Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Month Done Already?

It's hard to believe how fast April flew by this year... it seems like a complete blur to me, and I wasn't even working through it, except for some Math tutoring! Maybe things will slow down now that the hockey season is finally over (at least for those of us who torment ourselves by following the New York Rangers).

I only got about 3 days of novel-writing in over the course of the month, which is really pathetic considering how little else I had on the go. But I guess some months are like that.

Thanks to all those who have been leaving more comments here lately. It does make it all the more worthwhile for me, after two and a half years at it now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time Travel Has Never Been So Much Fun!

I love that Lost is dealing front and centre with the mysteries, possibilities and challenges of time travel this season! They've managed to acknowledge most of the concerns that I've had along the way, and they seem to be having great fun in making us think that they're going to tackle some of them head-on. Last time it was the apparent paradox of young Ben being killed in 1977 (which they managed to sidestep, at least for the moment) and now it's the even larger brain-bursting concept of short-circuiting the entire sequence of events that spawned the show in the first place!

Very exciting stuff... I can't wait for the final 3 hours (over the next 2 weeks) of Season Five! Lost absolutely rules the TV airwaves right now!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh Well, At Least They Didn't Get Blown Out (For Once)

But the Rangers still lost 2-1 in Game 7 (their third loss in a row, and fourth in five games) and got the early exit that they deserved. They finished the playoffs 3-1 in 1-goal games and 0-3 in the rest. They were shut out twice and scored 1 goal twice... that's right 2 goals in 4 games (and managed to win one of those games)!

So here's a tip for New York's upper management for next year: get some frigging scorers on your team! Fans aren't going to stick around much longer if you keep throwing this same bunch of losers - plus Henrik Lundqvist - onto the ice night after night.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer In April

Today could've easily passed for a July day, except maybe in terms of humidity. When I got back from cycling downtown for lunch, I thought briefly about going for a swim in the newly-opened, 19 degrees C pool... and then settled for simply sticking my legs in, almost up to my knees.

Unfortunately it's about to get more seasonably cool for the next week or so, and that means that keeping the pool temperature even up to the current dubious level is going to prove challenging.

And other than that, not much exciting is happening right now. As if that update was exciting.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

But How About Those Blue Jays?

Unlike the soon-to-be-golfing New York Rangers, the Toronto Blue Jays are giving me lots to cheer about right now. They've done something quite impressive: they've won each of their first six series this season! In each case, they won either 2 or 3 games (in series that were either 3 or 4 games in length, respectively), leaving them with a current record of 14-6. I've long said that MLB teams should go into each new season with the hard-and-fast goal of winning every series they play in, and focus their attention on that rather than worrying about how they're doing over the 162-game season. After all, if you win the vast majority of your 3- and 4-game series, then you'll almost certainly make it to the postseason.

It's still too early to make any predictions about how Toronto will fare the rest of the way, but at least they've put together a good run in the month of April.

A Nightmare Weekend For The Rangers Fans

And now the series is tied 3-3, with all of the momentum belonging to Washington as they head home for Game 7. Oh well, I guess I should just be happy that the Rangers made the playoffs after their big midseason collapse. The better team in this first round series has finally started winning (three of the last four games now) and should be able to close it out on Tuesday and continue the long-standing tradition of Boneman's Bruins never facing my Rangers in the playoffs in the two decades that we've known each other.

Unfortunately Washington's Game 7 victory will also end a long, proud streak that New York has held over its franchise history of never losing a best-of-7 series after leading 3-1. That's just the kind of year it's been for that team, I guess.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Suspense Would Be Killing Me, If Only...

I'm starting to hear from friends and colleagues - who, like me, had submitted session proposals for Agile 2009 - that they're getting e-mails indicating the disposition of their sessions. In most cases, it's been "Dear John" form letters, thanking them for their interest and encouraging them to attend the conference even though they won't be doing their suggested topic/presentation. There's been one instance where rejection followed rejection before eventually being contrasted by an acceptance (where one person had many different session proposals in).

As for my "Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan" proposal, I've so far heard nothing... nada... zippo. That might otherwise leave me on pins and needles, so to speak, except that I haven't yet decided which way I'm hoping that it goes! There are upsides and drawbacks to both outcomes, with no clear winner in my mind. So at the moment I'm just watching it all play out (vicariously, through others) with great interest but no actual emotional investment just yet. I'd heard that all responses were supposed to be out by the end of April, so I suppose that means that I'll get my answer, one way or another, between now and Thursday... unless (as Vicki theorized) I've just completely fallen through the cracks!

[Update 04/29: On the day before the deadline, I got the word: "Thanks, but no thanks." So at least now I don't have to figure out how to get to Chicago while Vicki's working and we only have the one car.]

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Crappy Day

I decided to save Vicki the "fun" of opening the pool this year, and undertook the various tasks by myself this afternoon. Since the winter cover was already off, it was a matter of hooking the pump and filter back up, getting the pump primed so that it would actually move water through the pipes, removing the jet return caps, getting the ladders out of the pool room, and making the heater run once again.

That last point has been contentious in past years, as it seemed like every Spring there would be an issue with the heater and we'd have to pay for (and wait for) a service call before the water could be warmed up. That may seem like a trivial matter, especially when it's really yet "swimming season", but several other things "back up" when the heater isn't working. First, the Baracuda (automated vacuum) needs the water temp to be at least in the 60s in order to function, and the electrolytic cell that converts our salt water to chlorine has the same restriction. Therefore I'm always wanting to raise the temperature to at least that 60 F point as quickly as possible.

So of course today the heater wouldn't come on. The pilot light is lit, the water pressure according to the gauge on the filter is within normal limits, the heater's set to ON, and the thermostat is set well above the water temp... but no whoosh through the heating elements, and hence no warm water for my troubles.

In the past, it's been the pressure switch in the heater that's been the problem (which I remove each Fall and put back in each Spring), so I figure it's probably that. I called our favourite pool place to see if they carry that part, and was assured that they did. I then biked to the store (about a 25-minute round trip) only to wait 15 minutes for someone to be free, after which I was told, "Oh, no, we carry pressure switches for filters, but not for heaters!" (and I'd been very clear over the phone, even describing the make and model of our heater).

Once I got back home - not happy! - I tried calling a few other places, but have yet to find any that have that part in stock. So once again I've got the pool running, but with no vacuum, no chlorine and no help on the horizon.

And now to top it off: Washington 4, NY Rangers 0, after 2 periods. I should have just stayed in bed today.

A Bit Of A Peek Behind The Curtain

While not revealing all that much about the show, it's still a worthwhile read for the Lost fan. (Hat tip: Ain't It Cool News.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sinfully Good

While I'm sure that Sin City (the movie) wasn't to everyone's taste, Vicki and I certainly enjoyed it... both on the silver screen as well as the DVD version. But I don't think I'd ever actually seen this particular trailer for it, and it just happens to be all kinds of cool.

