Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's The Hypocrisy, Stupid!

Last week's "big news story" about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's adulterous affair with an Argentinian woman is just the latest in a long string of public figure scandals. Perhaps the biggest reason for this one getting so much coverage was the bizarre prelude to it, in which the governor disappeared for several days during which time no one could find him. (Constituting dereliction of duty for a Governor, I'd say!)

While these sorts of things seem to revolve around liberal politicians every bit as often as conservative ones, the reason that high-profile Republicans look so much worse in these situations is simply the hypocrisy of it all. These are typically church-going, Bible-quoting men who cluck their tongues and point their fingers at anyone who fails to measure up to their interpretation of the Old or New Testament. Gay marriage? Why, that would destroy the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman! Never mind that individuals like Gov Sanford spit on that sanctity by having affairs, of course. I guess it must be "the principle of the thing" at work here.

To cut Sanford a little slack, though: it does sound, at least from a distance, like the guy might actually be in love with his mistress. What I can't help but wonder, though, is whether this experience has taught him anything? Clearly he knew that having sex with a woman behind his wife's back was wrong... and yet he went ahead and did it. Repeatedly. And he did all that (presumably) because he felt that he had to follow his heart. Can't that teach him anything about a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender, and wants to marry that other person? Is it still impossible for him to put himself in the shoes of someone like that, and begin feeling any compassion for their situation?

If there's one thing I can't stand in a person, it's hypocrisy. If you truly believe that it's OK for you to do something but wrong for someone else, then you've got a serious problem. And the last thing we need are people like that holding down positions of importance in society.

A Classic Catch-22 That May Spell Disaster

Economist Paul Krugman has a very good post up about the slim passage of the environmental bill in the U.S. Congress last week. He writes about how the actions of some of those who voted against it may very well constitute treason against the planet. I certainly wouldn't disagree with him one little bit on that perspective. It's becoming increasingly clear that many individuals and organizations are working in what they consider to be their own, selfish best interests in the short term, with little or no regard for any long term consequences to the species.

What strikes me is the Catch-22 nature of the situation we find ourselves in, vis-a-vis Climate Change. In Joseph Heller's World War II novel of the same name, one of the examples of a Catch-22 was a fighter pilot requesting release from his duties on the grounds that he believed that he was losing his mind. The person in charge, however, argued that anyone sane enough to worry that he was losing his mind must therefore be sane enough to continue flying missions: Catch-22!

We're in a similar boat on the environment, I fear. In order for some people to believe that Climate Change is real and in need of a strong response (one that might even *gasp* involve raising taxes on American citizens!), something fairly dramatic and undeniable is going to have to happen. It can't be anything that can be explained away (see: Katrina) but has to be something unprecedented... like New York City being drowned under a tidal wave, for example. The problem, of course, is that by the time something like that actually happens, it'll be well beyond the point where anything could be done to stem the tide. In other words, we need something definitive to happen before enough people will believe, but by the time that thing occurs, believing won't make any difference: Catch-22!

As I'm sure I've blogged about before, the aspect of the argument that makes it easy for me to decide which side to come down on is this: if Climate Change isn't real, then the cost of being wrong is that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, develop renewable energy sources that will power our lifestyles for centuries, protect more of the planet from plundering, and generally encourage people to treat natural resources as precious. Oh, and yeah, OK, some stuff may cost more as we learn to build the real expense of items into the price tag. I can live with all that!

Whereas the "oops" factor if we err in the other direction is that we may end up wiping ourselves out, along with many other species, in addition to the hundreds or thousands that we've already made extinct. Hmm, that's a Hell of a big "oops"!

As project management risk analyses go, that's pretty much a no-brainer in terms of deciding between Plan-A and Plan-B. I wish most of the choices I've had to make in my career were as black and white as that one! Unfortunately, many of the Climate Change deniers are playing the part of the Eternal Optimists of Project Management, who bury their heads in the sand when it comes to risks and simply continue to believe that everything will work out fine as long as we all keep doing what we've been doing. It just happens that, in this case, "failure" may end up meaning that there aren't any more projects... ever.

The Opposite Of Boneman's "Affliction"

Boneman, if I remember correctly, suffers from "blue-green colour blindness", which I believe means that he can't easily distinguish between some shades of blue and green. (Or maybe I have that completely wrong!)

Anyway, this little optical illusion provides the inverse of that condition, causing the viewer to perceive a difference where none actually exists. Personally, I found it quite interesting. I did notice, however, that if I viewed the image from about a dozen feet away, the illusory effect disappeared.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Off The Air For A Bit Today

The fence builders managed to cut our phone line today with all of their hole-digging, leaving me with no ground line (and Vicki had the only working cell phone in the family with her at the office). More importantly, I was stranded with no Internet for about 9 hours. It didn't look like we'd even get a service call until tomorrow morning, but then a Bell guy showed up unexpectedly around 7:30 tonight and just like that - if "just like that" suggests an hour or more of fiddling with wires and digging around in wet dirt - we were back on the air.

It's funny how cut off I feel anymore if I lose the Internet. A mere 15 years ago I'd barely have noticed such a thing. Is this progress I'm feeling?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Almost Done inFAMOUS

I'm about 2/3 of the way through inFAMOUS now, and have recently started to tire of it a bit. It's definitely a very good game, but the repetition (of missions, and enemies) is beginning to wear on me. There also aren't many upgrades left to buy, which removes one of the incentives to keep racking up the XP as I've been doing.

I don't know if I'll actually play it right through to the end or not, but either way: I expect that by this time next week, I may very well have started in on Red Faction: Guerrilla. (It's always nice when you have the next game lined up before finishing the current one, isn't it?)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Strange Sight Around The Block

The denizens of our neighbourhood are quite accustomed to seeing Vicki and I out walking, as we do so several times a week when the weather permits. What they're not used to, though, is the sight of the two of us out walking a large dog... as we were tonight!

With the fence down between our house and our (fairly new) next door neighbour (new fence goes up next week), Caesar the very large golden Lab has made our yard his second home (with our blessing). While he was visiting tonight, we offered to take him along on our evening stroll... and off the three of us went!

A better behaved, more friendly dog I don't think I've ever met. If we weren't lifelong cat people, we might actually consider crossing over to the dark side. But instead we'll just settle for living that life vicariously.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Travelling Tammy Now Back Home

After five and a half weeks away, Tammy's now back from her Asian excursion. Despite our many worries, she didn't break any bones, catch any dangerous diseases or get sold into any white slavery rings! Yay!

