Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2nd AgileMan Book Now Has Its Shape

After finishing the 24th Issue this afternoon, I looked over what topics I had left to cover. Then I grouped them into the Issues that I thought they'd fit into, and lo and behold, I saw a shape to the remainder of the book that seemed just about perfect. Not only that, but there's a good chance that I can bring it all in with the same Issue total (32) that I had the first time, although the word (and page) count will be at least 25% greater. Both of those discoveries were happy ones, and they mean that I'm about to embark onto the final quarter of this first draft journey!

What a great way to wrap up my second year of blogging...

The Legion Truly Is Legion

This amazing, and beautiful, Phil Jimenez page showing "the world of the Legion of Super-Heroes" gives one at least some idea just why some newcomers find the Legion a difficult nut to crack.

I consider myself a pretty good Legion fan, and even I could probably only name about 75% of the characters on this page!

Baseball Playoffs Starting Early This Year

Following their win last night (in a make-up game for one that was rained out earlier in the month), the Chicago White Sox host the Minnesota Twins for a one-game playoff to see who gets the American League Central crown. Technically, this is considered regular season game # 163 for each team (in terms of stats), but really, we're into the postseason now, baby! It's also the third consecutive must-win game for the White Sox, each of them against a different opponent (Cleveland on Sun, Detroit last night, Twins tonight). If they actually pull it out this evening, they can "relax" in the sense that they'll then get to play a best-of-5 series with Tampa Bay Rays... so they could actually lose a game and not be done!

I'm really looking forward to the Angels-Red Sox series, because Los Angeles looked so good this year (the only team to post 100 wins across MLB) and won 8 of 9 games against the AL Wildcard team. On the other hand, they've been absolutely owned by Boston recently in the postseason, having been swept by them the last two times they met (last year and 2004). So clearly, something has to give!

And you can't be a baseball fan if you're not intrigued by the fact that the Cubs have made it to the playoffs with the best record in the National League (and second only to the Angels) in this, the 100th year since their last world championship! C'mon, how great a headline would that make: Cubs Own '08 Again! Damn, that'd be fine! You wouldn't want to have to face them in 2108, if that happens...

Closing Out Blogging Year Number Two

As hard as it may be to believe, today marks the end of our second year here at Kimota94's Place! The first post appeared waaaay back on Oct 1, 2006, making tomorrow our second anniversary and the start of the third year. Who said I'd never last?

I've been trying to think of something special to do here tomorrow, but so far haven't come up with anything spectacular. I'm toying with the idea of posting an excerpt from the in-progress first draft of More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year Two: Easier Said That Done), but I'm not even sure there's all that much interest in any such thing. So now's your chance to sound off on the topic, if you're so inclined. Otherwise I may do something even more boring!

I should also point out, for posterity, that while I managed something like 1200 posts in my first year, I came up considerably shorter in Year Two: slightly less than 600, in fact! Now, I did another 100 or so over at The Studio, but still. I suppose I can take some pride in the fact that I'm still averaging better than a post per day, and rarely missing a day. Combine that with my new Superman original artwork and striking the pickle motherlode, and I guess things could be a lot worse right now!

The One That Didn't Get Away

Last night, around midnight, the final week of the Siegel and Shuster Society charity auctions wrapped up, and I finally got one! This Rags Morales page from Nightwing # 140, showing a magnificent Man of Steel towering above the grown-up Robin should soon be in my hands, for a "paltry" $510 US. (Remember: it's for a good cause!) I would have loved to get the George Perez page last night (showing Captain America facing off against Batman) but it went for over $1000. The walk-on cameo role on Heroes ended up costing somebody over $14,000, and apparently it was the same guy who paid a similar price for the Jim Lee sketch of himself with Superman. Therefore one person will have contributed over $28,000 of the nearly $120,000 that the four weeks of auctions raised. That's quite the super-fan!

But It's Not My Birthday!

Today, as Vicki and I were strolling through the grocery store, we both stopped dead in our tracks when we saw a big display of the 1.5 L jars of Bicks dill pickles (with garlic)! Why should something like that nearly take our breath away? Well, cue the flashback music and effects...

More than a decade ago (we weren't even yet in a house with a pool), all of the grocery stores for hundreds of kilometres around us stopped carrying that particular product. You could still find the 1 L jars, and those have kept me going, lo these many years. But in the 1.5 L version, the pickles are much larger; in fact, you probably actually get fewer pickles in the 1.5 L jar than comes in the 1 L jar, because the big ones are just that much bigger! To understand why that makes a difference... aw, who am I kidding? You'll never understand it! (Let's just go with: size matters, and you can make up your own phallic joke!)

But what's important is that we haven't been able to find the big jars for over 10 years, and suddenly today: there they were! A whole display of them! We grabbed four jars (all we could carry, as we'd walked there) and hope to pick up some more over the next few days. It actually feels just a little like Christmas morning around here right now...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Video Games Just Keep Getting Better

I love the way more and more video games (of the type that I play, anyway) have complex science fiction storylines to them. Resistance posited an alternate history, whereby Russia, Europe and then England were taken over by an alien invasion in the 1950s. The Halo franchise has so much going on within it that I can't even keep track of who's an ally and who's not from game to game, but it's definitely rich in alien lore. Others, like Half-Life, Doom, Unreal Tournament and Quake all have backstories that get filled in more and more with each new release. That's a good part of what appeals to me about gaming these days, along with the wanton killing and puzzle solving.

Imagine, then, my response to this deluded post in which someone waxes on about how video games have gone downhill since the days of Ms. PacMan and Space Invaders. Ironically, I just played PacMan on the weekend, because my new XBox 360 came with a version of it pre-loaded. It held my interest for about 5 minutes, just like it did back in the day when it was "the" game. Running around in a 2-D maze, being chased by little ghosts while eating energy pellets, didn't really ignite my imagination way back when anymore than it does now. I love that the graphics of video games keep improving, and that our ability to immerse ourselves in them - VR-like - has continued to increase. I guess it takes all kinds, but I'll take the newer games any day of the week... and twice on Sunday!

Why Can't All MLB Stadiums Have Retractable Roofs?

I've been waiting patiently for over 2 hours now, as the Chicago White Sox / Detroit Tigers make-up game - so important to the crowning of a American League Central Division champion - suffers through an extended rain delay before starting.

I wish baseball were not quite so at the whim of the weather, especially as September and October rolls around and the games take on so much more significance! With every team seemingly getting a new ballpark built over the past (or next) 10 years, you'd think that MLB could simply mandate that you have to have some way of getting games in during inclement weather.

Ah well...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pool All Closed For Another 7 Or 8 Months

With some help from Tammy and despite me throwing my back out yesterday (yeah, that was good timing!), we got the pool winterized yet again. The winter cover had been chewed through by some small animal in our shed over the summer so we had to spend $120 for a new one, but that was no big loss as we'd had the previous blanket for most of the 10 years that we've lived here. Lesson learned, though: must keep blanket sealed away in hard plastic tub while the pool's open!

I actually lost some sleep last night worrying about whether I'd be able to lift the two pool ladders out of their wells today, what with my back being all messed up. Some years it's been quite the struggle to get one or both of them out because they get wedged in there over the summer, but I was lucky and they came out easy-peasy this morning. I was all ready to call the next door neighbour over if they hadn't, though... there wasn't going to be a lot I could do otherwise, as I had very little strength available to me in any sort of lifting motion.

Now that the pool's closed, I'm ready for a good run of mild days, not cold enough to make us pull out our winter jackets but also not so warm as to require a dip after cycling. I used to love the October bike rides into work except when we'd get Indian Summer days and I'd kick myself for not being able to take a swim when I got home.

Jays Finish 2008 Season 10 Games Over .500

It wasn't quite as strong a finish as I'd hoped for, but a record of 86-76 is still one of the Toronto Blue Jays' best finishes since last appearing in the postseason (1993). They've hit the 88-74 mark once (1998), 87-75 once (2003) and now matched their 2006 mark a second time. In fact, over the past 3 seasons they've posted 86, 83 and 86 wins, making for a very nice 3-year run of winning more than they've lost.