I guess, thanks to The Spirit, we now know that, co-direction credit not withstanding, the real hand of the master behind the film version of Sin City belonged to Robert Rodriquez, and not Frank Miller. Frank should probably stick to the comic genre, and - to be honest - maybe even just to the art side of that. His creative choices of late (The Spirit movie, All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, The Dark Knight Strikes Again!) have all been... well, let's be generous and call them "unusual."

(And thanks to Blog@Newsarama for bringing this trailer to my attention.)

Vicki's New Look

OK, maybe not so much a "new look" as a special hairdo for an event where she's got some speaking to do this afternoon.

It's all about the bangs, and the curls, and the ... with the little bit of ...

Alright, alright, already! I admit it: I have no idea what I'm talking about! I just thought she looked like a million bucks, and so I took a picture.

The Stupid Things That Hurt The PS/3

A news item went out about 3 hours ago, indicating that the Red Faction: Guerrilla demo was now available for download on both the XBox 360 and PS/3. I didn't see that article until just a few minutes ago, at which point I immediately booted up my PS/3 and went into the PlayStation Store... where I could find no record of RF:G at all. I tried several different filtering techniques ("New Arrivals", "All Demos", "Titles alphabetically") and the closest I could come were a couple of videos (trailers) for the game.

Disgusted, I switched over to my 360, and went to "Game Marketplace" and then "Demos", and RF:G was the first one shown. I'm now downloading it on my 360, and will be trying it out there. I had planned to buy it on the PS/3 if I liked it, because I tend to favour Sony's console with my cash over Microsoft's whenever feasible (I've never liked Microsoft's assinine attitude toward the rivalry between the two, for one thing). And maybe I still will buy it for the PS/3, but Sony certainly doesn't make it easy somedays. It's probably the case that the RF:G demo just isn't released on the PS/3 quite yet (it'll likely come out later today) but why wouldn't Sony have it ready to coincide with the press release?

[And I totally missed doing something special to mark this, my 2,222nd post! Oh well.]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm Getting Too Old For This Sort Of Thing

The finish to the Rangers/Capitals game tonight was just about enough to put me in the grave. I should've known that the 2-0 lead that the Rangers staked themselves to in the second period wouldn't stand up, as that would've made for too relaxed of a final half minute. Instead, it was 2-1 by then, and the Capitals did everything but tie it. When Ryan Callahan missed the empty net with about 15 seconds to go, I was sure Washington was going to streak down the ice (which they did) and score the equalizer to send the game into overtime (which, fortunately, they did not). Now it's back to the seat of the U.S. government for Game 5.

Meanwhile, not too many hundreds of kilometres away in Montreal, Boneman's Bruins were completing the sweep of the much-hated Habs. Montreal said, "Hey, guess what? This is our 100th season in the NHL!" And Boston replied, "Congratulations! We brought a gift with us, and it's called a broom. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of the playoffs!" Woo hoo!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where Have All The Commenters Gone?

It's probably just my imagination, but it seems like I rarely get comments anymore. Oh, sure, I still get the odd response (looking over the past 50 posts, I see about 20 - 25 comments, suggesting a rate of something like 1 comment for every second post) but I remember the days when I'd routinely get 2 or 3 of the damn things for most entries!

I've been at this for over 2.5 years now, with 2200+ posts to show for it. I know some people follow the blog through various feed readers, and that adding a comment may not be the easiest thing to accomplish in that sort of a setup... but it's still nice to hear from people once in a while! So don't be shy about stopping by and clicking that comment icon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reality Sets In

It was only a matter of time before the real Capitals and real Rangers showed up for their Eastern Conference semifinal series, and tonight was the night.

Partway through the 2nd period and it's already 3-0 Washington, with the Rangers looking like the 7th place team that they were. At least Boneman's Conference-winning Bruins are still in their game (2-2 in the 2nd).

Oh well, so much for watching the Rangers go through the postseason undefeated (at least it took them six games to kill that particular dream in the regular season this year, where usually it only requires the season opener!). I guess I get to watch 24 live tonight after all!

(And for those who wonder: it was the sequence in the 1st period where a Ranger missed a wide open net and then the Capitals carried it the length of the ice and scored to go up 2-0 that convinced me the home team's not going to win tonight. That was essentially a 2-goal swing in the span of a few seconds, and a low-scoring team like New York just isn't going to recover from that.)

"Well... Here We Go."

With that one line in last week's episode of Lost, the ever-lovely Juliet announced the ending of the latest status quo for the show and possibly foreshadowed darker days to come. Spoilers ahead!

"Some Like It Hoth" provided a lot of interesting backstory on Miles Straume, continued the comedy duet between him and Hurley, introduced "the circle of trust" within the Dharma Initiative while at the same time providing more hints as to why the question "what lies in the shadow of the statue?" is so important, confirmed the theory that many of us had about the significance of Dr Pierre Chang's infant son who showed up in Season Five's premiere (yup, that was Miles!) and gave us a return appearance by the intriguing Naomi Dorrit in a recruiting role for Charles Widmore. One of the season's best lines came right around the midpoint of "Hoth", when Miles responded to Hurley's assessment of Dr Chang ("Dude, that guy's a total douche") with the zinger, "That douche is my dad." The choice of 1977 as the year that the second set of time travelers landed in is finally acknowledged for its geek cred when Hurley's shown writing his own, mostly faithful version of The Empire Strikes Back in response to the release of Star Wars at that time. ("And let's face it: the Ewoks sucked, dude!") Not to mention that we were teased with the question of just what are the ridiculous Polar Bear experiments that are going on over on Hydra Island, anyway?

Anyone who's stayed with Lost this long and isn't absolutely hanging on every word by now probably should just give up and move on. Honestly, I don't think this show can conceivably get any better than it's been over the past two seasons. It's fully into "Rewarding the Fans Mode" and this particular fan(atic) couldn't be happier.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not All Watchdogs Are Scary Looking

Elizabeth Warren appeared recently on The Daily Show and won Vicki and I over almost immediately. I had not really heard of her before that, but she's been showing up in the news more and more as a result of her role as the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) that's tasked with providing oversight to the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP).

You can read a little about why the conservatives don't like her here and actually watch her provide the executive overview of COP's most recent monthly report here. She's a delight to listen to because she speaks plainly and yet enthusiastically about her subject, and as such I imagine she's been a great professor throughout her career. I'm not sure how much power her group really has, but at least they've introduced a bit more transparency to a program introduced by the very-opaque Bush administration.

What's A Recession Good For?

Tammy got a laugh out of my tale of indignation when the accounting firm that does Vicki's (self employment) income taxes each year raised their rates by 6% in 2008 and 5% in 2009. I recently complained about to it the tax accountant who actually does the work, and threatened to have our (accountant) daughter take over the duties in the future if the company was really going to show such blatant disregard for the current economic landscape. My argument was that "the worst recession since the Great Depression" is no time for a rate increase that's so out of whack with the current rate of inflation. (And lest anyone think that I'm hypocritical about this, I encouraged Vicki to accept a slight decrease in her contracting rate two months ago, in recognition of the fact that we're in a deep recession and everyone's having to sacrifice.)

