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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Life As A Shut-In

Vicki shudders every time I broach this subject, but I'd have to say things are going along quite nicely in my dream of becoming a shut-in. I think I only went outside the house two or three times this past week (helped along by a lunch cancellation and Vicki picking up the week's comics for me), which is always a good sign.

My favourite part of not having to venture out "into the world" comes from not being forced to interact with the idiots that populate it... whether that be the driver idiots, the retail customer idiots or the co-worker idiots (of which, thankfully, I didn't have many in my last job!). Life is so much more consistent - some would say "boring" but I don't find it that way at all - without all the idiocy messing things up, I must say!

Of course, if I break down and actually try to find work again sometime soon, the sadly that'll be the end of that for awhile.

Bad Finish To A Good First Third

With this afternoon's 27th game of the NHL season complete, the Rangers are now through the first third of the season (technically, not until after the 1st period of their next game, but c'mon!). Unfortunately, today's performance was a 4-0 loss at the hands of the lowly Panthers, who they'd beaten 4-3 in a shootout in their last game. Going into today's match, they were 5-0 against teams from the Sunshine State, having swept Tampa Bay in 4 games already.

So they finish the first third with a record of 17-8-2, good for 36 points and 2nd place in the Eastern Conference (behind Boneman's Bruins). Obviously, I can't help but be pleased with how they've done in terms of the standings, but I also firmly believe that their schedule has favoured them too much so far to be confident. They've had those 4 games with the Lightning (a very weak team this year), but have yet to play the Habs, and have only once met the Bruins and Sabres (for example). 16 of the 27 games have been at home, meaning that they'll play significantly more games on the road than at MSG from here on out. And they're simply too prone to suffering offensive power failures, as happened today (against a not-very-good team). I think that they're ultimately still a player or two away from being a serious team in the East, and of course an injury to Lundqvist could make things unravel in a hurry.

But all in all, it was a nice run from Prague to this end of the first third.

The Perfect Co-Op Round

I had the pleasure of playing one game of Resistance 2 Co-op with Boneman and Boneman, Jr this afternoon, proving that split-screen support over the Internet, can sometimes work in that game! We limited it to just a 3-person mission, and each of us played as a different character. I was the Soldier, Boneman took this opportunity to build up his Medic, and our youngest team member got some practice in as a Special Ops. At first he was a little slow in dispensing ammo, but about 10 minutes in (with some coaching from his dad, I'm sure), he got into a great rhythm such that all three of us were able to stay alive most of the time. I'd keep my shield up, they'd both stand behind me, one on each side (I assume), and pretty much nothing could take us down as long as the ammo and health flowed freely. We even got through one of the toughest parts of the Orick map, where I've seen fairly high failure rates in the past.

As for my Soldier, he's now up to Level 10, at which point the Auger was unlocked as a second weapon. I see people on the R2 forums raving about how great a gun it can be in multiplayer, and so I've switched to use it (replacing the Rossmore shotgun) in order to see if I can make any hay with the thing. I'm finding it slow going in leveling up the Soldier compared to the Medic and Spec Ops, but I think part of that stems from too often starting off a game as a Soldier only to switch to Medic or Spec Ops partway through in order to stave off certain-failure as the result of other players doing so lousy in those roles. I figure that I'd be at least 2 levels further along right now if I hadn't had to do that several times over the weekend already.

As the game launched in Europe late last week, there have been lots of newbies playing all weekend, and it shows. But I can't be too hard on them; I still recall how intimidated I was when I first started up the Beta, even though that now seems so long ago! A month and a half later, though, I'm still going strong on this game, and that's a pretty good return on my investment, I'd say!

Yet Another John Sayles Movie Review

No, no, not here... over at the mostly-neglected Studio blog!

And yes, I really did write that review (and this post) at four in the morning!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Resistance 2 Guide To Co-op Play

It seems like the R2 forums get a new version of a "Game Guide" every couple of days, but now that I've played a significant amount of time as Medic and Spec Ops, and even have my Soldier up to Level 8, I figured it was about time to give my own personal edition.

Medic - When you play as a Medic, your # 1 priority is to dispense health (secondary fire on your gun) to any of your teammates who need it, and to revive any fallen teammate as quickly as possible. Game maker Insomniac generously makes these responsibilities quite easy by displaying little colour-coded icons over the heads of each of your allies, allowing you, at a glance, to see what the health situation is for everyone in the game (including anyone lying dead on the ground). Your gun receives health for the first of these duties in two ways: by you using the primary fire to suck health out any AI enemies you spot, and thanks to the ammo packs that Spec Ops teammates throw down on the ground (or, better yet, directly at you!). You'll personally get health for each bit that you relieve the enemy of, as well as from any fellow Medics who spot you beginning to sag. To revive a dead teammate, just stand near them and follow the on-screen prompt. To really impress those around you, recognize that you can "multi-task" by dispensing health at the same time as you use primary fire to fill the gun back up. The measure of your success, as a Medic, isn't the # of kills you get, the experience points (XP), or even where you finish in the rankings... it's how few deaths occur across the team! Also, of course, you'll largely influence the success or failure of each mission, since the only road to a "Mission Failed" result involves everyone being dead at the same time, and you're in the best position to prevent that.

Spec Ops - Like the Medic, the Spec Ops player has a job that supercedes the more obvious vocation of dealing death to the enemy. In this case, it's the dispensing of ammo. Soldiers, in particular, are dependent on Spec Ops to not only refill their weapon cache, but also to provide the much-needed energy for their protective shields. The ultimate (and ultimately-successful) Spec Ops is the man, woman or child who stands a few paces back of one or two Soldiers and tosses ammo at them almost constantly. I say "almost" because you can fill those spare seconds during which you wait for more ammo to regenerate or for the Soldiers to go through what you just gave them, by letting rip some secondary fire (which sends damage-dealing electrical orbs in the direction of the bad guys) and squeezing off a few primary fire shots that will do more damage than either the Medic or Soldier is capable of unleashing in such quick fashion. Because the universe loves you, both your primary and secondary weapons refills with each ammo pack that you hand out! As with the Medic, the game developers help you recognize who's running low by putting lovely little orange icons over their heads. If you can manage to alternate between those three actions of ammo-giving, orb-releasing and bullet-firing, in a manner that keeps your teammates well-stocked with ammunition, you'll probably finish near the top, get lots of XP, amass a respectable number of kills and win the undying gratitude of your allies. Oh, and don't hesitate to revive a downed teammate if you come across one. Orange juice isn't just for breakfast, and revivals aren't limited to Medics!

Soldier - It's actually pretty simple: Stand still, point yourself toward the Chimeran scourge that's battling your team, hit secondary fire to put your energy shield up, and then press and hold primary fire like there's no tomorrow. One of the ways you'll earn XP, besides by shooting the bad guys, is by having your shield provide cover for those behind you. Because of that (and because you're such a good team player anyway), you'll want to have the shield up whenever possible, although that of course depends on there being ammo packs supplied to you on a regular basis (are you listening, Spec Ops?). Don't move side to side (that just exposes the teammates behind you to enemy fire), and if you decide to advance, do it slowly and make sure that anyone relying on your shield is aware of it and can keep up. Shut off your shield when you don't need it, as it constantly drains when in use. And just like the Spec Ops, don't simply rely on the Medic(s) to revive every dead ally. It costs you nothing but the press of a button to help a buddy out.

Anytime that I've been in a Co-op match and most or all of the players have "gotten" their roles (along the lines of what's described above), we've had a great time, amassed tons of XP, successfully delivered hundreds of Chimera to whatever form of Valhalla those alien scum might believe in, and... oh right, saved the world in the process.

Obama Vs McCain, In A Nutshell

Joe Klein, in the October 20 edition of Time magazine, perfectly summed up one of the key differences between John McCain and Barack Obama in this year's U.S. presidential campaign. Writing about the second debate between the two men, Klein observed:

"[McCain] simply isn't as skillful a communicator as Obama is. The differences between them was made clear in the second question of the debate - a fellow named Oliver Clark wanted to know how the Wall Street bailout would help his friends who were in trouble. McCain's answer was all over the place and obscure in a classic Washington way: he detoured into blaming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and pointing his finger at Obama and "his cronies" for supporting those two incomprehensible institutions. Obama, by contrast, brought the bailout home in simple language: "Well, Oliver, first let me tell you what's in the rescue plan for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up, and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can't get loans. If they can't get a loan, that means that they can't make payroll. If they can't make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off.""

