Monday, August 31, 2009

Score-a-palooza In Texas

It was comical: the Jays go up 11-0 against the Rangers, only to have Texas battle back to make it 11-10, going into the ninth. The Jays then tack on 7 more, and win it 18-10. In other words, the scoring went as follows:
  1. Jays score 11 consecutive runs
  2. Texas then puts up 10 in a row
  3. Toronto finishes with 7 straight
That's kind of wacky, if you ask me.

Enough Destruction; Back To Killing

I've been playing Red Faction: Guerrilla pretty much exclusively over the past few weeks, but tonight I finally tired of it. I'd liberated a couple of the sections of Mars but then ran into a mandatory mission which had 10 parts (tasks) to it as well as a brand new, more powerful set of enemies to contend with. Once I realized that it was all or nothing - meaning, accomplish all 10 before dying or else start all over - I didn't think it would be long before I became fed up with it. Sure enough, about an hour later, I told Vicki, "Well, time to put this game away and move on to something less frustrating."

All told, though, I spent several dozen hours playing RF:G, between the campaign, a little bit of online fun and a fair amount of time spent in "Wrecking Crew", which is the head-to-head destruction competitions in which you go up against other players on the same console (which was Vicki and Tammy, in this case). So I'm quite happy with the amount of entertainment I got for my $60, but I'm now moving on to something new.

I've just now started Battlefield Bad Company and it's nice to be back to a more standard type of gameplay (see enemies, kill enemies). I have to admit, though, that it was hard to break the habit of trying to smash stuff with my vehicles, as I ended up trying to ram a jeep through a building in BFBC only to be somewhat disappointed in the results.

Nate Silver On Fox Morning Show

I love this quote from guru Nate Silver, after he appeared on Fox and Friends recently:

"But as for their morning program: Wow. I've never met people more terrified of what might happen if they actually tried to engage in a rational discussion."

That's a microcosm of how the entire conservative mindset comes off these days. Which, as Vicki reminds me every once in a while, wasn't always the case. It's too bad that the lunatics are running the asylum where Republican politics in the U.S. are concerned right now.

Still Want Your Kids To Have Cellphones?

You might not, after you read this.

Although, really, when you get right down to it, what's a little risk of brain tumours compared to the immeasurable joy of being able to text their friends about what they're wearing today or who likes whom?

And who could ever have guessed that an earlier study, funded by the telecom industry, would have had more than a dozen biases built into it such that the results seemed more benign than they should have? That sort of thing is basically impossible to predict, isn't it?

Howard The Duck To Star In New Team-Up Series With Donald?

Threatening to break the Internet in half, the news broke this morning that Disney is planning to buy Marvel Comics for a *mere* 4 billion dollars. I swear that my first thought, upon hearing of it, was to wonder how Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada, who has had great fun over the years slagging DC for their corporate ownership (referring to them as "AOL Comics" and "Time Warner Comics", among other slurs), would manage to spin this rather shocking development. I'm still waiting, as of this writing, but I'm quite sure that it'll be entertaining.

[Update @ noon: "It feels like Christmas morning," Quesada apparently tweeted not too long ago. Funny how he never characterized the DC Comics ownership situation in quite that way over the past decade... I guess it's all in how you spin it, or maybe Joe Q just had a lot of really miserable Christmas mornings!]

I suspect that many Marvel personnel may find that working inside a huge, kid-oriented and heavily-branded infrastructure like Disney holds its own challenges. It may be more constrictive than they're used to, especially compared to some of the smaller comic companies out there today. But, of course, the benefits may be much improved! Hey, this sounds a lot like what I went through in 2005 when the small, independent software company I was working for was bought out by a huge American corporation! And we all know how well that turned out... ;-)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Holmes On Holmes

I'm very excited at the fact that we recently purchased the DVD box set of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. This is the British, Granada TV series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Dr Watson, of which there were apparently 41 entries (including a few that were movie-length, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles", my all-time favourite Holmes tale). Vicki and I have seen and enjoyed most, if not all of these wonderful adaptations over the years on TV thanks to PBS, but having them all in one bundle such that we can sit back and go through them in order over the next several months is an absolute delight.

It'd be great if the Robert Downey, Jr Sherlock Holmes movie due out this winter turns out to be top-notch, but for me, the late Jeremy Brett will always be the Great Detective. His performance was simply note-perfect, every episode.

All About The Metrics

One of my Math students has struggled with her times tables in the past, and that was the first thing her parents asked me to work on. To help her learn them, I took some old business cards of mine and created makeshift flash cards, covering all of the multiplication combos from 2 x 2 right through 12 x 12, just skipping the 10 x __ set since those are so easy.

For the last several weeks, whenever we've had a session, I've added another set of the cards to the mix, starting with the 5 x group and then the 9 x set (both of which are pretty easy for kids to learn) and expanding out from there. She recently hit the point where we'd covered all of them, although a non-trivial number of individual combinations still hadn't been memorized by her just yet.

Last week I decided it was time to introduce a metric by which I could tell if she was really still continuing to get better at her times tables. So I started up a new game that we'll play every session for the foreseeable future. In it, she gets 3 minutes during which I randomly flip over multiplication cards as fast as she can provide the right answer. At the end of that time, we count up how many cards (out of a total of 110) she managed to get through. I'm allowing her to "pass" a couple of times each game, just so that she doesn't get completely stuck on one question and spend the whole remaining time on it. The goals of the exercise are to measure whether her recall of the results will speed up over time (showing that she really does have them memorized and can call them up at will), and to reinforce the times tables themselves so that she doesn't just forget them again. Since I'll be recording the results each time, I can also graph them and show her and her parents how she's doing.

My expectation is that she'll increase for awhile and then plateau at some reasonably-adept level (maybe, 60 - 90 cards, as that would represent an average of 2 - 3 second reaction time per card, allowing that it takes me half a second or more to flip the card and recognize that she's given me the right answer). But of course all of that remains to be seen, as it's still very early days.

I realized I needed something like this because I can't simply rely on marks achieved in school tests for my metrics as I do in other areas. Therefore this seemed like a good approach, and exactly the type of activity that I hope to dream up more of as time goes by.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How Has Petticoat Junction Not Been Remade?

Growing up in the 60s, I had a completely unabashed affection for The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. One of the things that always appealed me about those shows was that they all co-existed in the same universe (sort of). As with All in the Family and The Jeffersons or The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda or even the various components of the CSI and Law and Order franchises (all of which came later), characters would sometimes flow back and forth between the three programs.

Seeing any of the three sitcoms now, they're all terrible drek. The humour is mostly low-brow (although Green Acres still has some rather "out there" moments that make it occasionally interesting) and the acting's abysmal. And yet that didn't stop a Return to Green Acres TV movie from being made in 1990, nor a suitably dreadful re-cast, big budget theatrical version of The Beverly Hillbillies in 1993.