In matters of a more immediate nature, the Brewers (in a game I'm watching right now) just went up 3-1 in the 8th inning, while the Mets just fell behind 4-2 (also in the 8th), meaning that Milwaukee will earn the Wildcard spot today if both scores hold up. I was sort of hoping for a 1-game playoff tomorrow afternoon between the two teams at the about-to-be-mothballed Shea Stadium, but the Mets will have to rally (or the Brewers choke) for that to happen now.

Meanwhile, both the White Sox and Twins are leading their games in the late innings, which would mean (if nothing changes) that Chicago will have to play their make-up match against the Tigers tomorrow afternoon, and then potentially a 1-game playoff against Minnesota on Tuesday! Now that would be exciting, if it played out that way!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told

While I've always been just a tad bit more in awe of Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything" (Superman Annual # 11), there are so many more emotional moments to be found in Moore's other great Superman tale: "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" which ran in Superman # 423 and Action Comics # 583, marking the official end of the pre-Crisis DC Universe. That 2-part epic has once again been getting talked about lately, thanks to the announcement that Neil Gaiman is writing a "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" 2-parter to come out immediately after the conclusion of Grant Morrison's current "Batman R.I.P." saga. Because of that, today I decided to re-read (for the umpteenth time) the 1986 story that put a definitive conclusion to the Silver Age Kal-El's adventures.

There's so much to love about this poignant wrap-up that I almost don't know where to start. In the first part, we learn that Superman's been gone and assumed dead for many years by the time August 16th, 1997 rolls around (recall that this comic came out in 1986). Lois Lane has married Jordan Elliot and has a son with him, and is being interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Planet who's writing a "Last Days of Superman" retrospective. Through flashbacks narrated by Lois, we visit an earlier time when Superman's arch enemies had grown quiet for a while, allowing the Man of Steel to devote more of his time to assisting scientific research. But then that period of rest and reflection is shattered when several of the second- and third-tier villains return, more murderous than they'd ever been before. This development clearly shakes Kal-El, as he asks his friends at the funeral for childhood friend Pete Ross (killed by Toyman and the Prankster), "If the nuisances from my past are coming back as killers... what happens when the killers come back?" What, indeed?

After having his secret identity revealed by those nuisances, he gives up his Clark Kent identity for good. Luthor, meanwhile, has tracked down the robotic head of Brainiac, and is quickly taken over by the artificial creature, making for the most integrated "Brainiac-Luthor Team" of all time. As he/they plot a master plan, other lesser lights like Metallo and the Kryptonite Man attack Metropolis and the Daily Planet in particular, looking for revenge on the friends of Superman (especially now that his Clark Kent identity is known). To safeguard Lois, Jimmy, Perry White and the others in his inner circle, Superman takes them all to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, where even Krypto the Super-dog shows up, looking a bit long in the tooth but still flying.

One of the most moving moments in comics history occurs at the Fortress, as the Legion of Super-Heroes pay a quick visit (from the 30th century) presumably because they know that this is one of their last chances to spend time with their 20th century friend (since his future is their past). But they've brought a surprise along with them, in the form of a young Supergirl (from shortly after she arrived on Earth in the dawn of the Silver Age). Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl, was visiting the Legion in the future when they decided to make their trip to the past (yeah, time travel... heh!). However, Superman had not long before held his (older) cousin's dead body in his arms after she gave her life to save the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths # 7, making this encounter feel like he's talking to a ghost. When the teenage Kara innocently asks Kal-El if she grew up pretty, you'd better have a hanky or two handy for when you see the look on his face! The Legion presents Superman with a gold statuette of himself holding a Phantom Zone projector, and then beats a hasty retreat back to their own time period.

This series of scenes shows perfectly why Moore is the master of his art, because he addresses every single question any fan of the Silver Age might have at this point. Wouldn't Superman wonder why the Legion picked that particular night to visit him? (Covered!) How could the Legion bring Supergirl with them when they know she just died in that era? (Check!) Wouldn't Superman rip someone a new one over a move like that, and then realize his mistake and apologize? (You bet!) It's an amazingly satisfying handful of pages, while ripping your heart out in the process.

This issue ends with Lois (in 1997) recalling that she and the other friends in the Fortress never heard what happened that night after they went to bed (when the Legion came a-calling) but she knew that something had, when she saw Superman the next morning... because it looked like he'd been crying.

As the second part begins, Superman, Krypto and the friends are under siege from several villains: the Brainiac-Luthor hybrid, the Kryptonite Man and even the three founders of the Legion of Super-Villains, who've similarly come from the 30th century, but in this case they want to take part in the final destruction of the Man of Steel. Brainiac has erected an impenetrable force field around the Fortress, with the villains on the inside and any superheroes who might help Superman's cause on the outside.

Krypto, who just recently had a starring role in Superman # 680 (in 2008) but generally isn't seen all that often these days, has a great moment back in our tale from 1986. He builds up a good head of steam and then lunges at the Kryptonite Man, ripping the bad guy's throat out while getting himself a lethal dose of kryptonite poisoning in the process. His self-sacrifice is matched by Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang, both of whom re-establish 1960's-style superpowers that they'd once had (Moore forgets nothing!) in order to take out some villains themselves. Their efforts aren't entirely in vain, but they're both killed before they can really save the day. Lana had rushed into battle after overhearing Superman confess that he loves Lois and only Lois but could never choose her over Lana without devastating the redhead by his actions. With one stroke, writer Moore explains roughly forty years of "Lois / Lana" stories, whereby Superman seemed to always lead both women on mercilessly.

The villain behind it all is finally revealed to be Mr Mxyzptlk, the 5th-dimensional imp who always spent his time befuddling the Man of Steel until Superman could trick him into saying his name backwards and being returned to his own dimension. Here he's a darker version of Mr Mxy, but with a great rationale provided by Mr Moore. Lois comes to the rescue when she recognizes what the Legion had given her man in the previous issue, and deduces that their visit was always about providing a clue to the Man of Steel, not sounding his death knell (as he'd assumed). Supes retrieves his own Phantom Zone projector from elsewhere in the Fortress and shines it on Mxyzptlk just as the not-so-cute imp says, "Kltpzyxm," causing him to be torn in half between the Phantom Zone and the 5th dimension. "He panicked when he saw the ray and made a fatal error," Kal-El tells Lois. "Just as I knew he would. I killed him, Lois. I intended to kill him." Because he'd broken his oath never to take a life (a well-known standard of the Silver Age), Superman feels that he has to pay the ultimate price for his action. And so he walks into the lead-lined room in the Fortress where he's stored gold kryptonite, the one substance that removes a Kryptonian's superpowers.. forever!

Lois wraps up her trip down memory lane with the Daily Planet reporter by saying that she never saw Superman again after that. He'd apparently left that chamber and walked out into the Arctic to die, a human being. The reporter leaves Lois, but she's joined by her husband, Jordan, and their son, Jonathan. Now, anyone who hadn't by that point figured out that Jordan Elliot is really a de-powered Kal-El (recalling that Kal's birth father's name was Jor-El) gets the additional clue of seeing young Jonathan (the name of Clark Kent's foster father) squeeze a lump of coal into a diamond... and a final wink from Jordan as he closes the door on that chapter in their life.

"Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is simply a perfect finale to the thirty-or-so year history of the Silver Age Superman. Moore misses no notes at all in his 2-part celebration of the Man of Steel's life, and it's perhaps the finest sendoff any comic character has ever received.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nobody Wants The American League Central!

As we race into the final weekend of the 2008 Major League Baseball season, there's only one American League slot left up for grabs: the division title for the AL Central. Minnesota Twins lead the Chicago White Sox by half a game (apparently Chicago must've had a rain-out that hasn't been made up yet, which could be interesting if the two teams finish within half a game of each other after Sunday!) so anything could happen over the weekend.

[Update Sep 28/08: As of the end of the 2008 MLB season today, those two teams are still just 1/2 a game apart, and therefore Chicago gets to play Detroit tomorrow afternoon to get their 162nd regular season game in. If they lose, the Twins claim the Central; but if they win, then they'll be tied with Minnesota and will therefore play a 1-game playoff with the Twins on Tuesday night!]

Anyway, they're both hosting teams this weekend who are out of contention (aka "spoilers"): the Twins are home to the lowly Royals, while Chicago has Cleveland in town. As of right now, Minnesota is down 6-0 while the Sox, after building up a 4-3 lead by the end of the 4th inning, are now behind 9-4, thanks to giving up 6 runs in the 5th! You'd think, with so much on the line, those two contenders could do a little better than that, wouldn't you?