In other words, McCain immediately launched into attack-and-blame mode, as Republicans always seem to do. Every question, after all, is an opportunity to smear your opponent, and no Republican ever wants to see one of those pass by unfulfilled! Obama, on the other hand, actually answered the question, in terms that everyone could understand. McCain seemed like an angry, spiteful old man who's more interested in going for the throat than dealing with an issue; Obama came across as a calm, intelligent person who could be trusted to rationally think his way out of just about any problem he (or the country) might face. And I think that pretty much defined the 2008 presidential campaign, and aren't we all lucky that more Americans saw it that way than the alternative!

I'm Glad We Don't Have "Black Friday" In Canada

If we had big, blowout sales on the same day of the year at most of our stores, I'd be worried about losing a loved one in some sort of crazed shopping incident, like this. There seems to be at least one of these sad-but-still-somehow-funny tales every year, and today was no exception. I know there are some monster discounts advertised for the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, but are they really worth lining up overnight for, or even risking your life in the pursuit of, just to save a few hundred dollars on a big screen TV or kitchen appliance? I know that it wouldn't be, for me... and I'm pretty tight with my money (especially now).

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's The End Of The World!

I love this bit of Resistance 2 advertising that allegedly showed up, looking like a real front page, in some free Dublin newspapers today. Not only does it appear fairly realistic, but Canada even gets mentioned (too bad it's in the context of Toronto being destroyed!).

We'll have to see if purchases of the game exceed expectations in Ireland as a result of this...

Good AgileMan News!

We received our two print draft copies - of More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year 2: Easier Said Than Done) and The Complete Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Two Years of Lessons Learned in Going Agile) - much quicker than I'd expected (1 week instead of 2) and so I'll momentarily be requesting the big print run for all the copies that people have pre-ordered. If you're out there and have been holding off letting me know that you'd like a copy, time's running out!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Level 30 Medic, Level 30 Spec Ops

It's just that easy!

Batman R.I.P.

This week saw the conclusion of Grant Morrison's "Batman R.I.P." storyline arrive in comic stores. Having just read it, I'd say that it finished stronger than I had expected. At times, this tale of Batman being put through the ringer by a new, mystery villain called the Black Glove - who might or might not be Bruce Wayne's father Thomas, having potentially faked his own death all those years ago - seemed to go wildly off the tracks. So many of the events leading up to this finale were often a bit much to decipher, in terms of distinguishing between what was real and what was part of Batman's delusions, but Morrison does a great job of tying up most of the loose ends in this issue. In a way, it's the ultimate "Batman as master planner" storyline, which fits perfectly within my own personal view of the character.

By the end of the comic, we're left to wonder whether Bruce survived or not (OK, not really... but we're supposed to be left to wonder that!) and are informed that at least six months pass in Gotham with no Batman... or Robin! That would probably have greater dramatic effect if we hadn't just had a "year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman" (see DC's "One Year Later" event and their first weekly series, 52) during which time Bruce, Dick and Tim - or Batman, Nightwing and Robin - took off to tour the world and recharge their batteries for a year. Given that recent history, this development seems to have less weight than it might've otherwise.

For the next several months of publication, though, we'll see various special tales showing up in Batman and Detective Comics in place of our regular monthly dose of Bat-continuity. Most of what's planned feels like filler to me, but at least the prospect of Neil Gaiman's 2-part "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" holds some appeal. It's awfully hard to go wrong with Gaiman, I've found! Following that, we get the "Battle for the Cowl" event in which the successor for the role of Batman is decided... or is it?

As for whether "Batman R.I.P." will really have any lasting significance in the hearts of comic fans present and future, I'm on the fence. I think it'll depend on how Bruce comes back to the forefront (as he inevitably will)... after all, many of us have fond memories of "The Death of Superman" based in large part on just how cool the "Reign of the Supermen" saga was that followed it and lead into Kal-El's return. If DC can pull off something equally exciting next year, then this whole dog and pony show may actually have meant something... in its own silly way!

YouTube To The Rescue

This week's episode of Fringe (on Tuesday night) started about 8 minutes late, thanks to Dancing with the Stars running long (I presume). Since we PVR most of our TV viewing, that meant that last night (Wednesday night), when we sat down to watch Fringe, we actually had the final 8 minutes of House (which was on before it and after DwtS) and only the first 52 minutes of what we'd actually wanted to see. For each of our regular shows, I also record the time-shifted version that's on 3 hours later (in case there's a problem with any of the original recordings), but that, too, was 8 minutes off.

Fortunately, I happened to think that perhaps someone would have put the end of the episode up on YouTube, and sure enough: there it was! It wasn't quite the same as watching it on the big screen, but at least we got to see how it ended. It really pisses me off that in 2008 PVRs and the guide data providers still haven't collectively got the smarts to be able to tell that a show started late and adjust accordingly, but I guess that'll just have to wait until... the 22nd century?? (And yes, I do realize that it's probably just dumb ol' SARA that can't do this...)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Half A Million Choice Words Later

Just as I did a little over a year ago, I took some time today to copy off the past year's worth of blog content into a Word document. It wasn't all that surprising to discover that, whereas I'd filled this particular corner of the blogosphere with 400,000 words in my first year, I only contributed about 150,000 during my second twelve months (that, of course, doesn't count my many reviews over at The Studio, though!). However, even at that, I've now passed the half million word mark (with a good 10% extra!) and that's not too shabby for a part-time activity!

If you're one of the select few out there who've (so far) perused every word that's been posted here, now would be a good time to sound off so that I can thank you!

AgileMan: Revamped And Updated

I spent some time today getting The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog into a little better shape, as well as adding a new post to it on the topic of producing more reliable schedules. Since I've gotten into a nice routine over the past several months of doing at least a few hours of work each weekday, I figure that now might be a good time to continue that habit by directing some attention toward the new blog. I hope to see more traffic there once the 2nd AgileMan book comes out, especially since it's directly referenced therein! Or, as I always like to say, "Dreams die hard!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One Month Until Christmas

Have you got all of your shopping done? My goal is always to have mine done by around this time, but I'm not quite there this year. The problem hasn't been finding time to get out - I've got lots of time on my hands these days, after all! - but rather figuring out what to buy! I have Tammy taken care of, and Vicki about half-done or maybe a little more than that. But it's that last couple of presents that are always the hardest... mainly because I have no idea what to get!

I wonder if this will be a more restrained Christmas gift-giving season, what with all of the bad economic news and so many people worried about their jobs? Even my dental hygenist today mentioned that she's noticed more cancellations of routine cleanings recently, which will eventually impact her employment if it keeps happening and dentists find that they can get by with part-time help or none at all. I also heard from a friend in the software biz that his workplace is laying off, although he hasn't been affected yet. I guess, in a funny way, it's good that I don't have a job right now, as at least I don't have to worry about losing it! On the other hand, I wouldn't mind being employed at the moment and getting several months' severance pay as part of a downsizing! But I certainly wouldn't wish that on anyone who's reliant on a regular pay currently, because that's no fun at all (especially in a lean employment market,as we're undoubtedly heading into).

I think my early Christmas present this year was Resistance 2, or maybe it was the results of the U.S. election earlier in the month! Either way, I feel like I got a big treat, back on November 4th!

How About A Resistance 2 Update, You Say?

Well, I've now played a few hours of the Single Player campaign, and I have to say that I haven't been all that impressed so far. It feels very linear and claustrophobic compared to Resistance: Fall of Man, which isn't a good thing. I felt much, much more invested in the story in the original, what with a narrator to lead you through the emotional aspect of the battle along with fairly lengthy levels where you had to get through quite a bit before you'd be rewarded with a checkpoint. R2, on the other hand, plays like a training mission, where you keep encountering new menaces every few minutes but once you've died a couple of times you'll see the pattern and skate through unscathed (and that's playing on Normal difficulty, not on Easy). As I said to Boneman not long ago, the regular campaign of Resistance 2 seems more like "Resistance Lite" to me.