The end of the story is that the accountant said that he would ensure that our rate didn't increase next year. So in addition to possibly finding some good prices on cars, appliances, houses or whatever, perhaps this counts as a minor example of something that's a bit of a silver lining to the dark clouds of our bad economic times? OK, so it doesn't come even close to diminishing the pain of seeing your retirement nest egg shrink by 40% or more, but at least it's something...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stem Cell Treatments Beginning To Make News

If you happen to know anyone with the age-related macular degeneration (AMD) form of blindness, then this news from the UK is probably going to make your day. It sounds like a "one hour, outpatient" basis treatment for AMD may be as little as just a few years away. These are exciting times, between the recent announcement that adult stem cells may be as valuable as the embryonic variety and the fact that a science-friendly administration is finally in place in the U.S.

It's too bad that Christopher Reeve (and his wife Dana) didn't live long enough to see this day, but at least Michael J. Fox is still around (just showed up recently on The Daily Show) and maybe he'll get to take part in a Parkinson's cure trial at some point in the next several years.

I Have No Nails Left

They were all bitten off, watching the Rangers/Capitals game this afternoon.

While all of the commentators are (rightfully) praising the play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in backstopping his team's 1-0 win, I couldn't help but marvel at how many shots were blocked by players in the white jerseys, as well as the skill exhibited in keeping their heads as the Capitals kept pressing, late in the game. The final 3:03 on the clock went by without a single whistle, which is extremely strange in a close game like that. If nothing else, it's remarkable that the Rangers didn't ice the puck even once during that time. [For comparison, I just watched the end of Vancouver/St. Louis Game 3, with a 1-goal differential going into the final 3 minutes, in which there were 7 whistles!]

Of course, they also had several of the most anemic power plays that I've ever seen - I swear the Rangers looked much more outmatched on the power play than they did at even strength - and a few bad turnovers in the second half of the game. But as was the case in Game 1, they played just well enough to win, adding another 1-goal victory to their 2008/09 resume. Ryan Callahan had an incredible game, and I can certainly see why fans in the New York area are so high on him. It's nice to hear that coach Tortorella is willing to place so much faith in him.

The worst thing they could do now, though, is to feel overconfident heading home for two. The Caps could easily have won either or both of those games in Washington, and so the 2-0 series lead looks considerably more favourable to the Rangers than the play on the ice did. I didn't think that the best team won on Wednesday night (although I cheered the result nonetheless) and today was about a toss-up in that regard. The boys from Manhattan should feel very lucky right now and realize that they've still got their work cut out for them if they're to have any help of making it to the second round. I suspect that they'll have to play better still.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not The Way You Want To Become Famous

It's a shame that it took something like this to get Sportsnet's news coverage of the NHL playoffs noticed in the U.S... (Not Safe For Work if you have the volume turned up on your speakers)

The Last Lost List (For Now)

Thanks to Ain't It Cool News, I saw this article that posted some information about this week's episode of Lost, but more importantly provided the list of remaining Season Five episodes:

"5.14 (April 29) “The Variable” (Daniel Faraday-centric)
5.15 (May 6) “Follow The Leader” (Richard Alpert-centric)
5.16-17 (May 13) “The Incident” (two-hour season finale)"

I love that "The Variable" is the name of the follow-up to last season's impressive Desmond/Daniel episode entitled "The Constant"! And of course "The Incident" suggests that we're finally going to learn what happened within the Dharma Initiative that was mentioned on the orientation video(s) (as "the incident") and which may have resulted in Dr Chang losing the use of one of his arms.

(For those who don't know, this past week's episode was called "Some Like It Hoth" for reasons that became apparent once we discovered what Hurley had been working on in his notebook!)

Note that this means that there's no new Lost next week, our second such skip week since the fifth season launched back in late January.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Experimenting With Young Minds (Because I Can)

When I went to do my Math tutoring tonight, it was the 2nd night of doing "Equations" (which is how Grade 7 Math refers to Algebra, apparently). An example of the sort of question that a Grade 7 student is expected to be able to solve would be:

2x + 3 = 9

Now, as far as I can tell (since the material hasn't actually been taught yet, as we're working a bit ahead), the approach to solving these questions seems to start with "by inspection" and then potentially move on to the more rigourous (and reliable) "get the variables on one side of the equals sign and your numbers on the other" method that we all know and love. I believe that's where it's going, because there are questions like:

5y + 1.1 = 6.6

where I don't think the average Grade 7 could arrive at the solution just by looking at it and trying possible answers in their head. Therefore, I've preferred that the student use that second approach (of grouping variables and numbers) in all cases where he can't immediately get the answer (rather than, say, sitting there for several minutes trying various #s to see if any will work). Last session, I showed him how to isolate the variable from the number, but I could tell tonight that it hadn't really sunk in.

So tonight, after a bit of recapping what we'd done last time, I told him that I was going to teach him how to solve harder problems, so that the sort of question that he's likely to see this year would seem trivially easy by comparison. He was skeptical, and perhaps even a bit peeved that I was making him learn something that's more of a Grade 8 or 9 skill, but he went along with it.

To accomplish this, I showed him a slightly more difficult type of equation:

2x + 7 = 3x - 3

He fairly readily admitted that he couldn't solve that in his head. Then we proceeded to work through it together, with me repeatedly saying, "Let's get the x's together on one side, and the numbers together on the other, and make sure that whatever we do to one side of the equation gets done to the other side at the same time." I tried to drill home that latter point by explaining that it's like you have two kids who have to be treated equally... so if you give one chocolate ice cream, you have to give the other one chocolate ice cream. And if you take the ice cream away from one, you're forced to take it away from the other. You don't have any choice; it's the only way to maintain equality! He liked that analogy and kept joking about it, like saying, "If I give one broccoli...?" and I'd say, "Then you have to give the other one broccoli, the poor devil!"

Anyway, it took him a couple of tries but pretty soon he was adding or subtracting x's or y's or a's or b's from both sides, and adding or subtracting 2s or 5s or 9s from both sides, and quickly getting to his answer. After awhile, I asked him to make up an equation for me to solve, and showed him how you do it. He then proceeded to quiz me a few times, before we went back to having him complete them. (I like to challenge him to make up questions sometimes because I think it really requires him to understand the material that way.) In each case, the answer was always plugged back into the original equation to make sure that the left side indeed matched the right, and he seemed to really like that he could check his answer that way. (And that's why Algebra Rules!!!!)