So my question is: how has Petticoat Junction escaped this zombification thus far, especially considering that it was a vehicle for a trio of buxom, revealingly-clad young women named Betty-Jo, Bobbi-Jo and Billie-Jo? I mean, c'mon Hollywood! Are you just asleep at the switch here, or what?

The Lifetime Money Plan

I'm currently reading another book by mother-daughter team Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi (of The Two Income Trap fame). This one was published after TTIT (hmmm, a somewhat inappropriate acronym for a book written by two women!) and is called All Your Wealth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan. I bought it because I enjoyed its predecessor so much, but at the same time I sort of figured that I wasn't exactly its target audience. After all, it's a guide for getting yourself out of dire financial straits and into a sustainable monetary approach that will last you your entire life. So how beneficial of a read could it really be to me (and Vicki), when we're already embarking into semi-retirement long before our 60s?

Well, I'm now about 100 pages in, and I've already learned quite a few things, not the least of which is that we more or less "happened" into certain spending and saving patterns that are actually well-supported by the research that the authors of All Your Worth have spent much of their adult life compiling. One of the first points they make is that, in order to be able to live happily within your means, you need to maintain a healthy balance between what they call the Must Haves, the Wants, and Savings. They actually prescribe a very specific set of proportions for how much of your money to put into each of those three. When I described this part to Vicki, I asked her to guess what the recommended breakdown between them was, and she impressed the heck out of me by nailing it nearly perfectly! In case you want to think about that for your own situation, I'll hold off showing the actual % values until further down in this post.

So that can fully appreciate the distinctions between each type, though, here's what's meant by each:
  • Must Haves - These are those items without which you don't believe you could live in safety and with dignity, which you would continue to pay for even if you lost your job, and which you don't feel you could live without for an extended period of time (say, 6 months).
  • Wants - These are all of the items not covered by Must Haves, with the exception of Savings (see the next point). Many of the items that you might initially think are Must Haves actually belong in this list, as we'll see below.
  • Savings - These include money in the bank not ear-marked for anything specific, retirement savings, debt reduction, college funds, and so on.
As I saw that list, I immediately began thinking of the way Vicki and I have allocated our take home money for almost the entire time we've been together (nearly 20 years now). Our "buckets" didn't exactly line up with those laid out in the book, but I could easily distribute them into the appropriate category. My thought processes on that went as follows.

Vacation money is clearly Wants, as is our own individual splurge money (mine often goes toward old comics or video games!) and probably half of the spending money that we set aside. The other half of spending, which would cover basic groceries like milk, bread, dinner meat and the like (but not necessarily ice cream, cookies and other treats), would go into Must Haves. Our bill money would mostly go toward Must Haves (maybe 75%) to pay property taxes, gas, electrical and water bills, car and house insurance, and so on, with the rest of it going into Wants to account for non-essentials like Internet, Cable TV, and gym memberships, just to name a few. (And yes, you have to wrap your head around how TV and surfing the Web are wants and not needs!) Now that we don't have any kind of employment benefits, some of our money goes into a "medical" bucket toward covering prescriptions, dentist visits, eyeglasses and the like, all of which would go into Must Haves. And, finally, we set aside money for each new car we buy, so most of that would be Must Haves (saving us from having a car loan) but perhaps 30 - 40% of it would be Wants because we could drive our car longer, if necessary, or buy a less expensive one. And then everything left over went toward Savings, which of course is now essentially 0% but previously was how we're able to enjoy semi-retirement at this early juncture.

So, now that you've had a chance to think about what the ideal % breakdown of those 3 categories might be, as well as how you currently do with your own money every month, here's what All Your Worth recommends:
  • Must Haves - 50%
  • Wants - 30%
  • Savings - 20%
(Vicki had guessed 50% / 40% / 10%, I believe.)

I suspect, were I to take the time to actually crunch our specific numbers, that we probably adhered to a formula that hove closer to a 30% / 35% / 35% composition, especially once we'd paid off the mortgage on our current house. Prior to that, it was likely more like 40% / 30% / 30%, as we've always put a sizable amount into our RRSPs and into a "rainy day" account.

One of the points that the authors make, again and again, is that keeping your Must Haves at 50% or less is the secret to being able to live free from worry about money. Because you can essentially survive at half of your current income (jettisoning, at least temporarily, any Wants and Savings), you know that you can withstand a run of bad luck that might include a layoff, medical emergency (more a concern in the States that here, thankfully) or marriage breakdown. By capping your Wants at a relatively generous 30% (nearly 1 in every 3 dollars you take home), on the other hand, you're empowered to spend lots of your money in discretionary ways, rather than feeling like you're being choked to death by a tight budget. And if you manage to stick to the 50% and 30%, respectively, then the 20% Savings just happens automagically. What you do with that 20% is up to you, but regardless (assuming you don't invest it foolishly): it's there for any big emergencies that might arise (the "rainy day" concept that we always used) as well as to provide for retirement later in life.

The authors provide many examples of ways to get your Must Haves down to 50%, on the assumption that most people reading their book are probably sitting at 60% or more when they start. Things like shopping around for cheaper insurance (including getting rid of low-deductible options) and renegotiating your mortgage (though they're very clear about not reducing your equity in the process or taking on any additional risks) are offered up as tasks that will require time and perseverance but not affect your lifestyle at all. I'm just at the part where they then move on to other things you can do that are more of the "cutting" variety, when you feel at least some pain beyond having to make phone calls or deal with brokers.

It's unusual that I would read this much of a book on personal finances and find that I agree 100% with everything written (while also learning new tips in the process), but that's exactly how I feel so far about All Your Worth so far. Assuming that it continues in that vein, I'd have no reservations about recommending this gem to anyone looking for advice on how to get out of a financial hole.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fun For XBox Live Gold Members

I read an interview recently with actress/writer/gamer Felicia Day (who played the love interest in Dr Horrible's Sing-along Blog) which piqued my curiousity about The Guild, a (now in its 3rd season) series of short videos about a group of rabid MMORPG players who are every bit as dysfunctional as you'd imagine.

I downloaded the first season on the 360 and Vicki and I just finished watching them (total running time is about 40 mins or so). They are hilarious! I don't know how much of our appreciation of the humour stems from both of us being fairly into the whole gaming thing, but I suspect some of it would appeal to just about anyone. I highly recommend it for anyone who's got the Gold membership to XBox Live already. It may even be available out on the Web for everyone else... in which case, it's certainly worth tracking it down. I'm downloading the 2nd season's episodes right now, and it looks like Season Three has just begun (one episode is available so far).

I believe Felicia Day was on Dollhouse in some capacity last year and is making a return appearance, joining Summer Glau who's also been announced as a regular there for Season Two (with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles now sadly deceased). What a great lineup for that show!

Does Money Buy Degrees?

I don't know that the following would apply as much here in Canada... but I also don't know that it wouldn't!