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay, Boston and LA Angels wait to find out who they'll play, starting on Wed and Thu of next week. If I understand the various rules correctly, I think it's all but decided that LA will host Boston (assuming TB claims the division), since the Wildcard team (Bos) never plays their first series against their division winner (TB). Since the Angels have some ridiculously-long post season losing streak at the hands of the Red Sox, that could be fun. The Central winner will head to Tampa, for some sun 'n' surf and maybe even a game or two.

In the National League, three teams are fighting for the last two playoff berths: the NL East, where the Phillies lead the stumbling Mets (who absolutely collapsed at the end of the season last year and fell out of the playoff race right at the finish line and could repeat that dubious feat this year) by a single game; and the Wildcard, which has the Brewers and Mets dead-even with three games left each. I'm watching the Mets lose to the visiting Marlins (down 5-1 in the 8th), while the Phillies just dispatched Washington, 8-4. Assuming the Mets can't rally in the final 2 innings, that'll makes Philadelphia's magic number just 1 (meaning any win by them or loss by the Mets gives them the division). Meanwhile, Milwaukee is tied 1-1 with the Cubs in the 6th, so they may pull a game ahead of New York or simply stay tied in that neck-and-neck Wildcard race (again, assuming a Mets loss).

The Cubs and Dodgers have already punched their own tickets to the playoffs, but about all we know at this point is that Chicago will start at home, and Los Angeles will play their first two games on the road. After that, there are just too many different permutations still possible!

As usual, it's proving to be a very exciting conclusion to the season for those who are interested in such things (like me!)

Another AgileMan Week Of Work Complete

It was a three-and-a-half Issue week, as I finished the 19th, and then knocked off the 20th, 21st and 22nd over the course of the past five days. It feels like it's about 60% complete (first draft) at the moment, but then I look at the small list of topics I have left to cover and wonder if maybe I'm closer to 75% done? No, I realize next, there's so much important stuff that has to go in the back half of the book, most of which I haven't gotten to yet, so it's gotta be in the 50 - 65% range.

Or, I could just keep working on it and not worry about such things. But what fun is that?

One More Swim And Out

We both got in the pool today for a last dip, and then started the process of shutting 'er down for another long winter. Thanks to the magic of blogging, I know that it was four months ago yesterday that I took the first swim of the year, so that's not too bad of a season at all (with probably close to 100 good days in between). We've certainly seen shorter over our 11 summers here.

If we're closing the pool, that must mean that the baseball postseason is just around the corner... which it is! No Jays (again) but it'll still be a ton of fun to watch, and I won't be distracted by any silly work stuff this year! There's still a chance for an all-Chicago World Series, but I guess the LA Angels - who will almost certainly finish with the best record in the majors in 2008 - may have something to say about that. And of course, since the Dodgers are also set to play in October, we could just as easily have an all-LA finale.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Still Swimming On Sep 25th?

Yes, it's true... with just 3 months to go until another Christmas (aka "Spend All Your Money On Crap" Day) rolls around, it was a lovely 26 degrees this afternoon, and the pool was in full swing at our house. Well, "full" as in both Vicki and I were in it! We certainly could've fit another person or two in there somewhere, but everyone else seemed to be stuck at work! (Ha!)

It was also gorgeous weather for a bike ride downtown and a lunch with Boneman in the park, which happened today as well. If you think that the two of us spent as much time discussing our anticipation for Resistance 2 as we did catching up on work matters, then you'd be right. I even pointed out to Boneman that the gameplay videos that have been coming out clearly show that the health packs are gone from the game, replaced by the now-standard "don't get shot for a few seconds and you'll get full health back" approach to such things. I'm OK with that, as hunting around for health tends to distract from the rest of the experience.

And tonight I'm out for the evening with McChicken. How'd I get so busy all of a sudden? :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Gonna Have To Get Better At Not Shooting My Friends, I Guess

After watching this amazing video of the Resistance 2 Co-op play, it seems like I may have to modify my standard "shoot anything that moves" approach to First Person Shooters! After all, that looks like a lot of teammates between me and the bad guys...

Just 40 days to go until the eve of Resistance 2...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm Not Even Sure Where I Stand On This One

This story, about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urging ice cream giants Ben & Jerry to begin using human breast milk instead of cow's milk in their products, leaves me torn. On the one hand, humans drinking our own breast milk is the most natural thing in the world - most of us have done it as babies, after all - and intellectually less disgusting than taking in the secretions of another species (as my ex-boss always used to refer to it).

On the other hand... ewwwww?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where Did The Day Go?

I didn't seem to accomplish much of anything today, for reasons that escape me. I got a few pages of the current book written, had lunch with a couple of ex-coworker friends, got a swim in despite it being fairly late in September... but mostly I just read stuff on the Internet and watched some TV.

And now I'm watching the last good president the U.S. had (Bill Clinton) on the Late Show with David Letterman, and feeling nostalgic for the days when the person running the most powerful nation in the world was someone who inspired confidence and respect, instead of scorn and disgust.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Self Service Is All The Rage These Days

The plastic bag on the table is filled with peanuts. And beside it sits Chippy, who apparently tired of waiting for us to dole out the food. We're not sure how he got up there, because the table legs are such that they don't provide access to the tabletop from them. We're thinking the little bugger jumped up onto one of the chair seats (an impressive vertical leap for a creature that size) and from there onto the table.

As Vicki says, though, we shouldn't get too attached to Chippy. We seem to average about one dead chipmunk per year in our pool, after all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My XBox 360 Is Dead! Long Live My XBox 360!

Now, before I recount the latest developments in the saga of my failing XBox 360, I want to say that I will always feel as if I made out like a bandit in the purchase that landed Boneman's father-in-law's 360 in my lap last December. The $300 price tag (with no tax on top of it), which included Halo 3 and Gears of War, was a steal at a time when a new console would've set me back close to $500. The hundreds of hours of Halo 3 that I played over the holiday period paid for the purchase alone, including solo play, online deathmatches and a heck of a lot of co-operative play with McChicken and Tammy. Recently McChicken and I have gotten into Gears of War as a co-op winner, which I'd never have discovered if GoW hadn't come with the box. Taking all of that into consideration, that box didn't owe me a nickel by the time this weekend rolled around.

Which is good, because as of last night it pretty much died on me. I thought that I'd gotten by the Lost Planet lock-up issue until I attempted to resume the game around midnight last night. At that point, it locked up once again, and then began to display the dreaded "red rings of death" that Microsoft gamers the world over have come to know and loathe. From that point on, I couldn't load any games at all without the box locking up, and before long it was locking up during start-up.

I called the 1-800 XBox Service number this morning, only to be put on hold for nearly ten minutes before being transferred to "Billing," who could do nothing for me. Another call, another long period on hold, and then I made it to a polite Indian call centre representative who was well familiar with the ubiquitous red rings. Unfortunately, the combination of his strong Indian accent, my apparently-strong Canadian one, a poor phone connection and what sounded like millions of his co-workers in the background, all chattering on the phone at the top of their lungs, made for a tricky conversation. Eventually it came out that I wasn't the original owner of the box, and his information was that Microsoft's recent, and well-reported 3-year warranty on defects involving the red rings therefore wouldn't apply.

McChicken still believes that I may be able to get the box fixed for free (through the 3-year warranty), but I remain skeptical. So much so that, after a brief conversation with Vicki on the topic, I went out and bought a new box this afternoon. I opted for the 60-gig model (up from the 20 gigabytes that my first box has) and am now the "proud" owner of a second XBox 360. Nine and a half months of exposure to it was more than enough to sell me on the console, although it's clearly not of the same level of quality as the PlayStation 3. The latest rumours are that approximately 33% of all 360s suffer the red rings of death fate and require fixing, whereas you rarely hear of people having problems with their PS/3s.

And for those scoring along at home, this means that I'll soon be playing through the first two Lost Planet missions for a mind-numbing fourth time!

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Slow Week Of Writing Later

After not doing anything on it Monday (still feeling blah from the weekend), I only completed three and a half Issues (chapters) of More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year Two: Easier Said Than Done) this week, as I got through the 18th and then well into the 19th, before calling it a day around 5:00 p.m. today. I've definitely passed the halfway mark, though, so I figure another six weeks ought to be enough to complete the first draft.