So the experiment was this: teach the student something just a little more advanced than what he needed to know, and see if that helped him understand the simpler case. It seemed to work tonight, but I guess I won't know for sure until we see how he does on his Equations Test that's probably still weeks away. In the meantime we'll do lots of examples before moving on to whatever's next (Geometry, I think).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Keep The Score Close And Maybe You'll Win

Tonight, the Rangers pulled off a very improbable victory to open their 2008/09 playoffs. They were outplayed and outshot early on by the home town Capitals but managed to escape the first period with the game still scoreless. Then I watched them build up and subsequently blow a 3-1 lead in the 2nd (and early 3rd) period and provide the only nail-biting finish of any of the 3 Eastern Conference openers tonight (the other two both ended 4-1 for the favourites).

Much to my surprise, the Rangers retook the lead, 4-3, midway through the 3rd period and held on to win by that score.

Or maybe it shouldn't have come as such a shock, considering their seasonal record in 1-goal games: 23-10-9. When games were decided by 2 or more goals, they posted a rather lackluster record of 20 wins and 20 losses; but if they could keep things tight, they picked up 55 of a possible 84 points. And considering that more than half of their games ended up with a 1-goal differential, it's pretty fortunate that they could do so well in that scenario!

I wonder if any team played in more close games this past season than the boys from Manhattan?


I'm doing some research for an article that I'm preparing to write for the AgileMan blog, and I came across this blog post of mine from Jan 2008. It almost seems prophetic now, coming, as it did, about six months before I finally decided that I couldn't put up with any more of the bullshit at work. I have to say that it's nice to read it from my current vantage point of not being in the midst of it anymore; but by the same token, it did manage, for a blessedly brief moment, to bring back a lot of memories, most of them unpleasant.

Looking back, it's sometimes hard to believe that I actually used to put myself through that much frustration on a daily basis, but I guess it was the good stuff - including a lot of very intelligent, dedicated and fun people who filled the rest of my time there - that kept me going that long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama On The Economy

The President gave a very interesting speech at Georgetown University today, the contents of which you can read here. He addressed many of the "talking points" that seem to be making the rounds of the "conservative brain trust" (an oxymoron, these days). On the stance that now is not the time to implement expensive initiatives like health care reform or energy cap-and-trade:

"Look, just as a cash-strapped family may cut back on all kinds of luxuries, but will still insist on spending money to get their children through college, will refuse to have their kids drop out of college and go to work in some fast-food place, even though that might bring in some income in the short-term, because they're thinking about the long term -- so we as a country have to make current choices with an eye for the future."

On the need for a new kind of politics in Washington, just as his opponents fall back on all the same old tricks:

"For too long, too many in Washington put off hard decisions for some other time on some other day. There's been a tendency to spend a lot of time scoring political points instead of rolling up sleeves to solve real problems.

There's also an impatience that characterizes this town -- an attention span that has only grown shorter with the 24-hour news cycle that insists on instant gratification in the form of immediate results or higher poll numbers. When a crisis hits, there's all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died down, the media coverage has moved on to something else, instead of confronting the major challenges that will shape our future in a sustained and focused way.

This can't be one of those times. The challenges are too great. The stakes are too high. I know how difficult it is for members of Congress in both parties to grapple with some of the big decisions we face right now. I'd love if these problems were coming at us one at a time instead of five or six at a time. It's more than most Congresses and most Presidents have to deal with in a lifetime.

But we have been called to govern in extraordinary times. And that requires an extraordinary sense of responsibility -- to ourselves, to the men and women who sent us here, to the many generations whose lives will be affected for good or for ill because of what we do here."

As I read the speech, I kept finding myself wondering what would be happening right now if George W. Bush were still President. Judging by his reaction to Katrina, I'd say: probably not very much. If he had a majority in Congress (as Obama does, with the Democrats, and as Bush did for most of his time in the White House), then we'd probably see a wide-ranging mixture of tax cuts to the rich (sold as "a stimulus plan") and cuts to social programs (under the guise of "responsible budgeting"). Assuming that many of the recipients of the tax cuts would hoard that extra income in response to seeing their net worth reduced by the economic meltdown, the U.S. government would essentially add to the contraction of spending that's already underway. The vicious cycle of "less available credit -> layoffs -> less spending -> less available credit -> ..." would simply be deepening, and any voices within or outside of America that might press for a healthier set of responses would be ignored, mocked or even vilified, in the typical fashion of the Bush/Cheney regime. What a scary thought, and how unbelievably fortunate we all are that there's an actual man of intelligence and integrity occupying the White House for the first time in the 21st century!

The Rebirths Of Captain America

Rumours are starting to swirl that Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, may be on the verge of returning to the Marvel Universe, a little more than 2 years after his death in the well-publicized Captain America # 25. During his absence, we had a brief period in which there was no Captain America to be found, followed by the assumption of the role by his former sidekick, Bucky Barnes.

Today I read, for the first time, a classic story in the always-entertaining history of the character. I've known the cover to Strange Tales # 114 (shown to the left) since I was a wee lad, but I'd never read the tale behind it until recently... not even in reprint form! So it was a thrill to finally peruse it, as I work my way through my back issue pile from last year's Chicago convention.

You may be wondering, why is this comic so significant? Well, Captain America had been a big hit in the 1940s but had fizzled out after World War II, as many of the superhero fixtures did. He came back briefly in the 1950s for some bizarre reason (at which time he took on Communists in place of Nazis) - this was before Marvel Comics redefined itself with the launch of Fantastic Four in 1961 - but mostly had remained off the map when this issue of Strange Tales arrived on the newsstands in the autumn of 1963. Just imagine what fans of the time must have thought when they saw that cover, showcasing the Fantastic Four's Human Torch facing off against the gone-but-not-forgotten Captain America! (As a side note, one of the many interesting aspects of having those two characters meeting up was that, back in the 40s, Captain America had often interacted with the original Human Torch, who was a human-looking android with essentially the same powers that Johnny Storm would receive from cosmic rays, a couple decades later, in Fantastic Four # 1!)

On the very first page of that historic issue of Strange Tales, readers were urged not to reveal the twist ending of the tale... but 46 years later I feel safe in doing so. You see, it wasn't really Captain America returning from the dead (or anywhere else), but rather the Torch's old nemesis, the Acrobat, posing as the WWII hero. You don't find that out until the very last page, though, despite clues aplenty throughout the proceedings that would lead one to believe that this couldn't really be Cap. One of the possibly-unintentional indicators, in fact, was that Cap's costume is miscoloured every time he appears! His shorts, after all, aren't really red... or even purple, as they're shown on the cover... but rather blue, like the rest of his pants.

After the story wraps up, there's even a little editor's note telling us that it was just a test, to see how readers would react to the idea - if not quite yet the reality - of Captain America making the leap from the Golden Age of Comics into "the Marvel Age" (really, the Silver Age).