Are We Living In A Golden Age For Entrepreneurs?

Several recent events have got me thinking along these lines, but I should really start at the beginning.

Which, for me, was a couple of years ago (almost to the month) when I decided to write my first book. I had known all along that I would self-publish, rather than open myself up to the rejection and ridicule of trying to convince some publishing house to take a flyer on me. Since, at the time that I decided on the writing assignment, I'd not done any research at all into self-publishing, I pessimistically assumed that it would be an expensive undertaking. In fact, I think I said to Vicki that I would "set aside about $1000 and print whatever number of copies that would get me." My plan at that point was to give copies away, because really... who'd want to pay for the privilege of reading a book by a nobody?

Once I'd looked into it more, though, I realized that it was much cheaper than I'd expected. Where I'd imagined copies costing perhaps as much as $50 apiece (meaning that my $1000 would give me 20 copies to give away to friends and family), I discovered that a print run of any reasonable size (say, 10 or more) could be done with a price point no higher than $10 to $20, depending on the format and page count. Wow! What a revelation that was!

The relative ease and low cost of self-publishing meant that I could do ahead with my plan, which eventually lead to dozens of sales, a second AgileMan book and even thoughts of a fiction book (not to be confused with "a fictional book", which is its status at the moment). The important point here is that there proved to be very few obstacles in the way of my becoming an entrepreneurial author, beyond the inescapable challenges of actually doing the work. I didn't need to deal with publishers who might want to change my words or approach (possibly for the better, though we'll probably never know), or agents who would take a cut, or marketers who could have presented the book as something that it's not. (Although, hardly a month goes by without AgileBoy reminding me of just what a lousy job I've done advertising the AgileMan books myself, so perhaps marketers wouldn't have been all bad...)

Along similar lines, a former co-worker of mine made big news recently by quitting his job after creating a very popular - and therefore lucrative - iPhone application. Now, in this case, Apple gets a slice of every dollar made, but the majority of the money (I believe) flows directly into the hands of the application's creator. Once again, a person with some creative juices has been able to get their product out on the market without too much difficulty, and is reaping most of the rewards of their labour. Yay for "the little guy!"

Just last night, a new acquaintance of mine passed along the story of his brother, who has self-published a book on the topic of "what it takes to get into the Fire Department" and did very well for himself (selling thousands of copies on his own, and then eventually landing a publisher for the book). That success story clearly outstripped anything that I've accomplished with my AgileMan books (so far), but definitely provided inspiration to me, nevertheless!

It may, in fact, be the case that it's never been easier to "make good" on your dreams than it is right now - today! - early on in the 21st century. Sure, we're in the middle of a terrible Recession, and the stock markets are still down... but just as artists can be appreciated (and potentially even "discovered") through their use of YouTube, online comics, blogging, and the like, virtually any kind of creative energy that one might possess is more likely to find a low-cost entry point into the marketplace than has ever existed before.

In other words, we may be living in a Golden Age for such things. Isn't that pretty exciting, when you think about it?

Intelligence And The Kid Next Door

A friend on Twitter (a Fritter?) linked to this article on the topic of defining and categorizing intelligence. "Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius" is, indeed, an interesting read, and since the friend indicated that he was "[c]urious to see what others think" about it, I thought that I might oblige him.

I don't have the technical background to challenge or support the article writer's stance (which is essentially that intelligence is "an innate cognitive ability that powers learning" and not something that should be diluted or distorted by suggesting that we can all be geniuses in our own way). He's probably right, and even if he's not, I'm not going to be the one to make the compelling argument to prove it. (Hey, I'm no genius!)

But I've long held a belief, somewhat related to this subject, that my Math tutoring experience has been allowing me to put to the test. It's simply this: most individuals who aren't doing well in school could probably do much better if they had the right kind of instruction. That's nothing Earth-shattering, to be sure. And yet I often get the impression that parents will "write off" their kids' chances at academic success by simply saying, "Oh, little Suzy or Bobby just isn't any good at _____" based on marks that come home. (This is basically a corollary to the situation mentioned in the article whereby parents fixate on dance, or a sport, as a way to say that Bobby or Suzy is actually a genius, just not at the stuff that happens to be in the school curriculum.)

Part of it, I think, comes down to the ways in which people learn. The article writer describes learning as something that's an innate ability, and there's probably something to that. Which is to say: some people are naturally talented at learning. They can pick something up by reading a book, hearing a presentation, watching someone else do it, trying it themselves, or even just by thinking about it logically. In other words, they're natural learners, and that probably is a mark of high intelligence.

But, as someone who just experienced first hand a scenario where a Grade 7 student raised his Math mark by ~15% simply by virtue of having someone spend a few hours each week going over the material with him, one-on-one, I find it hard to believe that the student had been receiving the optimal opportunity to learn, prior to that. (And that's not a dig at the public education system, as there's no way a teacher with 25 students can deal with each one on an individual basis.) Had this particular student been more of a "natural learner," my services probably wouldn't have been required. But on the other hand, had I not been brought in to help, then it's quite possible (perhaps even likely) that he would have continued down the path of "I'm no good at Math" for the rest of his scholastic career, and ended up being pigeon-holed into that subset of career options that don't require much Math expertise. Which would be a shame, regardless of what field he actually ends up in. More choice is always better, after all.

My bottom line, I guess, is that we can define intelligence any way we want (eight different types, or as one single "g" measure). Those are all nice intellectual diversions that probably even have some important real-world applications. But what we shouldn't do is assume that people (especially children) can't learn, before every possible avenue for them to do so has been exhausted. That's simply a cop-out, and it can make a world of difference (not in a good way) that lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Measurable Improvement

My Grade 7 Math pupil stopped by a few minutes ago to tell me his final Math mark for the term: 81%! That's after having marks in the mid-60s for each of the first two terms. Apparently his dad now owes him an iPod (I guess the deal was, "Get your Math mark up to 80% or better, and I'll buy you one!") Which, I pointed out to the student, means that his dad has now paid quite a bit of money (between my fee and the new toy) in pursuit of getting that Math grade improved!

Anyway, I'm grading this first Math tutoring experience a solid A, since a 15% improvement over the course of just two and a half months has to count for something!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brutally Hot Day

Today was not the day to have to do anything strenuous outside in this neck of the woods, and yet somehow I ended up going on a long bike trip that included stops at the chiropractor, comic store and bike repair shop (to pick up a fixed flat tire from last week). By the time I got home from all of that, I was soaked in sweat and particularly appreciative of the fact that there was a nice, refreshing pool in the backyard to jump into!

