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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big Comic News

One comics site referred to the New York Daily News coverage of it as "the biggest comics spoiler EVER" (which is a bit over the top) but something rather large does indeed happen at the end of this week's DC Universe # 0, which I just finished reading.

For the spoiler-averse among you, do not roll your cursor over the words between here one of my all-time favourite characters - Barry "Flash" Allen - apparently returns to life, and the DCU, just in time for Final Crisis and here. I will, however, say that my interest in the upcoming Final Crisis series just went up a notch. That doesn't mean that DC can't still screw the pooch on this, but at least now they've succeeded in getting my attention!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Happier News...

I just downloaded the Resistance 2 teaser trailer on my PS/3 and it's got a pretty nice visual to it! At the end it declares that "The invasion begins Friday, June 13." At first I took that to mean that the game itself was due out in only a month and a half, but it sounds like it's a full gameplay trailer that debuts on that date, with the game launch still another several months later still ("the fall"). Even the very brief teaser that I now have, though, is enough to keep me interested and salivating. (You can see the teaser much less impressively here if you like.)

Grand Theft Auto IV, on the other hand... not so much!

All Over But The Crying

I didn't even watch Game 3 of the Rangers/Penguins series tonight - we played Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction instead - but I see it was yet another loss for the boys from Broadway. This makes it 3-0 Pittsburgh and all but guarantees there will be at least one Pennsylvania team in the Eastern Conference Final... I just now have to hope there's actually two Keystone State teams there! If that happened, it wouldn't be a complete disaster for this Rangers-loving, Habs-hating fan.

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's Like A License To Print Money...

Today, I noticed that I'd made my third online sale of a copy of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) via the Lulu site. I know who the first sale went to (confirmed by the buyer, shortly after it happened), but have only theories so far as to the identities of the two subsequent purchasers. They could be complete strangers, who searched for Agile books at Lulu and found mine, but more likely are people who've been pointed to the website by me, or by friends and family (or co-workers). I may or may not find out eventually who bought the latest copies.

And that got me thinking... When I make an online sale of the book without having to do anything - I don't have to pay to order the copy originally, I don't have to convince anyone to buy a copy and I don't have to "request" payment from them - it all seems quite magical to me! Today's sale, for example, will net me about $13 in profit, despite me not doing anything beyond writing and publishing the book way back when! In theory, I could still be making money through online sales of the book weeks, months or even years from now! Imagine being a famous author, like a Stephen King, Michael Crichton or Neil Gaiman, and having royalty cheques coming in for the rest of your life for things you'd written decades earlier! What a concept!

I think the reason such a thing seems so revolutionary to me is that I've always only made money in a more direct and limited fashion. I do something, and I get paid for it. Once! Even selling comics on eBay, when I was doing that, was a 1-for-1 deal: this item sells once, and makes me that much money. The notion of producing something once, and then (in theory) making money off of it again and again and again is just... really cool! Even if I only ever make dozens of dollars, instead of the millions that others may make, it's still really cool!

It's almost enough to make me want to be a writer for real!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weekend Of Woe For Rangers Fans

After losing a 5-4 shootout with the Penguins on Friday night, this afternoon the New York Rangers played a much tighter game, but with the same result: another Penguins victory, this time 2-0 (with an empty netter).

I'd hoped that the Rangers could improve upon last year's playoff success, but right now it looks like they'll only match it in terms of how deep they go into the postseason. And if this series continues along the current lines, they may actually be swept out of the Second Round and finish with a losing record (4-5, compared to their 6-4 result in 2007). I just hope the Pens are as good as they look, because if they face the Canadiens in the Conference Finals they damn well better be able to knock those jerks out!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another Countdown Ends

This past Wednesday, DC's latest weekly comic stumbled and fell across the finish line, completing a journey that now seems largely wasted. This 51-issue series that has been almost universally-panned by fans and critics alike, managed just one noteworthy feat: like 52 before it, Countdown provided a new issue to the reader each and every week, like clockwork, for (essentially) one solid year.

DC had originally planned Countdown as a 52-issue run which would employ reverse numbering, starting with # 51, then # 50, and so on down before finally wrapping up with a (Jimmy Hinckley-friendly) final issue, numbered zero. Partway through its existence, however, plans changed, and Countdown # 0 morphed into DC Universe # 0 (which is out next week, for a bargain basement price of a mere $0.50), meaning that this particular weekly series came up one week short of a year.

So, yes, Countdown came out reliably, and I give DC a non-trivial amount of credit for that. It's a tough act to follow one year-long weekly comic with a second one, but they did it. But was it any good? Frankly, it was almost without exception quite crappy! There were a few issues in the second half of the run that actually got me interested, but even they didn't really go anywhere. We got to see the events leading up to Kamandi's tale (the last boy on Earth), but so many plot holes were left unfilled that it might as well have been an Elseworlds story (which, given the use of the DC Multiverse, I guess it sort of was). I didn't buy Mary Marvel going bad for a minute, and yet here we are now, stuck with a "Black Mary" character who I couldn't care less about. I was sick of Jimmy Olsen by the second issue, and hadn't changed my opinion of him one iota by the time the series wrapped up. None of the recurring characters were engaging, in fact. And other than killing off the New Gods - which, I believe, actually happened in the Death of the New Gods mini-series that ran alongside Countdown - I'm not sure anything of any import happened in the 51 issues. That's approximately $150 of the consumer's money, for... what? 51 reliable installments of pretty bad comic stories.

I have higher hopes for the third DC weekly, Trinity, but if it doesn't deliver then I'm dropping it. And yes, I said the same thing about Countdown before it started up, but I also asked to have it reserved at the comic store, after which I felt obliged to stick with it (since at any given point during the last year, the next 3 months' worth of issues had already been ordered by the store and I didn't want to leave the owner holding the bag, as it were). No such "pull order" has been placed by Your Humble Blogger on Trinity, as I'm not about to get burned like that again!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rangers Blow 3-0 Lead, Lose Opener To Penguins

It's been just that kind of a last 24 hours. Our settop box gets turned into a brick on the busiest TV night of the week so that we miss most of the Thursday line-up (thanks, Rogers!), I get about three hours of sleep, pretty much nothing goes right at work all day, and then I get to watch the Rangers open the Second Round of the playoffs with a 5-4 loss after getting an early 3-0 lead. Oh, and yes, another goal went in behind Lundqvist off a Rangers player! It should be a short series if tonight's choke performance is any indication.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not The World's Best Case Of Timing

On the night that the NHL playoffs start Round 2, and my favourite TV show - Lost - returns with new episodes, I came home to discover that our Scientific Atlanta cable box has decided that we're no longer authorized to use it! We've called Rogers three times already, and they keep attempting to fix the situation, but as of right now - three hours after the first call and just over an hour before Lost starts - we're still confined to watching our TV in Standard Definition mode. Ugh. How did we ever watch television this way for all those years?

A Simple Matter Of Perspective

This story made me laugh out loud. I'd so love to know if the "90-degree different" image was intentional or not! If OGC ends up abandoning the logo, I can think of a company or two that might want to adopt it...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Record Numbers Of Visitors Have Come Here Recently

I just simply can't imagine what to possibly attribute the increased traffic here lately to... unless of course it's word of mouth about The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile), catching on like wildfire!

That must be it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rangers Vs Penguins In Round Two

The Flyers just won their series against the Caps in overtime of Game 7, sending the Rangers on the road to Pittsburgh sometime later this week. Montreal will host the Flyers when their series starts.

I wasn't feeling particularly good about the Rangers' chances against either the # 1 or # 2 seeds in the second round, but unfortunately once Boston was eliminated, they had to play one of them next. I guess one's as good - or bad - as the other, in that sense.

Congrats to the Capitals for making such a great run at the end of the regular season, and for pushing Philadelphia right to the very edge of elimination in Round One. It'll be interesting to see what that franchise is like next year.

The Western Conference matchups are still to be determined, as Game 7 between Calgary and San Jose is just getting underway on the West Coast. Detroit will play a C-team (Colorado or Calgary), Colorado will draw one of the D-teams (Detroit or Dallas) and Dallas will face either the Sharks or Avalanche.

Have You Heard? My Agile Book's A "Best Seller!"

We were joking at work today when I crossed the "25 copies sold" milestone that I'd achieved "best seller" status... I was quick to point out that it was, indeed, the best selling book that I'd ever written! Of course, it had had that distinction since the first copy was sold more than 2 weeks ago!