I think we can now safely assume that the reaction was, in fact, somewhere well to the north of "tepid", because it was only a few months later that the real deal showed up, in Avengers # 4. Here, an explanation was provided for the hero's long absence: he'd fallen from a Nazi rocket into the north Atlantic Ocean and been frozen since the late stages of the Second World War! This was also the place where we learned that his longtime WWII sidekick, Bucky, had stayed with the rocket long enough to keep it from hitting its target, valiantly giving his life in the process. (Or so we thought, until writer Ed Brubaker brought him back, with a replacement cybernetic arm, in the 21st century. Somebody had to replace Steve after he died in 2007, after all!) The survivor's guilt that Steve Rogers felt over Bucky death would be the seed for many a Captain America story over the next couple of decades.

Oh, but wait: what about those very strange 1950s Cap stories, which were now a problem on at least two different levels (why did he act so out of character, and how come he was up and running around with a sidekick named "Bucky" in the 1950s if Bucky died, and Cap went into suspended animation, a decade earlier)? Well, it only took about 10 years or so before someone dealt with them, in the pages of Cap's own comic. The "1950s Cap and Bucky", it turned out, were a government black ops experiment to see if they could duplicate the Super Soldier Serum that had created the original Cap back in 1941. So those adventures against "the red menace" had actually featured a replacement pair, who were slowly going mad. It only took someone in the Nixon administration re-activating those earlier agents to put things on a collision course toward the inevitable: Cap vs Cap! (And on the under-card: the Falcon vs Bucky!)

Just a few reasons why I love the history of Captain America so much!

Very Exciting Stuff!

It sounds like the next League of Extraordinary Gentlemen installment (the first one published outside of the heavy editorial hand of DC Comics) is now just a few weeks away! In fact, publisher Top Shelf has made the first 9 pages available for preview!

I skimmed - but didn't read - them, because, after all, even with LOEG Century Volume I weighing in at 80 pages, I still didn't want to spoil 1/9 of the product before it comes out. If the production quality on Lost Girls is anything to go by (a previous Top Shelf Alan Moore release), then this is going to be one fantastic looking piece of art!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sarah Connor 2nd Season Finale? No Garbage!

Rumours persist that Fox isn't going to renew Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for a 3rd season. But after that thrilling conclusion to the second season last Friday, how can they not? I'd had a feeling all along that the seemingly-evil Catherine Weaver (portrayed so deliciously by Garbage's Shirley Manson) would prove to be more than she appeared to be, and the finale proved that out. But that was just the first shock of many during the episode, as we ended up with a cast spread over different time periods, the appearance of potentially yet another alternate time-line, the return of a couple of dead brothers, and the introduction of Cameron's flesh and blood prototype... all in quick enough fashion to give the rabid T:TSCC fan veritable whiplash!

If Sarah isn't brought back for another season (or at least a mini-series/TV event) to wrap all this up, then it'll be one of the worst cancellations I can ever remember.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Doesn't This Look Like Fun?

Especially starting somewhere around the 3:00 mark?

On Making The Playoffs

Don't get me wrong: I'm not jumping (back) onto any New York Rangers bandwagon anytime soon. While I'm glad to see them make the playoffs (squeaking in with 4 days left on the schedule), it was still a frustrating season that featured very little in it to brag about after about the 1/3 mark. But after those long 7 years without a postseason appearance (1998 - 2005, not counting one year in which no one made it into the playoffs!), having them make it for the 4th year in a row definitely counts for something.

In fact, I got curious today about just how many times the Rangers have missed the playoffs since I started following them (1973/74). I was actually surprised, when I tabulated the results, to discover that, over the first 25 years of me favouring them with my attention they only came up short 5 times! In other words, 80% of the time over that stretch I got to see them compete in at least one postseason series in April. No wonder 7 consecutive disappointing seasons hit me (and other Rangers fans) so hard! They missed as many playoff appearances during that short period, in fact, as they had over the preceding 35 years!

Of course, another franchise that's done pretty well over the past couple decades also had a long playoff drought to live down. The Red Wings, back in the 1970s and into the early 80s, slapped together 7 bad years in a row, and 11 out of 12! To make matters worse, over those dozen seasons the only playoff series they won was against the Atlanta Flames! And yet today they're not only the defending Stanley Cup Champions but also one of the favourites to win the Cup every year, going back at least 15 years now. So I guess there's always hope.

So Just How Close Is Close?

Continuing my catch-up series on the NHL's season, I was struck by the situation between Montreal and Florida. For those who don't know, the two teams finished 8th and 9th in the Eastern Conference, respectively, meaning that the Habs get to play on while the Panthers are all set to enjoy the golf courses in the Sunshine State. But let's look at just how close those two teams were, at the end:

Montreal finished with a record of 41-30-11, good for 93 points.
Florida also finished with a record of 41-30-11, or 93 points.

The first tie-breaking consideration when the points totals are identical, assuming that both teams managed to play their full 82-game season, is total wins. As you can see, the two teams also tied on that front.

The next consideration goes to the head-to-head record between the two teams. This is what propelled the Habs into their opening round series against their Original Six rivals, the Bruins, because they took 3 of the 4 meetings against the Panthers in 2008/09. However, one of those three Montreal wins came about in Overtime or a Shootout, meaning that the game could very easily have been won by Florida. In fact, had the Panthers scored a late 3rd period goal in that game - just that, score one goal in the dying moments! - the two teams would have split the season series down the middle.

So in that alternative scenario, let's imagine that they still somehow end up tied in points and wins (because if everything else had gone the same, Florida would actually have had more points than Montreal anyway). Now, however, the head-to-head results would not have been enough to crown a winner for the 8th and final playoff spot. It would have then moved to goal differential (goals-for minus goals-against). Montreal posted a differential of +2 (249-247) but Florida outdid them by the slimmest of margins, finishing at +3 (234-231)!! And had Florida indeed won that Overtime/Shootout game with the Habs in regulation instead, as I'm hypothesizing could easily have happened, they would have actually had an even slightly better advantage there, as well.

Imagine that! With the scoring of one goal, at one key point in their season, Florida would have gotten in and the Habs would have missed the postseason in their 100th year of existence!

Now, you can make the very reasonable argument that both teams would have played differently down the stretch had Florida been holding the tie-breaker. For example, the Habs were apparently quite listless last night in losing 3-1 to the Penguins (with nothing but a "move up" in the standings on the line) and perhaps that wouldn't have been the case had their entry into the playoffs still been on the line. On the other hand, though, they lost a lot of other games recently - finishing the season with 4 straight defeats - even though they hadn't clinched a trip to the playoffs until their 2nd last game! So who's to say...?

I should also point out that the Rangers may - depending on what happens in their final game today against the Flyers - end up tied with Montreal and Florida in terms of total points (93). However, they've won 42 games already, meaning that they held the first and most important tie-breaker in the event that all 3 teams finished with that point total, which is why they were able to clinch on Thursday night.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Difference, When It Matters

I made a claim to Boneman partway through the 2008/09 NHL season that I've wanted to follow up on for a while. As long as I was in the midst of an embargo, though, it wasn't going to happen. Now, on the other hand...

