Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wrapping Up 3 Years Of Blogging

Today marks the end of my 3rd year of blogging. Over that time, I've posted nearly 2500 entries and only missed putting something new on this blog every day about a half dozen times or so. In other words, if you picked a day at random from anywhere within the last three years, there's about a 99.5% chance that I'd have written something here at Kimota94's Place on that date. Not too friggin' bad, if I do say so myself.

The downside to that kind of production, however, is that I've gotten a bit weary of blogging of late. Not so weary that I don't want to keep on doing it at all, but just tired enough that I've decided to remove that "daily blogging" requirement that I'd long imposed upon myself. I realize there are a few kind folks out there who check in every day and who might be disappointed to read this, but it is what it is. And until one of them has tried coming up with something new to write about every day for a few years, I'm not going to feel too guilty about this decision.

I have no idea what Year 4 will look like once it gets underway tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to finding out along with you all.

One Year Ago Today

It meant very little to anyone but me, and yet it was huge news in this household: pickles!

By the time the oh-so-rare display at the grocery store disappeared, we'd brought home 18 jars of the 1.5 L Bicks pickles, which I'd said at the time would be a year's supply. However, I've done a better job at rationing the lovely treats than I'd expected, and on this, the first anniversary, there are still 11 jars left. That's a good thing, as there's been no sign so far of any repeat of last year's amazing luck.

Nothing Left To Read

I'm now in a state that I haven't been in many years: I have no unread comics!

There's always been at least one pile of comics in the bedroom waiting to be read, and sometimes there have also been boxes of them languishing in the basement. As of a few minutes ago, however, I'm completely, 100% caught up! No back issues remain to be perused; no trade paperback collections are waiting to be opened; and no weekly additions to the collection sit unappreciated. I can't remember the last time all of that was true, meaning that it's been a looooong time in coming.

The very last thing I read was Book One of The Walking Dead, which I enjoyed enough to warrant buying Book Two tomorrow when I go to pick up this week's new crop. (It's an interesting series that features a zombie-filled world and the few remaining humans who are trying to survive within it.) Needless to say, my "no unread comics" condition won't last very long if I'm heading to the comic store tomorrow. But the lack of any pile of back issues to work through suggests that I may get back to it pretty quickly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Boy, I See A Lot Of This

I mentioned this attention-deficit-based phenomenon a couple of months back, but even that venting didn't really do much to help me get past the annoyance I feel each time I see new instances of it. Examples like this (taken from a comment on a blog):

"I am consistently baffled by the inability of our leaders failure to see our pending crash due to the cessation of manufacturing."

The author of this comment apparently lost his way in the span of a 3-word phrase ("of our leaders"), forgetting that he'd preceded it with "the inability" and thus feeling the need to tack on "failure to see".

Don't Worry; Be Happy!

North America actually fares pretty well, according to the World Happiness Map!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Let's Skip Mondays

When I was a full-time working stiff, I used to hate Mondays (like most people) because it meant the end of the weekend and the return to the grind of the workweek. Fortunately, I don't have that particular connection to the start of the week anymore. However...

Last Monday, I had a tutoring opportunity suddenly go south on me after looking fairly promising up to that point.

This morning, it was an Agile training gig that I had been trying to line up for the past couple of weeks that took a turn for the worse.

I can't help but conclude that Mondays still suck.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wednesday Comics Experiment Runs Its Course

This past week, the twelfth and final issue of Wednesday Comics arrived in comic shops. Having now read the entire set, I'd say that it was a pretty good package, though perhaps overpriced at nearly $50 for the run. As was always the case with the newspaper's Sunday Funnies that it was based on, some features were more appealing than others, and a few simply held no interest for me at all. I appreciated the fact that several of them utilized cameo guest appearances from across the DCU (Batman showing up in Superman, Dr Mid-Nite in Supergirl and several JLAers in Hawkman come to mind).

Here's my final assessment of the individual strips, listed from best to worst:
  • Batman - while it finished kind of weakly, I looked forward to the murder mystery/noir feel of this one most of all
  • Green Lantern - I liked how evocative of the U.S. Space Race in the 60s this strip was
  • Hawkman - It was a bit of an odd story, but at least it provided an opportunity for Hawkman to go up against a T-Rex!
  • Sgt Rock - It took a long time to get going, but maybe that's just the way war comics run (having not read many of them before); beautiful Joe Kubert pictures carried the day anyway
  • Kamandi - I liked everything about this except the placement of the dialogue in the caption boxes... which, honestly, took a whole lot away from the experience for me!
  • Superman - The story was quite a letdown but the gorgeous artwork more than made up for it
  • Deadman - We got a nice, solid Boston Brand tale here, with just the right blend of mysticism and heroics
  • Adam Strange - There were enough surprises here to place it fairly high on the list, despite some rather ugly Paul Pope drawings that didn't really fit the subject matter in my opinion
  • Flash - Frustratingly inconsistent and sporting a terrible cop-out ending, I still couldn't help but love some of the wild flights of fancy such as the ever-increasing number of Flashes running around
  • Metamorpho - I had such high hopes for Gaiman's contribution to this series, but it seemed to get too bogged down in retro-Silver Age silliness to ever go much of anywhere; I guess even Neil is only human!
  • Supergirl - This feature was the inverse of Batman, as it started off fairly uninteresting but then finished with a nice flair
  • Metal Men - I've never been a big MM fan, and nothing here changed that opinion; however, I drooled over the Garciz-Lopez art every week
  • The Demon and Catwoman - I stuck with this to the bitter end, but I'd have to say it was mostly a waste other than some half-decent pictures
  • Wonder Woman - pretty much unreadable, so I stopped trying after issue # 2
  • Teen Titans - ditto
I thought it a bit odd that so many of the strips involved aliens and alien invasions, but I imagine that was simply a coincidence rather than an overall game plan for it. It'll be interesting to see what kind of package DC decides to reprint all of this in, and how that sells (the newspaper format didn't seem to light up the sales charts as far as I can tell). I'd say the experiment was successful, but if they try to repeat it I'll probably expect a more consistently high standard for my money.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some Thoughts On FlashForward (TV Version)