Thanks to Paul Krugman's most excellent blog, I saw this article about the results of a study that tracked a set of American students from Grade 8 right through until they were in the workforce (a 12-year period). As you can see from the write-up (and colourful graph) at that link, the income level of the families involved influenced the amount of education achieved by the test group members more than their scholastic ability as measured at the Grade 8 level. Most shocking of all, as the article points out, is that a higher percentage (30%) of high-income students with Grade 8 marks in the bottom 25% got at least a B.A. than did low-income students with Grade 8 marks in the top quartile (only 29% did so)! In other words, it's apparently more important in the U.S. to be rich than to be smart (or work hard, or whatever other factors may contribute to the achievement of good marks).

I certainly hope it's not as bad as that here in Canada. You can't prove anything anecdotally, of course, but I'd fit squarely in the 29% group myself (high marks in Grade 8 but very low family income). As a Math tutor, I can't help but wonder if I'm contributing to any such imbalance, as of course only people who can afford to pay for a tutor are able to provide that bit of assistance to their kids. Does that just exacerbate the situation, I wonder?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

American Health Care Situation Is World's Boogeyman

Tammy kindly sent me this link to a National Public Radio broadcast with T. R. Reid, the author of "Healing America". In it, Reid describes what he learned in the 3 years he traveled around the world, comparing health care in various First World countries.

The most amusing revelation, I thought, was that many countries (perhaps including my own) use the current American setup as a scare tactic for just how bad things could get if some new proposed change were made to the current system. Nobody wants to be as screwed up as the States are... except a sizable contingent of Americans, of course, who'll even bring their guns out in defense of the status quo. For any other country, you'd think that sort of lowly position in the eyes of the rest of the world would be really hard on the ego, but I suppose it's nothing they can't overcome with really loud chants of "U! S! A!"

I also learned that Lyndon Johnson borrowed both the name and some of the structure of our Canadian health care system (implemented province-by-province) when he created Medicare. I'd always assumed that the names being the same was a coincidence, as it seems like an obvious term to have coined. But isn't it funny that the system most loved by the American public (especially its seniors) is based on the dreaded "socialized medicine" that conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Fatso Limbaugh have been warning Americans against for fifty years or more?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Warming Up

I'm moving ever closer to being ready to post a review of Magnolia Electric Company's latest CD, entitled Josephine. In order to set the stage for that, so to speak, I thought I'd share a little classic MEC with anyone out there who might be following this blog.

Here's "What Comes After The Blues", from a 2007 concert. While Jason Molina's vocals aren't quite as strong as usual this time out (in my humble opinion), the instrumental work on this version is to die for. Check it out:

Following that up with a fantastic, extended play version of "Riding With the Ghost", from that same concert:

For something a little more recent, give a listen to "Lonesome Valley" which was finally released on the band's previous CD, Fading Trails:

(And yes, Jason Molina really does say, "Thank you kindly" after just about every song, in concert!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bring On The Cheap(er) Games!

Last weekend I went looking (online) for video games to buy, since I'm currently only working on one (Red Faction: Guerrilla) and even it's not really holding my interest all that well. While there are lots of games out there that I'm sure I'd enjoy, I decided to limit myself to $29.99 per title or less. Since a new game costs between $59.99 and $69.99 (usually), getting it for 50% off or better seemed like a nice price point and worth a little splurging on myself.

I managed to find four that are now winging their way to me via Canada Post:
  • Timeshift (PS/3)
  • Battlefield: Bad Company (XBox 360)
  • Prince of Persia (360)
  • Unreal Tournament III (360)
Each one holds its own unique appeal to me, as all four are quite different from each other. Unreal Tournament III is the one I'm most familiar with, as I've played several earlier Unreal games and like the franchise quite a bit (in small- to medium-sized doses). It's very deathmatch-oriented, with minimal amounts of story but lots of carnage. Timeshift, when I played the demo for it months ago, is probably the most conventional First Person Shooter in the bunch, albeit with the twist of some gadgetry to slow down time and (if I'm remembering the right game) even rewind it a bit. I also tried out the BF: Bad Company demo way back when, but didn't quite feel like spending the big bucks to buy it at the time (now, at a reduced cost, it's attractive). And Prince of Persia is one that McChicken has recommended in the past, specifically for its puzzle-solving aspect. It's unlikely to rival Ico or Half Life 2: Portal in that regard, but even a slightly inferior puzzler would still be welcome around here.

So I spent around $100 for four games, where normally I wouldn't even be able to get a pair of them for that price. It's just a matter of being patient, I suppose...

You Can Ogle Her, But Don't Google Her

Jessica Biel is this year's "most dangerous person on the Web", as measured by the McAfee online-security firm.

Search results for Ms. Biel on the Web have a 1-in-5 chance of landing you on a site that contains viruses or other weapons of mass communication destruction aimed at harming or co-opting your computer. Last year this dubious award fell to Brad Pitt; this year the hacker's have wised up, apparently. They've followed the money, just not necessarily the box office variety.

I mean, just look at her (but don't touch!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Future Of Shooters

This article has definitely gotten me thinking about what a First Person Shooter (or Third Person Shooter, for that matter) might be like, when played with a motion-sensing console instead of a controller-based one. Both of my current gaming machines (PS/3 and XBox 360) have announced that just such a revolution is coming, although it's not immediately clear whether that means that the wireless controller will necessarily go away in the process. In other words, certain types of games might still make use of the controllers while others would not require them at all. Let's assume for the sake of this blog post, however, that shooters are eventually going to be played without a handheld controller, using only the capabilities of a motion sensing device. Here's the flashy 3-minute ad that Microsoft made for its announcement of Project Natal at this year's E3 conference, by way of introduction:

So... how would a shooter work in that world? (And note that none of the examples shown in the video were actual shooters... the closest was the monster who was stomping and swatting various objects.)

The first-blush answer seems to be that you'd be standing (rather than sitting or reclining) and holding your imaginary gun in your hand (or hands, in the case of some of the larger artillery). The reason I say that is that so much of a typical shooter involves movement of your virtual body (to get places, to jump or dodge, to grab cover, to look left, right, up or down, as well as to aim) that it's initially difficult to imagine it being done, controller-free, in any way other than by mapping your real body's movements. Which brings up the first huge paradigm-shift: playing a video game shooter in the future may become quite physically draining! Right now, it can be hard on the hands, arms and shoulders (from holding the controller in front of you) and mentally exhausting (from dealing with tense situation after tense situation, sometimes going for minutes without blinking) but that's about it. Imagine, instead, having to stand for hours, simulating running, jumping and spinning about. Would most people really be able to do multi-hour marathon sessions - as many of us do now - under those conditions? I don't think so, and I have an alternative approach in mind... keep reading.

As for the actual dynamics of playing, I'm sure it'll take some getting used to and probably feel a little silly at first. After all, it's not exactly every North American child's dream to grow up to be a mime, and yet to some degree, that's exactly what's required in that Microsoft video. On the other hand, there's probably something very naturalistic, once you get past the embarrassment factor, of acting out the role on the screen. Compare that to the transition from mouse-and-keyboard (for PC gaming) to current console controllers, and the brain re-wiring required for role-playing the game is almost immeasurably smaller. I have friends who still won't play shooters on their 360 or PS/3 because they find the use of thumbsticks for movement and looking around to be too foreign compared to their familiar mouse/keyboard combination, indicating just how large of a shift they perceive it to be.