So my claim was this: I think that teams on the bubble of making or missing the playoffs step up their game in the late stages of the season. Well, duh, you might say. But where common sense might say that some teams would get hot while others ran cold, I think that the overall trend around the playoff cutoff point is strictly upward.

To be more specific: I hypothesized that the # of games over 0.500 for the teams in the 8th and 9th slot wouldn't prove to be linear. Logically, you might think that, for example, if 2 or more games over 0.500 would put you in the top 8 teams within your conference 1/4 of the way into the season, then 8 or more games over 0.500 should do it by the time things wrapped up in April (a linear increase). But my gut feel, in recent years, has been that that relationship doesn't hold true.

To see if I was right or not, I mined some data. Here's a graph showing what the results look like in the Eastern Conference this year, focusing on the teams that were in the 8th and 9th slot at the end of each month (for April's results, I used current stats):

As you can see, both the 8th and 9th place slots experienced a sharp jump in March (from +5 to +12 and from +6 to +10, respectively). Those each represent huge increases (on the order of 65% - 140%), well above what you'd expect from the changes shown in preceding months.

March therefore seems to be the month when teams around the middle of the conference start to pour it on after figuratively screwing the pooch for the first 3/4 of the season. Now, the teams in the 8th and 9th positions changed over time, but if we consider the difference between the 2 slots as being the difference between making a run at the Cup and starting your golfing season early, then it's pretty significant that "the bar" gets raised so disproportionately in the final 1/4 of the season. Or, at least, that's my theory. For what's it worth.

A Return To The Madness

I think I've done a pretty good job over the past 2 months of ignoring the misadventures of the New York Rangers. As I wrote about here, they'd pushed me past my breaking point this season with their inconsistent play and inability to score goals. For the first half of the season, they'd over-achieved somewhat (at least within the standings) thanks to a schedule that had them always a few games further along than anyone else and some occasionally-impressive success at protecting one-goal leads in low-scoring games. Somewhere around December or January, though, both of those advantages began to disappear and I finally gave up on them when they surrendered 6 goals in a single 20-minute period in a game against the Dallas Stars in early February.

Since then, I've mostly managed to keep my mind off the team that I've followed since I was 10 years old. Every once in a while I'd hear something about them and be unable to resist the urge to check out how they were doing. For example, Boneman informed me in March that coach Tom Renney had been fired - a move that I had to applaud, given some of the performances this year - and so, for a couple of days, I kept watch to see who would take over. I was happy to hear that John Tortorella was brought in, but the team welcomed him with back-to-back 2-1 losses to the Leafs and Panthers (neither of them exactly a powerhouse). At that time it was becoming apparent that the Rangers would have to pick up their game considerably or risk missing the playoffs for the first time in 4 years, and that was one train wreck that I had no stomach for watching. So I went back to periodic, sporadic check-ins surrounded by long stretches of thinking about other things.

This past Thursday, Boneman (him again!) told me that the Eastern Conference playoff lineup could potentially be settled that night, which definitely piqued my curiosity and indicated that it was probably time to uncover my eyes. When I got back from doing my Agile Project Management presentation, I decided to catch up. As luck would have it, the evening's game between the Rangers and Flyers had just finished, and the hometown Blueshirts had eked out a 2-1 win to clinch a trip to the postseason. Not long after, the Habs took the Bruins to overtime, and that was enough to put Montreal in, meaning that the 8 Eastern teams were now decided (although some positioning is still up for grabs). Considering that it was the Rangers' 2nd last game of the season, this was something of a bittersweet development for a team that lead the league for the first month and was in the top half of their conference for the first half of the season. Beggers can't be choosers, though, and so they get at least one round of playoffs for their troubles.

In reviewing their season over the course of yesterday and today (and with one more game tomorrow, in Philadelphia, before the season's complete), I noted a few points of interest in addition to anything I've posted previously:
  • Somehow, Sean Avery landed back in a Rangers jersey. I don't begin to understand that development, and I'm left with the same feeling of unease about his being there as I've had for the past 2 seasons.
  • Across the 3 home-and-home series they had with Western Conference teams, there were no splits! Dallas swept them (including that fateful 10-2 result that sent me packing), whereas the Rangers swept both Anaheim and Chicago. Ironically, the Stars didn't make the playoffs this season, whereas the two teams that the Rangers dominated will join them in the postseason!
  • I believe the only Eastern Conference team that the Rangers swept were the Lightning, and I didn't notice any Eastern team that New York failed to get at least one win against (though it's possible I missed one). They did manage to win 5 of 6 against the (admittedly, pretty terrible) Islanders, and I'll take that result against their hated cross-town rivals any year! On the flip side, they lost 3 of 4 to the lowly Leafs and probably handed Toronto as many points as any team in the league!
  • The Rangers will finish 7th in the East if Montreal doesn't do better than them in the two teams' final, respective games. The Habs host the Penguins tonight, and so the Rangers will know what - if anything - is required of them tomorrow afternoon if they're to grab the 7th spot in Philadelphia.
  • The Rangers will play either the Bruins (if they finish 8th) or the Capitals (if they finish 7th), starting Wed or Thu this week. Both teams held the advantage in the seasonal series, with Boston getting 5 points (compared to 4 by the Rangers, as the teams each won 2) and the Caps winning 3 of 4.
  • With a respectable home record and a sub-0.500 road mark, the Rangers will unfortunately have to start on the road and win at least one away from MSG if they expect to get past the opening round. The only way they'd have home advantage to start any series would be if they finished 7th and faced the 8th place Canadiens in the 3rd round!
  • In 21 of their (so far) 81 games, the Rangers scored 1 or fewer goals. That's right: in more than a quarter of their games, they were held to a single goal or less! And you wonder why I was frustrated with their output!
  • By the same token, in 21 of their (so far) 81 games, the Rangers held their opponents to 1 or fewer goals. While those weren't the same two sets of games, they did take part in a few 1-0 games (including 2 losses to the Bruins).
  • Speaking of Boneman's Bruins: all 4 games between NYR and BOS were 1-goal differentials (4-3, 3-2, 1-0, 1-0).
  • And speaking of 1-goal differentials: the Rangers have already seen more than half of their season's games end that way (42 so far), with them winning 23 of them, losing 10 in regulation and 9 in either O/T or Shootout. That +13 in wins vs regulation losses across 1-goal games means that they actually played below 0.500 in games decided by more than a single goal (19-20) to date! (Put another way: 55 of their 93 pts came that way.) That's perhaps the most shocking stat of anything I've seen.
I think Tortorella's a better coach for that team than Renney was, although it's probably too early to call. In 61 games this season under Renney, the team was 31-23-7. Over his first 20 games behind the bench, Tortorella saw them post a 11-7-2 record going into tomorrow's final game. Considering that he inherited all of the problems that Renney hadn't dealt with, and that the team went 11-6-1 after his first 2 games, I'm hoping for better things when Torts has a full season to work with.