This week saw the series premiere of ABC's FlashForward, based on the Robert Sawyer book of the same name. I remember when Vicki was reading the paperback (quite a while before I even heard it was going to be made into a TV series), and how enthusiastic she was in describing the premise to me. I haven't yet read it, but I still might.

While the TV version appears to be significantly different in a few ways, the basic premise is the same: all at once, everyone on the planet "blacks out" for a short period of time (2 minutes and 17 seconds here) during which time most of them catch a glimpse of their own future. For the television audience, that turned out to be 6 months ahead; in the book, it was more than 20 years into the future. As you'd expect, a mass, simultaneous collapse of humanity wreaks havoc everywhere: cars crash into each other when their unconscious drivers lose control, helicopters falls from the sky, patients die on the operating table, and so on. As people come out of the blackout and deal with the consequences, it quickly becomes apparent that it was a worldwide phenomenon and that they all - or mostly all - saw the exact same time in the future. An interesting experiment is done by one of the show's principle characters: since he saw himself talking to a person who he's had previous contact with, he calls her to ask what she saw. When she relates the exact same scene, but from her perspective, they know that this couldn't simply be a case of mass hallucinations. For the rare people who didn't see anything, though, the question remains: does that mean that they'll be dead in 6 months' time?

I was intrigued by the premise of this story when Vicki laid it out for me, and after one episode of the TV show, I'm similarly hooked. A lot of comparisons have been drawn between FlashForward and Lost (not the least of which because they're both on ABC and have a couple of actors in common). I wouldn't say that this week's premiere had quite the breathtaking appeal that Lost Episode 1 did, but I definitely see some similarities. And there's certainly a mystery at the heart of FlashForward to rival anything that's been dangled before our eyes by Cuse, Lindeloff and the rest of the Lost writing staff.

One of the aspects of the premise that nibbles away at the corners of my mind, though, is this: if the vast majority of the planet's population saw themselves in the future, what would the most extreme contrarians among them do? After all, we have nutjobs aplenty in the real world today who deny the Holocaust, the Moon Landings and even Obama's birth details... so wouldn't there be someone out there who would set out to invalidate what they'd seen? I'm not talking about, for example, the main character's vision of falling off the wagon and how he's now going to try everything he can to ensure that he doesn't start drinking again. I'm contemplating much more extreme responses (of the sort we see regularly now on the nightly news): someone deciding to cut a finger off to prove that their vision, in which they still had all 10 digits, couldn't possibly be true; or even just getting a tattoo on their arm, in a place where the skin had been bare in their flashforward experience. Hell, someone might desperately want to kill a person who was present in what they saw, and set out to do so. Anything of that variety would seem to put the entire premise to the test: is the future that everyone saw set in stone, or is it still malleable? And if it's the latter, then shouldn't simply knowing about it be enough to cause significant changes over the course of the next 6 months?

When I asked Vicki about this, she mentioned that there was some attempt to deal with that question in the book, but she couldn't think of any specific cases where it was really answered. With the shorter time horizon used in the series, I think that they almost have to tackle it, in order to be taken seriously. Otherwise the whole event comes off feeling like a gimmick or plot device, rather than a real thing that follows some set of logical rules.

At any rate, we plan to keep watching this to see how it all plays out. The first episode was definitely a grabber, but if you missed it, I'm sure you could catch up quite easily.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Not So Played, After All

Despite feeling somewhat abused last Sunday, when we'd just closed the pool and saw a forecast of summer-like weather all week, the last laugh appears to have been on the weathermen. While it hasn't been an awful week in terms of temperature or precipitation, it also wasn't the sort of weather in which I'd have gone swimming, even if I could have. It's been mostly warm (but not hot) with a lot of "mix of sun and cloud". So the somewhat early pool-closing now appears validated, if only for the savings in electricity from not having to run the pump every day this week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taking The Freakonomic View

I always enjoy the Freakonomics blog, but this guest post by "the Undercover Economist" was especially fun to read. I particularly liked the question (and answer) regarding the man who wanted to spend $6000 on his mid-life crisis project and had argued for it, against his wife's financial objections, by explaining that it was cheaper than buying a sports car or taking on a mistress!