I'm delighted that so many more copies have sold than I had ever dared hoped for! There hasn't been a whole lot of feedback from the people who now own a copy, though... which I hope isn't an indication that most of them haven't read it yet! After all, I wrote it to be read. So feel free to post your open and honest reactions to The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) right here, if you have any. Better yet would be to post a review at the Lulu site for the book, but that's a lot to ask, I realize. Also, recommend it to your friends, if you're so inclined... I don't mind! I've got lots of copies left! :-)

25 freakin' copies sold.... who'd have ever thunk it?!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Huh.

"Open and honest communication" doesn't always mean what you might think it would mean. Good to know!

That is all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why Neil Is Great

Just go ahead and read this post from Neil Gaiman's blog, and note the way he handles things like being (repeatedly) misquoted as a good indication of just how much class the guy has. He's not only a wonderful writer; he's a good person, too! We could all learn from Mr Gaiman, including some folks who work with me and get bent out of shape by things I say here.

Am I One Of The World's Most Prolific Bloggers?

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I ask the question: am I among the planet's most prolific bloggers?

I'm talking about people who write single-author blogs only, rather than community blogs like The Studio. And at the moment I'm focused on number of posts, rather than word count (because the latter's harder to measure when viewing a blog). I did a search on "prolific blogger" and most of the results were people who had several blogs, but usually the sum total of all of their blog posts was still under 1000. Are there people out there who've single-handedly published 1500+ blog posts, not counting silly things that are done just to drive up post counts?

Not that it really matters, but sometimes I wonder about these things.

Final Secret Crisis Invasion


With Marvel's Secret Invasion series having debuted a few weeks ago and the launch of DC's Final Crisis only about six weeks away, now seems like a good time to consider each series for a moment or two.

I've already described Secret Invasion, in which chameleon-like Skrulls have apparently infiltrated the Earth and are threatening to take over, but what is Final Crisis all about? As the title suggests, it's at least tangentially related to 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths and 2005's Infinite Crisis. At the New York Comic Convention this weekend, Final Crisis was described as "the final saga of the multiverse." It's also been tagged as "the day evil won." Apparently some really bad stuff happens, on a cosmic level, "and the DC Universe will never be the same again." At least one well-established Justice Leaguer is alleged to be killed during it (Internet speculation is that it'll be the Martian Manhunter). To which I say: yawn!

Now, it's entirely possible that writer Grant Morrison and artist J.G. Jones will knock my socks off with their 7 issues of Final Crisis. But if they do, it'll be a very pleasant surprise for this fan. Central to the plot are Jack Kirby's New Gods characters, who I quite frankly have zero interest in. I didn't find any of Kirby's 1970s work to be the least bit appealing, either when it was coming out, or since. The characters themselves - Darkseid, Orion, Metron, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, etc - all seem two dimensional at best, with the same notes being struck every time they appear. Other fans have seemed enthralled by these archetypes, including the aforementioned Grant Morrison, but to me they're just blah. Beyond the so-called Fourth World cast, what I get out of what I've heard about Final Crisis is that something will occur that changes the basic nature of DC's multiverse. That would be the multiverse that they've done almost nothing worthwhile with since re-introducing it a couple years ago? Yeah. I wonder why my expectations are so low, hmmm?

On the Marvel side, Secret Invasion posits a world in which no one can be trusted, because they might be an evil, shape-shifting alien in disguise. I can see some good potential there, but considering that the series will spill over into dozens of other comics beyond the 8-issue mini-series, is it really deep enough of a concept to carry that much story? Somewhat reminiscent of DC's (rather crappy) Millennium series from the 80s, Secret Invasion could similarly fall into the trap of simply being a "shock of the week" series, as character after character is revealed to be an imposter... or are they? I think the true measure of this event will be what tales come out of it in the year or two immediately after the central series wraps up. Civil War continues to leave its fingerprints on the Marvel Universe, for example, but nothing really new seems to have come out of it in that time.

By the same token, will Final Crisis have any lasting impact? Wasn't the DC Universe supposed to lighten up following Infinite Crisis? If so, was that it? Did I blink and miss the 2nd Golden Age? With some of the downright depressing storylines that DC's run over the past year - in Batman, Checkmate, Countdown, Salvation Run, and Green Lantern, just to name a few off the top of my head - I kind of thought that we were still waiting for that particular makeover to start!

It's entirely possible that Morrison has something incredible up his sleeve, but considering that his Seven Soldiers series of a few years back left me cold, I'm not feeling all that optimistic right now. While I dearly loved his early issues of Animal Man and JLA, the majority of his work of late has been mildly entertaining, at best. I don't know if maybe he's doing brilliant work and I'm just too dense to get it, but it certainly hasn't worked for me.

On the art front, I can safely give the nod to Final Crisis. Jones is a good artist, as he showed with 52 great covers on 52. Leinil Yu, the Secret Invasion artist, is more of an acquired taste... and one that I haven't picked up, personally! Most of his characters just look wrong to me, and not in a "oooh, he's a Skrull!" sort of way, either! I can live with Yu's style on a series that's well written, but it definitely adds nothing to the experience for me.

Ultimately, I'm not looking forward to either series with the kind of fanboy enthusiasm that previous events have gripped me in. On the other hand, I'm planning to buy both, and expect that I'll get my money's worth... just maybe not much beyond that!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Improve Your Vocabulary And Feed The Poor

Vicki suggested that I point people to this site at which you can take simple vocabulary tests and have rice donated to the world's hungry for your efforts... and so I have!

An Amazing Third Period Of Hockey!

I'm not sure if Boneman's still among the living following the heart-stopping third period of tonight's Boston/Montreal Game 6, but if he is then he should be a very happy guy right about now!

The period started with the Habs up 2-1 and then the two team blew the doors off the place for a final score of Boston 5, Montreal 4. That's right: they scored twice as many goals in the last period as they had in the first two! Montreal held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, while Boston briefly lead 4-3 (for 11 seconds) and then went ahead 5-4 with 2:37 left. It was end to end action, with lots of scoring and even more golden opportunities that came up short. Along that line, the Bruins hit at least three pipes (goal posts and crossbars) over the course of the game, meaning that the goal total could've easily been even higher. (The added bonus to the great game and the Bruins winning to extend the series was seeing Habs goalie Carey Price give up 5 goals for the second consecutive game.) This was quite simply the most exciting (non-New York Rangers) period of hockey that I've seen in a long time!

So now we know that there will be at least one Game 7 in this year's first round of NHL playoffs. And what a Game 7: Original Six rivals Boston and Montreal, playing for the 15th time this season (between regular season and playoffs). The Canadiens hold all of the statistical edges, including historical head-to-head results and the season series between the two, but Boston's now won the last two... so anything can happen!

Six Of Eight First Round Series Will Go At Least Six Games

After my complaints last fall about how the baseball playoffs started off with so many short series (three of the four Divisional Series were sweeps), I'm happy to see that three-quarters of the NHL's first rounders will last at least six games. Only one series ended in a sweep - Pittsburgh over the Senators - and now we know that only one of them will end in five games - the Rangers' ejection of the Devils - with every other series now sitting at 3-2 heading into Game 6, thanks to the Capitals' gutsy win over the Flyers this afternoon and the defending champion Ducks staving off elimination late last night against Dallas.

With that many Game 6s, what are the odds that we'll get at least one or two Game 7s in the first round? Well, let's see (looking at those teams who are up 3-2 right now):

- Montreal is in Boston tonight, and if there's any momentum to be had, the Bruins should have it, but...; hopefully it goes 7 but this is more a case of me crossing my fingers than really believing it will happen! [Update: Game 7 is now set for Montreal on Monday night!]

- the Flyers head home for Game 6 on Monday night having just missed one chance to close out the series in Washington; I suspect that the home town crowd, in front of whom Philadelphia won both earlier games in the series, may be enough to prevent a Game 7 from being needed [Update: Yet another wrong prediction, as the Caps overcame a 2-0 deficit tonight to win 4-2, and force a Game 7 tomorrow night.]

- Detroit was unable to win either of the two games in Nashville so far, so why would I expect them to be able to pull it off tomorrow afternoon? This has been a homer series to date, and so I could definitely see this one going the distance [Update: Wrong again... So much for the home team winning each game! Detroit blanked the Preds 3-0 in Game 6 and so avoided a seventh game in Round One.]

