Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sad Way To End The Year

A Calgary journalist, Michelle Lang, was killed earlier this week while traveling with a Canadian military convoy in Afghanistan. Recently engaged, well-respected for her integrity and bravery as a journalist, and now cut down in her prime. What a terrible end to 2009 for her friends, family and colleagues.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

J. J. Abrams And The Mystery Box

A little bit (18 minutes) of J. J. talking about Lost, Mission: Impossible 3, his grandfather and the joy of creation, at TED in 2007.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Family Bonding

Tammy and I have been playing several hours of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Special Ops missions every day since the big Christmas Present Opening Extravaganza (sometimes just referred to as "Christmas morning"). It's impressive to me just how much better we play as a team now than when we started, a mere four days ago. We've each adapted somewhat to the other's style while still remaining distinctly different in our approaches. Tammy tends to be more aggressive than me, and I'm inclined to hang back and sometimes even over-think the situation sometimes. Between the two of us, though, we usually strike a happy medium.

My favourite mission so far is the one (in Alpha) set in the marketplace. It's one of the few that we've completed on the Veteran difficulty setting, and I'd still enjoy playing it some more in the future. I like that it's not timed, that you have a very specific target (killing a certain number of enemies) and that goal is always clearly displayed (a counter that decreases with each kill), as well as the fact that you're punished for killing civilians. It feels like a map where you can take your time to a certain degree, but also where bad guys frequently pop up and start shooting you if you don't pay attention to your surroundings.

Modern Warfare 2 is turning out to be a pretty special game, justifying the high praise and popularity that it's amassed in the weeks since it came out. If more games were this much fun, I'd probably never get anything done! (Book? What book?)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Other Christmas Goodies

In addition to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, I also received some non-video game presents for Christmas!

Reading material included The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe and Our Choice by Al Gore (both from Tammy), as well as Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem and Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw (courtesy of Vicki).

In the comic book category, Tammy gave me a nice copy of Thor # 136 while Vicki loaded me up with the Justice League of America Archives # 2, World's Finest # 115 and Adventure Comics # 212, all of which are from the Silver Age. Vicki also bestowed the drool-inducing Absolute V For Vendetta on me, which will look very fine indeed beside my Absolute Watchmen from a year or two ago.

But wait, there's more: I also got a few movies on DVD. Tammy continued her recent run of finding films I've never heard of (last year it was Let the Right One In and The Lives of Others that impressed me greatly) and gave me Good Bye Lenin! and Oldboy. Vicki countered with One Week and Star Trek (special edition including a replica Enterprise).

And just so that I wouldn't have to play, read or watch any of those items bare chested, I also received shirts from Bali and Cambodia (thanks to Tammy's big Asia trip this past summer) and the Batcave.

And last but most certainly not least, I hauled in gift certificates from Future Shop and Starbucks, as well as hot chocolate (complete with mug) and chocolates of many varieties, courtesy of my long-suffering Math students and their parents. It was both surprising and endearing that each of them thought to give me something, when I really hadn't expected any of them to do so!

As you can see, I was thoroughly and completely spoiled this year, once again.

OK, That's Crazy Fun!

Tammy and I must've played 4 or 5 hours of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 last night, sandwiched around a couple episodes of Lost Season 5 (so that Vicki wouldn't feel completely left out!). We were doing the Special Ops missions within the game, each of which proved to be highly addictive. I loved how strategically we had to play some of the missions in order to complete them.

The evening ended (between midnight and 1:00) after we successfully defused 3 bombs in the market place on our 6th or 7th try. Tammy was "bleeding out" (having just taken care of one of the explosives before getting mortally wounded) while I raced to take out the last bomb, managing to do so exactly as the clock ran out (on both the mission and Tammy's virtual life). It was ridiculously exciting!

Friday, December 25, 2009

New Games In The House

Christmas Haul 2009 has brought Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 into my waiting hands, thanks to the lovely Vicki. She received - and is already well into - Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time, courtesy of me. And finally, after seeing it on sale for $39.99, this afternoon I ordered a copy of Left 4 Dead 2, which one of my tutoring students has been bugging me to get ahold of so that we can play it in Coop mode. I made that decision after playing the demo for L4D2, and while I didn't immediately fall in love with it, I did laugh out loud a couple of times, which has to count for something.