I felt kind of proud of myself when I read the reference to "the old cake-cutting method" and quickly sussed out what that meant. I'm reasonably confident that it's a solution to the problem of cutting what remains of a cake into two portions for yourself and another individual: the person who doesn't cut it gets to pick his or her piece. In that way, you have incentive (as the cutter) not to make either piece obviously better than the other, for fear of losing it to your companion.

And having read what was "the second most unromantic thing" that a particular man had ever said to his wife was, I can't help but wonder: what was the first most unromantic thing he'd ever said?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

AgileMan Lives!!!

Or, at least, a new post by him does! And don't be fooled by the Sep 10 date on the blog entry... that's just when I started it and then promptly forgot all about it!

Oh, and I may have some AgileMan work news in the not-too-distant future, but then again: I may not. It's all very touch-and-go at this point, as these things often are.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Perverse Incentives

It occurred to me today that my tutoring actually has something of a screwed up incentive system built into it. Specifically: the better job I do tutoring a student, the less that student ends up needing my help!

In fact, I've had one student go from three hours per week down to two hours per week and soon, as of next week, down to just a single hour. That's a wonderful success story, to be sure, but it also means that I'll soon be making 67% less income off that student than I used to.

It's the sort of incentive structure that could, in the wrong hands, promote bad behaviour. You can imagine a scenario where an unscrupulous tutor might achieve just enough success with the student to mollify the parents but not so much that anyone would get the idea of cutting back on the hours. In fact, someone in that position could quite easily argue for more hours, holding out the hope for even greater returns in that event.

Fortunately, I'm not in a position where I need to worry about bumping up my income and would have any reason to react to such stimuli. I've already exceeded my initial goal (which was 4 or 5 students) and am perfectly happy having a mere 7 hours of tutoring to do each week. After all, who really wants to work much harder than that?! :-)

Stupid Things I Know, Sep 2009 Edition

At lunch last week, I made the comment that a friend who was starting a new job soon might be considered to be "a pig in a poke" by his new employer if he wasn't up to snuff. That statement received a table full of blank looks in response, leading me to ask if there was no one in attendance who was familiar with the expression. That query lead to more blank stares, as well as comments about my (allegedly advanced) age.

So I had to explain that pigs (actually piglets) were once sold in canvas bags, referred to as "pokes". If you were lazy in your purchase and didn't take the precaution of confirming the contents of the poke, you ran the risk of getting home only to discover that you'd paid top dollar for a cat, rat or squirrel (all of which tend to make a piglet-sized commotion inside that sealed bag but none of which are worth much to you). Hence, "buying a pig in a poke" means that you've ended up with something vastly inferior (in value) to what you thought you were getting. Here's the Wikipedia entry for it, lest anyone think that I'm just making this up.

Why do I know things like this? No idea. I just do.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Best Part Of The Emmys

Worth watching if for no other reason than the few fleeting seconds of Felicia Day's smiling face!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nice One, Weather Forecasters

When I started the process of closing the pool on Friday, the forecast for next week was to get a few hot, rainy days to start the week followed by a sharp drop in the temperatures. Thus, there didn't seem to be any reason to keep the pool open any longer.

Today, the forecast indicates that we'll have a full week of mostly-sunny, very warm weather. Unfortunately, the pool's now closed and Swimming Season is over for this house.

Yes, it's true: I was played like a rookie by the jackasses who predict the weather.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wonder Woman DVD Is Absolutely Wonderful

I'll admit it: I only bought the Wonder Woman (animated) DVD out of loyalty to the DC brand, and to encourage more direct-to-DVD animated features. I didn't expect to like it all that much. Instead, I absolutely loved it!

Part origin story, part Amazons Attack!, and even a tiny part Blackest Night, this is a great, great introduction to the character. You'll find out how Diana came to be, how she met Steve Trevor (her "first man"), how she won the right to leave Paradise Island, and also be treated to several rip-roaring battle scenes that the average Joe just wouldn't expect to find in a Wonder Woman story. The dynamic between Trevor and the Amazonian Princess is done perfectly, and the scope of the story is suitably epic. Diana's personality is dead-on, with just the right mixture of pride, nobility and compassion. Even the very final scene, in which Wonder Woman leaps into action to take on an actual supervillainess for the first time (Cheetah, for those who know such things), is done exquisitely well and leaves you wanting more. If there was a sequel to this feature already available, I'd have ordered it before starting this review!

It's a pretty rare experience for me to go into something comic-related with low expectations and come out of it blown away, but Wonder Woman did just that. It's right up there with the Justice League: New Frontier DVD, with the big difference being that I hadn't been so shocked to love that one so much.

Now the newly-formed DC Entertainment just needs to get off their asses and make a live action Wonder Woman movie this good!