On the Co-op side of sides, though, the game continues to deliver the goods. I've been playing almost exclusively as a Special Ops lately, and have managed to get that character up to Level 22 so far. I'm absolutely amazed at the variation in quality among teammates playing as Medics, now that I'm reliant on them for health! Not only am I dying much more as a Spec Ops, but about half the time I remain dead for the full 30 second spawn time while Medics around me concern themselves with other things. Is it really that hard to be an effective Medic?!

I think I'll soon have my Spec Ops up to Level 30 (the maximum), after which... I don't know. I've always found the Soldier so boring to play, but it's also a bit of a drag when you can't level up any further. Oh well... cross that bridge when I get to it!

My Kind Of Supergirl


I'm just sayin'!

That's Gotta Hurt!



The two teams atop my "Most Hated NHL Franchises" list met up in Montreal last night, and the game featured the sort of thing that can really hurt a young player's career (Steve Smith, anyone?). The Islanders would go on to win the game in a shootout.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Time For Another Beta

Without even applying for the privilege, I got an e-mail this evening telling me that I'd been invited to take part in the current Beta for PlayStation Home, the social gaming application that has been delayed beyond its original November debut.

I've just now downloaded and installed it, so off I go to see what Home has to offer!

Just A Bit Under The Weather

I've been feeling increasingly lousy over the past couple of days, possibly aggravated by my extended stay in the (quite cold) basement all day yesterday while I toiled to get the 2 new books through the publishing cycle. This morning I got up at a fairly early hour for me (around 9:00), but then by noon I zonked out on the couch for a two and a half hour nap... which I apparently needed! I haven't got a fever or nausea, but just don't seem quite up to par at the moment. It's weird not having to worry about work in this situation (for decades, I've had to have the whole "should I call in sick?" debate) but also good, in that I could just focus on taking it easy without experiencing any degree of guilt, for a change.

With book-writing concerns out of the way (at least temporarily), I also decided that I should pick up on my fiction reading, which had fallen by the wayside recently. I've started in on The Hammer of God, by Arthur C. Clarke, and hope to tackle Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem, as well. There's nothing quite like the enjoyment of being able to just kick back and read a good book or two!

And Now Finally: Some Good News

I found this article on how smokers are on the decline in the U.S. to be encouraging. I was particularly interested in the statistic correlating the % of smokers within bands of education levels (i.e. the more educated people are, the less likely they are to smoke). I've long felt that that was true, just based on anecdotal evidence from my own circle of friends and contacts. While it's not unheard of to find a bright, well-educated smoker (I know a couple!), it's been much more common for me to encounter second-hand smoke among people who gave up on school before getting a post-secondary degree or diploma. The whole idea of slowly killing yourself (and those around you) seems to just make more sense, the further down the education level you go, I guess.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Crazy Couple Of Days

It's been a self-publishing whirlwind of a weekend over the past 36 hours, with yesterday spent doing a final review of the 2nd AgileMan book (all 200 pages, read from start to finish) and today just a blur from getting both new books - More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year 2: Easier Said Than Done) and The Complete Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Two Years of Lessons Learned in Going Agile) - through the publishing process so that I could (just minutes ago) place an order for one copy of each. Sometime in the next two to three weeks I should have a print draft copy of each book in hand and then can decide if they're good enough to warrant "the big order."

I'd forgotten just how draining that last part of the process is, when you're trying to get the layout just right, and the cover just right, and things... just... keep... going wrong! Hopefully it was all worth it, though. Keep those fingers crossed...

Boneman Gets Lucky

Yesterday was the Boneman's 39th birthday, and he received a great start to his 40th year: his beloved Bruins played in Montreal against their hated rivals, on a night when errant son Patrick Roy was being honoured at the Molson Centre (so you'd think it would be a lock for a Habs victory), and the visitors came out on top in the shootout after 3 full periods and a 5-minute overtime solved nothing. As if that weren't enough reason to celebrate, Boston used those 2 points to move into sole possession of 1st place in the Eastern Conference, moving ahead of the slumping Rangers, who lost their second consecutive game, this time 4-1 to the (previously swooning) Senators. So Boneman got the road victory, against a team that the Bruins went winless against last season, and saw his team take over 1st place. Does it get any better than that?

P.S. This is post # 1900, and I can't think of a finer message to mark that occasion than a birthday salute to the Boneman!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes We Can Make The World A Better Place?

There's an interesting (and relatively short) article at the Freakonomics blog on the question of "How aggressively will Obama's administration tackle environmental issues?"

I liked how the first sentence reads, "Very, it would seem." They go on to make the case that some of the President-Elect's early decisions seem to suggest that he isn't going to take the safer approach of avoiding the environmental concerns during this time of economic downturn.

The more I hear about Barack Obama, the more I can't help but see him in a role that some of us might recognize. It's the person who arrives on a project that's been running adrift for ages, filled with morale problems and a lack of clear vision, and who then quietly takes charge and begins fixing all of the many areas that have been ignored in the time leading up to his or her arrival, even while many of the "experts" claim that nothing can be done. I've seen that sort of thing before, in the workplace, and it's truly wondrous to observe. I hope that it turns out that's the type of leader that President Obama will be for our neighbours to the south, and by extension, for much of the rest of the world.

The Importance Of Voting

After the 2000 presidential election result-calling process in the U.S. went on for a month or more, due in large part to the closeness of the vote between Gore and Bush in the state of Florida, I wondered how people could ever again be lacksidasical about voting. I don't recall the final tally in Florida, and it's probably meaningless anyway since the state's governor (who just happened to be the brother of one of the two candidates) made sure to put people in charge of the process who were sympathetic to "the cause" (of getting his brother elected President of the United States), but it was very, very close. Like, maybe even just hundreds of votes!

In the U.S. election that happened earlier this month, there was considerably less drama in the top contest ("No Drama Obama" and all that!). However, there's presently another recount underway, this time involving the Minnesota Senate seat that was up for grabs. As of today, that recount has the two candidates 136 votes apart! 136 votes! As I said in 2000, about the people of Florida, "just imagine if you felt strongly about the outcome of the race but, for whatever reason, hadn't bothered to vote that year!" Obviously, most people who have firm convictions about such things will vote, but sometimes the weather keeps you inside, or plans change, or you just decide at the last minute that "one vote can't possibly make a difference." And yet, the way things are going in Minnesota, either Al Franken (former writer and performer on Saturday Night Live!) or Norm Coleman could represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate for the next 6 years based on just a few dozen votes. I wouldn't want to be one of those people who'd "really meant to vote" in that state this year...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If This Doesn't Quicken Your Pulse...

... then you might be dead and just not know it!

How Hard Is It To Vote Properly?

After reading this article, which shows photos of some of the ballots that have been challenged by the candidates in the midst of the Minnesota Senatorial re-count (Dem. Al Franken vs Rep. Norm Coleman), you might have to revise your answer! It looks like at least some people just have a really tough time figuring out how to fill out a voter's ballot... or maybe it's making up their mind about who to vote for that's causing all of the challenges!

(Found thanks to fivethirtyeight.com.)

But What About Last Night's Lecture, You Ask?

For those of you, like AgileBoy, for example, who might be wondering how the university lecture on Project Management went...

... just click here, or otherwise find your way over to the Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog! It's just that simple!

Wow, What A Stinker!

I'd just finished my Agile Project Management lecture at the university and walked into the Grad Club last night, when what do I see on the big screen but the final minute of the Rangers/Canucks game (on TSN). It was 5-3 at that point (it ended 6-3 with an empty netter) but I didn't find out until later that it had earlier been 4-0 and 5-1, meaning that the final score didn't really reflect how badly the Rangers were outplayed. Lundqvist had to be yanked in the 2nd period (after giving up 5 goals in half a game) and pretty much everything went wrong short of some key player getting injured.

I'm kind of glad that I was otherwise occupied between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m., because if I'd been checking updates online or (God help me!) watching the game on TSN, I'd have been doing a very slow burn for the entire evening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is It Too Much To Hope...?

With the current talks going on between the U.S. government and the "big 3" auto makers in that country (GM, Chrysler, Ford), on the topic of the former bailing out the latter, is it too much to hope that something truly positive will come of it? If there was ever a time for the American auto industry to be forced, kicking and screaming, into entering the 21st century, this may be it.