However, I'm still not sold on the idea of having to pantomime actions like running, jumping and crouching, as it just seems like I'd be winded after about 2 minutes of it. So perhaps some form of shorthand will be used, where all you really have to do is map a slight movement of some sort as indicating each of the larger ones. For example, suppose you could play the game seated instead of standing, and that you mapped lifting your left foot's toes off the floor as indicating running, while lifting your right foot translated to a jump (and the higher your toes came up, the higher the jump, within the character's physical parameters). That would solve the problem of standing, as well as the physical exertion (some might say, physical exercise!) angle. Seated, your sight-line could still be matched by the character on-screen, which is perhaps one of the biggest advantages to this approach over the conventional controller (I can never massage that thumbstick perfectly enough to get my weapon's sight on the other player's head quite fast enough in online play, for example). Even that may take some getting used to, of course, as even just turning your head or moving your eyes slightly and then having the screen shift in response might easily be disorientating, at least at first.

And then there's the use of weapons. As with the standing/running/jumping issue, I'm not a big fan of the idea of having to hold my hand or arm a certain way to mimic the cradling of a pistol, machine gun or rocket launcher. I already feel the strain of keeping my hands wrapped around a small wireless controller for hours at a time, and so I'd love to get away from that (as I'm not getting any younger!). What I think would work better would be to, once again, have a gesture or action that you've established for each of the following gameplay activities:
  • primary fire on the weapon
  • secondary fire on the weapon (if applicable)
  • reloading of the weapon
  • changing the weapon to another one in your arsenal
  • meleeing your opponent with the weapon
  • picking up a weapon/ammo that's lying on the ground
Again, these could be simple movements on your part, such as jabbing forward with a pointed finger, making a fist with one hand or the other, or slapping your hand on your knee. The idea would be that it should be something easy to do but also distinguishable from any other gesture that you might make. I would dearly love to see this particular evolution of the game, because I'm always suffering now from bad mappings on controllers that have me meleeing or zooming unintentionally while I try to shoot someone, simply because I pressed down too hard on the movement thumbstick in the process. For me, being able to set my own commands (in the form of physical movements) would allow me to get away from that, and play at whatever my actual skill level is, without being penalized for having hands that are almost fifty years old.

So will shooters work that way, or will they require a lot of standing and miming of running? There isn't a whole lot of consensus yet, as far as I can tell... but I'm hopeful that, even if the game makers get it wrong initially, it'll evolve into something better and better as time goes on. And really, this is all just another big step on the path to true Virtual Reality, which is pretty exciting all on its own. Just imagine where the porn industry will take these developments!

[Update Aug 26/09: On the PS/3 side, at least, it sounds like a wand will be required (and two wands will be even better). Now I have to think about what that means to my ruminations above!]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Are The Black Lanterns?

Boneman asked me last week whether the Black Lanterns that I mentioned somewhat in passing recently are Bizarro versions of Green Lanterns. I didn't have time when he asked to provide a full answer, but now's as good a time as any to rectify that situation.

Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns has been slowly building up the idea that there are multiple "corps" at large in the DC Universe for a couple of years now. Sinestro, a former Green Lantern who famously went rogue back in the Silver Age, started up a yellow-based corps during last year's Sinestro Corps War. Where Green Lanterns' energies stem from their will power as long as they recharge their rings every 24 hours, the yellow rings gain strength from the fear they induce in others. Before long, Johns had also introduced a Red Lantern Corps (rage), an Agent Orange (driven by avarice, or greed), a Blue Lantern Corps (hope) and an Indigo Tribe (compassion). He also brought back into the fold the Star Sapphires, a female group of violet-garbed amazons who embody the power of love (and they're hot, too!)

And just like that, we had 7 colours represented, each with its own emotion and weakness. Some are forces for good whereas others are trying to conquer or destroy. All of which lead into Blackest Night (the 8-issue mini-series, event and storyline), wherein the final group has been revealed: the Black Lanterns. These are re-animated corpses which the sentient black power rings seek out in their graves, in glorious zombie tradition. However, a Black Lantern is no slow, shuffling creature whose only desire is "Brainsss". No, these beings can fly (thanks to their power ring), sense emotions in others, and retain whatever memories and abilities their host body had. Basically, imagine your dead grandmother brought back to life as an evil thing, telling all your most embarrassing childhood stories to your current friends and family. (What's that? Your grandmother's still alive and she does that already? Brrrr....) Anyway, you get the drift. And it's not like DC's been taking a holiday of late from killing heroes off... Let's just say there are oodles and oodles of Black Lanterns popping up everywhere now, and not a one of them is even a little bit fun to be around.

And that, in a nutshell, is what's going on in the DCU at the moment. It ain't pretty, but it is pretty scary!

If this topic has interested you in the least, you can read much more about the various-coloured Lantern Corps here.

And This...

no, really... this ... is what an unassisted triple play looks like (only the 15th such feat in MLB history, apparently). (Thanks to Woz for letting me know the YouTube video I had initially embedded was removed, presumably due to pressure from Major League Baseball.)

A Glimpse Of Our Future?

John Wyndham's 1953 novel, The Kraken Wakes, is not one of his better known works. That distinction would obviously go to The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (the latter of which is the basis for The Village of the Damned film). Since reading Kraken in 2001, though, it's been one of my favourites of his books. Like Triffids (and an earlier gem by the legendary H.G. Wells, called The War of the Worlds), it's an alien invasion tale. In this case, though, the attackers are never actually seen.

The "bathies", as they're called by the folks in the story, come to Earth in red, glowing fireballs that always land in the deepest parts of the planet's oceans. Or, at least, that's the theory held by the narrator, as no definitive proof is ever offered as to their origins. Instead, the fireballs arrive by the dozens or hundreds, but then are mostly forgotten when a few years go by with no further incident. It's only when ships begin going down at sea that suspicions begin to build that something out there has it in for humanity.

There's an amazing transition within the pages of The Kraken Awakes that blows me away every time I read it. At the end of Phase Two, the section detailing the initial attacks on the shipping lanes followed by incursions onto land by "sea tanks" (giant shell-like creatures that send out sticky material which pulls in everything it touches), the human race has successfully defended against each new strategy devised by the unseen bathies. The main scientist in the story says, "Consider their alternatives. Either they sit down there waiting for us to find a means to destroy them, or they come after us. Oh yes, unless we find it very soon, they'll be here again - somehow..."

The very next chapter - kicking off Phase Three - begins with the narrator and his wife afloat in a rubber boat with minimal provisions and a dreary outlook. As the pages are turned, we come to realize that some time has passed and significant portions of the planet's surface are now underwater, and mankind is mostly at war with itself over the last few scraps of food to be found. Everything in the book up to this point has been typical 1950s British "stiff upper lip" type stuff: everyone's convinced the powers that be will defeat the bathies and things will shortly be back to normal. And then you read on and see just how quickly it all fell apart, once the aliens began melting the polar ice caps!