- San Jose and Calgary had been alternating wins through the first four games, but then the Sharks managed back-to-back victories to take their 3-2 lead; I can't see the Flames losing three in a row, especially with Game 6 at home tomorrow night, and so I'll predict a Game 7 in this series [Update: A good prediction this time around, as Calgary blanked the Sharks 2-0 to force one more game back in San Jose.]

- Colorado is at home tonight with a chance to close out the Wild, the latter of whom still haven't scored a second period goal in this series yet, and only have one first period goal through five games! I like the Avalanche's chances of avoiding a "winner take all" game back in Minnesota [Update: I got this one right, as the Avalanche held on to a third period 2-1 lead last night and became the first Western Conference team to advance to the second round.]

- Dallas gets a second crack at knocking off the champs when they host Game 6 tomorrow night; considering that the Ducks didn't even show up for the first two games, it feels like they've got the momentum now and they'll probably force a Game 7 [Update: Well, the Ducks didn't look a team with any momentum in Game 6 in Dallas, as they took a 1-0 lead into the third period and then put forth a flat effort for the final 20 minutes and lost 4-1. No Game 7 to see here!]

In other words, I'm expecting roughly half of the series to extend to a seventh game (Detroit/Nashville, SJ/Calgary, Dallas/Anaheim) which probably means that it'll actually be the other three that do so! After all, predictions aren't exactly my strong suit! But that doesn't stop me from making them every once in a while. [Update: Well, I was 2 for 6, which is about my usual accuracy rate at predicting sporting events! Yes, flipping a coin would be a better tactic! So what's your point? Besides, I did correctly guess that three of the six Game 6s would result in a Game 7!]

[Update on the Rangers' opponents for the 2nd round: Following Boston's loss in Game 7, the Rangers now know they will play either Montreal or Pittsburgh. They'll find out which one tomorrow night, when the Flyers/Caps series is settled.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nail-Biter Of A Third Period, But Rangers Advance!

After getting up 4-1 in the 2nd period of Game 5 against the Devils tonight, the Rangers let New Jersey claw back to 4-3 before the period was over. In the final frame, John Madden terrifyingly had a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot, but fortunately Henrik Lundqvist stood tall and kept his team in front on the scoreboard.

Several excruciating minutes later, with the Devils dominating play in their frenzied attempt to draw even, Brodeur came out for the sixth skater just long enough for rookie Brandon Dubinsky to pot a beautiful empty netter and help his team post their second consecutive 5-3 win over their hated rivals. With that, they dispatched the Devils almost as convincingly as the Rangers themselves had been knocked out by New Jersey in the first round two years ago. Particularly noteworthy this time around was the fact that the two teams met 13 times, between regular season and the playoffs, with New York winning 11 of those games and both losses coming after regulation had ended. That's a pretty impressive bit of domination, especially when you consider the Devils finished 4th in their conference and tallied almost 100 points in the regular campaign. Not exactly a pushover club for the Rangers to beat 11 times in 13 meetings!

And so for the second year in a row, the Rangers have advanced past the first round of the postseason. According to my calculations, they'll face one of the following four teams next:
  • Montreal, if both the Habs and Capitals win their series [season series results: NYR got 7 of 8 possible pts, Mtl got 3 of 8 possible pts];
  • Pittsburgh, if Montreal and Philadelphia both win their series (this seems the most likely scenario, as those teams are both leading their respective series currently) [season series results: NYR got 10 of 16 possible pts, Pit got 8 of 16 possible pts];
  • Washington, if the Capitals and Bruins both prevail in their series [season series results: NYR got 6 of 8 possible pts, Wash got 4 of 8 possible pts]; or
  • Philadelphia, if the Flyers and Bruins both complete upset wins in the first round (this is the only scenario where the Rangers would actually have home ice advantage in the second round) [season series results: NYR got 12 of 16 possible pts, Phil got 8 of 16 possible pts].
Obviously, at this point, I'm not favouring any of the above teams over any other. I'm still just a-glow with the prospect of New York Rangers hockey continuing for at least another four games!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Way To Silence Those Idiots

(This one's for the Boneman!)

The only thing more annoying than Montreal Canadiens fans is... OK, I lied: there's actually nothing worse than Montreal Canadiens fans! So seeing the Boston Bruins take it to the Habs tonight, in Montreal, and send all those whiny, singing morons home unhappy was pure delight for this hockey fan. Hopefully tonight's performance by Habs goalie Carey Price will be repeated in the remaining games, as he certainly looked like a nervous rookie rather than the Second Coming of Ken Dryden (or was it Patrick Roy?)

I expect that tonight's 5-1 defeat will cause at least a few fans of the rouge, bleu et blanc to reconsider their stance that their beloved hockey team is all-but guaranteed the Cup this year.

Did I mention that there's nothing more annoying than Habs fans?

For The Red Sox Nation

Thanks to Hinckley (on his second last day of working with me!), I got to watch this short but hilarious video of a guy in his backyard recreating famous Red Sox batting swings. My favourite is Jim Rice striking out, as he tries to pull off "History's Worst Checked Swing!"

Several of the impersonations are uncannily realistic... leading me to believe that the guy must be quite the fan!

Change Is In The Air

Approximately eight months ago, I returned from Agile 2007 (in Washington, D.C.) and advocated some changes at work that I (and others who'd attended the conference) felt were critical to our success as an Agile software development organization. These were referred to as our "Top 7 Learnings," at least by me. I talked them up, and talked them up, and tried to do everything I could to get some traction for them. Two of them involved introducing or refining a couple of roles: Agile Coach, and Customer Proxy. Other than some small experimentation (including a lot of good work by Boneman), though, not much really happened.

However, for the past couple of months, the executives have been diligently working away to figure out some organizational changes that would - among other things - emphasize and support those "Top 7 Learnings." I've known some of what was going on, but had to keep a lid on most of it while progress continued largely under the radar. Today was an important day in that journey as our company president let everyone know that, yes, a re-org is coming, and yes, it will begin to unfold in the next week or two. That's a big statement to make, because as I said earlier: this has been in the making, in one form or another, for almost eight months! As such, there were some who doubted that it would ever happen, and at times that included me.

The aspect of the re-org that I'm most involved with is the introduction of Agile Coaches. The goal is to have an Agile Coach - although they won't be called that, as the execs have their own title in mind, which is fine - on every Feature Team. My own motivation in this area is to get someone attached to each team who understands the Agile principles and can spend as much time as it takes to support the team members in their living of those principles. As I wrote about at length in The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile), we've suffered for years from a culture of spreading people thin in the hopes that one person could somehow do the work of two, three or even four people. I'm really, truly hoping that the introduction of Agile Coaches ("a rose by any other name") will finally allow us to end that insanity. While teams certainly have many important responsibilities, they don't have to take on the duties that others around them are dropping... and yet that happens on a regular basis in our office these days!

But maybe not for much longer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Too Many Caps?

(I like this cover enough to show it twice!)

So everyone knows that Captain America is dead, right? That was old news a year ago now. And it's equally well known that Cap's old World War Two sidekick, Bucky, has taken over as the new Cap. So that's two Caps to keep track of, although admittedly one of them is currently dead and thus not moving around as much.

The cover shown here implies that perhaps the original (Steve Rogers) is coming back from the dead, and in fact events near the end of this week's issue of Captain America suggest the very same possibility. That still leaves the total at two, though.

In Secret Invasion # 1, when the supposed "replaced heroes" emerged from the Skrull spaceship, there was a Captain America among the group. That character's inclusion was obviously intended to make us all wonder about the one who died (maybe that wasn't the real Cap?) So that's a trio of Caps, although smart money says Number Three is really just a nasty Skrull in disguise.

A month or two from now, a miniseries will begin that pits the World War Two-era Invaders (Captain America, Bucky, Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch and his sidekick, Toro) against the modern day Avengers (both groups). This is apparently accomplished by pulling the Invaders forward through time to the 21st century. So that will be Cap Number Four, although it's admittedly a variation on Number One (same guy, from different points in time).

There's also the Ultimate Universe Captain America, although he, at least, is well separated from the rest and therefore not as likely to cause confusion among fans. I'm not sure whether to count him as Cap Number Five or not.