Whether it be improved fuel efficiency in general, or accelerated movement in the production of automobiles that run on cleaner fuels, anything that the government can get out of this, to undo the harm done by auto industry lobbyists over the past several decades, could potentially make this an eventual "good news story." I just hope somebody in Washington has that on their agenda, and can make it happen!

At the same time, I can't help but feel the urge to offer up a good, heartfelt Nelson Muntz "HA ha!" in the general direction of those companies. They, and their cronies, have done more to delay the cause of environmentalism than just about anyone else, and all of this furor right now seems like a pretty fair comeuppance to me.

[Update: Minutes after I posted the preceding, I saw this Campbell Brown commentary on CNN.com, which sums it up very well!]

Tonight's The Night

The 3-hour Project Management guest lecture that Vicki and I have been preparing for over the past month or so (her, moreso than me) is finally upon us! From 7:00 to 10:00 tonight, if you happen to experience a violent shudder running through the Force, you can probably safely assume that something went horribly awry in our talks! :-)

Actually, I expect things to go very well. Vicki's well-prepared with her material, and I did a quick once-over of mine this morning. One of my Project Management buddies from work is planning to crash the party, and I'm looking forward to getting caught up on that front! (OK, so maybe I'm going to be just a bit more self-conscious about pretending that I know what a PM does in an Agile environment with an actual Agile PM in the audience, but...!)

Assuming it's not a complete disaster, I'll probably post some reflections on the evening over on the Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog tomorrow.

NXE: First Thoughts

Today, of course, is launch day for the New XBox Experience. Around noon I remembered that, and went to see what was what.

The download process to get started wasn't too painful, although the graphics seemed pretty lame (flat colours, square text). Once I got through that, it was time to create an avatar for myself. I was impressed by just how much you can tailor the look of your character, right down to different types of nose shapes and styles of wrist watches. I was disappointed that I couldn't put myself in open-topped sandals, but just about everything else that "epitomizes" me is now there for the XBox 360 world to see (including shorts).

The navigation is a bit clunky to get used to, with too much superfluous crap that's just there to sell you stuff, but it definitely looks nice. Naturally one of the first things I wanted to do was see just what sort of avatars each of my friends had come up with for themselves, but it's still so early in the NXE era that only two of them have gotten that far yet. In a few days I expect more entertainment will be available of that sort.

I made sure to show Vicki what the dashboard now looks like, since she's been using the 360 more than I have recently. She's very fond of Hexic, in which you spin groups of coloured gems in order to match them up and accumulate points. Me, I'm still trying to rid the world of the Chimera scourge, over on my PS/3...

Overall, I guess my reaction is that so far I don't mind the new look. I had a good time designing my avatar, but don't really know that I'll actually get much mileage out of it beyond that initial kick. At least I can still find my way around to the things that I care about on the dashboard (my games, my friends, my messages) and the rest is all just window dressing at the moment.

Fun With Bell

When my Sympatico charge suddenly jumped by almost 11% last month, I called to complain. I talked to some Indian call centre agent who assured me that it was a mistake in billing. He said that he credited my account the $5 that the rate had gone up by, and corrected the pricing going forward. He then tried to sell me some new Bell features, which I declined.

I got my next Bell bill yesterday, only to discover that there was no $5 credit on it, and the Sympatico charge was still at the new, higher rate. In other words, the moron in the call centre had actually done nothing as a result of my 15-minute conversation with him!

So naturally I called back today, and immediately asked to speak to a supervisor. Eventually I got a very nice woman (in Oshawa, this time!) who told me that there was no record on my account of any call (though she assured me that she believed it had happened) and explained that the $5 increase was part of the new pricing scheme, which she could do nothing about. However, Bell wants to get their customers off of the old plans and onto new ones, and she could do that for me, effectively getting me back to my old price. I was resistant at first, but eventually agreed - after hearing the details, none of which seemed to be downgrading - but I'm still pissed off about them raising a service rate by that much in one go. I suspect this is just their way of pushing people out of plans that they want to obsolete: impose big price increases and then move the ones who complain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Brief Message From Hell


This being post # 1888, how could I let the milestone pass without reflecting upon the biggest news story from the year 1888, which went on to be one of the most sensational tales of the 19th century, still talked about even in the 21st century? Of course I'm referring to none other than Jack the Ripper.

While I'd been introduced to Jack in various movie and TV forms much earlier, I didn't really pay a lot of attention to him until Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell provided their own interpretation in the pages of From Hell, starting in the early 1990s (the cover to issue # 7 is shown here, because I actually own the original art to page 40 of that particular comic and so it seemed a logical choice). No big surprise there, as so many of the things that catch my eye have come from the world of comics over the past 40 years!

I think it goes without saying that much of the Ripper legend's staying power comes from the fact that the crimes went, and remain to this day, unsolved. Certainly their gruesomeness contributes to it, as well, along with the fact that they happened over a relatively short stretch of time (the undisputed and most famous five murders coming between Aug and Nov of 1888). All of those factors combined to create an entry point for generation after generation of new interest, stretching over 120 years so far now, some subset of whom perhaps even believes that somehow they'll solve the mystery still!

From my perspective, that's helped "Ripper lore" to remain incredibly fertile ground for story telling, as Moore and Campbell demonstrated in their amazingly-detailed From Hell series, along with many, many others. Jack even shows up in the future in the classic Star Trek series ("Wolf in the Fold") and in Babylon 5 ("Comes the Inquisitor"), to give but two pop culture references. His "popularity" shows no signs of abating any time soon, and probably never will... unless someone invents time travel so that the unknowable can finally be known! (And just imagine how many even more significant past events might have to be re-written if that development ever comes to pass!)

P.S. I should probably also have mentioned that this was posted on 11/18, or "1118", which must bear some sort of numerical relationship to 1888...

Will Wonder Woman Ever Get The Respect She Deserves?

OK, that's a bigger question than I could possibly tackle in silly old blog post, but I do wonder sometimes if DC actually has any clue what to do with the Amazon Princess. She's only ever really had one great comic run (when George Perez was writing and penciling her comic, following the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot of WW), despite being around only two years less than Batman (and three less than Superman). She's arguably as recognizable as DC's Big Two, but you'd never know it by the way her comic book existence has gone over the past six and a half decades.

Having said that, I'm somewhat excited at the prospect of a direct-to-DVD animated feature for Diana, the details of which you can read about here, if you'd like. It's probably going to be underwhelming, like so much of what's already been done with the character, but I'll at least give it a chance. She was pretty cool in the Justice League: The New Frontier movie, after all... so who knows?

You Really Can Learn Something New Every Day!

We'll file this one under "Poop Culture References" (which fits very nicely with my previous post about Gene Ha using a couple of my suggestions for bathroom stall graffiti!)...

I came across this article about game-maker Blizzard's response to the recent news story of a child passing out from exhaustion after playing World of Warcraft for 24 hours straight. In it, there are repeated uses of the word "poopsocking," which I'd never heard before. How could I continue to operate in such an ignorant manner, you may well ask? Well, simply put: I could not!

Here's the Urban Dictionary's set of definitions for "poopsock":

1. A sock that is used as a temporary contained[sic] for faecal matter.
2. A vital part of any dedicated EverQuest player's equipment. A poopsock eliminates the need to go all the way to the bathroom, which wastes valuable levelling time.
3. An insult used to refer to an obsessive MMORPG player who gains an unusually high number of levels in one day.


The single best approach to a long and happy life: never stop learning new things!

Immortalized In Comic Book Form


Six months ago (almost to the day), I blogged about how artist Gene Ha was looking for bathroom graffiti to use in the background of an upcoming issue of Top 10. (Gene's also the talent responsible for the sketch of Vicki and I which adorns this very blog!) At that time, I mentioned that I'd contributed a few ideas, which you can read in the Comments section of his blog post here if you're interested.

As you might be able to see from the photo provided, Top 10 Season Two # 2 came out recently, and there, for all the world to see, is a scene in a woman's washroom, filled with graffiti. You'll probably have to click on the photo to make it big enough for scouring, but so far I've spotted two of my suggestions. The first, which is a timeless classic that I can't claim authorship of, Gene changed a bit to make it more superhero-related. It went from:

"Here I sit, broken-hearted,
Dropped my drawers and only farted."


to

"Here I sit, all broken-hearted,
Tried to flame-on and only farted."