Now, in 1953, I doubt very much that Wyndham was thinking that we'd ever truly be worried about such a doomsday scenario. And yet just half a century later, without the intervention of any extraterrestrials required, that's exactly what we're facing. How strange is that? I couldn't help thinking about that as I read the last portion of the book, in which you learn that somewhere between 4/5 and 7/8 of the world's population has succumbed to pneumonia and starvation as the amount of arable land shrank under the waves. Is that what our own future holds, over the next half century?

On Setting Goals

A friend I had lunch with recently made a comment about me related to goal-setting that struck me as being both interesting and insightful. Paraphrasing him from memory: he mentioned that he'd noticed that I always prefer to engage in activities in which there are more than one goal involved, and that I'm probably the most goal-oriented person he knows.

I've always been well aware of just how driven by goals I am, so that last bit was no big revelation to me. But the more I thought about the other observation, the more truth I could see in it. As luck would have it, Tammy arrived for a visit on Friday night and we began talking about the sorts of games that we used to play when she was a young child. She very quickly remarked on the fact that, in hindsight, she's realized that most of those seemingly-silly activities actually had educational values of one sort of another.

When we'd have "superhero adventures" (with her collection of DC and Marvel action-figures-don't-call-them-dolls), I'd often insist that she dream up the scenario under which the adventure would begin. That, of course, was so that she'd develop an active imagination and not simply react to stimuli provided by others.

Once Tammy got familiar with a card game (such as "Crazy 8s" or "Go Fish"), chances were good that Vicki or I would introduce her to a new one. Inevitably, the additional game would be slightly more complicated in its rules, require more memory skills on the part of the players, and/or have some other challenge involved in it. This allowed us to accomplish many desirable results, starting with having fun and spending time with our daughter, but also involving the satisfying experience of seeing progress in her development.

I also used to do a lot of "flash card" games with Tammy. Typical ones were arithmetic questions (cards with "7 x 6" or "12 + 5" hand-written on them... a great use for out-of-date business cards!) or reading/spelling ones, which once again served several purposes, one of which was simply "have a good time together". Tammy still remembers, all these years later, that "Frog" almost always showed up on one of the cards that I'd show her. She'd be concentrating intently, solving problems like "9 x 7" or "8 + 9 - 4", and suddenly she'd be shown a card that simply said, "Frog." That was always good for lightening the mood and reminding us all that we were supposed to be having fun, as well.

So, as I reflect on all of the preceding, I wonder how many parents enter into activities with their children with multiple goals like that? Every such interaction, after all, is a golden opportunity for learning for the child (and possibly even the parent!) That doesn't mean that it can't also be fun, but in this day and age, are parents sliding all of the way to one end or the other of that spectrum? I always figured that, public school system notwithstanding, we, as parents, were responsible for developing our child in as many ways as possible, which required a lot more out of us than simply making sure she did her homework, buying her toys, dropping her off for soccer practice or getting her to Brownies (although all of those are important, too). In fact, as I've said for years, parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world to do really well. But if you like setting goals, it can be an even more rewarding one.

[Milestone Alert: This is post # 2400 on this blog.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Word Not Heard

It occurred to me recently that there's been one word missing from the Health Care Reform debate raging in the U.S., and that word is Sicko (OK, more of a title than a word).

Before I saw Michael Moore's 2007 film about the sad state of health care coverage in America, I honestly had no idea that it was in such a crisis mode. Part of the reason for that, I'm sure, is that I don't live in the States, and therefore haven't personally experienced the effect of the very real "death panels" that are run by insurance industry bureaucrats there, each and every day. I don't know if watching Sicko sensitized me to the situation, but it certainly seemed like it wasn't long after watching it before I started coming across more and more stories of comic book veterans who needed auctions held in their name in order to raise money for medical expenses, and comic book collectors who were selling off their prized possessions to cover the cost of this operation or that one. While I'm sure that Moore's satirical foray into Health Care is flawed in many ways, it still managed to bring the crisis to the forefront of my mind, as I'm sure it did many others.

Which is why I'm surprised, as I visit website after website and watch discussion after discussion, all on the topic of the Health Care Reform Bill that may or may not come into being and be passed, that there's virtually no mention of Sicko by anyone involved. It may be that liberals don't want to evoke the name for fear that backlash against Moore will hurt their chances, while conservatives don't want to risk the chance that someone might go see the film and come away more sympathetic to reform. But I wonder if, years from now, Americans will look back at Sicko and think, "How did our country ever live like that?" in much the same way that people react to tales of slavery or racism from years gone by.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Most Frustrating Part

In a column published yesterday, economist/blogger/Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman nicely summarized what's been so frustrating about watching the recent developments in U.S. politics. The entirety of the article is definitely worth a read, but here's the part that really resonated with me:

"But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will “pull the plug on grandma,” and two days later the White House declares that it’s still committed to working with him.

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.

Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an alternative to the public option than G.O.P. leaders announced that co-ops, too, were unacceptable."

That's it, exactly. Maybe it's a Canadian thing, but I'm always in favour of solutions that take both sides' points-of-view into consideration... where both sides have something sensible to say! What I'm seeing down south these days, though, is a very different situation. It's more akin to the irksome child who constantly whines about wanting ice cream but then, upon getting some, complains that it's not his favourite flavour and anyway, what he really wants is cake. Kids like that need to be ignored, rather than catered to, and the Obama administration really needs to learn that lesson. After all, Republicans go on the record every day as believing that governments never accomplish anything, and then they go out and try to prove themselves right. That's not the sort of strategy that anyone with a brain ought to be listening to.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Math Geek Humour

I didn't come up with this (saw it elsewhere on the Web) but just had to share it:

A pizza of radius z and thickness a has a volume of pi*z*z*a

(Volume of a cylinder = "pi r-squared h" where r is the radius and h is its height)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wow! Wow!! And Wow!!!