I feel great sympathy for anyone who was working outside today and didn't have any similar way to cool down easily. It was just nasty out there today!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Good Company

With today's announcement of this year's Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, Brian Leetch adds another Rangers jersey to that prestigious locale. He, along with his 2009 co-inductees - Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille - is well-deserving of the honour, and provides some lustre to a Rangers organization that often hasn't had much.

He was drafted by New York, won the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) there in 1988/89, picked up two Norris Trophies, played almost his entire career for the Blueshirts, and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (playoff MVP) in 1994 when the boys won it all. He's the New York Rangers success story that's been sadly elusive over most of the franchise's history, and it was awfully sweet to see him make it into the Hall within his first year of eligibility. In fact, considering the pedigree of this year's class, all four may have gotten in on their first try. If so, then wow! What a year!

Congratulations to all four great players, but most especially to the point-producing defenseman from south of the border whose quiet and respectful demeanour, both on and off the ice, always made him seem more like a Canadian than an American!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hello, My Name Is ___

Today, for whatever reason, was all about meeting up with people. I started the day knowing that I was having lunch with a former co-worker, but didn't expect, over the course of the day, to bump into:
  • AgileBoy
  • Boneman
  • two other former teammates
  • someone else I used to work with
  • 4 different sets of neighbours (including the noisy ones)
  • my Math pupil
And let me just say: that's a lot of interaction for one poor, defenseless shut-in!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anybody Handy At Putting A Trellis Up?

Our idiot neighbours behind us have just done the one thing that Vicki always said they might do (and which I had argued that they couldn't possibly be stupid enough to do): they've spent the last several days cutting down all of the foliage that had grown up between their yard and ours (which, unfortunately, was all on their side of the fence).

Those plants were serving two purposes, as far as I was concerned: some small amount of noise blockage, and more importantly: providing some privacy between our two houses. We'd planted 7 cedar hedges along that property line back in 2005, but the tree guys who actually dug the holes for them started in the wrong place (Vicki and I were both at work that day) and so they didn't cover the entire area between our yard and the socially retarded ones. But there was lots of growth there, on their side, and so I didn't worry too much.

As of today, though, it's pretty much just air between us. We now look directly into their trailer park-like yard, and they look into ours. Considering the amount of work Vicki's put into the gardens around our yard, the idiots definitely got the better part of that bargain! It's absolutely awful. So now the plan is to see if we can get 30 feet of 8 foot high trellis erected along our 3 foot high chain link fence there, so that we can go back to not being able to see every bit of foolishness that they're up to (tonight, for example, they've got a big fire going in their back yard, to burn up all of the stuff they cut down). This one family has undoubtedly cost us more, in terms of money spent to try to reduce their noise as well as just general frustration when we're out in our yard, than the rest of the neighbourhood combined. They are truly the living embodiment of the old expression, there goes the neighbourhood.

[Update Jun 22/09: I found out today why all of the plant life was pulled down. They'd had a lot of water in their basement this Spring and determined that that area of their yard needs regrading so that the water can be taken away from the house. Fair enough. I'm glad to hear there was a good reason for it! In talking to the wife/mother of the family, she also offered to give us a few of their mature cedars that they're planning to get rid of anyway, for us to put in that area of the yard on our side of the fence. If we can make that happen, then this little adventure may have a happy ending, after all. And we all like those!]

They Really Did Need A Bigger Boat, You Know!

Last night, Vicki and I watched a movie that we each had already seen several times: Jaws. I bought the 25th Anniversary DVD of Steven Spielberg's shark flick a few months ago, because I'm trying to get more DVDs into our collection that represent what I would consider to be the 'classic' films of my viewing history. It's nice to get copies of more recent films (as I often do, both on my own and as gifts) but you seldom know for sure that you're really going to want to re-watch them all that many times. With the older ones, though, anything that you've happily sat through on three or four occasions already is probably a pretty solid bet for having some long term appeal in your household. And Jaws fit into that category for me, to be sure.

The first thing I have to say about Jaws is that it was actually more intense, and more interesting from a cinematic point-of-view, than I'd ever given it credit for before. I've always considered it one of Spielberg's lesser works, and something of a one-note song: shark attacks, and people die... cue the unmistakable theme music. It probably helped that I hadn't seen it over a decade, but wow, was I ever impressed this time around! I noticed more of the clever photography and better dialogue than I'd remembered being associated with this picture. The Quint character, played by Robert Shaw, came across as much more multi-dimensional than the know-it-all, hard-edged Ahab-clone that I had always "chalked" him up to be (just a small pun on the scene where he makes his introduction, for those familiar with the film). And for once, I didn't even mind Richard Dreyfuss!

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the scene on the beach in which Roy Scheider's Chief Brody says, "That's one bad hat, Harry" to an octogenarian coming out of the surf, since we hear that line of dialogue at the end of House each week. (I should explain that we don't actually watch House, but it's on right before something that we do follow every week - 24, probably - and therefore we frequently see that 3- or 4-second Bad Hat Harry Productions clip that includes Scheider's line of dialogue!) The little bits of trivia that I didn't know... but now do!

As is so often the case, a positive viewing experience was made all the sweeter by the existence of bonus material on the DVD. In this case, it was mainly the 25th anniversary "Making Of Jaws" video that filled that bill, but it really did provide the perfect dessert to complement the main course of shark meat. (OK, maybe that's not quite the right metaphor!)

I still wouldn't put Jaws in my Top 20 Movies list, but it might just be in the Top 100 now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Getting The 2nd Student Going

Next week I'll be starting up with my second Math tutoring pupil. She's just finishing up Grade 5 right now, and her parents want her to get a head start on Grade 6 over the summer (poor kid!). I don't know her final Grade 5 Math mark yet (the report cards come out sometime next week) but I got the impression that it will be somewhere in the mid-70s.

For my first session with her, I've been making up a list of sample questions to ask her, based on the Grade 5 curriculum for Math in Ontario. I'm hoping that these will allow me to get a good sense of what she did - and didn't - understand about what was taught in Math this past year. Depending on how that goes, I'll either launch into some Grade 6 material in the following session or else review the appropriate Grade 5 topics first.