All of which raises the question: should Marvel be handing out a Captain America Scorecard so that we can keep track of all the Caps running around over the next several months?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Right Now, It's All About The Embarrassing Moments

Just a few of the NHL playoff moments that should have caused someone, somewhere to be more than a little bit ashamed:
  1. Sean Avery acting like an idiot in front of Martin Brodeur in Game 3 and requiring a new definition of Unsportsmanlike Conduct to be hastily added to the rule book
  2. The ridiculous pre-game performance of a poor man's 300-style spartan warrior at centre ice in Ottawa on Monday night
  3. San Jose blowing an early 3-0 lead that should have knocked the Flames out of Game 3 of their series
  4. A Nashville Predators "pile-on" celebration that injured one of their own (Jason Arnott, who eventually missed later games in the series)
  5. Detroit giving up 2 goals in 9 seconds to go from leading Game 3 late to losing it
  6. The Rangers losing Game 3, and letting the Devils back into their series, by deflecting the puck into their net on what looked like an innocent play in overtime
  7. The two Stanley Cup finalists from last year being the only first round teams to be without a victory after six days of playoff hockey (and thus in danger of being swept)
What did I miss?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Explaining Agile, Part 2

In Part 1 of my attempt to explain the basics of Agile software delivery, I mostly just beat up on Agile's ideological opposite, the traditional Waterfall method. I offered up some theories as to why running software projects using such a deterministic, predictive approach might have inherent flaws in it when applied to software creation. We're talking about something that, after all, has a certain degree of innovation and discovery to it that's in stark contrast to the manufacturing world, for example. Expecting to be able to crank out Java classes or C functions in the same way that widgets are stamped out on an assembly line at a predictable rate would seem to be folly, and this is borne out by the high failure rate of traditional software projects (as mentioned in Part 1).

So if that's what's wrong with Waterfall, then how is Agile any better? Well, for one thing, Agile came about as a deliberate attempt to address some of the shortcomings within the long-established process (Waterfall). For example, a common characteristic of a Waterfall project is the "big bang" delivery of a product (or set of features) that comes out at the end. Remembering that Waterfall work is serialized - requirements lead to design which is followed by coding and then testing - it's only natural that nothing usable arrives until the end of the project. Sure, there are artifacts along the way, including requirements and design documents, but there's not even any guarantee that what they describe will actually match what's delivered! Basically the customer puts in their "order" and then waits some period of time (typically longer than whatever was originally estimated) after which, hopefully, they receive some software that allegedly matches their requirements. If, however, it doesn't quite live up to the expectations, it's usually too late to do much about it, since changes during the later stages often mean going back to the drawing board, as it were. New or changed requirements may lead to alterations to the design, more coding, and then testing everything all over again.

Agile, on the other hand, advocates incremental delivery. It attempts to avoid the perilous "big bang, slam bam, hope you like what you got, ma'am" approach of Waterall. In an Agile project, small bits of working software are delivered every "iteration", where an iteration is usually anywhere from a week to a month in length. A common programmer response to hearing such a thing as that last statement is, "A month? You can't possibly build anything from soup to nuts in as little as a month!" The reality is, once a team has gotten used to working in short Agile cycles, thin slices of functionality can easily be delivered - including design, coding, testing, and documentation - in a mere week! But it definitely requires a paradigm shift to accomplish this, and it usually takes a while to get there. (At my work place, we're still working toward that goal.)

One of the keys to succeeding with a transition away from Waterfall, with its long Quality Assurance testing cycle near the end, into an Agile approach involves the introduction of automated tests. Most Waterfall processes require hundreds or even thousands of person-hours of manual regression testing, leading some companies to bulk up with QA departments of dozens and dozens of "QA testers." These individuals may engage in exploratory testing, which is always valuable, but more often than not they spend most of their time running (and re-running and re-re-running) vast numbers of test scripts by hand. That's what's required to regress a product, and it usually has to be done over and over, because every time a bug is found that needs to be fixed, the code will be changed again. Once that happens, everything needs to be tested once more, to ensure that nothing new was broken. Anyone who's worked in software knows all about this process, and some of the ugly cultural developments that arise from it (such as my company's change-averse mantra of "change code, break code" that I wrote about here).

When you only have a week to add new functionality, though, and a team of maybe only three or four individuals, regressing your entire product within that small window is wholly impractical. At best, you might be able to spend the entire iteration regressing, but then you don't have any time to actually write the new code! The solution, of course, is to emphasize automated tests instead of manual. This can be accomplished through JUnit tests, or automated system tests, or any number of other innovative measures that safeguard the functionality of your product through the clever use of software in place of the repetitive abuse of wetware. Once you've written a good, comprehensive suite of automated tests, you can run it many times per day and the need for a long QA cycle at the end of the project or iteration goes away. A nice side benefit of this practice is that, when you, as a programmer, do introduce a new bug (unintentionally, of course), you find out about it within hours or even minutes of the offending action, rather than days, weeks or months later (as you would with a back-loaded QA cycle in Waterfall). Any coder will tell you that rapid feedback on a booboo leads to much quicker turnaround on a fix.

That's probably enough to think about for Part 2 of our little Agile journey...

Agile Book (Sales) Update

On the same day that I reached the "20 copies sold" mark, a very generous co-worker who'd received one of the complimentary copies of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) let me know that he wanted to buy 4 more to give out to members of his team! What an awesome thing for him to do, and a great vote of confidence, to boot! (I can't help but contrast that with a certain executive friend of mine, who has yet to read the book despite getting an advance electronic version a couple of months ago, as well as a free printed copy on Launch Day.)

When that latest request arrived, I only had 3 copies left from the last batch. Thus I've now placed yet another order for 10 more. I think if I manage to sell all of that latest group then I'll be within about $50 of breaking even, which would be quite an accomplishment. After all, at one point I thought I'd be lucky to sell 5 copies! To anyone out there reading this who has purchased (or produced a sale of) a copy of my book, I say, "Thank you, and thank you again!"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

So Much For Home Ice Advantage

The Rangers/Devils series is now 2-1 NYR, with all 3 games so far having been won by the road team. I know that the respective arenas are only about 15 miles apart, but still!

Tonight's 4-3 overtime loss was obviously disappointing, but all 3 games have been tight (despite a 4-1 final in Game 1) so I guess it was only a matter of time before we either got a Devils victory or an overtime game (or both, as it turned out). New Jersey's a good enough team that this may steal the momentum back for them, whereas had the Rangers prevailed, it would've been 3-0 and that's an awfully tough deficit for any team to overcome. I guess now it's a series, regardless of how much I'd hoped maybe it wouldn't have to be after the first 2 games. Oh well.. the Rangers made the playoffs and are playing well so far, and that's about all I can ask for.

Nice to see that the Bruins have similarly prevented the possibility of a sweep in their series! Boneman is probably celebrating, especially since tonight's win over Montreal is his team's first since 2006! (That series has now had all 3 games won by the home team, the opposite of what's happening in NYR/NJD.)

Wizard Magazine Does It Again

Many comic fans - including your Humble Blogger - have something of a burr up their ass when it comes to Wizard magazine. For those who don't know, Wizard is a slick promotional periodical for comic books that focuses on whatever its editors consider to be "hot" (or "ultra hot") in the market. It frequently pushes writers, artists and series (or even individual issues) as "the next big thing" and recommends buying up anything related to those phenomena as sure-fire investments.

With that background, you can perhaps appreciate this short article posted on a comic site in which the author points out the irony of a recent Wizard column. In that column, the rag in question lambastes "speculators" for causing the comic industry bust of the mid-90s... apparently oblivious to two facts: their own contribution to said bust, and their continuing efforts in 2008 to duplicate the very same atmospheric conditions that precipitated the 1990s collapse! It displays an amazing lack of self-awareness, unless it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek... but no one's laughing!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blogging About Blogging (Again)

This afternoon, for reasons only my subconscious will ever understand, I went touring some of the old blog sites that I used to visit regularly before losing interest in them thanks to infrequent updates there. While Hell may or may not hold a special place for such blogs - pretending Hell even exists - I personally just shuffle them off into a bookmark folder that rarely gets opened. But today had "rarely" written all over it, and so open it, I did.

Most of the exiled blogs had either not been updated since last I checked in on them - many, many months ago - or had seen only a handful of posts over that time. Now, there's no golden rule for posting frequencies for blogs, and I know that. You want to start up a blog and post there once per lunar eclipse? No law against it! But that's a different style of blogging, I think, than what interests me as a reader. It's a little like reading a comic series where a new issue comes out about once a year... it has to be a really, really good title for me to care enough to keep reading! Same with blogs, as it turns out.