So, with the baseball season having started last week, I was going to be watching more sports nowadays anyway. I'm not about to expect much from the Rangers in the 2009 Playoffs - although it's nice that they're in! - but maybe the Jays, with their 5-1 start, can make some noise come September and October!

And, to the ever-patient and indulgent Shane, Boneman and AgileBoy: yes, this means the embargo is over for another year. Now what is it that you were always so desperate to tell me, anyway?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pool Update III

After a week of watching the water level stay constant, I added a few more inches of water this afternoon. I need to inject a bit more tomorrow, by which time I'll have gotten things back to where they were when we closed the pool last September. If we don't see any drop off over the next week following that, then I'll be feeling a lot better about the prospect of us getting through another swimming season without the expense of a liner replacement.

So far, so good.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Off To Talk About Agile Project Management Tonight

It's time for another speaking engagement, with tonight's audience being a group of Project Management Institute members. I did a little fine-tuning of the material this morning and now have a pretty reasonable set of 40-ish slides. I hear that about 35 - 45 people are expected to attend, and I'm told that represents a respectable amount of interest within this particular chapter of the PMI. Now all I have to do is deliver the goods and survive the inevitable skepticism and cynicism that any group hearing about Agile for the first time would be expected to exhibit.

[Update Apr 10/09: And now you can read all about how it went!]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What Will Tonight's Lost Bring?

It's been an amazingly strong season of Lost so far, but I almost worry that that's working against the show. For example, I think that the last couple episodes have been quite entertaining but perhaps not quite up to the high bar that the season has set for itself. And yet, either of them would have been 400-foot home runs if they'd shown up in Seasons Two or Three. So it may in fact be the case that Lost has upped the ante so much this year that some of us (like me) have become... well, spoiled!

Nevertheless, I'm eagerly anticipating tonight's allegedly-Benry-centric installment, as we may find out what Richard Alpert's dire "rescue" of young Ben actually entails. Is he going to get the "French expedition treatment" and emerge from the temple changed in some way? Will we find out more info on what that's all about?

I also had a bit of an epiphany recently, concerning all of the seeming coincidences that have occurred in the various backstories (eg. Kate and Cassidy meeting up when Kate was on the run; Desmond getting his boat from Hurley's girlfriend; Sawyer bumping into Christian in Australia; etc.) Maybe some of those aren't happening by chance, or even by the machinations of the island, but rather because of the time travel. Perhaps the whole "whatever happened, happened" aspect of time travel (within the confines of the show, at least) are requiring that certain people from within and around the main cast have to meet up in the years after 1977 in order to keep events flowing along the lines that they're (now) supposed to. It's kind of a weird thought that I haven't fully noodled around, but it would make for an interesting explanation.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Not Quite Ready To Quit Comics Just Yet

Over on their newly-minted blog, The Source, DC Comics has published three pages from the upcoming miniseries, JLA: Cry for Justice. All three are stunning, but I picked the one to the left because it features several of my favourite characters (including Supergirl, Superman, Flash and Green Lantern). This JLA title, written by James Robinson, was originally supposed to be an ongoing series, but for whatever reason it's recently been downgraded to a 6-issue limited run. While I'm disappointed that we won't get more, now that I've seen some of the work by artist Mauro Cascioli I can appreciate that he probably couldn't hold down a monthly title anyway. It should be quite the thrill to see even 6 issues with that calibre of painting in it!

Now I just hope that DC holds off scheduling the first issue until they've got enough of the rest of the material finished to ensure that we don't have long waits in the middle.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Repeat After Me: "This Is Getting Ridiculous!"

It's currently snowing outside. On the 6th of April. Which means that we've now had snow in 7 consecutive months here (Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, and now Apr). I can't ever remember a winter like this, where there was snow on the ground over that wide a stretch (admittedly, with some nice days strewn in near both ends of the period).

I'm now officially very, very, very sick of winter!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Techniques For Learning

Now that I have someone to tutor, I'm spending more time thinking about how learning actually happens. I'm far from an expert on the topic, despite having read up on it a bit over the past several months. But it seems to me that there are a number of things that you can do to help someone learn without going to any great lengths or expense.

For example, I happen to think Math can be fun. But there's no doubt in my mind that there are all kinds of ways that you could choose to teach Math concepts which would be the very antithesis of "fun". So assuming that you believe that learning happens more effectively in an upbeat environment, how do you facilitate that? Obviously you should acknowledge and celebrate each accomplishment made by the student, which I think can be a challenge for some folks to whom giving praise doesn't come naturally. Sometimes it's as simple as the tone of the sessions themselves - do you treat everything as deadly serious, or do you make up some goofy examples so that the other person knows that it's OK to have a laugh or two? - or even whether or not you make an effort to personalize the concepts. If talking about a basketball player's stats at the free throw line can help a 13- or 14-year old NBA fan understand how percentages work, then you'd be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity that's been presented to you.

I'm a big believer in repetition and reinforcement when it comes to learning, and so one of the techniques I employ is to make up Practice Sheets for the students to fill out, on their own, after we've spent some time together. This simple routine can actually serve a lot of purposes in the pursuit of better learning. It can:
  • give the students more exposure to whatever type of material was just covered (immediate reinforcement, in other words);
  • provide the students with confidence that they really did understand what was taught, or alternatively highlight to me where learning didn't occur;
  • ensure that past lessons are being retained over time through the use of "legacy questions" that essentially build up and test a growing "body of knowledge" as the course proceeds; and
  • allow me to sneak in "brain-straining" questions, under the guise of Bonus Questions that don't have as much pressure around them.
That final point is very appealing to me, because it takes learning beyond the regurgitation stage and into the discovery one. The bare minimum is always that the student understood and can apply the specifics of what was taught; but can he or she extrapolate from that material, even just a little? After all, as we all progress through the school system and hopefully on into post-secondary education, that becomes more and more the measure of our worth. And as an instructor, nothing quite says, "They get it!!" like seeing young minds apply something in a way that hasn't been spoon-fed to them already.

I've posted before of the high regard with which I hold members of the teaching profession (notwithstanding the fact that, like every other vocation, it has its fair share of duds), and that's as true now as ever.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Soldiering On

Since the most recent Resistance 2 patch came out a little over a week ago, I've rediscovered my love - some might even say, "obsession" - with the game. Besides the thrill provided by the new challenge of making it through the recently-added Superhuman difficulty mode of Coop play, I've also been trying to finally level up my Soldier class. I long ago got both my Medic and Special Operations characters all the way to Level 30 (the max), with all available upgrades and weapons purchased. But my Soldier had languished around Level 14 or so for ages, as I just didn't enjoy the less interactive role of standing there and firing while Medics keep your health up and Spec Ops provide you with fresh ammo.