I've got a potential 3rd student in the offing, as well, although this one isn't for Math. A friend of Vicki's has a Grade 4 student who does fairly well at Math but is really struggling with writing and reading comprehension. I had initially sidestepped this request (a couple months ago) because it's so far outside of what I'm comfortable tutoring (i.e. Math!) but the friend has persisted, and so I've started talking to her about it. Clearly, if this actually comes together, it's going to be a very different challenge than what I've been dealing with in tutoring Math. One of my areas of concern is that, whereas Math is very black and white in terms of what's right and what's wrong, anything to do with writing - or English in general - tends to be more subjective. I suppose, though, at the grade school level, that's less of a problem, as the focus is more on straightforward structural matters, like being able to spell and punctuate correctly, form correct grammar, and so on. It's probably not until high school that you get into the whole messy analysis of imagery and all that other stuff that teachers love to take marks off for! So maybe it wouldn't be that bad...

Anyway, if I can keep growing my pupil list like this, I may not need to take on any other kind of work. And wouldn't that be nice?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Less Than 3 Weeks Until Wednesday Comics Begins!

On July 8, DC Comics will kick off its next adventure in the world of weekly comic books, with the 12-part Wednesday Comics series. As I wrote about the series back in March, it's quite the experiment for DC to be doing, given that it involves producing a comic book series in newspaper format! But the more previews I've seen of the material, the more interested I've become. It's clear that all of the strips are "out of continuity" (meaning that they're not tied to what's going on in the DC Universe at the moment, or vice versa) and in fact are more likely to be archetypal representations of the characters than anything that's currently being portrayed in the monthly series (for example: Bruce Wayne will be under the Batman cowl, rather than Dick Grayson).

I was a little disappointed when I found out that each issue will be $3.99 US, but considering the page dimensions (14" x 20") compared to a regular comic (7" x 10"), I guess it really does work out to the equivalent of 32 pages, with no ads... which is worth $3.99 if the stories are any good.

Today I finally took a good look at the list of features and creative teams involved, and I have to say that it's pretty darn impressive to anyone who's been following the comic world over the past decade or two. Here's what each issue will include, ranked from "best to worst" according to my own complex system of favouritism with regard to creators and characters:
  • Metamorpho, by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred
  • Superman, by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo
  • Batman, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rizzo
  • Sgt Rock, by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert
  • Hawkman, by Kyle Baker
  • The Flash, by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher
  • Green Lantern, by Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones,
  • Metal Men, by Dan Didio and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
  • The Demon and Catwoman, by Walter Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze
  • Kamandi, by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook
  • Adam Strange, by writer/artist Paul Pope
  • Supergirl, by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
  • Wonder Woman, by Ben Caldwell
  • Deadman, by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck
  • Teen Titans, by Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway
Of course, one of the hoped-for delights from this series will be moving the strips up and down within that ordered list, once they start coming out and I begin to get a real feel for each.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big News For Justice League Fans

About a year or so ago, DC Comics announced that James Robinson would be writing a 2nd ongoing Justice League title, which would feature a splinter group of heroes headed up by Green Lantern and Green Arrow. I've been a fan of Robinson's since the 90s when he was crafting the excellent Starman saga (still one of my favourite titles, and one which I've reread in its entirety at least once). For that reason, I was more excited about Robinson's JLA title than I've been for the regular one in quite a while now.

But then the other shoe dropped several months ago. Robinson's Justice League was only going to be a miniseries instead, running just six issues. Bah! His rocky relationship with DC's Dan Didio was rumoured to be to blame, but regardless: I was very disappointed!

Today, however, I read some happier news: DC's blog is reporting that James Robinson will be taking over the main JLA title, later this year! Yay! I don't know how long it will last, but, for now at least, I'm pleased. And this means I can enjoy the upcoming Justice League: Cry for Justice miniseries even more, knowing that it won't be the only Robinson JLA that I'll get to enjoy in 2009!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

inFAMOUS Reviewed

Over the past 22 hours or so, I've probably spent almost 1/3 of that time playing Sucker Punch's latest PS/3 exclusive: inFAMOUS. Which is to say: it's somewhat addictive!

For those not familiar with the game, it's basically cut from the Grand Theft Auto mold: a third person, open-world concept in which you roam around a city (in this case, Empire City), taking on primary missions that further the storyline while being free to accept non-linear side missions that have you doing various, random activities. I've never been a big fan of the GTA franchise, so why am I enjoying inFAMOUS?

Well, there are a few reasons that I can see so far. First, the character that you play (Cole) is something of a superhuman as the result of a catastrophic event that opens the game. He's able to fire electric blasts out of his hands, and develops additional (electricity-based) powers as the game goes on. He can also scale almost any surface (ala Spider-Man) and so you're able to travel vertically, as well as horizontally, through Empire City. All of that is greatly appealing to me.

Another thing that I like is that you're prompted, at certain points during gameplay, to consciously decide whether to act heroically or selfishly. There's a karma meter that reflects how you're doing, and the civilians in the city react differently to you, depending on how you've behaved to date. I'm going the virtuous route at present, but if I really get into the game then I could imagine starting a new game and seeing just how far into the red I could push my karmic balance sheet!

The graphics are top notch, and so far the controls have been easy to use (I'm still smarting a little from how unnatural the Killzone 2 feel was!). It took me awhile to learn how to read some of the items that show up on my minimap, but once I did, the game got a lot less frustrating. One mission that I'd tried unsuccessfully to complete several times became relatively easy as soon as I deciphered some of the icons (and, began traveling by rooftop more).

I love the science fiction aspects of the game, which also place it much higher in my book than the "gangsta" feel of GTA. It's not as rich or deep a story as what you'll find in the Resistance franchise, certainly, but it's also not the insultingly-stupid fare that often shows up in shooters (Haze, anyone?). I'm still trying to figure out some of the finer points of what's going on in Empire City around me, but I'm not as lost as I was early on in Gears of War or any of the Halo stories.

Overall, I'm happy enough with the game after several hours of playing it. I can't say yet whether I'll stick with it all the way to the end - always one of the deciding factors for me as to whether a game really grabbed me, along with whether or not I replay any of its levels - but early indications are all positive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Microsoft Ads Crashing TVs

I know it's just a headline in The Onion, but it sounds so plausible that you'd almost believe it unconditionally!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Math Tutoring And The Cruel Teacher

My Grade 7 student had his final unit test last week. He went into it figuring that he had a good shot at getting his first 100% result (probably ever, in Math), because the test was on Equations and he's currently able to do them at a level well above his grade.

And then he got his test back, and discovered that he'd gotten only 35/40 (87.5%), whereas the average across the grade was 35.5/40 (~89%). Not only had he come in under the grade average for the first time since I started tutoring him, but he did so on the one unit that he had every reason to expect to excel at. Worse still, he's been turned off of Algebra, at least for the moment. How did such an unfortunate turn-of-events come about?