Friday, September 18, 2009

All The Things Wrong With Last Night's Fringe

I was really enjoying the season premiere of Fringe last night - which we viewed live right after re-watching the season finale from May - until they attempted to get too cute near the end of it. Spoilers ahead, if you care.

The episode sees a shape-shifter arrive who can plug one end of a device into a dead human's mouth, the other end into his own, and then suck the necessary data out to allow it to mimic the human's appearance. (Hey, it's sci fi, OK?) We see this transformation in action once, and it's a process that's very painful for the creature using it, but one which ends up with the bad guy looking like a perfect duplicate of his victim. Therefore you just know there's going to come a time when someone who appears to be ______ (perhaps a familiar face) actually turns out to be this nasty new bad guy.

And sure enough, the final few moments reveal that exactly that scenario has occurred. Agent Dunham's partner - a semi-regular from Season One - it turns out, was actually killed earlier in the episode and replaced by the shape-shifter. What we'd been shown had made it seem like the agent had shot and killed the creature but now - shock! - we discover that Agent Goodguy is dead instead and has been replaced. That's a great twist, if only it had made any sense at all! Without going into gory detail, this revelation falls very flat because the body that was substituted for the shape-shifter's (a nurse) wasn't in the right condition (it was missing some bullet wounds) and also presented a logistical problem: there should have been two "nurse bodies" when in fact there could only have been one (the actual, dead nurse). Were it not for the fact that this show revolves around FBI agents who are supposed to be masters of detail, I might accept that no one picked up on those inconsistencies that I immediately thought of... but as it is, it requires a complete mental meltdown to imagine that no one noticed that it just doesn't add up at all. Horrible, horrible writing, that.

There's also the problem that this plot development is way too similar to something that happened in Alias - another JJ Abrams production - but that didn't bother me nearly as much as the inherent logic problem presented by the bodies.

I Need To Work This Into My Tutoring Routine

Not sure how it relates to tutoring, but I'm sure I can figure out a way...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Well, That's Something New

I had lunch downtown today with the CIO of a local company who's looking for some training for his staff... on the topic of Agile! We had a great conversation about the challenges of bringing even just a subset of Agile practices in-house, and I think there's a fairly good chance that I'll be doing some work for him in the not-too-distant future. This is my first real opportunity to land some Agile consulting work since leaving my full-time job nearly 14 months ago, but as the saying goes: better late than never! (And I have my chiropractor to thank for this introduction!)

It may be a few weeks before I know anything definite, but in the meantime I have lots of tutoring to keep me busy. I just finished my first full week (8 hours of tutoring over 3.5 days) and it's certainly a more demanding pace than I'd been used to. But I like it, so what else really matters?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can We Start The New TV Season Already?

Actually, it's probably already begun but is so bland that I just haven't noticed yet. I'm pretty sure the season premiere for Fringe is on tomorrow night, but other than that? No Lost until next year; Sarah Connor's history; Dollhouse is coming back, but maybe not until next month? Same with 30 Rock?

And of the new shows, I think only Flash Forward really piqued my curiosity. Most underwhelming new season ever?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How To Feel Old

I had to explain to one of my students this afternoon what a "jalopy" is. My first thought was, "Who doesn't know what a jalopy is?"

My second thought was, "Wait a minute... has anyone even used that word in the last 20 years?"

Yet another reason why Math tutoring is better than English tutoring: Math concepts don't tend to change all that much as the decades roll by!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Long, Tough Drought Nearly Over

In two minutes, the first new Daily Show episode in three and a half weeks will be broadcast (followed by a similarly long-overdue new Colbert). Considering that this break coincided with the end of the summer, it's been a very dry period for TV in our household over the past little while. I, for one, am thrilled to see "the gents" return tonight, as there are only so many times that I can successfully convince Vicki to watch SportsCentre with me...

Job Market Improving?

It's a ridiculously small sample set to draw any conclusions from, but that certainly won't stop me.

I'm now observing what appears to be a second wave of resignations underway at my previous place of employment, making me wonder if the previously-frozen job situation is finally thawing once again. The first wave, as I wrote about in More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year 2: Easier Said Than Done), featured a significant blast of "I quit!"s last summer and fall (including my own). I took that as a sign that I wasn't alone in my dour evaluation of the workplace that had kept me gainfully employed for more than 7 years up to that point.

Then as the economy headed off the cliff toward the end of the 3rd quarter of 2008, things quieted down on that front for several months. I was fairly certain that the late-2008 and early-2009 reduction in turnover was a result of the recession and not reflective of any successful addressing of the issues within those walls, but it's always hard to tell from the outside. I hoped for the best, but feared for the worst.

Now that the resignation letters are once again flowing into HR with some regularity, I'm a little more confident that my assessment was right. However, as bad as that result is for the organization (and as telling as it is that nothing seems to be getting done about it), this development would seem to provide a good indication that an overall improvement in the health of the job market has come about. And that's a very good thing, on a much larger scale. It's just sad that a once-great place to produce software has now seen more than 20% of its work force depart in the span of a little over a year.