DC Comics is about a month into their 2009 event, Blackest Night. The tag line for this one is, "The Dead Shall Rise" and so far they're... uh, "living" up to that billing! Some evil being is responsible for sending Black Lantern rings out in search of key, dead individuals who can be brought back to some form of undead life in order to wage a war of attrition against the forces of good in the DCU (such as Green Lantern, Superman, Flash and so on). I was a bit leery about Blackest Night, going in, but I'm quickly becoming a believer. With two issues of the main series published (and six more to come), we've seen the Hawks (Hawkman and Hawkgirl) killed by, of all folks, the Elongated Man and his wife Sue (both of them corpses on a rampage), Green Lantern and Flash being tormented by a risen-from-the-dead Martian Manhunter, and a reanimated Aquaman (and who knew he was even dead?) promising to not only kill his wife, Mera, but also bring their deceased infant son back to commit atrocities.
Over in one of the three initial spin-off mini-series, Blackest Night: Batman, we have the new Dynamic Duo (Dick Grayson as Batman and Wayne-bastard Damian as Robin) discovering that both the Grayson parents (killed when Dick was just a boy) and the 3rd Robin's folks (that would be the mother and father of Tim Drake, who's currently operating as "Red Robin" and... oh jeez, this is getting complicated!) have been bodysnatched and may be showing up as Black Lanterns any moment now. I had waffled about buying this particular 3-issue mini-series because I wasn't sure it would be anything beyond a "Look! Here's what Batman and Robin are up to over here while the main action's over there!" sort of thing, but whoa! it's off to a great start! The writer (Peter Tomasi) even brought Deadman into it, with the superhero's (dead) body being made into a Black Lantern while his ghostly self is still around to inhabit living bodies. This is like a tour de force through the DC Universe!
And today, Blackest Night: Superman # 1 came out, kicking off another 3-issue spin-off. This time it's Earth-2's Superman and Lois Lane Kent (both killed off in Infinite Crisis, just a couple years ago) wearing the Black Lantern uniforms and wielding the rings, making for a very bad situation for the town of Smallville, Martha Kent, Superman and Superboy (the latter of whom is only just very recently returned from the dead himself... I know!!) Even Supergirl, up on New Krypton with her mother Alura, isn't spared, as Zor-El pops up out of his coffin to bedevil his wife and daughter who are still grieving over his recent demise! Whew! That's a lot of recent continuity that's being woven seamlessly into the current goings-on, and I'm extremely impressed so far.

As you can see, there's so much happening across the breadth of this major event that it may just end up being responsible for a heart attack or two! And if that happens, then we'll just end up being brought back as Black Lanterns...

Any Call Of Duty: World At War Fans Out There?

Yesterday I tried my downloaded Call of Duty: World at War demo on the PS/3, and enjoyed it a fair bit. I played through the single player level provided ("Hard Landing") and then tried the Coop version of that same sample level, alongside 3 online strangers. While it didn't knock my socks off, I could see myself getting a good number of hours of fun out of the full game. It looks like it's only now starting to come down in price (best I could see was about $45) but before I spend any coin I thought I'd ask around to see if anyone on the reading list has played it. I'd love to hear some feedback from the locals.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Less Reason Not To Own A PS/3

Sony finally made the announcement today that's been awaited for - literally - many months now: the PS/3 Slim is due to arrive on Sept 1st, and will carry a price tag of just $299 US (not sure what the Canadian equivalent will be, yet, but given the current exchange it shouldn't be more than about $349 CAD). I believe I also read that stores will begin dropping the sticker price for current PS/3s as early as tomorrow, as well. The Slim model sounds similar in functionality to what we're used to from a PS/3 - including, perhaps most importantly, the ability to play Blu-Ray movies - but will be thinner and lighter. It'll also sport a hard drive that's bigger than the one I currently have, if I'm not mistaken! (Not that I care, as I've never come even close to running out of disk space.)

It should be interesting to see what this does for sales, as the much-higher price (compared to an XBox 360 or Wii) is often quoted as the # 1 reason Sony's had relatively poor market share since the launch. It still won't be a steal, but it'll definitely be a bargain! I use my PS/3 for most of the DVDs that we watch these days, making it quite a well-utilized device in this house.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dog Days Of Summer

In baseball, the dog days of summer often refer to the period between mid-June (say) and mid-August (ish) when it's easy to forget that there's really any point to the 162-game season other than to just play ball every day. Teams often take themselves out of contention over that stretch - the Jays didn't really wait that long this year, although technically I suppose you could say they did - while others show that they've got what it takes by stringing together a couple good months of effort heading into the home stretch of the season.

Outside of that venue, there's also a bit of a lull most years in the summer: TV shows are all in reruns, kids are out of school and there's a different pace to both their lives and their parents' comings and goings, and enough people take vacations from work to make it a scheduling challenge just to fill out a meeting quorum.

As for me, I feel the otherness of summer in the fact that the grocery stores aren't nearly empty enough during the weekday for my liking. For most of the other 10 months of the year, I can pretty much eschew line-ups at the cashier when I journey to the local supermarket; but as I was reminded today, that's just not always the case this time of year. That's hardly a big deal, but when you're in the dog days of summer, you even notice little inconveniences like that...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This Just About Says It All

Nice to see President Obama hitting all of the right notes:
  • debunking the "Death Panels" scare tactics by describing exactly where they came from and how out of line with reality they really are
  • reminding people that "rationed care" and "denied benefits" are precisely what the status quo is today, not what Health Insurance Reform is designed to bring about
  • calling for reasoned debate in place of the histrionics that the "astroturf" groups are creating
  • encouraging the American people to think in terms of responsibility to each other, for a change
Now if only more people in that wacky country to our south would actually listen to these points instead of running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off, the U.S. might finally have a chance to lose their third world status when it comes to health care.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some Of Us Still Write Movie Reviews

You wouldn't really know it by the volume of updates (or visits) it gets, but The Studio Has A Few Notes blog is still around... and today I put a review of District 9 over there, just to prove it!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Conservative Spin Machine

I told Vicki the other night I thought that it was probably possible for the ultra-conservative movement in the U.S. to turn any positive development spearheaded by a Democratic president into a threat. The current "Kill Granny/Death Panels" viral attack that came out of a bill provision that attempted to pay for a citizen's voluntary consultation with their doctor about their own living will is, of course, what got me thinking along these lines.

Here are just a few (mostly made up, but hardly far-fetched) examples of what I meant:

Democratic Proposal: Introduce a tax credit for anyone who buys a vehicle with gas mileage above a certain threshold

Republican Spin: "And now Obama is taking away your freedom to choose what kind of car to drive! He's trying to insert a bureaucrat between you and your car dealer!! We can't just stand idly by and allow this to happen!"

Democratic Proposal: Provide additional funding, in the form of deferred-interest loans, for those below a certain income level to use in attending university or college

Republican Spin: "Here we are, in the middle of the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, and Obama wants to increase the debt load on our children! Our children!! This is really just sub-prime mortgages for the young!"

Democratic Proposal: Address some of the growing deficit concerns by allowing the Bush tax cuts - which were never budgeted for in the first place - to expire next year

Republican Spin: "It's our worst nightmares come true: Obama is out to cripple our economy! There's no way on Earth our small business owners can possibly survive such an unprecedented attack on their bottom lines! This is socialism, pure and simple!"

It's no wonder there's so much money to be made in the "think tank" business on the right in the U.S.... just look at the creativity required for the job!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You've Got To Be Kidding Me!

There's no way an actual human being is really this talented, is there? This video has to be seen to be believed, and it's no wonder that the artist (Kseniya Simonova, 24 years of age) won the Ukraine's Got Talent competition! Wow!!

Holmes On Holmes

I was a bit late to the game on this one - issue # 2 had come out before I decided to give the series a try - but the now that I've read the first 3 chapters in this latest Sherlock Holmes mini-series from Dynamite Entertainment, I'm very impressed and totally hooked!