I'm feeling good about the book right now, which is weird because around this point in the process of writing the original AgileMan saga I was fairly convinced that it was junk. That either means that I'm more prone to kidding myself now, or possibly it's a better first draft. Or maybe all that binge drinking has finally caught up with me...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Resistance 2 Trailer

I love the slow build-up toward the Nov 4 release of Resistance 2, and as far as I'm concerned Insomniac could release a new trailer like this one every week over the next month and a half and it'd be just fine by me!

Twice More, With Feeling

So I started Lost Planet on the 360 a little over a week ago, and have been liking it a lot. I completed the second mission late last week, and started the third. Then I realized that the little spinning coins that I'd been seeing throughout the game, which I couldn't pick up or do anything with, were targets that you could shoot and then they disappear (earning you credit, or points, for later in the coin, I'm assuming). Being the anal completist gamer that I am, I decided that I had to go back and replay Missions One and Two again, so that I could shoot the coins. And so I did.

As I made my way to the start of Mission Three again, I'd gotten right back to where I'd left off, and it was now Sunday evening at 8:30. Which is when the power went off. I didn't get another chance to play until late last night, which is when I discovered that as soon as I resumed the third mission, the 360 would lock up. Again and again, with the same result each time: a hard power cycle of the XBox required to recover. I tried going back to the second mission and going forward, but as soon as I got back to the start of Mission Three: lock up!

So, tonight I deleted all saved files for Lost Planet, and started again. Now on my third pass, I was actually getting a bit bored with the same bad guys and the same Akrids (the various giant beasts who inhabit the frigid world of the game). About a half hour ago I made it back to the fateful place where it'd been locking up, and was luckily able to get past the bad point.

My theory is that the power failure on Sunday night somehow resulted in a corrupt checkpoint write of some sort, and the only way that I was ever going to get past it was if I started over after getting rid of it.

Needless to say, I'm now looking forward to seeing some actual new levels in this game after three trips through the first two missions!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Caught In The Web Of Spider Solitaire

I mentioned how the Sunday night power outage resulted in my playing some Solitaire on my laptop to while away the time. It was actually Spider Solitaire, with 2 suits in play. Since that dark night, I've played many hours of it, and even though I only win about 15% of the time, it's proven quite habit-forming. Like most such things, I'll eventually grow bored with it and move on, but right now it's chewing up much of my free time... of which I have lots!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Ones That Got Away

I decided to bid on this gorgeous Gene Ha recreation of the cover of Action Comics # 44 (from the 1940s) since it was sitting around $560 last night, going into the last few hours of the Siegel & Shuster Society auction to save the house where Jerry Siegel created Superman. I was briefly the high bidder, but it eventually went for over $1800, which was more twice what I'd been willing to pay for it.

Then I went for this John Cassaday (artist on Planetary and Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run) pencil artwork, and managed to remain the high bidder (at just over $700) until about 3 seconds before it ended! Ah, you gotta love the snipers!

This Curt Swan Legion of Super-Heroes page, generously donated by Silver Age trivia maven Mark Waid (from his personal collection), was always out of my price range, and ultimately sold for $7600.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Top 10 Reasons To Be Stoked About Resistance 2

Apparently I'm not the only person on the planet excited about Resistance 2's arrival in 50 days...

See The 21st Century By Candlelight

Tonight, for at least the fifth time this year, we had our power go out. It happened around 8:30 p.m. and didn't come back until shortly after midnight, despite my calling the 24-hour hydro emergency phone number within 5 minutes of the start of the outage. That was a very long 3 and a half hours in candlelight. After about 2 and a half hours, I remembered that my laptop would have about 2 hours of battery left on it, and so I played solitaire while Vicki watched and kibbitzed. Before that, it was reading and boredom.

I'm not sure what's wrong with the infrastructure of our neighbourhood's electrical system, but clearly something is. There's no way we should lose power this often, but it seems like all it takes is a severe thunderstorm or strong winds, both of which we get fairly frequently anymore. I seriously thought tonight, "I wonder what it would cost to get a backup generator installed?"

Needless to say, whatever Vicki and I had planned for the evening went the way of our energy source. I just hope that the milk in the fridge didn't go sour (we've had that happen already this year, too).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Hunt For October

With just over two weeks left in the 2008 Major League Baseball season, there are a ton of great playoff races underway. Of the six divisions between the two leagues, only one has a division winner already, with the other five - and both Wildcard races - still very hot and heavy. By the numbers:

American League East

Tampa is up by 3 over Boston, and 9 and a half ahead of Toronto. The Rays and the Red Sox go head-to-head for 3 in Florida, starting Monday. The Yankees are still mathematically in the division race, 12 games back, but only on paper: they're hosting the Rays for a 4-game set right now and have already lost the first one, 7-1. Baltimore's 23 games out, and therefore could win out the rest of their schedule and still likely finish last in the AL East.

American League Central

Here it's a 2-team race, with Minnesota trailing Chicago by 1 game, and everyone else out of the running. The two powerhouses only have 3 games left against each other, but Minnesota has the advantage there, as they'll be played in the Metrodome. On the other hand, the Twins have a slightly tougher schedule, as they face Tampa Bay 4 times and Baltimore 3, whereas the ChiSox have Detroit (for 5) and the Yankees (for 4). Both teams face Kansas City and Cleveland, to round out their schedule. The Indians, Tigers and Royals all have losing records right now and will be able to get the early jump on their Hallowe'en decorating this year.

American League West

Our only boring division, it's the California/Anaheim/LA Angels all the way. Texas, Oakland and Seattle have already arranged solid concert line-ups for their stadiums, starting Oct 29th.

American League Wildcard

Ah, the Wildcard! Boston is 5 and a half up on Minnesota and 6 and a half ahead of Toronto. The Yankees are 9 back, with too many teams to pass and not enough games left, so Steinbrenner's crew will miss the playoffs for the first time since... the Blue Jays were World Series Champions?!? Can that be right? Yes, it is. Anyway, as I've blogged about before, the Jays still have a handful of games left against the Red Sox, but unless they sweep them all, they're probably cleaning their lockers out in September once again.

National League East

After a decade and a half of being owned by the Braves, the NL East has recently gotten interesting again. It's notionally a 3-horse race right now, with the Mets leading, the Phillies just 2 back, and the Marlins barely holding on, at 8 games out. Florida has such a tough remaining schedule (3 against Houston, 3 against Philadelphia, and 3 against the Mets, along with Washington and Cincinatti) that they'd have to pull off a run like the Rockies did last year. On the other hand, they do have those games against the teams they'd have to catch, so you never know. As for the two front-runners, they each have multiple series against the spoiler-ready Braves, the results of which may decide the winner. The Mets, however, have 4 against the National League-leading Cubs, and so that may determine who grabs the division. The Braves and Nationals won't have to worry about missing any of their favourite October TV shows, though, even if they don't have PVRs!

National League Central

This is the most equitable place to be this year, as four of the teams still have a shot at October baseball. The Cubs will likely win the division, as they lead the Brewers by 6 games and have by far the best record in the NL. But Milwaukee, Houston and St. Louis are all still jockeying for a possible Wildcard position, separated by only 4 and a half games with almost no games against each other! That should make for some exciting scoreboard watching over the next two weeks. The Red and the Pirates, however, can already comfortably assume that they'll be in front of their TVs for this year's postseason.

National League West

It looked for a while like this would be the barn-burner division, as nobody seemed to want to play much above 0.500 all season, leaving it pretty much open. Recently, though, the Dodgers have overcome any adversity Manny Ramirez may've brought with him, and built up a 3 and a half game lead on Arizona. The Rockies are 9 and a half back and so not even last year's finish would likely vault them into the playoffs in 2008. Barry Bonds' old team, the Giants, are 10 and a half back, while the Padres are mercifully eliminated by math, sitting 19 and a half back (with 14 games to play).