Lately, though, I've been giving the Soldier job another try. It's still not as much fun for me as tossing ammo packs around or engaging in "health re-distribution" (stealing from the Chimera to give to my human teammates), but at least in Superhuman mode I'm more likely to have competent or better Spec Ops around to keep me well-stocked. When I notice that I'm getting replenished as quickly as I empty a clip into the enemy, I always make a point of saying something like, "Nice job with the ammo, Spec Ops!" into my mic. (Similarly, when I recently played a match as a Spec Ops myself, I had one of the Soldiers on the team tell me near the end that I was the best Spec Ops player he'd ever encountered. That's what I love about Coop!)

I played as a Soldier a whole lot last weekend, only to have the entire three days' worth of progress lost because of an issue at Insomniac Games' servers; but even with that I've gotten my Soldier to Level 18. I don't know if I'll really stick with it long enough to max him out, but I'm giving it my best shot these days.

And in the meantime, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Killzone 2 both await my return. Don't worry, lads... I'll get back to you before too long, but only after I burn out on my favourite game of 2008 once again.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pool Update II

After the water level stayed up for a couple of days following the winter cover removal, I added a few more inches earlier this week (Tuesday, I think). I measured and recorded the level when I was done, and until the rain started last night, it hadn't moved at all. I expect it'll be up by the time I get a (dry) chance to check it again, because we've received a fair bit of precipitation today. If that's true, then I'll add some more water next week, as I continue to work toward determining if there's a leak somewhere higher up on the liner, or - hopefully! - no leak at all.

So far, so good, though.

Anyone Interested In Alpha Testing Something New?

I'm taking part in some alpha testing of a new "thought networking" technology by Kitchener-Waterloo company, Primal Fusion (follow the preceding link to find out more about what they do). They've just e-mailed me 5 additional invitation codes for me to pass out to interested acquaintances. If you'd like to try it out, e-mail me at:

and I'll pass along one of the codes to the first 5 who ask.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Not Much To Say Today

Feeling like I've caught yet another cold (sore throat, run down) and generally a bit under the weather. But I did enjoy my first session of Grade 7 Math tutoring last night, and am looking forward to the next one (Tuesday of next week). In between, I provided the pupil with a practice sheet filled with integer arithmetic questions that will test what was learned (or not) and give me some idea on that front.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Planetary On The Cusp Of Completeness

One of the most interesting comic series in recent memory is now apparently just a cat's whisker away from being finished. Warren Ellis is reporting that he has seen all of the finished artwork (except for a cover) to Planetary # 27, the grand finale of a truly amazing series. I'm lucky enough to have a page of original artwork from Planetary and it's every bit as gorgeous and detailed as you'd expect from something as impressive as what Ellis and artist John Cassaday produced over the past... what, decade now?! It's hard to believe that once upon a time new issues came out on a roughly bi-monthly basis, but that was years ago and I'm just glad that the boys stuck with it and actually finished the story off instead of leaving us hanging.

This final issue was a long time coming, but I have no doubt it'll be incredible when it arrives... and then I get to re-read the entire run, including all of the specials and crossovers, from start to finish. Which of course is one of the best parts of this sort of thing!

Also Funny

President Obama Depressed and Distant Since The Battlestar Galactica Finale, courtesy of our friends at The Onion.

It's Funny

In the car tonight as Vicki and I went out for dinner, we both remarked on how windy it was. For her, I think it was just an observation; as for me, I just kept thinking, "Boy, am I ever glad I'm not biking into that mother-*&^%ing gale!"

I've had enough of that kind of trip already this year, and it's only the first of April!

No More "Flat GST"?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I totally didn't see this coming:

"By the Canadian Press (CP)


OTTAWA - In a surprise announcement just moments ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled plans to revamp the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Mr Harper kicked off the impromptu press conference by saying, "For too long, the GST has imposed undue hardship upon those who can least afford to bear it. Therefore it's time for a change! We're here today to announce a bold new direction for the GST."

At that point, Mr Flaherty took over. He said, "All Canadians are familiar with the graduated tax plan that's used in calculating your Federal Income Tax each year. Mr Harper and I are proud to announce to you today that we will soon be moving to a very similar system for the Goods and Services Tax.

"Specifically," Mr Flaherty continued, "the current 5% flat tax will be abolished. In its place, we'll have a step-wise calculation that is based on the size of the purchase, since that's a clear indication of wealth. For example, the tax rate for purchases of 99 cents and less will be zero. Now let me repeat that: any purchase that you complete for less than a dollar will soon be GST-free! That 25-cent comic book that you buy your child on impulse, even when combined with your 65-cent battery replacement for your smoke detector? No GST!

"For purchases of between $1.00 and $9.99, the rate will be 3.5%, except when printed reading material with advertisements in it are included,in which case 3.75% will be used. When you complete a transaction totaling between $10.00 and $999.99, the rate on that portion of the purchase will be 4%, along with the 3.5% - or 3.75%, as appropriate - on the lower portion. And finally, for purchases of $1,000.00 or more, the rate will be 6% on the amount above that thousand dollar mark, plus the applicable lower rates on the amount below $1,000.00.

"Now, I know this may sound a little confusing at first, but let me provide an example so that you can all see how straight forward it actually is. Suppose you were buying a new personal computer for your home use. Let's say that it cost $3,000.00, and you were also picking up $20.00 worth of floppy discs for it. In the current system, you'd be taxed 5% on that $3,020.00 purchase. Under our new, more fair structure, there actually wouldn't be any GST applied at all to the first dollar of that purchase! You would, however, pay 3.5% on the next $9.00 of the purchase, followed by 4% on the next $990.00 and finally a 6% charge on the $2,020.00 above the thousand dollar mark."

"Don't forget the digital media surtax," Mr Harper offered at that point.

Mr Flaherty continued, "Oh, did I forget to mention that earlier? Yes, I think I must have! OK, well, for purchases involving digital media, there will be a 10% Fair Use Surtax on each of the individual GST rates. So, for example, in this case, that would mean that, instead of using 3.5%, 4% and 6%, respectively, in that previous calculation, the applicable rates would be... let's see now... doing a little off-the-cuff arithmetic in my head here... um, 3.85%, 4.4% and 6.6%, respectively, after the 10% F. U. Tax is accounted for."

"So as you can see," Mr Harper summarized for the stunned group of reporters, "this new system is not really all that complicated, but it certainly is a whole lot more fair. Those who can afford luxury items like computers for their home, vacations to Europe, or cars, will now bear more of the GST burden, as they should. And those struggling to get by will benefit greatly from this initiative."

Mr Harper and Mr Flaherty then announced the change would be effective one year from today, on April 1st, 2010, before quickly leaving without taking any questions."


I've also just read that Dalton McGuinty is considering a change to Ontario's Provincial Sales Tax in response to this GST announcement. There don't seem to be any concrete details out there yet, but rumour has it that he's talking about allowing deductions on your PST at the cash register based on how much you donated to charity or put into your RRSP in the previous year. Geez... I hope that doesn't mean that I have to start carrying all of my charity receipts around in my wallet every time I go out shopping! That sounds like a real pain.