Like Woody Allen, In Annie Hall

If you enjoyed the scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen's character brings Marshall McLuhan into the frame in order to eviscerate an annoying intellectual snob, then you'll probably love this short article by Simpsons writer Matt Selman. Running into yet another "I don't watch TV" response after describing himself as a TV writer, Selman gets the ultimate revenge on the hapless boob.

(Via Eddie Campbell's blog.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Temper, Temper!

If you missed it, Serena Williams lost her Semi-Final U.S. Open match to Kim Clijsters yesterday thanks to a very poorly-timed emotional outburst. Down 5-6 in the second set (and having lost the first set), Williams committed a foot fault on her serve to fall behind 15-40. Instead of just bearing down and trying to get back into the game, she took that opportunity to walk over to the line judge, shake her racquet at her, and scream, "If I could, I would take this f-ing ball and shove it down your f-ing throat!" (The video replay, by the way, showed that she had, indeed, stepped on the line during her serve.)

When the line judge scurried over to the chair umpire to complain, a conference ensued, and eventually Williams was penalized a single point for unsportsmanlike behaviour... handing the match to Clijsters in the process!

I wish something like that had happened to John McEnroe, back in the day, but he was likely a bit more careful about the timing of his tantrums.

People Who Really Love Their Jobs

A program that Vicki and I have been watching recently (thanks, in part, to the scarcity of new episodes of our favourite night-time dramas) is Nova on PBS, as well as its (I assume) spin-off, Nova Science Now. We find most of the segments on both shows to be filled with fascinating and enlightening information, which I'm sure is hardly a revelation to those who've been enjoying them for years.

What may be a revelation, though, is my observation that virtually all of the scientists and specialists shown on Nova and Nova Science Now seem to really, truly love their vocations. Whether it's a middle-aged NASA biologist rejoicing at the photos coming back from Mars and working day and night to analyze them, a 60-year old volcanologist sifting through ash sent to him from all over the world, or a fresh-out-of-school oceanographer tracing the history of evolution by studying new species of fish at the bottom of an unexplored trench, they all have a lot in common. Their job is their passion; they feel that their work is important in some way; and they love talking about what they've observed or discovered.

In fact, the sense I get from watching this ever-changing cast of characters, week after week, is very similar to what Dan Pink spoke of in the TED session that I referred to on the AgileMan blog recently. He described a work environment consisting of "Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose" devoted to the process of producing software: having a great deal of say in how you go about your job, being granted the time and tools to become a master of your particular craft, and believing that your work matters. It's interesting to me to see this perspective showing up, again and again, in different arenas. And yet, when we're in the midst of a Nova episode and I'm marveling at the enthusiasm flowing out of the men and women on the screen, I often find myself wondering, "How many people in any of the places that I've worked would ever have looked that animated in describing their own activities?"

Now that I've reached the point in my life where I no longer have to toil away at jobs I don't enjoy, this sort of Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose paradigm has become very important to me. I can afford to walk away from opportunities that don't seem to provide that framework for me (as I've done), and to seek out ones that do. While I certainly may change my mind on this point later, so far my Math Tutoring experience has fit very nicely into that structure. I have the freedom to choose my students as well as the material that I teach (to some degree) and the approach that I take (to a large degree). I have the time and inclination to do research on these topics, so that I bring more and more expertise to them with each passing month. And I'm able to see positive change in young minds that has at least the potential to open new doors for them later in life. It's a rewarding use of my time well beyond the simple accumulation of income (although that part's nice, too!).

It'd be easy for me to advise every person out there who's stuck in a job they don't love to rise up and cast off their shackles of nine-to-five drudgery, but of course that's not always feasible. After all, in many cases it's more noble to toil away at that kind of work for awhile, rather than leaving loved ones in the lurch. But I definitely encourage anyone within the sound of my "voice" to think more about what they could be doing with their life that would give them greater joy, and then work out a plan on how to transition toward that while still making a living and putting food on the table. Life's too short to do otherwise, I think.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is Information Making Us Dumber?

A friend on Twitter provided a link to this very interesting Globe and Mail article entitled, "Information-Rich and Attention-Poor". It covers many of the side effects of the increasingly fast-and-easy access to data that technology is enabling and the effect it's having on our attention span, including the undeniable movement away from depth, in favour of speed.

I can certainly see that with some of the students I tutor. Kids with reading comprehension issues, for example, are now so used to skimming content that they often can't recount any more than a few points about what they just read even seconds after finishing the piece in question. I didn't fully recognize the extent of the problem until I asked one student to read the passage aloud to me - up to that point, I'd naively had him read it silently to himself - and noticed two things right off the bat:
  • he was reading very quickly and skipping (or misidentifying) some of the words; and
  • he was reading without much tonal differences from word to word.
The first point wasn't that surprising, because it had been somewhat deducible by the short time that the student had spent silently reading before saying that he was done. But the flat intonation in the reading, which I'd describe as "word word word word word word" (meaning that all words were simply read as individual entities, with no particular vocal inflections or emphasis being applied to key portions as one would do when telling a story). In the Information Age, this makes a certain amount of sense: all data is relatively equal, especially in a child's mind, unless something especially noteworthy differentiates it, such as the name of a celebrity or the mention of a favourite character or hobby. In other words, some young readers today may be racing through the paragraphs, searching (often in vain) for the one or two buzzwords that interest them. In fact, the # 1 reason I get from students when they're quizzed about their low retention is that what they were asked to read "was boring."