National League Wildcard

Another fun hodgepodge of teams are battling it out for the "Miss Congeniality" playoff position in the NL. There are 5 contestants all sitting within 7 and a half games of each other, although logic would say that probably only the top 4 (who are separated by only 4 and a half games) will still be in the running a week from now. The NL Central contributes 3 of those 4, in the form of Milwaukee, Houston and St. Louis, with the Phillies sitting in 2nd, just 2 back of the Brewers. This could be the most fun race to follow, depending on how the next several days go.

So, by my unofficial count, there are a total of 14 MLB teams still harbouring playoff dreams at the moment (Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota, LA Angels, NY Mets, the Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Houston, St. Louis, LA Dodgers, and the Diamondbacks), all trying to cram into 6 slots. Only the Angels are a sure thing right now, which is kind of fitting for a team with such a "divine" name! Bring on the final fortnight, I say!

Longest Playoff Drought

Correction! The stats shown by Fox Sports were obviously bogus, which shouldn't surprise me, considering the source. What they may have been showing were the longest droughts by league, although that wouldn't explain why they had 2 NHL teams on their list! Anyway, I'll re-word it to be more clear:

Which team in the four major professional sports (NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL) currently holds the longest playoff drought (longest time since they were last in their league's postseason)? Teams that change cities shouldn't be considered (what do you expect, when you move your franchise, anyway?) The correct answer is a team that's not changed cities or names over this period, and it's quite a long stretch.

I'll provide the answer as a comment to this post in a few days. 2 Blog Points to anyone who gets it right. And don't bother posting an answer that you looked up on the Internet, please. This is for people to think about, not just click the right answer.

P.S. As a Jays fan, you'd think I'd have remembered that they haven't been in the playoffs since 1993! Sheesh...

Why The Fantastic Four Ought To Be The Best (But Aren't)

As I was watching the Jays game this afternoon (an 8-1 win, almost but not quite making up for their 7-0 loss last night), I started thinking about how challenging it must be for professional sports team managers and coaches these days, because the lineups change so much. When you think of how much there is, just in the way of mechanics for young players to learn - you're a runner on second, and the guy at the plate hits a scorcher to your right... do you take off, do you turn around to see what happened to it, do you scramble back to the bag, how many outs were there, was there a runner on first? - and then add in all of the interaction between players - less so in baseball, but huge in the other pro sports leagues - how do you ever get it all working like a well-oiled machine when the pieces keep being replaced with ones that run differently?

As with most things in Life, that line of thought inevitably lead me to comic books. Specifically, the fact that superhero groups have a similar problem, in that memberships are always in flux (usually because of writers' egos and personal preferences, rather than for story reasons). The Avengers rather famously lost a founding member after their 2nd issue (the Hulk) and then picked up a new one two issues later (Captain America). A year after that upheaval, all remaining founding members were gone (Ant Man, the Wasp, Iron Man and Thor) only to be replaced by three characters who didn't even have their own titles (Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver). And that pattern would repeat, over and over again, with dozens and dozens of Marvel heroes - and even a few reformed villains (Sandman comes to mind) - marching through the ranks of the Earth's Mightiest Mortals over the past 45 years.

But the Avengers haven't been unique in that way... just perhaps the most extreme! The X-Men stayed static for a few years (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, the Beast and the Angel) but then added Polaris and Havok, before completely shaking up the membership in 1975 with the addition of Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird and whoever else I might be forgetting. Since then, mutants have come and gone, and there's really been no constant look for the team.

The same holds true for the Justice League who added their first new member in their 7th appearance, and two more in their next three years, before exploding in the 1970s to the point where the complete list of current and former Justice Leaguers, across several different incarnations, rivals that of the Avengers.

Their farm team, the Teen Titans, haven't changed members quite so frequently, but they've seen their fair share of roster shake-ups. At the moment, there are even two Titans teams, with one boasting the grown-up original sidekicks (Nightwing who started his career as Robin, Troi who used to be Wonder Girl, Flash who graduated from being Kid Flash after his uncle Barry "Flash" Allen died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and so on) while the other has younger versions (the 3rd Robin, the 2nd Wonder Girl, Kid Devil, etc.)

All of those super-teams ought to really install revolving doors on their headquarters, much like today's NHL or MLB teams. How could you even begin to form into a cohesive unit under situations like that? These aren't just games that they're trying to win, either... they're usually life-and-death battles! So much change, and so little opportunity to jell. It's a wonder those teams ever accomplish anything! And then there's the Fantastic Four.

Now, there have been a few membership changes for the FF in their nearly-50 year history, starting with Sue "Invisible Girl" Richards taking a leave of absence in order to have a child, and being replaced by Johnny Storm's girlfriend, Crystal, of the Inhumans. But just like with every switch-up since then, it was always *ahem* crystal clear to the fans that this was a temporary change. In fact, every altered FF line-up has eventually reverted back to the norm: Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Girl/Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing. Always! And in fact, hardly any of the "new look Fantastic Fours" have lasted long enough to even get the new team picture framed and mounted on a wall before the status quo was re-established. The reason for this is obvious: they're a family! Three of the four are related (some by marriage), and even the odd man out (Ben Grimm) is the best friend of the family. With that kind of dynamic, you don't just add and delete members with any permanence (although Reed and Sue did get close to divorce, at one point).

So, taking all of that into consideration, and given that it's not exactly a weak line-up (one of the smartest men on the planet who can also stretch like a rubber band, a woman who can generate force fields as well as make herself or other things invisible, a man who can fly, generate incredible heat, as well as throw and control fire, and a massive orange rock creature who's one of the strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe), you'd think the FF would be the team. They ought to put all other superhero groups to shame, with their seamless way of working together, their ability to anticipate what each other is about to do, and their knowledge of their teammates' strengths and weaknesses.

Instead, they're kind of meh. As a comic title, Fantastic Four started off strongly enough, and was the birth place for a lot of cool 1960s Marvel concepts. The Silver Surfer first appeared there, as did the Watchers, the Inhumans, the Black Panther and a slew of great villains (the Skrulls, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Mole Man, the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, to name but a few). In the decades since, though... not so much. And when fans list their favourite FF runs, you'll always get the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 101 issues, with very little after that. John Byrne did some entertaining stories (as both writer and artist) but even they don't hold up all that well anymore. So it's not really been a great comic book, for the past 30 years. And maybe that's the biggest reason that the team, as a fictional super-group, has tended to be more or less lame, too.

Or maybe it's actually all Stan Lee's fault, now that I think about it. He was so intent upon producing a team of superheroes who spent all of their time bickering, to contrast them with the always-smooth interactions that Marvel's cross-town counterparts at DC Comics were publishing every month. He wanted a bunch of squabblers, and it was quite a novel approach at the time. However, maybe that's why nearly half a century of operating together as a team hasn't yet resulted in the high-efficiency engine that you might otherwise expect. In fact, when some world-threatening menace rears up in the Marvel Universe, you're still better off in most cases to call the Avengers than to bring in the FF. After all, where the blue-suited foursome are concerned, you'll never even know who might not be talking to whom this week!

Of all the teams mentioned in this post, I have to admit that the FF are probably my least favourite. I still have hundreds of issues of the Fantastic Four title, so it's not like I don't like them at all... they just aren't all that interesting, compared to the others. And it's not by chance that I chose an issue of Avengers as the picture for this blog post. It's one of the few times that Marvel's First Family really impressed me... and it turned out that it wasn't even them (but rather, a bunch of shape-shifting Skulls, impersonating the FF!)

Almost As Good As Reading The Book

While I patiently wait for daughter Tammy to lend me her copy of the book, Freakonomics, I happened to stumble upon the blog that its authors, Stephen J Dubnar and Steven D Levitt, created back in 2005.

One of the more fascinating articles that I read there this afternoon was this one, in which the writers explain why the move of their blog to the NY Times website has resulted in partial RSS feed support, where it had previously provided full feeds. What interested me so much was that the topic dovetailed with something that I'm currently engaged in a friendly e-mail debate on with a friend: the current cultural phenomenon where more and more people seem to expect larger and larger portions of their entertainment to be free. That observation is nothing new; but it does keep presenting itself in new and interesting ways.

In the RSS feed blog entry linked to above, it was astonishing to me that seemingly-rational people were so put out over having to make one extra mouse-click (in order to read an article's content) that they would essentially equate it to no longer being "free" (and hence use terms like "buoycott" and "withhold support"). Forget your dollars and cents (or sense!); now everything has to be "effort-free," as well, it seems! Wow...