I'd actually modified it myself, as the 2nd line that I'd always heard was "Paid my dime and only farted." Of course, that only works if it's a pay-toilet, which would hardly be the case in a police station (where this scene takes place).

Even more gratifying, though, was Gene's choice to include another of my contributions in a location that results in it being repeated several times! Showing up (in full or in part) within 4 panels on that page, adorning the outside of the bathroom stall, is:

"Open this door, take a good look, and see if you don't agree - "What a dump!""

Dare I say... I couldn't be prouder!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Art Of The Hoax

Yesterday I finally found the time to read the recently-released Sandman: The Dream Hunters # 1, the first in a 4-part miniseries in which artist P. Craig Russell adapts into full comic book form the illustrated prose novel of the same name that Neil Gaiman produced with Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano about 10 years ago. It's a testament to both the incredible quality of Gaiman's original, 75+-issue run of Sandman as well as just how much we miss it, that even a "re-telling" like this can serve as such big (and welcome) news to his fans. And indeed it is a huge, hairy deal that there's "new" Sandman material to enjoy, and I, for one, loved every panel of Sandman: The Dream Hunters # 1.

But that happy reaction isn't really what this post is about. Instead, it's the afterword that Gaiman provided for the issue, in which he admits to sending researchers on a wild goose chase when he included a faux-historical basis for the original Sandman: The Dream Hunters. He had preposterously claimed, a decade ago in the back page of that production, that the story was based on an actual Japanese folk tale, and had expected that everyone would see right through it straight away. Instead, he's had to endure 10 years of people asking him to help them find the original source material, because they're having the darnedest time locating it!

Which was pretty funny (and not the first time I'd heard the story), and put me in just the proper mindset to read this hilarious post by Eddie Campbell on his blog. I won't steal his thunder by recapping it here, but suffice to say that anyone who remembers those Sea Monkey ads from old comic books should definitely check it out. Campbell's hoax puts Gaiman's little joke to shame!

Agilists Take Note!

Christian Gruber, who many of us know from my former work place, has started up a blog of his own, appropriately titled "Geek in a Suit!" I consider Mr Gruber to be extremely knowledgeable about all things Agile (much moreso than I am, at least!) and anyone interested in that topic should make a point of checking out his blog.

Which of course reminds me that I've been remiss recently about posting anything on my very own Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog, which I really should do something about. Perhaps I can put some cover images up there shortly, or would that be too spoiler-ish for those who would rather be surprised by what the 2nd AgileMan book looks like when they receive their very own copy in January? What say the masses?

Things Like This Rile Me Up Good!

So here I am, reading this week's installment of Lying in the Gutter, which is Rich Johnston's weekly comic-based rumour site, when I come across the following nugget:

"[A source] tells me that the last issue of Final Crisis is further delayed as it is suffering from serious rewrites. It appears that DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio was unhappy with the way the story concluded and the implications for the DC Universe for a while and had ordered changes from a, naturally, rather unhappy Grant Morrison. Considering this is the way he wrote the pitch for the book.

As a result, creative teams working on a number of spinoff and affected books have also had to stop work while the Final Crisis ending is reworked.

Expect more lateness, more annoyance and less likelihood of Grant Morrison doing DCU work in the near future."


Now that's just great! DiDio's had the script in hand for months, if not a year, and now he decides that he doesn't like how it ends! This, in addition to the fact that he set up Countdown (a debacle all on its own) to lead into Final Crisis but managed to completely undermine Morrison's work and in the process screw up the continuity between the two series. But wait, there's more...

"Morrison is not the only person having difficulties with DiDio's direction. I understand that James Robinson and Dan had a stand up argument that led to Robinson quitting the Superman books and the DCU in general."

Excuse me?! DC finally gets Starman creator Robinson back into the fold, has him slated to start a second Justice League title in addition to writing Superman, and now DiDio has driven him away? How much more damage is this one individual going to be allowed to do?

Some Lost Goodies

You can find a few interesting tidbits about my favourite television diversion, Lost, simply by clicking here. Warning: Some might consider there to be spoilers in that write-up, but I didn't find anything in there that's ruined my anticipation of the final 2 seasons. Of course, if you're currently behind in your Lost-watching, perhaps because you watch it on DVD and Season 4 isn't out just yet, then you certainly might have a different reaction! Forewarned is forearmed! (Not to be confused with four-armed, which is a heck of an advantage in a sword fight!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Even Special Ops Is Fun!

I'm a Level 14 Special Ops in Resistance 2 now, just a few thousand XPs away from reaching Level 15. I love the Invisibility feature that you can use (briefly) as a Spec Ops player, because it adds a little extra variety into a game that's already chock full of the stuff! Normally my routine as a Spec Ops is to alternate between three actions:
  • tossing ammo packs out to my teammates
  • using primary fire (on the Marksman) to do high rates of damage to the bad guys
  • unloading whatever secondary fire ammo I have in the general direction of those same aliens, knowing that each round released will drain some of the life force out of whomever it comes close to on the other side
But when my Berserk meter hits full, and I'm then allowed to use Invisibility for about 30 seconds, I change my strategy: at that point I race into the midst of the enemy throng and fire off as many close-range head shots as I can manage before the time runs out. When I'm on my game, I can do that and get back out of harm's way before becoming visible again; when I'm not, I suddenly awake to the realization that they can now see me, just as I succumb to the volley of artillery raining down on me. Either outcome's pretty cool, though!

One tactic that you eventually figure out about playing a game like this while invisible is that you should stay away from your teammates! After all, even though the Chimera scourge won't fire at you (because they can't see you), that doesn't mean that they won't aim in your general direction if someone else on your team is standing there! I've died a few times after making that mistake, and sometimes it's not even really my fault... somebody wanders over toward me and before I know it, I'm right in the middle of a firefight.

Somehow I doubt that I'll ever get to the point of wanting to play as a Soldier as much as I have as the Medic and (now) the Spec Ops expert... but we'll see.

Putting The 'M' In Columbo

Last night we watched Dial 'M' For Murder, often considered one of the lesser of Hitchcock's films. It's a bit of an odd duck, actually, in that the villain of the piece (played by Ray Milland) is actually portrayed very sympathetically and manages to have the audience rooting for him at times (Tammy wanted to see him get away with murder, even right up until the end!)

What struck me on this viewing of the movie, though, was just how much it resembled a typical episode of Columbo, the TV show. Specifically:
  • you see the would-be killer planning the crime beforehand
  • you watch the execution of that plan
  • attention is particularly paid to the little things that inevitably go wrong
  • the police detective enters the proceedings after the crime has been completed (or at least attempted), and has to reverse engineer what happened in the face of superficial evidence pointing to another scenario
  • the detective seems initially incompetent, but that's all just a cover for his eccentric manner of crime-solving
  • the detective becomes the central figure, once he appears, and ends up unraveling the intricate scheme of the protagonist
In the case of Dial 'M', the murder plot goes awry (with the intended victim actually killing, in self-defense, the pawn who was hired to do her in, only to then be charged with his murder!) and the Milland character has to improvise constantly as events play out differently than how he'd choreographed them... but other than that, it felt very much like any of dozens of Columbos that I've watched over the past several decades. And that's high praise, indeed, for this longtime fan of Peter Falk's smarter-than-he-looks police inspector!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wednesday Is New XBox Experience (NXE) Day

At one point not that long ago, Nov 19/08 was the date on which both Microsoft's NXE and Sony's Home were scheduled to debut on their respective gaming consoles. Each is touted as a revolutionary way for gamers to get together, represent themselves (through avatars) and navigate the world of console content. Somewhere along the way, the PS/3 social-gaming phenomenon got delayed, but NXE appears to be right on track for release 4 days from now.

Reviews of NXE from those who've used the Beta are mixed, I'd say. It sounds like it looks very sharp, but will make some common operations (like seeing what your buddies are up to on their 360s) slightly more onerous to perform. I suspect that, for me, it'll end up being much ado about nothing... but we'll see soon enough, I suppose.

On the other hand, it's really too bad that Home was postponed, because the timing of it coming out in November was perfect from a Resistance 2 point-of-view. I'd love to be looking at the prospect of using Home to coordinate our R2 online forays next week, but sadly it seems like that's not going to happen until January (or later).

If You're Into Destruction...