Having recently passed the 1500 blog post (and 18 month) mark, I think I've demonstrated a certain stick-with-it-ness that's more in line with what I look for in other blogs. The ones that I do visit daily usually deliver the goods, even if not every post is my own particular cup of tea. I know from personal experience that it's not easy to come up with something to write about each and every day, especially if you happen to also be holding down a full-time job (and maybe even writing a book, at the same time). But I also know that it's doable, if you really want to put the effort in.

All of which, of course, "don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," as Bogart put it so eloquently in Casablanca. It's just food for thought.

Friday, April 11, 2008

One Week Of Hinckley Left

As should come as no surprise to anyone who works with him, Jimmy Hinckley is a week away from leaving our office and heading on to new challenges and rewards of the employment variety. This all seems vaguely familiar to me, in a deja vu-like sense...

Nearly 8 years ago, Mr Hinckley abandoned me at the bank, and headed to a new job. Despite the fact that we'd only worked together for a couple of years at that point, we'd "bonded" enough (in a manly sort of way) that we decided to meet for lunch every week in order to keep in touch. That ended up being a really smart move on my part, as eventually I followed Jimmy to his new employer, where I've been ever since.

Just this week we had the same discussion, and will figure out some lunch schedule to ensure that we don't drift too far apart. Does this mean that history will repeat itself and I'll get yet another new job out of this? That's highly unlikely, as I tend to regard my current employment as the one I intend to shortly retire from... at least for the first retirement! ("Shortly" here means within the next year or two.) But on the other hand, you just never know what the future may hold.

Anyway, I'm going to miss the Human Computer when he leaves. Such is Life, though.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Explaining Agile, Part 1

I promised awhile back to put some content on this blog explaining what the heck Agile is, for those who come to this site but don't work in an Agile environment. I've procrastinated on that effort for too long, partially because I was trying to get my head around just what to blog. Tonight it occurred to me that I didn't need to bite off the whole thing all at once, but could rather break it into parts (rather like Agile uses iterative development, but more on that later).

So the basic stuff first... What's Agile? While there are many excellent books on the topic that explain it better than I ever could, here's a thumbnail sketch of Agile, starting with how it differs from the traditional software development approach, the latter of which is usually referred to (in Agile circles, at least) as "Waterfall."

A Waterfall project is so named because the different stages of it - specification gathering, design, programming, testing, installation - are more or less serialized such that one follows another, like water running down a set of steps. Those of us who've been in the software development business had long assumed that was the only way to deliver features. You get someone to write up the requirements/specifications, and you lock them down as much as possible before starting the design, and you lock that down before starting the coding, and so on. The reason for doing it in this fashion is simple: it's more difficult to hit a moving target than a stationary one. To use a real world example that more people might identify with: imagine trying to build a house when the blueprints are still changing in significant ways after the foundation has been poured and much of the framing is already done. It seems obvious that you wouldn't want that, and so we all worked Waterfall for decades without even considering that there might be a better way to operate.

So what's wrong with Waterfall (because if the answer is "nothing" then why bother learning about Agile in the first place)? Well, it has several things working against it, including (at a sort of "meta level") the fact that virtually all studies of traditional software projects reveal that the majority end in failure, when "failure" is defined as any of: running over budget, coming in late, or delivering less than 100% of the promised features. The actual numbers vary from report to report, but it's often as high as 70 - 80% of projects that fall into that rather embarrassing category. Why do so many software projects fail? There are lots of factors, including (potentially) incompetency among the project managers, analysts, developers or testers on the project, but usually it boils down to the basic human difficulty in predicting the future.

Software projects typically involve "guessing" how long a whole bunch of things will take to do for the first time. When you put it like that, it sounds like pure folly, and yet it happens on a daily basis, across the planet! Most computer programming is, after all, the process of a person (or group of people) sitting down to create functionality that he, she or they have never created before (because, if they have done it before, chances are that they won't need to do it again... the customer will just use the old application or screen or button and no new project is required).

So my theory as to why most Waterfall projects fail - and I didn't make this up: I've lived it and read about it - is its flawed central concept: Before anyone actually does the work, I'll ask the customer to predict exactly what they need or want, then I'll predict exactly which steps are required to deliver all of what the customer just asked for, and exactly how long each step will take to complete. Next I'll produce a project plan with all of that information in it, and we (the development team) will execute against it for __ months, at the end of which we'll magically deliver exactly what I said we would... or fail to do so (the majority of the time). And perhaps we'll cure cancer while we're at it...

If you made it this far, congratulations! I'll pick up from this point in the not too distant future.

More Books Are Here!

The good news? The shipment of 10 copies of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) that I ordered last Friday arrived today (less than a week turnaround? Very satisfying!)

The better news? Half of them are already spoken for / pre-sold, so I may end up 'having' to order still more!

It's fun when I get stopped in the hall at work these days and about 33% of the time it's someone wanting to tell me what they think of the book or to inquire about getting a copy. That's much better than the days when it was mostly people who just wanted to bitch about Agile and blame me for whatever failing of the process they'd just experienced!

So, anyway, if you happen to work with me: feel free to tell those you work with that more copies are available, but they're going fast! And signed copies don't cost even one cent extra! ;-)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Getting Hooked

Tammy pointed me to this Entertainment Weekly article in which a bunch of comic book professionals describe the first comic that sucked them in and wouldn't let them go. I've written before about my first ever experience with the four-colour medium, in the form of Captain America Annual # 1 and how it provided me with "cartoons that I could watch whenever I wanted." (That story also made it into the Agile book!) Obviously that was a big moment in my life.

But while that Cap Annual was certainly my entry point into comics, I'm not entirely convinced that that particular comic was what drew me into superhero servitude for keeps.

One early addition to the collection that may've possibly pushed me over the edge was the one shown here. I can still remember very clearly my mother coming home from a shopping trip of some sort with this little beauty and that my brain could barely grasp what I was seeing! There were six characters, most or all of whom were new to me, and they were about to fight each other! Apparently some of them were 'The Mighty Avengers' (who assembled, whatever that meant), but which ones? And what's with the guy on the surfboard? And the green monster... Hero? Villain? Who could tell? I had to read it now... and then a few more times, for good measure!

I didn't know it at the time - nor did Marvel, for that matter - but this was the first ever Defenders-Avengers battle, before the former team even officially existed! No wonder it hooked me!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Was Lois A Sharp Dresser, Or What?

This classic Nick Cardy Action Comics cover from the 1970s brings back all kinds of memories for me, although none of them include what the Hell the story's all about! It's just such a cool, iconic image - somewhat reminiscent of the uber-historic Flash # 123 with the Golden Age and Silver Age Flashes running along opposite sides of a brick wall, weirdly separated from the off-in-the-distance cityscape (see below) - that makes so many statements with its simplicity. Lois Lane? Well, not only was she a fashion plate in those days, but she also clearly didn't appreciate her man keeping her waiting! Check out Lois, with one arm raised to allow her to confirm her boyfriend's lateness while the other arm rests impatiently on her hip. In fact, that pose she's striking is so self-assured that she might even be able to handle the shock of two - yes two! - Supermen showing up for a date!

At least the two Flashes are racing to save somebody from actually being crushed... by a girder... that's seemingly falling on him from out of thin air in the middle of nowhere..... hmmmm, OK, so maybe you had to be there!

But what's with the weird cities, away off at the horizon, and walls running along dividing one bit of Nowheresville from another? These are the sorts of questions that keep me up at night!

First "Creator Revenue" Sale

Thanks to friend Craig, in Ottawa, I had my first book sale today that didn't require anything from me! Craig purchased a copy of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) directly from Lulu, and so all I have to do now is sit back and collect my 80% of the markup. Is this how it always works for real authors? Sweeeet!

Of course, now there's the little matter of Lulu actually manufacturing a copy of the book for Craig and shipping it to him, all without making the customer wait long enough that he wonders why he ever bothered in the first place. Inventory? What inventory?! But I expect Craig will have my book in his hands within a week, so maybe that's not too terrible. I guess he'll let me know...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Playoff Stuff

The first round playoff series are now set.