And before someone asks: yes, Tammy and I do lend books back in forth, in the time-honoured tradition of avid readers. For example, she'd bought The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, awhile back, and lent it to me last year (as I blogged about in December). As a result of how much I liked that book, I just ordered his follow-up, Hot, Flat and Crowded, in hardcover, a few weeks after its release date. Once I've finished it, I'll hand it off to Tammy and thus complete the cycle! It's great when you and your kid can share stuff back and forth (Vicki gets to do it with clothes, but I don't think I'd look all that good in Tammy's dresses...)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh Well, It Was A Nice Dream *

The Jays bounced back from their streak-ending loss on Wednesday night, and hoped to start up another nice long run with their 6-4 victory in Chicago last night. They were 6 and a half games back of Boston for the Wildcard, with 7 head-to-head matches against the Red Sox left on the very short remaining MLB schedule. That meant that, at least in theory, the Jays could control their own destiny. After all, if they won all 7 of those games, and then at least matched the Red Sox the rest of the way, they would have finished no worse than Boston. Now, that was a tall order, especially when you consider how good a team gets fielded in Fenway Park every game, but at least it was within their own control (rather than having to rely on help from elsewhere).

Then they cruised into the first of four weekend games in Beantown tonight, and got completely flamboozled by a rain delay, continued precipitation throughout the game, and Red Sox's knuckleball pitcher, Tim Wakefield. Other than a few random hits, the Jays couldn't do anything but hit ground balls to the infield and fly balls to the outfield. (Boston unfortunately wasn't having anywhere near that much trouble against Jays pitcher, David Purcey.) With tonight's 7-0 loss, Toronto's now 7 and a half games back, with only 6 remaining against the team they have to catch, and 15 games in total left on the 2008 schedule. The odds were long before this loss; now they're practically to the Moon and back.

As I said to Vicki in the early innings, I hate seeing important games being played in the rain. I wish all major league teams were required to have retractable roofs, so that you could count on the game happening - short of natural disaster! - and under ideal conditions (let the players decide the outcome, not the weather). But that's not the way it's set up, so there you go.

I just hope the Jays don't give up and start losing now, as they've still got a great chance for an impressive 2008 record. They're sitting at 11 games over .500 and could easily finish with 86 wins or more. That'd be a terrific mark to build on next year. Athough I said the exact same thing in 2003 (when they finished 86-76), and the following year they posted an abysmal 67-94 record. Last year they ended up 83-79, which they still could come in under if they really blow a gasket. Don't give up, Jays!

* "Nice Dream" is a Radiohead song from their second album, The Bends.

This Week's AgileMan Progress Update

I think I completed 4 Issues (chapters) of the new AgileMan book over the past week, but it's hard to tell because I didn't post any progress update here at the end of last week! At any rate, I'm through 15 Issues now, and it feels like I'm about 40 - 50% of the way home. I just finished what I think of as the second arc of the book, with two more to go: one that I'm guessing will be almost as many words as I've written to-date, and then a much shorter wrap-up set of Issues.

I'm really enjoying the challenge of coming up with Issue titles, much like I did with the first book. I've been mostly keeping them under wraps, but sometimes I'm just so happy with what I eventually decide upon that I have to share it with Boneman over Instant Messenger. The one that tickled my funny bone (no pun intended!) the most this week was: "Houston, We Have A Problem!" Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves what you think that might refer to in the context of this book!

I also heard today from someone at another local software office that he saw a copy of the book in their library. At first I was shocked to learn this, but then I remembered that my buddy Andrew (at work) had recommended The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile) to some friends of his, who I believe work at that same location. So what had initially seemed miraculous is probably "merely" the result of having good friends. Which I do!

Halo 4 Thoughts

This afternoon I read this article in which some professional gamers speculate and offer suggestions on how Halo 4, still 2 or 3 years away, should work, look and feel. I enjoyed the entire 3-page write-up, but there was one idea in there that really grabbed me. Maybe it's already been done, and I just haven't heard about it, but when I read the following:
"online co-op will once again play a large role in a Halo game. Halo 4 should feature twice the number of online players as the third game, expanding the final count to eight. But here's the kicker, those eight players can be split up into teams during campaign missions. That means that one team can play as the heroic UNSC soldiers while the other four players try and stop them as the Covenant"
it nearly blew my mind! Imagine playing a campaign level in online Co-op mode, with some of your buddies in the game alongside you (and hooked up via headset), but instead of having to get past the usual AI bad guys, you've got actual humans trying to stop you! I'm not even sure it would work, because AI characters are generally designed to be short-lived (and who'd want to play a role of that sort?) but maybe the game designers could figure a way around that. For example, if you were on the team that was subbing for the AI's, then possibly you'd re-spawn a certain number of times and then switch to a different AI character, further along in the map? The whole thing has my head spinning, thinking of both the opportunities and challenges involved. I wonder if anyone's ever tried it?

Saving Superman's House *Update*

Terrific update on the Siegel and Shuster Society's fund-raising efforts to fix up the birthplace of one of Superman`s creators can be found here. I can only imagine what the bidding on the walk-on role on Heroes will get up to once that one goes up for auction. And any Legion of Super-Heroes fan would dearly love to come away with the Curt Swan LSH page that's up this week... "too bad" it's already at $3,850 and will probably go for at least twice that (only "bad" in the sense that I won't be owning it!)

My Personal Radiohead Animation Winner

Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at aniBoom

I've decided, after viewing about 30 of the entries, that this one's my favourite. It wasn't one of the winners, but I still think it's awesome. I hope you like it, too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I (Still) Go Swimming! *

For what may end up being the last time this year, I went for a long dip in the pool today. I had to warm the water up to about 25 C (~76 F) before I'd venture in, but with the air temperature hovering around 21 C at the time, that wasn't too bad. With the forecast indicating cooler temperatures ahead, I imagine we'll be closing the pool sometime in the next week or so. Always a sad point in the year, but at least I got a whole lot of swimming in during August.

Oh, and before I forget: a big, though somewhat reluctant "Happy Sept 11th" to Dick Cheney! For almost 8 years now, I've thought that he was maybe the worst U.S. Vice President I'd ever see, but if Sarah "Death to Polar Bears" Palin gets into office, I may have to re-think that...

* "I Go Swimming" is a Peter Gabriel song that shows up on his concert album, Peter Gabriel Plays Live.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oh, So Close

The Jays went into the 9th inning of tonight's game against the White Sox down 6-2, with a 10-game winning streak on the line. They actually managed to scratch back to 6-5 before Alex Rios struck out on a checked swing to end the game, and the streak. I would've loved to have seen them pull off the comeback, but it's still been a great ride recently.

So far, in the final 26 games that I wrote about here, they've gone 8-1 with tonight's loss. I said in that earlier blog post that they'd have to go 20-6, and get some help, in order to make the playoffs. They have 4 games this weekend against the team that they have to catch (Boston), and will be either 7 or 8 games back of the Red Sox after tonight, depending on how Boston fares against the Rays (currently, 1-1 in the 12th). If the Jays could go into that big 4-game set down "only" 7 games back of the Red Sox, they'd at least be in a position to make things interesting... especially if they had another great weekend like the last couple.

Suck Your Teenage Thumb (Toilet Trained And Dumb)

If you want to get a good idea as to why Radiohead is, has been, and probably always be a wildly popular band, you should really view this concert from 1994.

First off, I should say how surprised I was, as the footage started to play, to see just how young Thom Yorke looks. He could easily pass for 18 at the time (he was actually 25) but has no trouble whatsoever commanding the stage during every song. It's pretty clear that this concert took place between the release of Pablo Honey (the band's debut) and The Bends, with the show's playlist providing a fairly balanced mixture of the two. This makes the DVD a particular treat for me, since those are probably my two favourite Radiohead albums (though I pretty much love them all, now).

A couple things are interesting about the fact that The Bends hadn't come out at the time of this concert. First, Yorke repeatedly "apologizes" (in word and by body language) for the fact that they're playing songs that the crowd won't recognize, which seems very forthright to me. The fact is, though, that the boys do such a fantastic job on the new material that some of the selections have the audience totally getting into them by the end ("Black Star" and "My Iron Lung" are perhaps the best examples of this). And that's what really blew me away about the performances of the The Bends songs: they're absolutely dead-on! You'd think these guys had been playing them for years at this point. Very impressive!