...then you should definitely take a gander at these incredible clips from the Killzone 2 Beta that's underway right now (I'm not in that one, as I'm too busy with Resistance 2 at the moment). What I see in K2 reminds me of the grand tradition of "total environmental destruction" in the Red Faction franchise (PS/2), where most of your surroundings could be blasted apart if you worked away at it. The difference here, of course, is in the quality of the graphics... just check out the level of detail in the bits of granite that come raining down!

The game isn't scheduled for release until February, but that's just fine by me. It should go on sale right around that time that I start to burn out on Resistance 2 anyway, and it'd be pretty sweet to move directly from one awesome PS/3 game to another!

[Update: here's some actual in-game video if you'd like to see the gameplay.]

Hey John McCain: "That One" Is Now The President-Elect Of The United States!

Tammy's here for a visit this weekend, and the three of us got talking about the U.S. election and some of the events leading up to it. That caused me to think back on how, in one of the debates, McCain had caused waves by referring to then-Senator Obama as "that one." He was talking about a "pork" bill in the Senate that would send billions of dollars to the oil companies, and McCain asked sarcastically, "Do you know who voted for it? You might never know... that one! You know who voted against it? Me." (You can watch the 18 second clip yourself right here if you're interested.) At the time, I wondered if McCain was using that phrase as a satirical jab toward Obama's growing cult status, including the notion that the Illinois Senator was "the one." However, watching the video again, I doubt there was much in the way of "intelligent design" (*ahem*) behind McCain's remark... I suspect that it was simply an angry old man allowing his disdain for another to show through. Imagine that kind of behaviour in the role of "leader of the free world"!

On the flip side, the video happened to capture Obama's reaction to the other man's choice of words: complete calm. No grimace of pain, no anger, no need to dignify McCain's slight in the least. Anyone watching could tell that "that one's" a true leader, and the election results reflect that opinion!

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Watchmen Movie Mania

There's a new trailer out for the Watchmen movie, which you can watch here, among other places. What I like about this one, over any of the trailers that preceded it, is that it puts forth a more coherent narrative of what the main story at least starts out being about. I think it would be a huge challenge to produce anything of that length that really sets up the entire epic tale, but even just hooking people with the "someone's picking off superheroes" angle may be enough. (I also like how they've continually referred to the comic series as "the most celebrated graphic novel of all time" in these trailers, as I'm sure that that's contributed somewhat to non-comics people going out and buying up copies of the collection.)

The jury's still out on whether the film will be any good or not - and seeing Silk Spectre outrunning an explosion does nothing to improve its odds in my mind! - but it can't be any worse than LXG (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)... can it??

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sarah Delivers Yet Again!

This week's episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, merely the latest in a long string of excellent installments, had a lot going for it. Not only was it told in a "point-of-view" manner, where the story plays out as you see the events from different characters' perspective, but it had yet another scene that just cuts you to the bone. I'll describe that momentarily, but first, here's some of the dialogue leading up to it, between Sarah and FBI Agent Ellison. The latter has become a believer after initially trying to bring the Connors to justice. They had just finished discussing what to do in order to clean up the mess that their latest crisis had caused, leading Ellison to ask about the future.

Ellison: Then what?

Sarah: There is no "then what." Pretend I died again.

Ellison: I lost a lot when you died the first time... my marriage, my career.

Sarah: That's a lot to you?

Ellison: I suppose many people lost those things.

Sarah: You want answers...

Ellison: I just want to know my role. What happens after this?

Sarah: This is it. There's nothing else behind the curtain. This is what I do; it's all I do. You already know why I do it. I'm sorry for what you lost, but I can't help you get any of it back.

If that exchange doesn't sum up what the show's about - what the whole concept of the entire Terminator franchise is about - then I don't know what does.

The episode ends with Sarah taking the butt end of an Uzi and using it to smash the CPU chip of the defeated Terminator to bits. As her thrusts get more and more violent, she breaks into a series of sobs and finally her son, John, pulls her away with a hug that no mother would ever refuse. They do such a great job in this series of juxtaposing the steely, cold exterior that Sarah's had to construct for herself with the human side that just wants to protect her child against what the world would do to him (kill him, or turn him into the ultimate soldier in a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction... neither one's a rosy picture!)

Level 30 Medic Only Took Me 10 Days!

As of a few minutes ago, my Resistance 2 Medic reached the lofty heights of Level 30. I've accumulated over 2 million XPs in the process, although my Special Ops is already up to Level 8, so I guess not all of those experience points came via the Medic! I think Level 30 is the max, but I haven't confirmed it yet... it just seemed like I didn't get a progress bar at the end of that last game like I always have before, and I know there are no armour or weapon upgrades beyond the 30th level. If that's true, then I'll probably play more Spec Ops, starting soon, and see if it's reasonable to get two of my three characters leveled all the way up!

Soon I'll venture into the realm of Competitive online play, but it's quite a different dynamic (no Medics, Soldiers or Spec Ops, for one thing... just Human and Chimera) and so I've put it off other than getting a little taste of it at the start of my Beta experience.

Another Month, Another Set Of Depressing RSP Statements

Today was the day for our October RSP statements to arrive (they always come around of the middle of the month) and once again: it was all bad news. We've seen the value of our retirement savings drop by about 30% over the past year and a bit, thanks to the meltdown of the stock market and our financial planner's reluctance to get us out of it. He's probably going to be proven right in the long run - he's a professional in this area and I'm certainly not! - but right now it's horribly frustrating to watch the value, that we built up over the past two decades of disciplined saving, just fall and fall and fall.

The silver lining in all of this is that our short-term "bridging" savings, which are supposed to keep us going for the next 8 years or so (if neither of us works at all over that time), are all in interest-bearing accounts with depositors' insurance on them. So while we've seen our RSP value plummet by almost 1/3, this bridging money has continued to grow by about 4% each year. I hate to say it, but that's the sort of savings I prefer! Just imagine if we'd converted all of our RSP money to that form a year ago! (That line of thinking always leads me to dark places... must stop doing that!)

Anyway, with less RSP money every month (as seems to be the pattern right now), I think we've already passed the point at which Vicki and I will now need to go out and find some more work. (Things certainly looked rosier back in early March!) The next 8 years may not be a problem, but at the current pace of "growth" our RSP money won't be anywhere nearly large enough to live off of, starting in 2017, as we'd planned.

So... is anyone out there looking to contract in a highly-talented Project Manager (Vicki) or a highly-entertaining Agile enthusiast?! :-)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At The Intersection Of Politics And Comic Books

OK, if you haven't heard about this before now, then you just don't visit the same websites that I do! Oh, wait... that's right, you probably don't!

President-Elect Barack Obama, as I've been told many, many times in the past week or two, "collects Spider-Man and Conan comics." There are several interesting facets to that particular reveal:
  • It's in the current tense, as opposed to the always-popular refrain of "I used to collect comics when I was a kid" that I hear so often in contexts like this.
  • It makes an already-appealing public figure (to me, at least) just that much moreso!
  • As combinations go, Spider-Man and Conan are something of an odd couple... while once upon a time they were both Marvel Comics publications, Conan has moved elsewhere in the past decade (Dark Horse Comics, I think); more importantly, they're very different genres (superhero vs sword & sorcery) and it's not like enjoying one of them would naturally lead to the other!
At any rate, it's big news in the comic world, and so I finally realized that I should probably share it.

Clan Night Meets Network Problems

Last night seemed like it was full of potential, but as it turned out: it was just full of connection problems! For the second evening in a row, the servers supporting the online play of Resistance 2 had what might kindly be classified as "a bad night." AgileBoy and I managed to join a couple of buddies online for the start of one Co-op campaign, only to unceremoniously be dropped out of that match after about 5 or 10 minutes. We then failed in every attempt to get back online for the rest of the evening. We compensated by playing some Offline Co-op instead, which was still fun... but not quite the same as being in a group of 8 and getting to really cut loose.