Well, on 5 of the 8 equations that he was required to solve on the test, he forgot to include the original, starting equation when he did his verification step at the end. In other words, where he needed it to look like:

Left Side
= 4x - 3
= 4(-2) - 3
= -8 - 3
= -11

his answer instead looked like:

Left Side
= 4(-2) - 3
= -8 - 3
= -11

For that, he had 5 marks deducted, bringing his mark down below the average across the entire grade.

Now, I'm a big supporter of teachers and am generally not quick to criticize them because I empathize with the tough job they have to do every day. But I really had to bite my tongue as I was hearing about this, as I think the teacher in this case screwed up. Yes, he expects a certain style of answer, and I'd have no problem with him deducting a mark for the first such omission. But to continue to take marks off as the mistake was repeated, when it was obvious that the student understood how to solve the equation and had done so perfectly 8 times, just seems either short-sighted or petty.

It's now up to me to find a way to re-engage the student on the topic of Algebra, as this experience has made him bitter about the whole thing. He now believes Algebra is more about getting the style of answer "right" according to your teacher's whims than it is about the thrill of solving the equation in the first place. He's gone from loving Algebra because it seems like mystery-solving to thinking that it's some kind of a scam. And that can't possibly be what his teacher intended.

Return Of A Legend (Or, "Holy Crap! Here Comes Cap!")

Once again, big comic book news broke today in the news media before most of us could read about it in the comic itself. This time it's Captain America # 600 (don't ask about the bizarre numbering whereby Captain America # 25 came out 2 years ago... that's another post all on its own!) and what it apparently promises in regards to the return to life of Steve "Captain America" Rogers. Click here to read what the New York Daily News revealed this morning.

I'm excited about the Captain America: Reborn mini-series, partially because of the storyline, but also thanks to the creators involved. Ed Brubaker is unquestionably my favourite Marvel writer at the moment, and having Bryan Hitch (of The Ultimates fame) on the artwork makes this an amazing one-two punch.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Messier Moment In History

On this, the 15th anniversary of the 1994 Stanley Cup Championship by the New York Rangers, I decided to crack open the commemorative DVD set that I purchased earlier this year. It has all 14 Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals games from 1994, and I decided to watch the one game that I'd never seen in its entirety before: Game 6 between the Rangers and Devils. The reason that I'd missed seeing it live is that it was played on the same night that the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation ("All Good Things Must End") was broadcast. The combination of the Rangers facing elimination for the first time in that playoff year and the highly-anticipated conclusion of one of my favourite TV series (at the time) had me favouring the latter with my attention over the former.

I did see the final several minutes of the hockey game, though (after ST:TNG had wrapped up) and what an exciting ride that was! For those who don't know, the events around this game went as follows:
  • The Rangers had finished 1st overall that season, with the Devils 6 points behind at 2nd place overall
  • The Rangers had gone 6-o against the Devils during the regular season, meaning that had the two teams split those 6 games, the Rangers would have finished 2nd to the Devils
  • The Devils had won Games 1, 4 and 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference, heading home for Game 6 with a chance to advance to the Finals for the first time ever (where the Vancouver Canucks awaited the winner of the series)
  • Between Games 5 and 6, Rangers captain Mark Messier had publicly assured everyone that there'd be a Game 7 in the series ("We'll Win Game 6" he had promised in letters several inches high in all of the New York sports sections)
  • Instead, though, on the strength of two deflections (one off of Ranger Sergei Nemchinov's stick), the Devils jumped to a 2-0 1st period lead
  • The Rangers generally looked pathetic in the 1st period, with only their goalie keeping the first twenty minutes from being a rout (something I hadn't realized until I watched that part of the game this afternoon)
  • In the 2nd period, the Devils hit a post and had several other great scoring opportunities to get their 3rd goal, but couldn't pull it off (thanks in large part to some amazing goaltending by Mike Richter)
  • Play was much more even in the 2nd period, and rookie, 21-year old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had to rise to the occasion after barely being tested in the first frame and seemed to be smiling throughout it (and holy cow do the pads on both goaltenders look tiny by today's standards!)
  • With less than 2:00 to go in the 2nd, Messier dropped a pass back to Alexei Kovalev who faked a slapshot, skated in a bit closer, and then drilled the puck past Brodeur to make it 2-1
  • In the 3rd period, the Rangers looked much more like the President's Trophy winners, although New Jersey still had some chances to make it 3-1 in the first couple of minutes
  • At 2:48, though, Kovalev returned the favour by setting up his captain who slid a perfect backhander past Brodeur that wiped the smile off the young goalie's face
  • After matching Roughing penalties were handed out to make it 4-on-4 hockey, Leetch then dished it to Kovalev, who took a shot on net, the rebound of which went right to Mark Messier, who gave the Rangers their first lead of the night at the 12:12 mark
  • By this point, the Rangers had generally taken over the flow of the game, as the Devils could no longer rely on their 1-2-2 trap style of defensive play
  • Most of the play for the next several minutes was in front of and all around Brodeur, but the score stayed 3-2 as the clock counted down to 2:49 and the Rangers took a slashing penalty
  • With Glenn Anderson in the box, and just under 2:00 to go, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire decided to pull Brodeur in order to get a 2-man advantage, and seconds after winning the faceoff Messier grabbed the puck again and (knowing that there'd be no icing call if he missed), fired the puck the length of the ice and into the empty net, for a natural hattrick, a comfortable 2-goal lead, and a fulfillment of his guarantee of a Game 6 victory!
The biggest drawback to this particular DVD set is that it features the ESPN coverage of the games rather than CBC's Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play. As an indication of how inferior the American version was, there wasn't a mention of the Messier "guarantee" until the 2nd period, and when the Rangers pulled Richter to put a 6th skater out for a faceoff deep in Devils territory with 0.00.8 seconds left in the 1st, the commentators didn't even notice! Also, this was (I guess) before the pervasive use of the onscreen graphics for the score and time remaining (introduced by Fox and its use of the "Fox Box"?) making for some uncomfortable moments as you couldn't tell how much time was left in a powerplay, for example. But it's certainly still better than nothing. And one thing I'll say for the guys on the DVD (who probably covered the Rangers on the MSG Network all season long) is that they immediately picked up on the point at which the Blueshirts finally came to life, even before Kovalev scored their first goal. They had great familiarity with both teams in the series, but just didn't seem to know how to really bring the game alive until the latter half of the 3rd period.