Eastern Conference:

(1) Montreal vs (8) Boston
(2) Pittsburgh vs (7) Ottawa
(3) Washington vs (6) Philadelphia
(4) New Jersey vs (5) NY Rangers

Western Conference:

(1) Detroit vs (8) Nashville
(2) San Jose vs (7) Calgary
(3) Minnesota vs (6) Colorado
(4) Anaheim vs (5) Dallas

Here are a few bits of New York Rangers trivia to tide us over until the festivities start on Wednesday.
  1. The Rangers went 7-0-1 against New Jersey this year, picking up 15 of a possible 16 points in the process. Had they instead managed to only play .500 in those 8 games against the Devils, picking up 8 points instead of 15, they'd have finished the season with 90 points instead of 97... and out of the playoffs! Yeah, that's how significant that domination of the Devils was to the Rangers this year!
  2. The Rangers finished with a league-best record of 20-7-5 against the other 4 teams in their own division (for 45 points). The next best intra-divisional record across the entire NHL was held by Colorado, at 20-10-2 (for 42 points). I don't know what was behind the Rangers' amazing run against their division mates, but it was certainly impressive, and unmatched by any other team.
  3. Despite reader Shane's frequently-repeated jibes about how the bar was higher for the Western Conference playoff race (meaning, a team needed more points to get in there), the final results don't bear that out. In the East, a 92-point team - Carolina - didn't make the playoffs, while a 91-point team in West - Nashville - is now getting ready to play in the postseason. Clearly it was tougher to make the cut in the East. Regardless, the Rangers and their 97 points would have finished 5th in either Conference.
My hope for the 2008 playoffs is that the Rangers can improve on last year's results - just as last year they bested their 2006 performance - but in the end, I'm just glad that they're in the postseason for the third year in a row. It was a long dry spell from 1998 through 2005, and the best medicine for that is just what they've been doing recently.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Imaginary Stories: Chapter Five (** Draft **)

(The following is the concluding chapter of a short story that began here, proceeded to zig and zag before turning a corner in this direction, and finally leading us to our current location.)

Chapter Five: Lost Girls

"Chen-Chi took Katie's hand in hers and lead her along the path of broken cobblestones that ran up toward the abandoned mansion. She said, "Don't be scared. I think Mister Moon was just teasing us when he said that the house was haunted. Or maybe he thought that we were big babies who still believed in ghosts."

"I'm not a baby!" Katie blurted out with the sort of urgency and sincerity that only an eight-year-old could put into such a self-evident statement. "But... I don't want to go in there. It's not a nice place."

The older girl stopped. She could see that her companion was on the verge of tears. "Well, maybe it's OK to be scared, then. I don't want to go inside, either, but if we don't, then how are we ever going to rescue Mei-Xie? We can't just abandon her. And no one would ever believe us about the dragon, so who else is there?"

Katie began to sob, and Chen-Chi despaired. But then the younger girl started moving slowly forward once again, in the direction of the dark, looming structure that no child with any other options would ever choose to enter."

- "Lost Girls", Coming Of Age Tale, Elizabeth Lee (Born: 1991), Published 2006

Linus continued to stare downward as James Hancock said, "Hey, that's great news, Linus! But how come we're only hearing about this now?"

Laurel answered before Linus could say anything. "James, you know that this is a voluntary group session every day. No one has to say anything about their COAT. We're all just here to support each other in whatever form is needed by each COAT author."

"I know that, Miss Allen," James replied, shifting in his seat, "but Linus had us convinced he was never going to write his COAT! He had us calling him Peter Pan, for Heaven's sake!"

"Look," Linus said, with irritation evident in his tone but still not taking his eyes off his shoes, "it's not that big of a deal. I've started my COAT. I've got what seems like a reasonable idea for it. It'll be done soon and then I get to call myself a grownup. Whoo hoo."

"Is there any chance you're going to share this new idea with the rest of us?" asked Peter, with just a touch of disbelief in his voice.

Laurel began to object to this slight violation of COAT session protocol but then checked herself. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, she thought to herself.

"Actually," Linus said, finally wrenching his gaze up from the floor, "that's what we've been talking about."

"Huh?" both Sanjay and James said, in unison.

Linus took a deep breath in, held it briefly, and then let it out. "Alright. Suppose the Literary Revolution had never happened. Yes, I know it did happen, country by country, over the course of a decade or so; but suppose it hadn't. What would the world look like today?" As his words hung in the air and no one spoke, Linus thought, Well, that certainly shut them up!

Sanjay Majmudar was the first to berak the silence. "Well, I guess people would still be achieving adult status at age 18, or 21, or whatever it used to be in their particular country."

"And not everyone would be able to read!" James offered, enthusiastically.

"Not exactly the most thrilling of ideas, Linus," Peter said, drawing a dirty look from his teacher in the process.

"Isn't it?" Linus asked. "Maybe that's because you're not really thinking it all the way through."

"What do you mean, Linus?" asked Elizabeth Lee, for once not a step or two ahead of her classmates. "What other differences do you think it would have made?"

"Now, that's a very interesting question," Linus said. "And this is all speculation on my part, of course, because we'll never actually know. But I've done considerable research on what life was like in the latter half of the nineteenth century, specifically looking for trends that didn't continue much beyond the introduction of the various COAT laws."

"What did you find?" Laurel asked, almost breathlessly.

"I found quite a lot. In fact, the more I dug, the more there was to find! I've got enough notes to give me material for two or three COATs, I imagine. It may be hard to cram it all into just fifty thousand words..."

"You know that that's a minimum, and not a maximum, don't you, Linus?" asked his teacher, softly.

"I was only joking, Miss Allen. I'm not really worried. This thing is practically writing itself."

"Throw us a bone or two, Linus!" James implored his friend, impatiently.

"OK, sure. Does anybody think it's strange that we haven't had much in the way of warfare over the past hundred years? I mean, think about it: Just in North America alone, there'd been the American War of Independence, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and the Spanish American War, all within 130 years of the entirely bloodless Literary Revolution that started in 1905. And in the century since then... nothing!"

"Well, Linus, that's because we progressed and became more civilized," said Liz.

"Is it? I'm not so sure it's all that simple, Liz. After all, people in the 1890s were quite a bit more progressed and civilized compared to those in the 1790s, and yet they were still waging war on each other. What's different since then?"

"What do you think is different, Linus?" asked Laurel.

"Everybody reads."

"Everybody reads?" echoed Peter, looking skeptical.

"Everybody reads. Illiteracy, which was the norm for the majority before the early 1900s, seemed to allow all kinds of things to happen that we can barely comprehend today. The poor in every nation could be made to believe any old line of crap that their leaders fed them, since they had no way of ever reading history books, newspapers or even the laws that were being passed. Presidents and kings could send their people to war on almost any pretext, no matter how ridiculous, if the masses had no way of educating themselves enough to question it."

Laurel felt the need to interrupt her student, though she hated to do it. "But Linus, that was the whole point of the COAT laws: to ensure that everyone was given the chance to lift themselves up to a reasonable level of education. And it's long been hailed as a great success in that regard. But how do you tie it to something like an end to all wars?"

"Besides the fact that we haven't had any, you mean? It's not just about ending war, either. For decades now, crime rates worldwide have been at a negligible level that would've astounded anyone from the nineteenth century. No one goes hungry, and that's just taken for granted now. Racism was rampant, and growing, in the early twentieth century, and now? Here we sit in a classroom with two Americans, a Chinese, an Indian, a Canadian and an Irish lad, and yet not one of us even thinks of each other in those divisive ways. Our level of integration, which exists everywhere today just as a matter of course, would've been unheard of before COAT. The Irish were considered outcasts in the Eastern United States in the 1800s! Human slavery was still being allowed until only a few decades before COATs, and a good chunk of the Southern U.S. still supported the idea even after it was made illegal! Religious persecution on the one hand, and religious extremism extending to violence, of all things, on the other hand, were both commonplace before COATs. Women had few rights, if any. Drug dependencies were on the rise.

"And those are just a few examples. What about technology? How much did we accelerate our various industries by having a worldwide work force that could do more complicated work than plow a field or plant rice? Would we have had computers in the 1940s without COATs? Would the average citizen of the world been educated enough to realize that we needed a closed system approach to preserving our natural resources, or would they have run out by now? What would it have meant to have our weaponry improve each generation if it advanced faster than our consciences?"