In short: lots of gaming in this household is expected in the coming days!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Game That Keeps On Giving

Resistance 2, as longtime followers of this blog must surely recall, came out more than a year ago now (Nov 4, 2008, to be precise). I spent hundreds of hours playing it during those first several months after its release, before eventually moving on to other - less entertaining, immersive and addictive - games. For about four or five months, though, that R2 disk rarely, if ever, exited my PS/3.

Today, more than 13 months after its debut, that terrific game was back in the console once again. Tammy, Boneman, Boneman Jr and I spent an hour and a half playing a variety of Competitive and Cooperative matches, still getting our money's worth out of a game that almost never disappoints. I can't imagine revisiting most games that long after they've come and gone, but Insomniac really knows how to make 'em.

I imagine there may be some new offerings in the video game market showing up among my presents tomorrow, and I'll greatly enjoy every single one of them, to be sure. But it's hard to top this particular Insomniac franchise and hopefully by this time next year I'll be raving about Resistance 3!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day Of The Triffids: Timeless Classic

I see on Ain't It Cool News that the BBC is about to start running a new miniseries based on the 1951 John Wyndham gem (which I just recently read for the first time). You can actually watch 3 trailers for Triffids here, if you're at all interested.

Just in the few minutes shown, I can see that they've tinkered somewhat with the setup from the book, but it still looks like an interesting take on that material. I wonder how we'll get to see it in North America?

An Interesting Behavioural Experiment

Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Day in North America. Although I probably won't get to my local comic store until next week, were I to venture there today I'd find 10 new comics waiting for me among the dozens that arrived from scads of different publishers this afternoon, just in time for Christmas.

Next Wednesday, however, almost no new comics will be released. The reasoning apparently involves the distributor (Diamond) not wanting to have to deal with the usual hassles of shipping between Christmas and New Year's (despite a long history of somehow managing in the past). This news was received, I imagine, with some consternation by comic store owners, as it potentially meant a week of missed revenue for them. You can argue that all of the same comics will come out sooner (this week) or later (first Wednesday in 2010) anyway, but from a cash flow point of view, I think it makes a difference. For one thing, that's one week out of fifty-two in the year (nearly 2%) during which few, if any, customers would be coming into the store and possibly making impulse purchases. Add in the fact that some might be flush with Christmas cash and it makes for a poor economic scenario for the merchants.

Never fear, though, as DC and Marvel/Disney both decided to do something about it. Each of them has arranged to publish one special item next Wednesday: Blackest Night # 6 from DC and a (free?) 2010 Calendar from Marvel/Disney. The idea is that these items will bring the customers into the store during that lull week, and everything will be good. Of course, since Diamond isn't shipping that week, this solution only works if the objects in question arrive ahead of time... specifically, with today's big shipments of comic store fare!

For the 2010 Calendar, that's not such a big deal. Stores will have received them today and should have little problem "sitting" on them until this time next week. And if they didn't... so what? Who's really going to care if some copies of a calendar get out there a week early? In the case of Blackest Night # 6, on the other hand, you're talking about the hot-off-the-presses, absolutely latest issue of the hottest comic event of the year. Blackest Night is crossing over into lots of DC titles right now and interest in it couldn't be higher. So what exactly are the odds that no unscrupulous store owners will either leak or outright pre-sell copies of this much-sought-after comic between now and Dec 30? How likely is that the contents of this all-important title won't be spoiled for the majority of us before we even have the option of owning it ourselves?

To mitigate the chances of that happening, DC has taken some steps to introduce a reward system whereby all stores will receive a limited run (and therefore valuable) variant issue of something (maybe Blackest Night) early in 2010 so long as they haven't been found to have jumped the release date of Blackest Night # 6. How DC is planning to track this, I'm not sure. With the nature of viral reporting these days, perhaps they're counting on Internet reports (or the fear thereof) to keep things in check. At any rate, it seems like quite the fascinating cultural / behavioural experiment to me, and I'm already looking forward to watching the results unfold in the next 7 days.