Anyway, that was my 15th anniversary celebration! And to help mark the occasion, Vicki presented me with 2 new video games this morning. I now own InFamous and Red Faction: Guerrilla, both on the PS/3! Woo hoo!! Now I just have to decide which to try first, once I finish Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In Praise Of Christian Bale

He may be a prima donna when it comes to people screwing up his eye line during filming, but the more I see of Christian Bale's craft, the more I think that the end result is all worth it.

We just watched Rescue Dawn and it was yet another great performance by Mr Bale. He and several of the other actors in the movie lost a ton of weight for some of the later scenes in it, but that's just one aspect of the overall effect. In his lead role as Dieter Dengler he's riveting in his ability to hold your attention right from the first scene.

For Lost fans, there are a couple of special treats. The actors who play Dr Pierre Chang and Daniel Faraday both make appearances, though sadly not together.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wow! That Was A Great Game 7!

That save Fleury made on Lidstrom with a second or two left on the clock? Unbelievable! With that move he preserved the 2-1 victory and allowed his team to win their third Stanley Cup and first one of the Sidney Crosby era.

The final several minutes of that game were so exciting that I was actually holding my breath... and I didn't care who won! I can't imagine what that must have been like for Wings and Penguins fans (well, actually I can... Game 7 in 1994 was even more intense).

I'm sure there will be some bitter Red Wings followers out there, whining about the officiating, or the grueling schedule for their team, or whatever... but considering that their team won it all last frigging year, suck it up already! The Penguins, like Detroit, had a phenomenal postseason and one of them had to lose.

Anyone who didn't think that that was a spectacular Final series this year doesn't know squat about hockey.

And Lo, There Shall Come A Game 7

Now, I have no idea if tonight's "winner take all" contest for Lord Stanley's Cup between the 2009 editions of the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins will be any good. The last game played by those two teams in Motown (nearly a week ago now) was a complete yawnfest, ending 5-0 in favour of the home team. However, three of the last four games between them (the three played in Pittsburgh in this series) were all quite good. And most importantly: it's Game 7! It's virtually every Canadian boy's dream growing up to take part in one of these mythical beasts, and so tonight could be magic for somebody.

[Aside: The Penguins have never played in a Finals Game 7 before, and the Original Six Red Wings haven't done so since I was a lad of just one year old!]

But of course it'll have to go a country mile to beat the one played at Madison Square Gardens fifteen years ago this Sunday! After all, neither of tonight's teams are looking to win their first ever championship (as Vancouver was in 1994, and still continues to, at present), nor are either trying to end a 54-year Cup drought (as the Rangers most spectacularly did back on that legendary Tuesday evening).

So we'll just have to see what tonight has in store for all of us hockey fans... Good luck to both teams, and may the best one win.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Contract All Done

I did my final day on my inaugural contract today. I presented the 3 main documents that I'd produced, first to my boss, and then to most of the development team. Both of those went very well (even better than I'd hoped for). I'll probably post a few more details about what I came up with over on the AgileMan blog at some point but in the meantime I'll just say that it was gratifying to see such a positive reaction.

And now I'm footloose and fancy free once more. I need to get back to writing "the novel" shortly, which, along with my Math tutoring, will be my primary vocations for the foreseeable future. At least until the next contracting opportunity comes a-knocking.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Colbert In Iraq

Monday night's episode of The Colbert Report, kicking off a week-long series in which Stephen entertains the U.S. troops in Baghdad, was notable for a number of reasons. We're shown how the show's host was transported to the Middle East in secrecy, a very special guest makes a cameo appearance by the magic of video, we get an impressive interior view of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, and there's a hilarious bit where the hapless Colbert is put through "basic training" (for which he arrives in a stretch limo and jogging outfit). My favourite exchange during that section went as follows:

Drill Sgt: "Now, you are a Private. Right now you'll address me as 'Drill Sgt.' Do you understand?"

Colbert: "Yes."

Drill Sgt: "Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "I understand."

Drill Sgt: "Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "I heard you the first time."

Drill Sgt: "Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

Drill Sgt: "Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "Am I the Drill Sgt? I thought I was the Private."

Drill Sgt: "I'm the Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "Yes."

Drill Sgt: "Drill Sgt!"

Colbert: "I agree...?"

A Tale Of Two Decades

When it comes to Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Finals, the last two decades bear very little resemblance to each other. For the 10 playoff years between 1990 and 1999 (inclusive), there was just one Game 7 in the Finals (one of the greatest Game 7s ever):

1994: New York Rangers defeat Vancouver Canucks

And yet for the 9 playoff years between 2000 and 2009 (inclusive, minus 2005 when the lockout canceled the end of the regular season and entirety of the postseason), we've seen a plethora of Finals Game 7s:

2001: Colorado Avalanche defeat New Jersey Devils
2003: New Jersey Devils defeat Anaheim Mighty Ducks
2004: Tampa Bay Lightning defeat Calgary Flames
2006: Carolina Hurricanes defeat Edmonton Oilers
2009: Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins battle it out

After only 1/10th of the Finals went the distance in the 90s, more than 1/2 of them did so in the current decade. Quite the contrast!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

If You're A Guy

and this Onion article, entitled "But If We Started Dating It Would Ruin Our Friendship Where I Ask You To Do Things And You Do Them", doesn't bring back painful memories from days gone by, then either you're

a) lying,
b) gay, (not that there's anything wrong with that),
c) still living that pathetic shell of a life even as we speak, or
c) luckier than any human being has the right to be!

A favourite excerpt:

"It's just…you're like my best friend, and I would hate for something you desperately want to change that. I mean, sure, we could go on some dates, maybe mess around a little and finally validate the six years you've spent languishing in this platonic nightmare, but then what? How could we ever go back to the way we were, where I take advantage of your clear attraction to me so I can have someone at my beck and call? That part of our friendship means so much to me."

(And boy, am I ever glad that Vicki eventually tired of having me at her beck and call and made an honest man of me!)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Where's Waldo? The Motion Picture

Finally, a film for those idiots that like to take their laser-pens to the theatre!

It's still just an idea...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Overlooked Gem

I gave up on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare months ago, and yet since resuming it last week, I can't remember why! It's been nothing but fun since I got back into it, and it reminds me quite a bit of Frontlines: Fuel of War which I ended up loving (and replaying parts of). Sometimes I guess it just takes a second look in a more hospitable frame of mind (I had nothing else available to play this week, whereas when I dumped CoD4:MW before, I suspect it was because something else that I was more excited about came out).