Linus paused to collect his thoughts. No one else in the group said anything but they all looked very thoughtful. He continued, "I don't think most people have any idea just how dark a world we were moving toward at that point in time. Some historians claim that the crimes of Jack the Ripper, in the 1880s, marked the low point in our development as a species. Everything I've read recently makes me believe that we suddenly took a sharp right turn in the early twentieth century. But without that turn, Jack the Ripper might easily have been nothing more than a perpetuation of a trend that would've taken us... who knows where?... had literacy not become law. That 'who knows where?' question is what my COAT's all about."

"That, and about twelve thousand words so far!" said James, even though he knew that it was an old joke.

"You've certainly become very passionate about this, Linus!" Laurel said, smiling. "I think you're just going to have to be patient with the rest of us, though, while we try to catch up. It's a lot to take in all at once."

"It sure is," Sanjay said.

"I'm really intrigued," Liz commented, with total sincerity.

"My head's spinning," quipped James. "But that's not all that unusual!"

"I've got to say," Peter said, beaming, "I'm pretty impressed, old chum."

"Whoo hoo," said Linus. But he couldn't completely hide a smile.

Epilogue: American Gothic

"Danny poked his head out of the opium den and looked around. The markings on the far wall seemed to indicate that the street was safe at the moment, but he knew that conditions could change quickly. If he were caught without the right Party Card, after all, he'd be lucky to get away with just a sound beating. Hard to have the right Party Card, he thought, when the party keeps changing. At least there were drugs to make it all almost bearable.

Three timezones away, Danny's girlfriend, Suzanne, was finishing her day's shift with the National Guard. Perpetual Martial Law meant lots of employment opportunities, but she wasn't sure just how much more of it she could endure. It was impossible to keep track of who "the enemy" was most days: was it the foreigners, or the Negroes, or the drugsters who she was supposed to harass and possibly detain? She knew the correct answer was "all of the above" but she also knew that the man who held her heart in his hands was similarly, and tragically, "all of the above."

At least now she had a job, though, which was more than most of her friends could say. The idea of opening the Guard up to women had its detractors, but Suzanne appreciated the opportunity it provided, at least in theory. As a woman, what other employment could she ever hope for, after all? Now she could afford to buy food tonight, and as a Guardsman she didn't have to stand in line to get an oil ration. Even thoroughly reprehensible work has its advantages, she thought. But it wasn't a terribly comforting thought."

- "American Gothic", Coming Of Age Tale, Linus Morgan (Born: 1990), Published 2006 and credited with launching the American Gothic genre in which writers envision modern day life had the COAT laws never been passed

Next Up Is Post # 1500

As mentioned not too long ago, I'm posting the final chapter of Imaginary Stories as the 1500th entry herein, and that will be the last short story posted on the blog for the foreseeable future, as I go about trying to build up a book's worth of short story material for (self-)publication.

1500 posts in just over a year and a half of blogging. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

You Want Watchmen Movie Stuff? OK!

With eleven months to go until its release, the Watchmen movie makers have committed to releasing one video journal per month, on the 6th of each month. A quick check of the calendar uncovers that that means the first one is due right... about... now!

It's hard for me to express just how exciting this film may be for many of the comic fans who, like me, recall the thrill of reading each chapter of Watchmen as they arrived on the shelves in 1985 and 1986. Even just this inaugural four minute video tour of the "sets and sensibilities" going into the production of Watchmen fills me with hope that Zack Snyder may actually pull off the impossible and translate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' masterpiece onto film. For the next eleven months, at least, I can dream.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Playoff Picture Is Slowly Clearing

All 8 playoff teams in the NHL's Western Conference are now set, with only a few position changes still possible. Shane's President's Trophy winning Red Wings, for example, know that they'll be hosting the 8th place Nashville for Game 1 next week. Apparently the 4th slot Ducks will play the 5th place Stars, with the other two matchups still undetermined (Calgary, Minnesota and Colorado are still jockeying for 3rd, 6th and 7th, although San Jose knows that they'll finish in 2nd).

In the more entertaining Eastern Conference puzzle, the only remaining question about participants involves Carolina and Washington. Thanks to a shocking loss to Florida last night, Carolina now has to hope Washington does just as poorly against the Panthers tonight as they themselves did on Friday, or else the Hurricanes will be on the outside looking in. I'm very pleased that only one team from the Southeast Division will make the playoffs this year, as it was a pretty pathetic group for most of the season. The Atlantic will provide four teams to this year's postseason (Pittsburgh, New Jersey, the Rangers and the Flyers) while the Northeast sends three teams (Montreal, Boston and Ottawa). What we know is that Montreal and Pittsburgh will finish in the top 2 spots, Carolina or Washington will be handed the third seed, and either New Jersey or the Rangers will grab the last home ice advantage, at # 4. In 5th will be either the Rangers, New Jersey or Boston, and after that it gets even more complicated. Here's my attempt to summarize the possibilities (which may not even be right, but I'll do my best):

Pittsburgh - will finish in 1st or 2nd, depending on the outcome of their game against Philadelphia tomorrow and Montreal's game against Toronto tonight
Montreal - will finish in 1st or 2nd (same scenario as above)
Carolina - will finish in 3rd if Washington loses in regulation to Florida tonight; otherwise they're out
Washington - will finish in 3rd if they get at least 1 point against Florida tonight; otherwise they're out
New Jersey - will finish in 4th if they get at least 1 point against the Rangers tomorrow afternoon; otherwise will finish in 5th
New York Rangers - will finish in 4th if they beat New Jersey in regulation tomorrow; will finish in 5th if their game with New Jersey goes beyond regulation (regardless of who wins it) or if they lose in regulation but Boston loses to Buffalo (in regulation or otherwise); will finish in 6th if they lose in regulation and Boston beats Buffalo
Boston - will finish in 5th if they beat Buffalo and the Rangers lose in regulation to the Devils on Sunday; will finish in 6th in a number of scenarios, including if Boston, New York and Philadelphia all win their 82nd games; will finish in 7th in a number of scenarios, including if Boston and the Flyers both lose in regulation, or the Flyers win and Boston loses in overtime or a shootout; win finish in 8th only if they lose to Buffalo in regulation and the Flyers beat the Penguins
Ottawa - will finish in 6th if Boston loses its final game in regulation and Philadelphia loses to Pittsburgh; will finish in 8th if Boston gets at least 1 point against Buffalo and the Flyers beat Pittsburgh; otherwise will finish in 7th
Philadelphia - will finish in 6th if they beat Pittsburgh and Boston loses in regulation to Buffalo; will finish in 7th if they beat Pittsburgh and Boston gets at least 1 point against Buffalo; otherwise (all scenarios where the Flyers don't beat the Penguins) will finish in 8th

Whew! I'm sure I screwed up a few combinations, but that's the hardest I've had to think about anything in a while! There'll be a lot fewer possibilities after tonight's games are concluded, but several things hinge on the results of tomorrow's Rangers/Devils game, so we know that the picture will still be fuzzy for at least another 24 hours.

Oh, and a couple weeks ago I predicted that 91 or 92 points would be needed to make the playoffs in the East. As it turns out, it was 93 points that would put you in. So that wasn't too bad of a prognostication, I'd say!

[Update: With tonight's Eastern Conference games now concluded, more clarity exists. Boston lost to Buffalo, 3-0, meaning that the Rangers and Devils will meet up in the 1st round. Conveniently, they play each other tomorrow afternoon to decide home ice advantage in that series (making it easy on the scouts for each team!) As expected, Washington beat Florida, forcing Carolina out of the playoff race while capturing the # 3 seed for the Capitals. Personally, I wouldn't want to finish in 6th place and have to face the red-hot Capitals in the 1st round, but that's what either Ottawa or the Flyers will have in store, depending on what happens in Philadelphia's game against Pittsburgh tomorrow. The Bruins now know that they'll finish in 7th or 8th spot, again depending on tomorrow's all-Pennsylvania matchup. That means Boston will be playing either Montreal or Pittsburgh, daunting prospects both. Montreal, thanks to their win over the hapless Leafs tonight, will get 1st place in the conference unless the Penguins win tomorrow.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

What An Amazing Day!

Today was a blur, as the Agile Book Launch pretty much dominated my mind even when I was trying to get some work done! We had a great lunch where the 3 reviewers got to see the finished product for the first time, after which I handed out - and even sold a few copies of - The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) to folks at the office. Under any other circumstances, all of my free time would've been occupied by considerations of last night's big Rangers win and the NHL playoff picture in general, but as it was, Boneman and I barely had time to compare notes on that topic throughout the day.