In my Math tutoring, I'm also finding that some of what previous generations considered basic knowledge has fallen by the wayside. I've had teenagers say, "I don't need to know my times tables because I can just plug the question into my calculator." I remember hearing that for the first time when our daughter was young. Fortunately for her, we didn't buy the argument then, and I still don't buy it today. Another friend of mine recounted the story to me of having a Grade 2 or 3 teacher who set up a series of workstations for his class, at which the students would find worksheets with basic single digit operations on them (eg. "3 + 6" or "7 x 9"). Each successive station used larger numbers, and every day each child would attempt to complete the worksheet there in 3 minutes or less. Successful completion (with no errors) allowed the student to progress to the next station the following day. Using this sort of approach, most of the members of that class became "unconsciously competent" at basic arithmetic. At the end of re-telling this to me, the friend pointed out that in high school and university, he and his former classmates would inevitably spend less time on the rudimentary portions of every test question and therefore have more time to spend on the parts that required actual exploration and discovery.

And that's a key point in this discussion, I think. If the faster pace of life today means that individuals aren't getting even the basic foundations of knowledge by the time they graduate from school, then it seems inevitable that we'll actually regress at some point. As the Globe and Mail article above mentions, we'll have unlimited access to existing knowledge but very limited capability at generating any new wisdom. Expertise - meaning deep, thorough understanding of a topic - had better not fall out of fashion, or we'll undoubtedly face stagnation in the future. As a Math Tutor, I'm doing my part to fight this trend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Already Causing A Stir

And it hasn't even opened yet outside of NYC and LA!

No Impact Man looks like a bit of a step-child to 2004's Super Size Me (and others in that genre) but I guess I'll have to see it before really forming an opinion. I really hope it's good, though.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comic Buying Back Up Again

After a nice little run there where I'd gotten my weekly comic buying down to about 4 or 5 titles, I've recently run it back up to around 8 or 9. That's the bad news, as I had really hoped to keep the spending light on that front.

The good news, however, is that when I look at what I'm picking up of late, it's almost all top notch stuff! The addition of The Complete Dracula and Sherlock Holmes mini-series, both by the writing team of Leah Moore and John Reppion, are two examples of changes-for-the-better in my monthly intake. And the putrifying goodness that is Blackest Night has had me happily slapping down cash for mini-series and tie-ins that I normally wouldn't bother with. I'm also buying about half of the titles in the Bat- and Super-universes right now, which accounts for another half-dozen monthly reads. Pile on the return of Barry "The Flash" Allen and a relaunched Ultimates (now called Ultimate Avengers) and everything's coming up daisies at the moment.

So, for now, I'm OK with my increased spending. I'd say I'm getting good value for my money, which wasn't the case when I started paring things down a year or so ago. As long as I can stick to my "chuck what sucks" approach, then it's all good. Nothing to see here, really. Move along now!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Other Shoe Drops!

Clearly, this huge announcement today of the creation of DC Entertainment has to be in some ways a response to Disney's purchase of Marvel. Wow! This could be really good news for DC Comics fans!

Happy 9 Day!

As I write these words, it's 9:09 on 09/09/09, which is pretty darned special! A certain Boneman Jr is also celebrating his 9th birthday today, which just adds to the fun.

So, wherever you are, stop for a moment and give the number 9 its due!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I've Forgotten So Much!

As I continue to re-educate myself on Grade 11 Functions in preparation for a new tutoring engagement that starts this week, I'm struck again and again by just how much I've forgotten since my high school days. I look at some of the proofs that are included in that particular subject's curriculum - such as "show that 1 - cos^2 x = cos x sin x tan x" - and I die a little inside. Oh sure, I can still put pencil to paper and work my way through to a solution, but it takes me longer than it ever did when I was in school. In those days, I had so many rules and identities memorized that it was usually just a matter of mentally flipping through them until I found the right one for each situation. Now, I'll try one thing, have it lead to a dead end, and then go a second or even third route before I hit on the right approach.

Maybe if I do enough of this, with enough different students, I'll get back to that lofty level of mathiness... but right now, I grieve for my lost memories!

Glad I Don't Live There

Today I was reading a commentary on the Health Care Reform "debate" going on in the States right now, and I found myself getting quite worked up about it.

And then suddenly I remembered: I don't live there! I already have universal health care coverage, and have used it many times over the past several years, with no financial hardship whatsoever. I go for an annual physical every spring, and I don't worry about the cost of the blood tests that are performed or the chest x-rays / heart monitoring that I'm occasionally told to have done. Sure, those things often chew up half an hour or more of my time when I have to do them, but the preventative benefit surely outweighs the small inconveniences I suffer.