It's so nice to discover that something's much better than you remembered it being!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Anatomy Of A Playoff Fan

Watching tonight's Game 5 between Detroit and Pittsburgh (which hasn't been exciting enough yet to hold my interest), I got thinking about how I could represent the heartbeat of a team (and its fans) in terms of how the team does in the playoffs each year. To give me some data to play with, I decided to use the 35 playoff years making up my lifetime as a New York Rangers fan (to date), which are 1974 through 2009 (minus 2005, when there was no postseason).

To reflect the highs and lows, I decided to use the following points system:

0 = missing the playoffs
1 = losing in the 1st round
2 = losing in the 2nd round
3 = losing in the 3rd round
4 = losing in the 4th round
5 = winning the Stanley Cup

(In the first couple years of this stretch, the Cup Final was the 3rd round so my points system's not perfect, but...)

Next, in order to emphasize the geometric (rather than linear) satisfaction that comes with seeing your team advance through the playoffs, I took the point results for each year and applied a simple squaring function to them:

0 = missing the playoffs
1 = losing in the 1st round
4 = losing in the 2nd round
9 = losing in the 3rd round
16 = losing in the 4th round
25 = winning the Stanley Cup

Then I graphed those results:

And there you have it... my heartbeat (synchronized to the franchise that often causes me so much grief) for the past 35 years!

Another Math Tutoring Update

My current student's penultimate Math test for the school year happened last week, on the topic of 3D Geometry (surface area and volume of boxes and prisms). This was a section that I couldn't get him terribly interested in, but we still plowed through the material as best we could. His test result was quite respectable (87%) but didn't beat the average across the grade (86%) by very much at all. This seems to indicate that it was a fairly easy test that he could've done better on, but you're going to have that sort of outcome if the student doesn't get into the material at all, I suppose.

The only section left is Equations, for which the test is this Monday coming up. I've had him doing Algebra problems much more complicated than the ones taught in Grade 7, but unfortunately he's now discovered that his teacher expects many more details in the answer than I've been requiring of him. To see what I mean, here's a sample question done in both styles:

Style # 1:

4m + 5 = 21
4m = 16
m = 4

(then he would check his answer by mentally substituting it back into the original equation)

Style # 2:

4m + 5 = 21
4m + 5 - 5 = 21 - 5
4m = 16
4m/4 = 16/4
m = 4

Left Side
= 4m + 5
= 4(4) + 5
= 16 + 5
= 21

Right Side
= 21

So the question won't be, Can he get the right answer each time? but rather, Will he remember to solve each equation that way? He did ask me why everyone wouldn't simply get 100% on the test, since the second style requires that you prove that your answer is correct. I said that it might be the case that some students wouldn't be able to finish the test in time (depending on how many equations there are, and how quickly each person can do all of those steps), or that they might get the wrong answer, see that it didn't work out, but not be able to find their mistake.

What had looked like a slam dunk for him has now become somewhat interesting!

Comparing Our Car Choices

As a followup to yesterday's post about fuel efficiencies (in which I made several typos that are now hopefully corrected), I thought I'd look at our current Honda Accord and compare it to the Toyota Prius (which we're at least considering buying in the future), to see what kind of gas savings we could actually expect. I'm going to compare city mileage as that's the majority of what we put on our vehicles.

Accord = 9.4 L/100KM
Prius = 4.0 L/100KM

Since we put about 10,000 KM on our car each year, that works out to:

Accord = 940 L / year
Prius = 400 L / year

If we assume $1 / L for gas (the current price, -ish), then it looks like a Prius would save us about $540 / year at the pump (fairly close to the $500 / year estimate that I spitballed in this post, last week). Of course, if gas prices go back up into the $1.50 - $1.60 / L range that they hit at the peak last year, then it would be more like $800 / year in savings. Assuming that we continue to keep our cars for 5 or 6 years only (as we always have in the past), then we really need to see the hybrid prices (after any government rebates and other incentives) come down to within about $4000 to $5000 of a comparable non-hybrid model, if we're to ever break even. Will that happen? Are we, as a society, truly committed to breaking our dependency on oil?

As I've written before, what I really want is a plug-in hybrid (along with solar panels on the roof of our house) so that the only times we actually go to the gas station are when we're traveling. That era of vehicular freedom can't get here soon enough for me!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Math And Real World Applications

Recently the Freakonomics website posted an article on a topic that I've seen before: how the reporting of fuel efficiency for American cars in miles per gallon is misleading when one is considering ways to reduce dependency on oil. You can read about it at the preceding link, or you can continue on and see my explanation (or you could always do both!).

I wanted to explain this to Vicki (without sending her to the Freakonomics article) and figured that, as a Math tutor, I should really be able to do it. My first attempt died a death born of its own feebleness, but my second approach worked better. So that's what I'll use here.

Basically the problem is this: why is it that, when you consider improvements in fuel efficiency in terms of miles per gallon, you don't get an accurate picture of how fuel efficiency actually works? In the linked-to article, for example, there are 3 sample MPG values used:
  1. 14 MPG
  2. 24 MPG
  3. 42 MPG
and then the question is asked: is it more of a savings to go from 14 MPG to 24 MPG, or to go from 24 MPG to 42 MPG? Common sense would seem to suggest the latter, because it's an "MPG increase" of 18 (42 minus 24), compared to one of only 10 (24 minus 14) in the first case. But in fact you'd save more gas going from 14 to 24 than you would going from 24 to 42. Why?

It's because the measurement of miles per gallon is considering the ratio in the wrong order (or, in fraction terms, inverting the fraction so that that numerator is swapped with the denominator). If you're trying to save gas/save money (/save the world!), then you want to reduce gas usage as much as possible. So in that light, you should be considering gallons per miles driven, not miles per gallons used. When you do that, you see the numbers in the context of the conversation (how much fuel is being used to go a certain distance for each of the 3 vehicles). In fact, if you take those same 3 MPG values in the preceding paragraph, and convert them to "gallons per 1000 miles" (in other words, how many gallons of gas does it take to drive each vehicle 1000 miles), then the fuel efficiencies of the 3 vehicles become:
  1. 71.4 G/1000M
  2. 41.7 G/1000M
  3. 23.8 G/1000M
Now the greatest difference is between cars 1 and 2 (almost 30 gallons of gas saved), rather than between cars 2 and 3 (almost 18 gallons). In other words, it went from looking like you were doing almost twice as much improvement in that scenario (18 additional miles to a gallon compared to 10) to actually being 40% less of an improvement (only 18 gallons of gas saved compared to 30). And all because the MPG rating focuses on how miles you get to a gallon instead of how many gallons it takes to go a certain # of miles.