I've been following the Resistance 2 forums for the past couple of days, watching to see what sort of updates might get posted there by Insomniac Games representatives. So far, I haven't really seen anything that fills me with confidence that things are about to get better. When I think about how great the gameplay is within R2's Co-op mode and yet how badly this lack of stability is hurting the game's reputation, I can't help but feel blue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Slides And Teacher Talkers

The focus in the household today eventually turned to our PowerPoint slides for the Project Management Computer Science guest lectures that Vicki and I are doing a week from tomorrow night. My lovely wife, who always takes such things so very seriously, has been slaving away over hers for several hours a day, going back a few weeks now. She's re-written them substantially several times, always ending up with a better version than she had previously. The content was already pretty well set before we went at it this afternoon, but today's goal was to get the flow just right. For those who maybe don't do many presentations (or who are so good at it that it just comes naturally and so they don't have to work so hard at it), it's critical that the slides mimic (or better yet, enhance) the rhythm of your verbal and physical performance. In its simplest terms, that just means making sure that the proceedings pause when you need them to, and that they move along at the pace that you expect them to, as appropriate. You can do that in lots of ways, but today we were injecting animations into the material based on how we think Vicki's narrative style will run. I think she's now got a first-rate presentation that any student of Project Management would find engaging, informative and helpful.

And then there's me. I wrote my slides over the course of two afternoons (about an hour and a half each day), late last week. I hadn't started them before that, and I pretty much put them out of my mind once I got them to a reasonable point last Friday. After all that time working with Vicki on her stuff today, I thought I'd better take another look at my own. I fiddled with them for about an hour, showed Vicki some of the changes I'd made, got feedback from her that resulted in me changing a few more things and adding a slide, after which I declared them "ready to go." I figure I've spent about 1/5 of the time Vicki has on hers.

Now, the disparity between our approaches will no doubt show up next week when she knocks her audience dead and the same third year students grow bored with the bearded nutjob who's going on and on about Agile. But I just look at what I have and think, "Yeah, I can work with that just fine!" So, if nothing else, I'm a bundle of (over)confidence and (potentially unjustified) calm. And I got to play a whole lot of Resistance 2 while she was busy working!

(Not Necessarily) Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Nov 11th Edition)

There are really only a couple of comics coming out tomorrow that I'd honestly say I'm eagerly awaiting, but it's noteworthy to consider that my sum total of planned purchases for the week numbers but five, and all of them from DC! Here, for posterity, is the complete list:

Action Comics # 871 - The third installment of "New Krypton" awaits! I've really loved this storyline so far, as I think Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have succeeded at taking the palpable sense of imminent disaster that they built up during the "Brainiac" tale that preceded it and making the reader wonder if maybe having 100,000 superpowered Kryptonians take up residence on Earth might not end up being the bigger threat. The scene in part 2 where one of the Kandorians carried the dead whale back to show his fellow immigrants, saying that the thing had tried to eat him and so he'd punched it, was undoubtedly a sign of things to come.

Batman Cacaphony # 1 - This 3-issue miniseries written by Clerks director Kevin Smith (and illustrated by one of his longtime buddies, Walt Flanagan) could be something special. Certainly Smith's Daredevil and Green Arrow runs in the late 90s / early 2000s were very well done, but he's just as often missed the mark with his comics work, as with the Spider-Man / Black Cat miniseries (that took about a decade to come out) and the never-completed Daredevil / Bullseye mess. I remain unjustifiably optimistic that this one might be a winner, but ask me again after I've read this first issue!

Detective Comics # 850 - Although Detective has been close to being on my "drop list" for months now, I've got to at least hang around to see this double-length conclusion to the very bizarre "Heart of Hush" story, as written by Paul Dini. So far, Catwoman's had her heart physically removed from her body by Hush, leaving her reliant upon the life support device that the villain himself controls. So from now on, Selina Kyle will be living with a transplanted heart in her (lovely) chest? Weird!

JSA: Kingdom Come Special Superman - Besides having an unwieldy title, this special boasts the return of Alex Ross to interior artwork in a big way (he's painting the entire issue). It seems like Johns and Ross have lost their way a bit with the "Kingdom Come" epic that's possibly run a little too long and delivered too few thrills, but we'll see what comes of the 3 one-shots that are planned for November (this being the first).

Manhunter # 36 - I really loved this title in the months leading up to its hiatus (for re-tooling), but have been entirely disappointed with it since! (Sort of the exact opposite reaction compared to what DC was going for, I imagine.) However, news broke over the last few weeks that it's about to end (for good this time), so I guess that it just wasn't meant to be. Too bad, but in its current incarnation I wouldn't have supported it much longer anyway.

Calling All Resistance 2 Clan Mates!

The call has gone out, loud and clear: the evil Chimera are winning the battle for (1950s) Earth, and it's up to us to stop them!

Tonight, AgileBoy is heading over here once again, and we hope to meet up with several of our co-workers (ex-co-workers, for me, I guess) in the arena of Resistance 2 Co-op play. In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that:
  • I was up until 3:30 last night (actually, this morning) playing R2 Co-op!
  • My Medic is now a Level 25 and not far away from reaching Level 26.
  • My Spec Ops is now a Level 5 or 6, but more importantly I've figured out how to play that character well enough that I made it all the way through one of the more crowded Co-op maps last night, in Offline mode (while the online servers were experiencing problems), all by myself! Even as a Medic, I'd never pulled that off before!
  • After seeing my Medic peak at 305th overall (out of tens of thousands of online players), I've fallen back to something lower than 500th because of time spent as a Spec Ops!
And that's why we have video games, ladies and gentlemen! (No, I don't understand the connection there either... but I was up until 3:30 last night so don't expect lucidity any time soon!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Want To Know The Latest On The 2nd AgileMan Book?

Then just head right on over to the Real-Life AgileMan blog and read all about it!

Are We On The Cusp Of Big Change?

With Barack Obama's presidential victory still less than 1 week old, it's already beginning to feel like true change - as opposed to "change as a campaign slogan" - may actually be in the wind. I've watched a lot of news programs over the past week, where naturally the focus has been on the President-Elect. Much of the talk about Obama's upcoming appointments (eg. cabinet positions, among others) involves some mention of how he's a believer in putting the "best and brightest" people into key positions. This contrasts so sharply with the Bush-Cheney approach of lining up "yes men" as to almost be painful when reflecting on how badly things have gone over the past 8 years.

Along those lines, I found this Freakonomics blog article to be particularly interesting. It talks about how the financial sector is currently downsizing as a result of the meltdown underway in that industry, meaning that lots of very smart, motivated and energetic men and women are going to - whether they want to or not - move into other areas of the work force that will almost certainly benefit from their infusion. That may be bad news for the people impacted, but good news for the world at large.

I've also heard people say that having a black president of the U.S., especially one who's gotten where he has on the strength of what he says and does, rather than family ties, political bargaining or any sort of affirmative action program, can't help but improve the chances of keeping more young minority males in school longer. Obama had so many knocks against him before he even started - black, mixed race parents, foreign sounding name, running against the clear Democratic forerunner who'd already been all but crowned the nominee - that it really ought to put the boot to most excuses that anyone might use to explain not trying their best. Young blacks, for example, no longer have to rely on high profile professional athlete or rapper as their only available role models... being intelligent may, once again, have some cache associated with it (whereas the Bush administration seemed to actively eschew such things, as pointed out in the Freakonomics blog post linked to above).

While it's still a bit of a longshot - perhaps as long as Obama's chances at winning the Presidency, come to think of it! - we really might be on the verge of turning a corner and moving toward a better future. And I don't think that's a feeling that many people have expressed over the past several years.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

At The Intersection Of Sports And Comic Books


This story is absolutely enthralling to me. Not more than a year or two ago, I heard for the first time that Legion of Super-Heroes artist James Sherman had actually created the Major League Baseball logo shown to the left. This iconic image has been used for 40 years now and is instantly recognizable by millions of people. I thought it was pretty impressive that a "comics guy" had actually designed it!

But as came out recently (and is detailed in the link above), Sherman didn't actually originate the logo after all! It had already been in existence for about a dozen years when he was asked by MLB to create something for the American League, and ended up submitting a design that was very similar to what had previously been adopted (at a relatively low profile) in 1968. Ever since, right up until the article writer (again, in the link provided above) pushed the issue with Sherman over the phone, the artist believed that he had provided the logo that was adopted (not being a sports fan, he didn't realize it was already in use). It was actually Jerry Dior who had come up with the logo and who know would like to have just a little bit of recognition for that feat.

You can't make up stuff this intriguing!