"Creep" was the biggest crowd-pleaser, which is no surprise since it put the band on the map originally (and then its over-shadowing popularity gave them something to rail against later). But virtually every song, whether it was "new" or "old", got huge responses from the stoners, rockers, preppies and curiousity-seekers in front of the stage. At no point did any of them look bored, and no wonder: with the amazingly complex lyrics and shifting, driving musical beats at their disposal, Radiohead (even the 1994 version) should absolutely kill in concert... and now I know that they do! They may look like any other band of the day, but there's so much more to them than just about anyone else I've ever heard or seen in the past three decades. I have no idea how guys so young were able to produce music of the caliber that they've done, CD after CD, but they did (and are still doing it, even as middle-aged gits). No wonder they've got the incredible reputation and following that they do (and this particular DVD was just the 1.0 or 1.5 edition of the group).

Or maybe it's just the quiet "fuck you" that Thom delivers to the audience in the middle of "Stop Whispering"! Or the Captain America t-shirt that one of the bass players was wearing...

P.S. Two and a half weeks after this concert, the New York Rangers capped off their incredible playoff run by winning the Stanley Cup! Suck that, punks!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

At Least This Time The Pulping Makes Sense

DC Comics had a run there for awhile where it seemed like they were pulping (destroying) printed comics every six months or so. Let's see, there was the Elseworlds 80-page Giant, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen issue that included Alan Moore's "Marvel Douchebag" faux ad in the back pages, and others that I can't be bothered on a Tuesday night to go look up. Well, now they're at it again, although this time it seems unquestionably warranted (though one might certainly question why the offensive dialogue was ever scripted, let alone printed, to begin with!)

If you don't mind the odd swear word, you can check out the pages that won't be seeing the light of day - except on the black market, I'm sure - by clicking over to here.

Why Is This Not A Final Crisis Special?

So this is kind of weird. I just now got around to reading Brad Meltzer's DC Universe: Last Will and Testament one-shot, which came out almost three weeks ago. The delay in picking this one up off the new arrivals pile for reading came about because I didn't really know enough about it to get excited, although I've generally quite liked Meltzer's previous comic work, so you'd think...

Anyway, now I'm left scratching my head. This one-shot isn't branded as a Final Crisis tie-in, and actually has a cover design that's the inverse of what we've been seeing with FC covers so far. Those have tended to have a single character, full-figure, in the centre, leaving both sides mostly free for the cover dress ("FINAL" down the left side, "CRISIS" down the right). Here, as shown to the left, we see the opposite of that: many characters, upper torso or face shots only, on either side, with a bolt of lightning running through the middle. Based on that, and the total lack of FC branding, you'd naturally assume that it's totally unrelated to DC's big event.

But then I read the story, and it certainly seemed like it was tied into Final Crisis. Why do I say that, when it doesn't actually mention that series directly at all? Well, it came out only 1 week after Final Crisis # 3, the ending of which basically said, "Now evil wins." In this one-shot, the heroes are all preparing for what they've been told will be the last night before the world ends. They also refer back to two earlier times when things were this dark: when they had to attack "an anti-matter cannon" (Crisis on Infinite Earths) and when they had to destroy "something called an interdimensional tower" (Infinite Crisis). Final Crisis is described as the end of the trilogy that began with CoIE and flowed into IC. So that would seem to indicate that this is the night before some big, awful event (like evil finally winning?) in FC, right?

So why wouldn't DC Universe: Last Will and Testament have "Final Crisis" slapped all over it? I mean, some of the stuff the Marvel and DC have called "tie-ins" to their big summer crossovers in the past have been downright ridiculous, so why would DC let such a golden opportunity for marketing fall by the wayside here? The only two reasons I can come up with are that the cover didn't fit the necessary format (that'd be a really stupid excuse) or that the publisher didn't want to tie novel-writer Meltzer's hands too tightly by forcing him to keep his continuity consistent with FC's. That latter one might be it, as there are moments in Last Will and Testament that don't seem to line up well with what we've seen in the issues of FC published to date. What's Batman doing, footloose and fancy-free in Last Will and Testament, for example, when we know that he's been help captive by Darkseid's forces since partway through Final Crisis # 2? How can Superman be visiting his foster parents in Kansas, when we were shown that he wouldn't leave his injured wife's side (except to go on a cross-universe trek to try to save her)? It's possible that DC was so sure that the continuity-freaks - and I guess I'm one! - would jump all over Meltzer if this comic carried a Final Crisis label that they just avoided the whole thing by calling it a "DC Universe" special. It'll be sad if that's the case, but I don't know how else to explain it.

At any rate, it was a good, entertaining read, as Meltzer usually is, although it really didn't accomplish much. Lots of big talk about murder and revenge, but by the end nothing's actually changed for the status quo. I suppose that's probably true of most comics, in the final analysis, but sometimes you can get fooled into expecting more. I definitely do enjoy the way author Meltzer writes most DC characters, though, and Andy Kubert's art, some of which was inked by his legendary father Joe, was a real treat for the eyes.

That's A Lot Of 9's!

Boneman's son turned 8 years old today (happy birthday, Logan!) More significantly, though, he'll reach the age of 9 one year from today. Why is that so noteworthy, you ask? Well, because it means (as Boneman himself realized recently) that Logan will turn 9 years old on 09/09/09! That's gotta be a sign of something... maybe he's the next Dalai Lama?

Monday, September 08, 2008

If You Need A Bit Of A Laugh

then you should go read Why I Own An Ugly XBox 360. It actually reminded me of how I came to own my 360... except that mine isn't ugly, and the guy who sold it to me wasn't stoned (those are just nicotine cigarettes you smoke, right, Boneman?).

Not Much More Living Without F.E.A.R.

After my recent foray back into the F.E.A.R. universe with the F.E.A.R. Files Expansion Pack on the XBox 360, I wasn't sure how long it would be before I could get me some more of that! But today I read this article telling how the rights to the game have been reacquired by Monolith Entertainment and that F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin will be out in a mere 5 months! Happy, happy news for fans of F.E.A.R.!

Saving Superman's House

The house in Cleveland, Ohio where Jerry Siegel lived when he was dreaming up the Man of Steel back in the 1930s has fallen into disrepair and is in danger of being torn down. A bunch of comic book professionals have started up the Siegel and Shuster Society as a charitable organization aimed at raising money to save the historic shrine. You can read all about it here and you can see some of the items being auctioned to raise money on eBay here.

It looks like the first week's items will bring in at least somewhere round $20,000, just based on the current bids (with about 8 hours to go). There are 4 weeks of auctions planned, so all things being equal (and assuming that it's not front-loaded), that one wave of fund-raising could account for $70,000 to $100,000 right there. It's pretty impressive to see something like this, although any of the pieces that I'd be interested in bidding on are already out of my price range (which is a good thing, from a charitable point-of-view). Maybe somebody who knows and loves me will buy me a T-shirt, though (it's for a good cause, and would make a great Christmas gift!)

[Update: By the time the smoke cleared, Week 1's items actually pushed over the $30,000 mark! Wow!]

Happy 42nd Anniversary, Star Trek!

Fans of the highly-influential show that debuted on Sept 8, 1966, may enjoy this article more than others.

I'm picturing a cake, shaped like the original U.S.S. Enterprise, with 42 candles on top of it, all shaped like small Jefferies Tubes (in their vertical position, of course!)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review: As She Climbed Across The Table

My chiropractor says that she rarely reads more than one book by any author, because she thinks that most people only have - at most! - one good story in them. I'm glad that I don't go into literature with that kind of philosophy, as I'd have missed out on a good number of really entertaining John Irving novels (and a couple of boring ones) and I wouldn't now be traversing Jonathan Lethem's bibliography, from The Fortress of Solitude (wonderful) to Motherless Brooklyn (very engaging), then on to Girl in Landscape (an unorthodox but fascinating foray into Science Fiction) and now to As She Climbed Across the Table.

The first thing that caught my eye when I considered buying another Lethem book was the title of his 1997 book: who calls a book "As She Climbed Across the Table"? What could possibly justify that strange of a title? Was this going to be one of those psychedelic trippy offerings that don't make any sense? I was a little worried, but finally decided that I was mostly curious and trusting of Lethem. So I ordered it, and eventually got around to diving into it.