The tale is "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes" and is an original script by Leah Moore and John Reppion, illustrated by Aaron Campbell. Moore is, of course, the daughter of Alan Moore, and she works here (as she often does) with her husband, John Reppion. The artwork by Campbell is perfectly suited to the late-19th century London setting, with lots of detail and easily-distinguishable cast members. Having covers by the great John Cassiday don't exactly hurt the series' appeal, either!

Moore and Reppion have wisely decided to leave Holmes in his native element (both in time and space) and to retain the sensibilities that characterized each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's adventures. The twist here is that the Great Detective himself, within the pages of the very first chapter, is the prime suspect in the murder, having been found at the site of the crime with a literal smoking gun in his hands. This allows Moore and Reppion to showcase some of the supporting cast - such as Dr Watson, Inspector Lestrade and housekeeper Mrs Hudson - while still keeping Holmes himself on centre stage through the use of some clever plot developments.

I absolutely love reading new Holmes material when the authors manage to get the characters, setting and atmosphere right. Most of the time, that bar seems to be too high and the results are lacklustre, at best. But in this case, Moore, Reppion and Campbell have recreated Doyle's Holmes and Company perfectly. My only disappointment is that there are only 2 more issues to come, as this should surely be an ongoing title!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Name These Things (First In A Series)

The following are "things" that I don't know a name for. However, maybe one already exists, or if not, then perhaps we can all make one up for each. You tell me.
  1. Missing one or more blog entries because you think you're caught up (as you read backwards chronologically) but in reality you've simply gotten back to a post that you started to read earlier before being interrupted. Therefore you miss out on whatever was posted earlier, and are plagued by oblique references to posts that you don't even know exist. Obviously this doesn't apply if you get your posts through an aggregator of some sort.
  2. When a blogger or site owner ends a long period of inactivity by posting an apology for being away so long with a promise to communicate more frequently from now on... only to enter another long stretch of nothingness! I've seen this enough times that there must be a name for it, mustn't there?
  3. That moment when you realize that some bit of information or entertainment has gone from being something that you and a select few knew about or were interested in to something that your mother or next door neighbour might mention the next time they see you. This one can go either way: sometimes it's very cool to see "your" thing go viral, but oftentimes it's just downright annoying.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Got Your Sarah Palin "Death Panel" Right Here

This brief interview by Ezra Klein both explains what's at the root of the "Kill Granny" / "Obama's Death Panel" misinformation that's being spread around and shows just how disingenuous all that activity really is. A key section in the exchange between Klein and Republican Senator Johnny Isakson from Georgia goes as follows:

"How did this become a question of euthanasia?

I have no idea. I understand -- and you have to check this out -- I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin's web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You're putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don't know how that got so mixed up.

You're saying that this is not a question of government. It's for individuals.

It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you."

You almost have to admire the craftiness of the opponents to health care reform, that they could - once again! - completely turn the data around to serve their purposes. There's something in the bill to pay some of the cost involved with an elderly person arranging their own living will? I know: let's spin it as mandated euthanasia! That'll get folks riled up! If the I.Q. of the average American were just a little higher, I'd have no doubt that all of this stuff would spell the deathknell for the Republican Party in its current incarnation. Unfortunately, there are probably enough uninformed citizens down there for this to actually work. Where are the Obama Community Groups (that helped get him elected) when he needs them now?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Road To Victory

As I've watched more and more coverage of the Health Care Reform activity in the U.S. this summer, I've been amazed at the conservative forces' ability to strike fear into the hearts of Americans. In some cases, it's been shockingly-uninformed Americans who have been targeted, such as the doddering old fools who stand up in town hall meetings and scream, "You and your damned government better not try to grab my Medicare!" (apparently quite oblivious to the fact that Medicare is already government-run). In other instances, it's been those who feel most vulnerable who fall for the baloney that's getting spread around, like the "Kill Granny" campaign and the "Obama's Death Panels" garbage that the nitwit former governor of Alaska has been spewing.

But when I watched Howard Dean, one-time Democratic presidential hopeful, on This Week with George Stephanopolous over the weekend, I was so gratified to see him make the pitch that I think Obama and his allies need to be hammering home every time the topic comes up. It essentially goes like this:

"Are you worried about having a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor? Are you frightened by the prospect of having your health care rationed out to you, and possibly even being denied care by some bean counter who cares nothing about whether you live or die? Are you mad as Hell at the thought of watching someone you love die while a treatment for what ails them is made available to others deemed more worthy? Well, you should be! And that's exactly what the current state of health care is in our country today, thanks to the health insurance companies and their profiteering approach to health care. So when you shout down advocates of health care reform, what you're really saying is that you want the rationing to continue, and the denials of claims, and the personal bankruptcies and the unnecessary deaths. That's what you're clamoring to keep."

It's so incredibly ironic (in a sad way) that virtually every objection to Health Care Reform that the opponents to it have lodged are actually problems with the current setup that the reformers are trying to address. Now that's some impressive misdirection!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Happiness Is...

An article that I was reading on the News For Gamers website today reminded me that I hadn't downloaded any demos on my PS/3 for awhile, and so I took a few minutes this afternoon to remedy that situation.

I now have the following downloaded, installed and ready to be tried out (which is definitely something to look forward to, at least in a brief, introductory sense):
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Call of Duty: World at War
  • Battlefield 1943
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
I doubt that I'll want to buy any of the full versions associated with those games, but you never know. And at the very least, I'll get a couple of hours of entertainment out of the experience. Which is a pretty good deal, for free!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Obscurity Resolved?

In my recent reading of the Ontario Grade 11 Math curriculum (also known as Grade 11 Functions), I came across numerous references to the following cryptic notation:

y = af(k(x-d))+c

with no real explanation as to what it meant. It's obviously a variation on the typical format of function notation, where f(x) = some operation on x, but there was no indication as to what a, k, d or c represented.

When I initially Googled that particular set of characters, I couldn't find anything useful, and began to despair of ever understanding what the significance was. Then I stumbled across a site describing geometric transformations of functions that, I think, solved the mystery for me. If I'm right, then the function notation above represents the translations, compressions, stretches and reflections that a function can be put through, via the introduction of constants in place of a, k, d and c. None of this is familiar to me from 1979/80 (when I would have originally taken Grade 11 Functions and received a mark somewhere north of 90%, I imagine) but it all makes sense, given what I read at that transformations website.

It's definitely getting harder to familiarize myself with the material required for this Math Tutoring position of mine as I move to the higher grades, but I guess even that has its own appeal, in a way.

My Webcam Works!

Friday, August 07, 2009

They Do Kind Of Look Great Together, Don't They?

I can't complain about a picture like this, showing Batman and Doc Savage strutting their stuff as they make their way down the side of a very tall building. This is a variant cover to the just-announced Batman/Doc Savage Special, due out in November, which I'm suddenly looking forward to. I could see those two characters - especially the late 30s version of the Caped Crusader - fitting quite easily into an adventure together. The special is, presumably, intended to kick off the previously-teased Doc Savage/Blackhawk/Spirit mini-series that's getting a lot of buzz. I always like it when there are exciting comic book prospects off in the near future, not yet disappointing me with their actual lameness compared to their hypothetical greatness.