So the bottom line, I guess, is this: I'm sure glad that I don't actually live in America and really need to worry about how Health Care Reform shakes out. It doesn't mean I don't care (I do); it just means that I'm happy not to have actual skin in that particular game of craps.

One Slack Week Left

With this being Back to School Week, not all of my students are being tutored this week as some parents considered it just a little too hectic already (and I can sympathize). Because of that, I'll only see three of them between now and the weekend, for a total of three hours.

Next week, when things shift into high gear, I'll have all six students in action, and a whopping eight hours of tutoring time to accommodate! I've never come close to that much activity in a single week before, and yet it's about to become the new norm. How crazy is that?! On the positive side, though, at least they should be in "school mode" shortly, after a long summer of having their brains slowly shut down on them. I'm cautiously optimistic that retention and general attitudes will improve as the school year proceeds, even though they'll also have other homework to contend with.

Let the fun and games begin!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Moore And Reppion Take On The Master Of The Undead

After my very favourable reaction to their Sherlock Holmes miniseries, I went looking for other work by the writing (and husband-and-wife) team of Leah Moore and John Reppion.

Fortunately, it didn't take me long to find something. It's been somewhat delayed in its publication, but so far the first 2 issues of the 5-part Complete Dracula adaptation have come out, and I picked them up a week or two ago. As with the Holmes venture, this is one of the best interpretations of this classic character that I've ever encountered. The pair researched the original Bram Stoker novel extensively, including corresponding with some of the current leading authorities on the work. Their choices in what portions to include and how to present them are absolutely wonderful, to the point where I almost feel like I'm re-reading the book - but this time with beautiful artwork!

It's a much denser read than I'm used to with comics these days (a typical comic takes about 5 minutes to read, whereas these usually take three times that long), but in a thrilling way. I find myself flipping back and forth between the pages, connecting dots and recognizing payoffs that I didn't pick up on at first. I'm also experiencing the same sense of dread and vicarious concern that always hung over me whenever I'd read Bram Stoker's novel but which rarely associated itself with any of the other presentations of the material that I've encountered. It's really quite an impressive adaptation of a book that entirely too few people have ever read.

Obama To Brainwash American Youth Into Socialism

Or, at least, that's what you'd think, if you watched Fox News or read any conservative websites leading up to tomorrow's Presidential address to the American school students.

In actual fact, if you read what he's going to say, you'll get a very different impression. His remarks are all about working hard, listening to the adult authority figures in your life, and not giving up on yourself no matter how much you may be tempted to. In other words, he's going to be saying exactly what any responsible parent would hope his or her child would hear from the President of the United States... and yet some still won't want their kids to hear these words, because they - the parents, not the students - have been brainwashed to the point where they can't even think for themselves anymore. Hopefully the next American generation will have more going for it than the current one, I guess.

This Is Pretty Impressive

Minnesota Senator Al Franken draws the map of the U.S. from memory at a state fair! I just hope it doesn't turn out that the image was visible to Mr Franken on the sheet below or anything like that. I'd also enjoy seeing it at normal speed, and with his commentary audible.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What Role Do Parents Play In Their Children's Education?

Vicki and I have been having some great discussions recently about this topic (sparked by my experiences as a tutor, as well as our own history raising daughter Tammy). Should parents assume that their kids will learn everything they need at school, or is it their job to supplement that education in some way? Are there clear distinctions between what the school system "owns" and what lies with the parents (the proverbial "book learning" versus personal ethics, for example)? Do kids who get extracurricular training from their folks have an unfair advantage over those who don't? And what's the right balance, from a parent's point of view, between purely social or physical activities (play dates with other kids, soccer or hockey, hanging out with the neighbourhood crowd) and more mentally-stimulating pastimes like learning new card games, solving puzzles, being quizzed on what they're supposed to know or anything else that a parent might do to gauge and/or nudge along their child's mental development?

I'd love to hear thoughts from those in the blogosphere. This is a subject that is increasingly occupying my brain of late, and in addition to reading up on it (as I have been), I'd love to hear from the peanut gallery out there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Final Weekend Of Summer

While Labour Day weekend isn't technically the end of summer (although that comes only a couple of weeks later this year), it always has that feel. It's the last gasp before school starts back up (which, now that I'm tutoring, means something to me again) and it's often the final opportunity to hold a pool party, if the weatherman cooperates. This year, we're getting lots of sunshine and high temperatures for at least the first two days of the long weekend, and so we've invited friends over for both days.

Since our pool heater is still not working - on account of me not paying any expert to come here and fix it - it's been a bit of a battle to keep the water temperature anywhere close to swimmable with all of the cool nights lately. On Thursday I resorted to the method we used in the days before we installed the gas heater: solar powered heating! I've run a black hose along our black driveway, and am pumping water through it (from the pool and then back into the pool). It doesn't work as well as the gas heater, of course, but it does raise the temperature a few extra Fahrenheit degrees during the sunny part of the day. And it's a lot cheaper to run than the big heater!