Let me say right up front: the title is perfect for the story, and makes complete sense once you get about a quarter of the way through it! The events are told in the first person by one of the main participants, and the "she" of the title is the love of his life. You'll discover just why her possible act of climbing across a table could be so note-worthy in the course of watching the distance grow between the two main characters. In fact, the entire thing is really "just" a love story, but perhaps the most unconventional one that I've ever read. More specifically, it's a love triangle involving a man, a woman and a void. It seems like the sort of concept that no writer should be able to pull off, and yet Lethem does so with what seems to be great ease. In the process, he introduces a small stable of eccentric-yet-believable supporting characters, and makes you identify with, and cheer for, a leading man who's well aware of every one of his own many flaws. It has a Science Fiction idea at its core, but like most of the best SF, that idea is just a vehicle for the story, rather than being the sole reason for it.

As always, the language used by Lethem is beautiful and utilitarian at the same time, with no word wasted in the process of drawing the story's world for the reader. Here's a small snippet from early in the book, illustrating the narrator's detachment from what's going on around him:

"Days passed. Classes were taught, seminars held. Papers were handed in, graded, and returned. The team won something, and the trees filled with garlands of toilet paper. It rained, and the toilet paper dripped to the pathways, and into the wiper blades of parked cars. A group of students seized the Frank J. Bellhope Memorial Aquarium to protest the treatment of Roberta, the mannatee savant. The protest was a failure. I called a symposium on the history of student seizure of campus buildings. The symposium was a success. In the larger world, the team invaded something, some hapless island or isthmus. A letter of protest by the faculty was drafted, revised and scrapped. Bins of swollen pumpkins appeared in the produce sections of Fastway and Look 'n' Like."

It's a wonderful book, and one that I could hardly wait to read each night at bedtime. It's also the sort of pleasure that I make sure to draw out a bit, so as not to whip right through it in a day, as I surely could with 200 pages of large-font printing. Two indicators of just how much I enjoyed As She Climbed Across the Table: I've recommended it to my Science Fiction-loving wife, and I've already ordered my next Lethem (Gun, With Occasional Music). After all, he hasn't disappointed me yet!

Frontlines: Fun Fuel But Not Enough Of It

I finished Frontlines: Fuel of War (on the 360) last night, about a week and a bit after starting it. In the course of playing through it, I was enjoying it enough that I would routinely go back and replay earlier levels in order to try things a little differently (e.g. "What if I equipped myself with a rocket launcher this time instead of a machine gun?"). That's usually the sign of a good game, for me anyway, and it was in this case. However, I'm a fairly slow gamer, and so getting through a game in such quick fashion, having replayed parts of it along the way, makes it, also, a short game. Which is too bad, because I think that at about 50% more content, it would've been a great game.

So now I'm going to either re-enter the world of Call of Duty 4 (on the PS/3) or launch into Lost Planet (on the 360). As always, it's good to have choices!

Hurricanes Didn't Seem This Bad When I Was A Kid

Gustav did a lot of damage (though less than the worst predictions had it doing), but before "he" had even arrived in the U.S., forecasters were warning about Hanna and Ike (the latter of whom is now targeting Florida and has resulted in a state of emergency being declared there). Now, some of this may be the news media drumming up ratings and people in general overreacting, but after Katrina in 2005, who can blame them? New Orleans and other areas around it are still recovering from that disaster, 3 years later. Sure seems like severe weather is becoming more the norm these days...

[Update: Thanks to Anonymous, I was reminded that Katrina was 3 years ago, not last year.. even though it still seems more recent than that to me! So now I've got my facts straight up above.]

Saturday, September 06, 2008

For Better Or For Worse Is Definitely Better

While reading this item about cartoonist Lynn Johnston's decision to essentially go back in time and reset the clock on her For Better or For Worse comic strip (reprinting old work and adding new bits set in that times-past period), I couldn't help but think that the fans who are complaining about her change in direction would be going absolutely ballistic if Johnston had followed Joe Quesada's lead. After all, she could've chosen to have one of the main characters make a deal with the devil in order to save an ailing, octogenenarian relative, nullifying her own marriage in the bargain and bringing at least one dead character back from the grave. Just imagine the fuss that would've erupted if she'd pulled a boneheaded stunt like that!!

The Long And Winding Road Of The XBox 360

As a relatively new owner of a 360 - not even at the end of my first year yet, as a matter of fact - it was very interesting to me to see this lengthy, comprehensive article detailing the history of the Microsoft console (at least, from the article writer's point-of-view). The write-up is so detailed that it's probably only for the hardcore gamer, but I had no trouble making it all the way through to the end. It certainly makes you appreciate just how complex an operation it is to get a new gaming console onto the market.

I'm presently still torn between the 360 and PS/3, with no clear favourite emerging. All of the hype around the upcoming Home functionality of the PS/3 makes me think that I may be spending more time in PlayStation land shortly, but that remains to be seen. Sony definitely needs to improve the integration of wireless headsets with their console, as that's one area where the 360 currently provides a much better online experience. But, in general, I'm as likely to be gaming on one device as the other, these days.

Friday, September 05, 2008

It's Funny How Not Earning Any Money Can Make You Cheap

I've noticed, in the five weeks that I've been unemployed (so far), that I'm suddenly more interested in saving money on my purchases. I wanted to get a really cheap laptop, and so I was happy to spend $474 (with tax and shipping) rather than the $700+ that I'd originally expected to pay. I've been buying video games, DVDs and books at about the same rate as I was before I quit my job, but now I'm timing more of these impulse splurges to sales, or waiting until I have "reward points" to use to reduce the cost.

To her credit, Vicki has always operated that way, to a greater degree than I ever did, at least. She would buy extra cans of soup when they were on sale, or hold out for a Double Points Day in order to maximize the value of the kickback systems on her credit cards. It's not something I usually worried about emulating, but now I'm finding that it's good for my peace of mind to be able say, "Hey, check it out: I just bought Lost Planet for the 360 and it cost me less than $21, taxes included!"

Given the logistics of my childhood, I was probably born to be cheap... it's just that now I have a legitimate reason for it!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Props For Google

I've been playing around with Chrome a bit over the past couple of days, and have managed to lock it up already! But I do like the "favourite sites" feature that's presented every time you create a new tab. And the browser looks sharp, which counts for something.

As a followup to the original post about Scott McCloud illustrating the online comic explaining Chrome, there's this new page, containing a brief FAQ. I loved his response to the food question, and how, on Newsarama, they go on to point out that the food in the Google cafeteria is always free to the employees, morning, noon and night. I mention that, in case you're sick of your current employer and are looking for somewhere better to work! Not that I've heard anything of the sort...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two More Months Of Anticipation May Just Kill Me

Today we got this report from some lucky industry gamers who've had a chance to play some online Resistance 2 in Cooperative and Competitive modes. I figure that I got many times the $60 that I spent on Resistance: Fall of Man, and it's starting to sound like its sequel may similarly deliver huge game-playing value to this First Person Shooter.

Name Dropping

In honour of my friend who went to his first geek convention this past weekend (Dragon*Con 2008 in Atlanta), I thought I'd share this photo of Kristen Bell that I took a couple of years ago, while Tammy was in line to get her autograph. Like Tricia Helfer at last year's comic convention, Kristen was very nice in person, and every bit as lovely as she looks on TV.

More Trainable Than My Cat!

The latest addition to our "extended pet family" is this little critter, who we've affectionately - not to mention imaginatively - dubbed, "Chippy!" Vicki has spent the last couple weeks training him (or her!) to expect a peanut or two to be supplied whenever we're out on the back patio, and she was quite brilliant in how she established that pattern. First it was peanuts left for the oh-so-timid chipmunk to find after we'd gone inside, and then they were discarded in locations far enough away from where we sat to allow for cautious retrieval while we were still present to watch. Eventually the offerings were going down - and being picked up! - near our feet, and that inspired me to finally see if the tiny scavenger would take one right from my fingertips.

One of these days I plan to train it to run up my leg and eat on my lap, which would put it several rungs up the evolutionary ladder of trainability from my cat, Lucy. Chippy would probably make less noise, too...