I had hoped to sell 2 or 3 of the 10 extra copies I had on Launch Day, but in fact sold 6 of them, with 2 more requested on my way out the door home. AgileBoy insisted upon paying for his free copy, despite my protestations, and so I actually made 7 sales today. (Thanks again, little buddy. But you definitely didn't need to do that!) The fact that my inventory is now down to 2 copies prompted me to order another 10 tonight, which could mean that I end up stuck with a bunch when today's flurry turns out to be short-lived. I can think of at least a couple people at work who I figured would want a copy and yet didn't buy one today, so maybe they'll come a-shopping next week. Whatever happens, today was a great day and I thank everyone who contributed to it, including Vicki who brought the books downtown (so that I could bike to work), presented me with a brand new Sharpie with which to sign copies, and prepared a special dessert to go with dinner tonight!

Those who have the book in their hot little hands now will finally appreciate why it's sub-titled "Lessons Learned in Going Agile" and my reason for always referring to "chapters" within quotes.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Win And You're In"... And They Did!

The Rangers went into play tonight in Long Island knowing that a victory against their bitter rivals would propel them into the postseason. With two more games, after tonight, remaining in their regular season schedule, that meant that the boys would have three chances to "win and get in," as well as potentially making the playoffs even if they lost all three (depending on what happened to various teams around them in the standings). Fortunately for cardiac-challenged fans like myself, the Broadway Blueshirts took care of business on this night, winning 3-0 against the cross-town Islanders. That takes the pressure off for games 81 and 82 (against those same Islanders, and then the Devils, respectively) but leaves lots of opportunities for movement up and down the standings as more than a half dozen Eastern Conference teams remain log-jammed in positions 3 through 9, with very few points separating them. As of right now, the Rangers are in 5th; but who knows where they'll be when the final bell sounds on the 2007/08 NHL season. I'm just thrilled that they'll get to play some more games next week!

Boneman will be disappointed that Washington won (again!) tonight, and probably not pleased to see Ottawa smoke the Leafs... but on the other hand, Buffalo is on the verge of being eliminated (down 3-0 to the Canadiens in the 3rd) and that probably improves the prospects for Boston's final game of the season, against those same Sabres. Prior to that, the Bruins will face the Senators and hope that Ottawa completely shot their wad tonight in Toronto. While it's not likely that Boston and New York will face each other in the postseason this year, it's always a possibility if the Bruins can clinch in the next several days. To the best of my memory, in the nearly two decades that Boneman and I have known each other, I don't believe our two teams have met up in the playoffs. In other words, our friendship has yet to be put to the ultimate test!

Secret Invasion: Is It Just The Spider-Clone Saga On Steroids?

Yesterday, Secret Invasion # 1 arrived at the comic stores and Marvel's latest big event kicked off. I've been mildly curious about SI since it was first announced, but can't say as I've had any burning interest in it, despite all the hype building up to this week's release. For those who don't know but are interested enough to keep reading: the premise of this series is that the shape-shifting alien Skrulls (first seen waaaaaay back in Fantastic Four # 2!) have strategically been replacing Marvel characters on the sly over the past several years, as a prelude to a full-scale invasion of Earth. In other words, any Marvel character - Iron Man, Doctor Doom, the Human Torch, or even *gasp* Aunt May! - may have been replaced, years ago, by an alien imposter! The tagline for last year's Civil War series was "Whose Side Are You On?" This year it's "Who Do You Trust?"

So that's an interesting storyline, at first blush. Was the Captain America who died around this time last year a Skrull, and is that how Marvel will bring the real one back? Wolverine often seems to be everywhere all at once... are there really several of him, all Skrull dopplegangers? Has Mr Fantastic been having sex with a green-skinned alien each time that he thought he was actually bonking the beautiful Invisible Woman?

And so, in the big payoff scene from Secret Invasion # 1, we have a crashed Skrull ship from which emerges... a whole crapload of Marvel superheroes, looking much like they did in (using publishing chronology) the 1970s! There's Luke Cage wearing his "Sweet Christmas!" yellow shirt and chains, and a wise-cracking blue-furred Beast... not to mention a Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor and Wolverine! That's the sort of thing that's sure to make many a fan's jaw hit the ground as the first implications sink in!

Now, it may turn out that those new arrivals are actually the Skrulls, and they're just messing with our (and the other heroes') heads. But imagine if it plays out the other way: all those Spidey and Wolverine adventures over the past 20 or 30 years (again, publishing time... story-wise, that's about 5 to 8 years!) were about Skrull duplicates, not the real deals!

If this all sounds familiar, that may be because I blogged about it last August, when Secret Invasion was still more than half a year away. The "smell" that I described in that post was very clear and distinct to me last night, as I read through the first issue of SI. Would Marvel really dare to invalidate so much of their own history in that way? Well, last August I was incredulous on that front and unwilling to believe it, but of course that was before I watched Spider-Man's marriage magically bargained away in possibly the worst storyline of all time. So now I'm more inclined to accept that Marvel, especially the current Joe Quesada version, is indeed that stupid. And I'm interested enough to at least buy the remaining 7 issues and see how it all turns out.

Oh, and the spoilers that were posted on the Marvel_bOy website a couple weeks back? All true, as shown in the pages of SI # 1. That makes me really skeptical that Marvel willingly leaked those reveals.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Agile Books? We Got 'Em!

The big shipment of 32 copies of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) arrived this afternoon around 1:20 p.m. They were very well-packed and as far as Vicki and I could tell, none were damaged in transit. The printing quality looked every bit as high as we'd seen on the individual copies that we've received in the past, and so it looks like the long, almost eight month voyage is finally over!

I've planned a little "Launch Lunch" for Friday with the reviewers (other than Tammy, who's an out of towner) after which I'll be handing out complementary copies to a select few - you should know who you are by now! - and seeing if I can sell a handful more. If I sell out - hah! - then I'll just have to order more. Such is life (I should be so lucky!)

Sometime after Friday I'll probably post a scan of the cover here, for those who frequent the blog but aren't looking to get their hands on a copy of the book. I also owe David some sort of description of what the heck Agile is, and that should be a much more distinct possibility once I'm through the activities of the next several days.

So That's Where George Perez Went!

George Perez is one of my all-time favourite comic book artists (Crisis on Infinite Earths, JLA/Avengers, initial New Teen Titans run and countless others) and so it was somewhat disappointing when he quietly stepped away from the current Brave and the Bold title with no word on where he was going. Today news about Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds was announced, and it was worth losing George from B&B for it! Geoff Johns and George Perez, telling the ultimate Legion story in five oversized issues? Are you kidding me? How much more excited can I get? August is a long, long way away, but I'm already counting the days. I haven't been able to get all that worked up about the main Final Crisis 'event' mini-series that Morrison and Jones are doing, but this? This sounds like pure gold to me!

You can read the interview with Johns on the topic right here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Whatever Happened To That Agile Book You Were Always Going On About, You Ask

Well, as a matter of fact, that Agile book of mine is on its way here! 32 copies of it, if you want to get specific! They've crossed the border and are expected to arrive at our doorstep tomorrow (Wednesday). In honour of that momentous occasion, I'm planning to work from home so as to receive them with all of the pomp and ceremony they deserve (which is to say: none, other than answering the doorbell and accepting delivery).

My current thinking is that I'll invite the reviewers to a "Book Launch Lunch" on Friday of this week, then hand out some free copies to pre-designated co-workers that afternoon, and others as opportunities present themselves. This could make for an exciting end to the week... as well as, possibly, my current career!

Quitting The Blogging Game

I'm sure people have noticed that my output has dropped significantly of late, with some days only showing a single post (down from the first year of blogging, when I'd average four to six posts per day) and often a feeble one, at that. It's been eighteen months of constant blogging, going back to October 1, 2006, but I've now run out of steam. I haven't blogged at work in over a month, and rarely add anything to The Studio blog (in much the same way as the other bloggers there, in fact).

Blogging has just lost its appeal in recent months, I have to say. I doubt anyone will miss me, or this blog, but I still thought that I should at least announce my retirement rather than just skulking off quietly into the early April night.

As the folks at the pizza joint like to say: it's been a slice!

[Update: April Fool's, folks... you're not rid of me just yet!]