Since many other countries (including Canada and much/all of Europe) actually "do it right" and quote their fuel efficiencies as "L/100KM" (amount of fuel to go a set distance), I have to wonder why the MPG usage is still standard in the States. It certainly benefits the auto manufacturers there for people to think that it's not that big of a difference between 14 MPG and 24 MPG (and not to realize just how much gas they could be saving by buying a more fuel efficient car), but is there really anything conspiratorial at work in that standard?

A commenter on the Freakonomics site was the one who suggested that the U.S. go to a "Gallons per 1000 Mile" measurement, because 1000 miles is probably not too terribly far off from what a typical car owner travels in a month. Therefore, you could look at the various fuel efficiency ratings, multiply by the current price of a gallon of gas (which is what's posted at every gas station), and quickly estimate your gasoline budget for a month. For the cars in my example, using $3/gallon, you'd get:
  1. $214.29
  2. $125.00
  3. $71.43
So if you're driving car # 1 with its 14 MPG efficiency, you could save almost $90/mth by getting a 24 MPG car, while upgrading from the 24 MPG car to # 3 with its 42 MPG rating would save you almost $54/mth. I wonder how many SUV gas guzzler owners realize that they could save almost $1100 each year in gas stops by increasing their MPG by 10? And would it be so hard to get higher fuel efficiency laws passed in the U.S. if people could so easily convert fuel efficiencies into actual dollars? (Do we do better at it here in Canada, for example?)


Here's something fun to try:

Go to Amazon.com and enter "AgileMan" in the Search field. (Alternatively, you can put "Matt Holmes" in as your search criterion...)

I don't know how long this will be in effect (apparently it's a pilot program that Lulu is running) but it's pretty cool to see... and it didn't cost me a dime!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Magnolia News

Thanks to buddy Tim, I found out this morning that Magnolia Electric Company is set to release a new CD next month, entitled Josephine, and is touring to promote it. No dates in Canada have been announced, unfortunately, but they do get as close to us as Buffalo on Thursday, July 16. Now I just need to figure out details on seeing them that night, and I'll get my long-overdue fix of MEC!

There's also a 27-minute video of them performing (including some new material), courtesy of Birmingham, Alabama's We Have Signal.

Someone's Been Reading My Blog...

OK, maybe not... but this Huffington Post article does seem to echo sentiments that I'd posted about 8 months ago, does it not?

Planetary # 27 Now Has A Release Date... Errr, Month

Thanks to Rich Johnston's excellent new BleedingCool website, I learned this morning that the final issue of Planetary will be released in October of this year. It's been 3 long years since the second last issue arrived, which may mean that I'll have to "break down" and reread the entire series ahead of # 27's arrival this Fall (not exactly an onerous chore).

What I really want, though, is an Absolute Planetary volume that collects every issue and crossover special from the series. I rarely fork over the cash for big ticket items like that, but in this case it would be all-but automatic for me!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

But I Bought Every Issue!

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this news from Steve Rude, artist on Nexus. It sounds like we might not be getting any more of the revival of that great series (# 99 and 100 came out in spurts over the past year or two but were always worth the wait), or maybe we'll get issues 101 and 102 (separately or in one package), or... I just don't know.

No matter what the real story is, it's not a happy one.

Now With Time On My Hands (Again)

Today was Day # 17 on what was supposed to be a 29-day contract. However, my workload had been lightening up recently as it got harder and harder to get any of my busy boss's time. I had recommendations and some document templates for him to review, after which we were going to talk about "next steps."

That took a bit of a turn today, though, when the company asked many of its full-time employees to agree to take some unpaid vacation time this summer, in order to cut costs. That's hardly an unusual situation in this current recession, and yet it's nevertheless daunting when it actually happens to you. When I heard about it late in the day, and knew that my boss would have much bigger things on his mind for the next little while than finding time to review things with me, I asked him if it would help if I just stayed home for awhile. He was visibly relieved that he hadn't had to ask, and just like that I found myself out of work once again (but very OK with the idea). I'm scheduled to go back in for one day next week (probably Wednesday) in order to try to hand off what I came up with over those 17 days to someone there; but other than that, I think I'm probably done there. I was never a particularly good fit for the job, and vice versa. But you never know until you try. (Vicki, on the other hand, continues to play a critical role on one of their two most important projects right now and is shining like the star she is.)

So if you know of anyone looking for an Agile superhero these days, I'm on the market once again. In the meantime, I'll be focusing most of my attention on Math tutoring (pity the children!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Student Body Soon To Double

It looks like not only will my Math tutoring pupil continue with me through the summer (albeit our sessions will be reduced from two nights a week down to one), but his younger sister will soon become my second pupil. She's finishing up Grade 5 at the moment and her parents would like me to give her a leg up on next year's Math over the summer. I've been reviewing both the Grade 5 and 6 curricula online (as well as Grade 8, for the original student) so as to be able to do a quick review and then get on to the new stuff with her.

It should be interesting trying to find the appropriate style for a second young mind, who has (I'm told) quite a different personality than her brother. And then think about the professional teachers out there (including Mrs AgileBoy) who have to master the talent of reaching 20 or more kids, all at once. Wow! I can't imagine.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Moore On The Auto Industry

No, I didn't mean "more on the auto industry" (I used that title last week), and no, I'm not talking about Alan Moore (for once)...

This time it's Michael Moore (director of Roger and Me, Sicko, Bowling for Columbine and other films) who caught my eye. He's no stranger to one particular American auto company that was all over the news today, and he took this opportunity to write his "so long and thanks for all the fish" to General Motors. It's definitely worth a read.

One part of it immediately brought to mind traveling daughter Tammy, who's in the midst of a 6-week trip through Asia:

"Japan is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its first bullet train this year. Now they have dozens of them. Average speed: 165 mph. Average time a train is late: under 30 seconds."

Tammy wrote to us recently of that exact phenomenon, stating that you could literally watch the station clock tick over to the new minute and turn to see the train arrive. (I noticed similar, though not quite as striking, results in train stations across Europe when I was there in the 80s.)

Anyway, I love some of Moore's suggestions, though I doubt there's the political will in Washington or the intestinal fortitude within the American public for much of it. It's really too bad that a threat has to be imminent and undeniable before people will do anything about it.