Fast Start; Mediocrity Since

With last night's 3-1 loss in Washington, the Rangers have now lost 3 of their last 4 games (the only bright spot being a 5-2 win over the Lightning, who they're now 3-0 against after that weird start to the schedule in Prague), bringing their record to 11-5-1. 23 points in 17 games sounds impressive enough at first glance, but what it really means is that they started 5-0 and have gone just 6-5-1 since then. They've mostly been playing the bottom half of the league so far (5 of their 17 games have been against Tampa Bay and Toronto, after all!) which means things are only going to get harder. They're still barely holding onto 1st place in the Eastern Conference (largely on the strength of having played more games than anyone else) but have already been passed by San Jose for 1st overall (the Sharks are an amazing 13-2-0, and 9-0-0 at home!).

It's sad to see such a great start squandered, but they really do seem to be sputtering. Anyone who bought into delusions of grandeur for this season - and trust me, I wasn't one of them! - should by now be re-thinking their position. As always, my hope is simply that they make the playoffs, and then give it their best shot with the other 15 Cup hopefuls.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Throughout the latter stages of the 2008 U.S. election I became a frequent visitor to a website called Five Thirty Eight - Electoral Projections Done Right. (They take their name - 538 - from the fact that there are currently that many electoral college votes available in the presidency election.) Jimmy Hinckley was the first person to tell me about this amazing resource, although he wasn't the last, as knowledge of its existence seemed to get around. I was checking it several times a day by the time the final couple of weeks leading up to Nov 4th rolled around.

The site's authors are polling junkies, apparently, as well as statistical nerds of the highest order (and I mean that in a very positive way). They were running Monte Carlo simulations of thousands of scenarios based on the large array of polling information that was coming out daily in the run-up to Nov 4th. And their focus wasn't just on the race between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin, but also included data on each of the Senate races (approximately 1/3 of all Senate seats end their 6-year terms every 2 years) and the Congressional seats (all of which have 2 year terms, I believe). Every day there were new observations and insights to be found there, and my growing optimism toward Obama's chances were largely driven by placing a bit of faith in what I was seeing at FiveThirtyEight.com. (Vicki was absolutely convinced that her country wouldn't elect a black man, and both of us were thrilled to have that theory be proven wrong!)

But what really blew me away was just how accurately they predicted the results of the election, especially in terms of which states would go which way, for president. I don't know if they'll keep these graphics up indefinitely, but if you click on the link above, check out the two U.S. maps at the top right of their site. The first shows the actual results, with blue states representing those that voted Obama-Biden and the red states being those that went the other way. Below it is the map with the projections by the site owners themselves, finalized on the 3rd. I believe that, out of 49 states and one district (D.C.) that they made a call on (they decided Missouri was too close to call, and it was one of the last to have a declared winner), they only got one wrong (Indiana)!! Think about how many traditional red states went blue this year, not to mention how many weren't declared until several days later (on account of being so close) and yet they nailed all but one of them! (Also: Nebraska splits its 5 electoral college votes into 3 groups, and one of those 3 went Dem whereas 538 had predicted that all 3 would go Rep).

They also did very well on projecting how the Senate seats would play out, as well as the Congressional results... all thanks to the collection of an incredible amount of polling data from around the country and the smarts to run it all through simulations to see what the most likely outcomes were. I suspect that these guys have now made a name for themselves and may be going places as a result...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lost's Return Is Only 10 And A Half Weeks Away!

Yesterday we got this news that ABC has set Wednesday, Jan 21/09 as the season premiere date for Lost Season Five. Once again we get a two-hour kickoff to the run, which will no doubt fly by in what will seem like about 30 minutes! As for the date of the season premiere itself: for months it had sounded like it wouldn't be back until February, but apparently we caught a lucky break! And once things get started on Jan 21, there should be a new episode each and every week (for a total of 17 hours) right through May.

Mark that date on your calendar, Lost fans... I know that I have!

Yet Another Resistance 2 Post

I stopped playing early enough tonight that I'm hoping to avoid a repeat of last night's debacle. I also made a point of getting up and moving around between each Co-op session this evening in recognition of the fact that this 45 year old body of mine doesn't seem to like sitting in one position for hours at a time like it once did. Boy, were my neck and back ever out of whack last night!

So my Medic is now a level 19, I believe. I'm a Corporal, and I've accumulated more than one million experience points (XP). You read that right... I have over 1,000,000 XP already! I suspect that by the time I'm through with this game, I'll have gained several dozen million more, but there's nothing like the first time.

What strikes me as really funny right now, though, is that I've had the game for 4 days, have spent over 20 hours playing it already, and have yet to even try the Single Player Campaign! I'm really looking forward to it, and can hardly wait to get into it... and yet I keep going back to the Co-op every time I power up the PS/3! That should give anyone reading this a good indication of just how much fun this game's Co-op mode really is! As I was saying to Vicki tonight, it's a different game each time I play it, thanks to the fact that the various skill levels of the (up to) 8 players on the team actually affects what the game throws at you! How cool is that? I'm sure that at some point in the future I'll tire of it, but with six different maps and that much variety to each one, it may take me a long time to get there.

It's really wonderful when something that you've eagerly anticipated for months, building up ridiculously high expectations for it in the process, comes along and actually lives up to your idealized notion of how great it should be. More often Life throws disappointment your way in that situation, but I'm happy to report that Insomniac Games completely delivered the goods with this $60 package!

Friday, November 07, 2008

I Played Resistance 2 All Night Long!

No, I wasn't up overnight in front of my big screen TV playing the latest and greatest in video games... I was in bed, half-awake and half-asleep, with a seemingly-endless supply of Resistance 2 teammates in front of me who desperately needed health from my Rings of Life gun! That seemed to go on for the entire eight or nine hours that I was in bed, to the degree that I barely felt like I'd slept at all! It was a very frustrating night, and may in fact have been my subconscious telling me that I really shouldn't play quite so many hours of the game before heading to bed. And I should probably heed that advice!

It's been quite the week for bizarre dreams, as on Wednesday night I had two completely different dreams (separated by waking up between them!) about being chased by the Hulk! In each case I was trying to find hiding places where he wouldn't be able to see me, and sometimes I'd look out through a peek hole to spot a tree trunk-like green leg passing by ever so close to my location. Both dreams were intense enough that I finally forced myself to wake up from them at some point. I've never really considered Bruce Banner's alter ego to be all that viscerally frightening before... but now I do!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

35 At 45

My 45 year old body climbed onto my bicycle today amidst the gorgeous 18 degree Celcius weather (making it feel more like early May than early November) and cycled downtown to get this week's small haul of comics. With that, I pushed my biking streak to 35, as in 35 consecutive months now (going back to January 2006) during which I've ridden my bike downtown at least once.

I'd pat myself on the back except that it's probably more a reflection of the effect of Climate Change than anything else at the core of this otherwise-impressive feat. But still...

Michael Crichton R.I.P.

Coming as a bit of a shock to a lot of people (including me), best-selling author Michael Crichton died yesterday at the age of 66, losing a battle with cancer that most of the population outside of his inner circle didn't even know he was waging. You can read the Associated Press obituary for him here.

At one point in my life, I'd have named Crichton as one of my favourite authors. I think it's safe to say that if I haven't read every one of his novels, I'm probably in the 80 - 90% range in that regard. One of this earliest works, The Great Train Robbery, is wonderfully written and completely wrapped me up in its story despite having no science fiction angle (unlike the vast majority of his work). Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park are two other faves of mine from his bibliography.

Over the past decade or so, though, the quality of his tales seemed to dip (or maybe my reading bar got higher... hard to know!) I found that I was still picking up each new release (or rather, Vicki was, and I was getting them for Christmas) but I was spending more time lamenting his destruction of my willing suspension of disbelief with his poor execution of what were truly interesting concepts than I was in the enjoyment of the words on the page. With State of Fear, as noted in the AP obit linked to above, he ventured into the territory of "Climate Change Denouncer" and began to really lose me as a fan. At first I bought some of his arguments about Global Warming being pseudo-science but then the irrefutable evidence started to mount against that, and that cost Crichton a considerable amount of credibility with me and many other readers. It's too bad, because over the past few years he was probably getting as much press for that poorly-reasoned stance as he was for his impressive body of work.

And even if you didn't enjoy his novels, you also have Michael Crichton to thank for the terrific TV show, ER (now in its final season). That alone would make his life time well spent!