Friday, September 04, 2009

The American Dream Is Alive And Well...

... here in Canada!


Stuff like this is pure gold to fans like me: Alan Moore finally speaks about the Marvelman situation. When you hear his side of the story - granted that it's only his side - then you begin to understand a little better why he became so disenchanted with the character, despite his great work in Warrior and on the Miracleman series from Eclipse. Rightly or wrongly, Moore feels that he was lied to, in significant ways, at each step along the path.

Also interesting is the revelation that his name may not be on the work if/when it's reprinted by Disney Comics. I'm not sure what that means, even: not on the covers (which would be easy enough to accommodate) or completely omitted from the credits inside the books? While you can do something in a film like say, "Based on the graphic novel series by Dave Gibbons" (as happened recently with Watchmen), I'm not sure how you reprint a comic series that previously contained credit boxes with Moore's name in them. White them out? Substitute "Alan Smithee" in his place? Give the artist credit as the writer? It's just one more unanswered question (for the moment) in the Marvelman saga...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It Was Only A Matter Of Time

Headline: Finger bitten off in Health Care "debate". The really surprising thing about this story is that no guns were involved! And of course you have to wonder if the anti-health reform guy, who had his finger bitten off, has adequate health care insurance?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Only Constant Is Change

This week, my friend and former boss from my days as AgileMan handed in his resignation to the company that I left behind 13 months ago. With each new departure that's come along since I made my final exit, I'm increasingly convinced that I wouldn't really recognize the place anymore. When I was there, I was very invested in the people, the processes, and the products. Since leaving, I've found that the only part of it that I care about at all is the personnel, and that component becomes smaller in number every month.

What this helps me to remember, though, is that companies exist to make money. It may feel like a family when you're part of it, as it has for me in both of my long-term employment experiences, but it's really just a business. In each case, I got out of Dodge as soon as I felt like I didn't fit the direction things were headed any longer, and I think that's the only healthy response. Had I stayed, especially in my AgileMan role, I'd have been sand in the gears of a machine much larger than me. And that sort of thing's just stupid, when after all: it's only a job.

Congratulations to my friend who's about to embark on a new set of challenges and opportunities. I wish him only the best and hope that he's as re-energized by a change of scenery as I expect him to be.

Ling And Lee Speak

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the journalists freed from captivity in North Korea last month, have now broken their silence about why they were in North Korea back in March. Anyone who faulted them for being there, or considered the actions of President Clinton and others in arranging their release to be foolhardy or undeserved, desperately need to read the two reporters' article and then give their heads a serious shake if they still disapprove. This is an amazing story that highlights just how badly some parts of this planet are governed right now.

Marvel Now Belongs To Mickey Mouse

As Rich Johnston puts it over at Bleeding Cool, you know you've made it to the big time when you get the Hitler treatment! (I can't help but wonder if there will ever be an AgileMan version...?)

I Love The Sound Of Radiohead In The Morning

Somedays I just wake up in the mood for a little Radiohead.

It's hard to believe the evolution of this band. You start with their first big hit, "Creep", which is impressive for its raw power and catchiness, but really pretty simple fare:

and then you jump ahead a few years to the critically acclaimed OK Computer album, which featured (among other great songs) the amazing "Karma Police":

Three years after OK Computer, they released Kid A, which is a tough nut to crack in a lot of ways but does contain "Everything In Its Right Place", a trippy, hypnotic version of which you can see here:

Jump a few more releases and you're up to their most recent CD, In Rainbows. It's filled with more accessible material than anything they'd put out in years, and yet the band still managed to pack a lot of punch into it. Although not typical of the more (musically) upbeat songs on In Rainbows, "Videotape" is pretty amazing just for the depth of emotion exhibited in it:

Probably because I listen to bands like Radiohead and Magnolia Electric Company, I've never really understood the old argument against albums/CDs, which usually went "Why would I want to buy a whole album when I really only want one song?" Bands who grow and evolve usually release great packages, where all of the pieces contribute to the whole. The rest, I guess, just release singles with filler.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Loading Up On Tutoring

I picked up my 6th student this evening, just in time for the 2009/10 school year (which starts one week from today). This will be my 2nd English-based tutoring gig, along with four of the Math-based variety. I've got a lead on a potential 7th student but that one's proving to be elusive to land so far (his mother's onside but the student himself has some vague and unspecified reservations to the point where we've not yet even met). As it stands now, I'll have one Grade 5 student, three Grade 6ers, one Grade 8 and a lone high schooler in Grade 11. That's quite a cross section of ages and maturity levels to deal with, but I suppose that just comes with the territory.

My schedule now is almost full, between after-school sessions and after-dinner ones, Monday thru Thursday. I'm currently sitting at 8 hours per week, although that may go up or down depending on how things progress once school begins. Since all but one of these new clients have been picked up since June, it's been hard to judge just how much time each student is really going to need once the easy-going pace of the summer gives way to the more serious demands of the school curriculum. Sometime in the next few weeks I'll have a better idea, though... and here's hoping I don't have to start offering up weekend sessions!