Oh, and by the way: first post from the new laptop, which is, like, a gazillion times more responsive than its predecessor!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Laptop Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

After approximately one year with my $399 Acer laptop, running Vista Home Basic with 1 Gig of memory and enduring start-up and wake-up times of anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, mysterious and frequent lockups and spontaneous powerdowns (sometimes while I was in the midst of typing into it), I've given up on this piece of crap and ordered its replacement.

The box arrived today but I haven't even opened it yet. I'm worried that my new machine, with its miraculous 4 Gigs of memory and $599 price tag, won't live up to my expectations built up during the long year that I've had with this extremely disappointing purchase. Maybe tomorrow I'll work up the courage to crack the box, start up my new laptop and begin the long process of moving files and settings over. Maybe.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

At The Movies May Become Watchable Again

Vicki and I stopped watching At The Movies (the old Siskel & Ebert show, for the old-timers in the blogosphere) as soon as ABC fired Richard Roeper (and Roger Ebert, in absentia, I guess), hired a couple of morons (Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz) to host the show and changed the format completely. Every preview/review of the new approach sounded dreadful and so we didn't even bother checking it out, but rather just deleted it from our recurring recordings list.

Ain't It Cool News, however, tells us tonight that the "two Bens" have been tossed by ABC and Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott are replacing them, come September 5th. We may actually start watching it again next month, given that positive turn of events. It's been a long year of being out of touch with what's coming out at the theatre and on DVD, I'll tell you!

Was The U.S. Always This Crazy?

Somedays it seems like we here in Canada are positioned way too close to the barrel of monkeys / powder keg across the border from us, for my liking! Are there really that many nutjobs down south of us, or are they just getting an inordinate amount of publicity right now thanks to the media forces (like Fox 'News') who aren't happy about having a person in the White House who gives a crap about the poor for a change? I definitely tend to worry too much about stuff that I have no control over, and this is no exception.

Math Consumes My Life

Over the long weekend and right through yesterday, I did an amazing amount of Math reading and practice exercises. In fact, as I lay in bed last night I realized that I had done so much Math yesterday that I hadn't even posted anything to the blog! For shame!

I'm now (back) up to the point where I feel pretty confident that I could score a good mark on a Grade 10 Math test if I had to, which certainly wasn't the case at this time last week. I was struggling enough with Grade 11 Functions over the weekend that I finally realized that I needed to re-establish the basic stuff that comes before it... which I've now done. As I was telling Tammy over MSN last night, I feel dumb because I'm having to cover material that I used to know, but of course the reality is that I'm probably smarter right now than I've ever been since I haven't (yet) lost all of the experience that I've gained over 20+ years of working, reading and learning. I also implored Tammy to come for a visit so that I could "talk Math" with her on some of the subjects that I'm shakiest on right now, so we may see her this weekend.

Monday, August 03, 2009

They May Have Picked The Wrong Guy(s)

A few months ago, the final issue of Justice Society of America written by Geoff Johns appeared. Johns has been the guiding light of that franchise for many years, but now he's turned his attention toward the Green Lantern and Flash portion of the DCU, which is good news for fans of those characters (like me!) but worrisome to JSA fans (like me!).

To fill the void left by Johns, DC has brought in the writing team of Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, the two gentlemen responsible for Fables (a fantasy series from DC's Vertigo imprint that I've not read). I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, as I've heard good things about Fables over the years. But the sad truth is that when I finished their first issue of Justice Society of America (# 29) recently, I was very underwhelmed. It didn't read well, and it seemed apparent to me that they didn't have a very good grasp of the characters just yet. Some of the decisions made by the members of the team seemed suspect, and my willing suspension of disbelief was strained to the breaking point when a large contingent of the JSA arrives to take down one C-level criminal only to discover that a dozen supervillains are lying in wait for them there. Holy dramatic confrontations, Batman! Or maybe just, wow, what a poorly written setup!

On the other hand, I've now read the first two issues of the 6-issue miniseries, JSA Vs Kobra, written by Eric Trautmann. This is exactly what I had hoped from the main JSA title following Johns' departure, as it's a different take on the superteam (more espionage-based than straight up superheroics) but thoroughly engrossing on its own terms. Trautmann makes the wise decision to focus on a subset of the team, and to leverage what we know of their recent history while still moving the team forward. JSA Vs Kobra is off to a nasty start, in terms of civilian body count, but that lends it an appropriate emotional weight and thereby brings the reader into the story more than if it just featured, for example, a big slugfest between colourfully-garbed heroes and villains.

I have to say that I'd be a lot happier about the prospects of my beloved Justice Society if Willingham and Sturges were writing the miniseries and Trautmann were in charge of the main title! Unfortunately, that's not what we've got, so I'll just have to enjoy the remaining issues of JSA Vs Kobra and hope for the best on the flagship series.

Why Didn't Vicki And I Think Of This?

I mean, really? (Via Blog @ Newsarama)

Oh wait, now I remember why we didn't do that: because we weren't ten years old when we got married!! And so much for us being "the geekiest couple ever," eh, Tammy?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

One Sweet Pic

Vicki and I aren't planning to attend the Chicago Comic Convention this year (our first miss in several years), and wouldn't you know it: there's an outstanding Charity Art Auction planned for the 2009 event! They're collecting items to auction off to benefit comic writer John Ostrander, who's written many comic series that I've enjoyed (The Spectre, Grimjack, and The Kents, to name just a few). Ostrander is suffering from an eye ailment and has mounting medical expenses to deal with that he can't afford (boy, Health Care Reform in the U.S. can't come fast enough!) and so industry professionals are rallying to his cause.

There are many items that I'd be interested in bidding on, were I there, but none caught my eye more than the stunning Batman vs Hawkman illustration by the father / son combination of Andy and Joe Kubert shown here. Wow, is that ever awesome!

What a bad year to miss the show in Chicago...

[Update Aug 10/09: I just read that the above Batman vs Hawkman picture went for $1300. Had I been there, I don't know that I would've been willing to go that high, but it would have been tempting. A watercolour Concrete page by creator Paul Chadwick, on the other hand, went for $325... and I would certainly have bid more than that to bring a Concrete page home!]

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Celebrating One Year Of Freedom

Yup, it was one year ago today that I worked my last day as a full-time employee. As I left the office for the final time, I really had very little idea what would come next (for the first time in a long, long while) but it turned out to be:
  • several months of shared rest and relaxation with Vicki
  • a second AgileMan book
  • the start of a Math Tutoring enterprise
  • a few weeks of consultation work to bring in the big(ger) bucks
  • a year of feeling pretty good about the decision that I'd made last July
All in all, I'd say that first year of un/self-employment was mighty fine, indeed. So, "Happy Anniversary" to me, and a big, heartfelt "Hey, how's it going?!" to any of my former co-workers who might be reading this.