rate, it'll soon be time to start a brand new game!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Wacky Flu Virus

Late last night, as Vicki and I were heading to bed after a couple hours of playing Portal on the XBox 360, I was suddenly overcome with violent chills that had me shivering uncontrollably. I eventually got back up, turned the heat up several degrees, threw another layer of clothes on, and then climbed back into bed where I continued to freeze my ass off for most of the night.

Today I thought that I was getting better, but then I was overcome with the same feeling in the afternoon, and headed off for a long nap under the same conditions. I have a few other mild flu symptoms, like aches and pains and a muddled thought process, but generally seem OK... except when I feel like I'm sitting in a deep-freeze refrigerator.

Weirdest flu I've ever had...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Freedom 45

A little more than a year and a half ago - so far in the past, in fact, that it predates my launch of this very blog - I was very burned out in my job. I'd come through a stretch where I'd been bored and felt like I wasn't accomplishing anything, and then I transitioned into the whole "let's go Agile" ramp-up and suddenly I was Public Enemy Number One for being behind what many felt was either a misguided or mishandled cultural shift (I can, at least, safely argue against the first of those two criticisms!). So there I was, in the late July 2006 timeframe, ready to either quit outright or take a six-month leave of absence. I'd gotten far enough along in plans to do one or the other, in fact, that I'd broached the subject of a LOA with my boss. Vicki knew how close to snapping I was at that point, and was 100% supportive of my decision, whichever way it went. We were each making enough money that one of us having a dry spell for awhile wouldn't have impacted us financially much at all.

What changed my mind - and plans - was a scheduled visit with our financial planner around that time. He's an agent for the firm that manages our RRSP money, and we meet with him at least once a year to review how things are going. Heading into that meeting, I asked him how far away from retirement he figured Vicki and I were, based on the money that he was managing, if we were to soon stop adding anything to it (just relying on growth). He ran some simulations, based on assumptions that we jointly made, and told us that it seemed reasonable that we should be able to start using our retirement money by (roughly) the beginning of 2015, and expect that it would last us the rest of our lives. Explicitly excluded in that calculation were all of the following:
  • any value that we might realize from selling off part or all of the comic collection
  • any value from the house that we currently own (mortgage-free)
  • any funds we might get via the Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security programs
  • any inheritances or other unexpected windfalls
Each of those items listed above was considered an additional "buffer" or safety net, in case anything in our calculations proved to be off (such as a sustained higher-than-expected inflation rate, for example). The calculation also assumed that we were maintaining our current lifestyle, rather than downgrading it to have less spending money, or fewer vacations, etc.

Faced with that information, which was actually better than I'd expected, Vicki and I started talking about how best to get there. The good news, which she and I shared with the financial planner during this meeting, was that we'd been saving up quite a bit of money outside of our RRSPs, for the express purpose of bridging us for a few years between the end of working and the start of living off our RRSP income. Having a date for the latter allowed us to work backward to determine one for the former, looking at the savings that we had at the time and how much we knew that we needed to live on each year. From all of that, we came to the conclusion that we would hit that sweet spot approximately 80 weeks after that meeting. I'd had no idea that we were that near to not needing to work any longer, and yet there it was.

Faced with this new information, and a tantalizingly close date, it no longer made sense to me to quit or go on a LOA. Instead, Vicki and I started tracking our progress toward our new goal by way of a sheet of paper on our fridge. On it, we counted down the 80 weeks that separated us from "financial freedom." At the end of each week, we'd stroke off last week's number and write the new number down, moving ever downward toward the magical zero mark. Every time a new multiple of 10 was reached (70, 60, 50, etc), we'd treat ourselves to a nice dinner out to celebrate another milestone passed.

Around about the point where we got down to 20 weeks remaining, I started talking to Vicki about what we'd do when the counter got to 0. While obviously one option was to just go into work and say, "I quit!" (in her case, just end her current contract early), neither of us really wanted to do that. For one thing, we both enjoy working most of the time, but aren't so crazy about having to work. Put another way, it's easier to go into work knowing that you can quit at any time if it stops being enjoyable, and not have to worry about what to do next. That's what we were counting down to. So what would we do at 0?

What we agreed to was that we'd start using the extra money that would otherwise have continued to go into this bridging fund and give it to ourselves to spend instead. Once the lump sum was big enough, after all, it didn't need to keep growing (beyond interest income), so rather than keep adding to it, we'd split that surplus between us. I figured that we'd be talking about something in the neighbourhood of $500 per week, each, which is clearly not chump change! And the prospect of that was pretty darn exciting to both of us.

As it turns out, this past week was Week 0. Our 80-week countdown has now completed, and in six short days from today, we'll give ourselves our first set of bonuses! Because the downturn of the stock market over the past several months actually kept us from meeting 100% of our target bridging amount (we're about 6% short), we decided to start off at $300/week, and slowly work our way up to $500. The reality of the situation is that, were we both to stop working this week, the money that we do have saved up at this point would almost certainly bridge us beyond the start of 2015, but I still prefer to be safe than sorry. So we'll keep plugging some money into the nest egg until we reach 100%, after which we'll be set.

And of course, the longer either (or both) of us keeps working, the less time that the bridging nest egg theoretically has to cover, anyway. At the moment it's almost seven years, but the clock's still ticking. Maybe by the time we finally stop heading into the office each day it'll be down to six years or less, in which case we'll likely just delay touching our RRSP money even longer. And that's yet another form of buffer that conservative Kimota94 is all for!

March 2008 already had lots going for it, but I can add the preceding to that list now.

For previous posts of mine relating to personal finances, if you care in the least, you could look here or here. I hate debt, I love budgets, and I happen to believe that every person can achieve financial security if they're willing to truly commit themselves to that goal. I also know someone at work who's much younger than I am and yet is about to pay off his first house! So that tells me that I'm not alone in my beliefs.

Hey Look: It's March!

I'm not a big fan of January and February each year, but March is the month when things usually start to look up on several fronts. Typically I get to ride my bike with some regularity toward the middle part of the month, after a long stretch with either no cycling at all or (as in recent years) just enough to keep the streak alive! Looking at the forecast right now, there's not much to cheer about yet, but it is only the first of the month, after all!

Vicki and I both have our birthdays in March, as well as our wedding anniversary, and this year I'm happy to report that I got all of her gifts well before February even took its bows. I'm hoping that there may be a Golden Age comic or two featuring the Dark Knight coming my way in the near future, but only time will tell on that front.

Over the past few years, both of us have gotten very much into watching the NCAA college basketball "March Madness" tournament that starts later this month. The "Road to the Final Four," with its single-loss elimination format, provides excellent accessibility to even fair weather fans like us who don't watch any college basketball the rest of the year.

If proceedings don't get hung up along the way, then March this year will see the arrival - in printed and bound form - of my Agile writings from the past six and a half months. As anyone who reads this blog already knows, that book has occupied a ridiculous chunk of my free time since August, and so getting an actual, physical representation of it in my hands will be a significant moment.

There's also one other noteworthy event tied to March this year, but I'll leave that to a separate post that I hope to get to this weekend.

All in all, it's great to say "so long" to February, especially when it had the audacity to extend its stay by an entire 24 hours this year!