[Update Dec 24/09: It didn't take long.]

Scientists And The What If Scenario

I got thinking the other day about how difficult it's been for environmental scientists to make their voices heard as the climate change crisis has developed over the past several decades. Until former Vice President Al Gore appeared in the film An Inconvenient Truth, it seemed as though the message was never going to be received in any mainstream manner (at least in North America). Gore, who isn't even a scientist but rather a well-known political figure, managed to get a lot of people interested in a topic that up to that point had only gotten much attention in scientific and fringe liberal circles. Why did it take the involvement of someone who's more of a pop culture star than an "egghead" to bust through that barrier? And why is there still so much resistance to the facts that are becoming so impossible to ignore?

Then I remembered how, in the first half of the 20th century, scientists seemed to be much more highly regarded. Look at the science fiction movies of the 1950s and early 60s, for example, and for every "mad scientist threatening to destroy the world" stereotype there are probably half a dozen counter examples of noble, even heroic eggheads who are using their impressive brain power to save the world from giant ants, an approaching asteroid, or alien invasion. Consider the importance of the Albert Einstein-like Professor Barnhardt, in 1951's classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. There it's Barnhardt and the rest of the world's most brilliant minds who are the only hope for averting disaster if the awesome power of alien Klaatu's police force judges Earth to be too dangerous to be allowed to survive. This is pure brain over brawn, writ large, for all the movie-viewing world (especially kids) to see.

Somewhere along the line, in my own lifetime, scientists stopped being considered role models. Sure, we all still benefit on a daily basis from the vaccines, cures, gadgets, efficiency improvements and other advancements that come from the application and extension of the various sciences, but few people seem to view the folks doing that mental heavy lifting as worthy not only of respect, but possibly of admiration, as well. If you watch some of the conservative spokespeople in the U.S., in fact, you'd tend to believe that most science is pure chicanery, performed to undermine religious beliefs or push ideological agendas. The irony implicit in that stance is enough to make your teeth ache, and yet it's lost on a sizable portion of the population. They're happy to take the fruits of scientists' labours but only so long as the direction of the research and findings don't conflict with their own superstitions, business interests or personal biases.

But think how differently we'd be positioned right now, vis-a-vis climate change, if the late 20th and earliest 21st centuries had been characterized by a re-discovery of the importance of science, rather than by an increasing rejection of its principles. In most of those impending disaster movies of the 1950s, people entrusted their fates to the white lab coated members among them who'd proven over time to be driven by facts, not beliefs; by repeatable results, not repeated doctrine; and by a thirst for knowledge, not a desire to protect their own self-interests. In other words, they placed their faith in the people who were most likely to tell them the truth, instead of following whomever happened to feed them the most of whatever they wanted to hear. It's just too bad that the reality has proven to speak so much more poorly for our species than the lofty expectations we used to hold for ourselves. And in the end, that may be what does us in.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Online Play Is (Apparently) Hard To Get Right

I don't yet own a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, though I might, come Christmas morning! Therefore I haven't yet experienced what is, it seems, a somewhat screwed up online environment. Here's one article on the sad current state of affairs there. (And by the way, if you read the line "I was literally a prisoner of Modern Warfare 2" and laughed out loud, join the club. Why is it so difficult for people to understand what the word "literally" means, I wonder?)

Anyway, reading that article, I got thinking about how rare it is that you find a game whose online setup is so well done that you just take it for granted. Both Resistance games scored pretty well, in that regard, even though we diehards complained a bit each time (Insomniac was fairly good at responding to many of those gripes). The Halo franchise on the 360 has usually been first-rate. Neither of those examples can really hold a candle to what I used to experience on the PC, however, in games like Aliens vs Predator or Unreal Tournament (the original)... or am I simply seeing those days through rose-coloured glasses? I seem to recall less frustration with finding the kind of games I wanted to play, compared to nowadays, but maybe that's because our expectations were so much lower back then.

I'd say that my own ordered priorities for online play would be:
  1. High availability - it's really annoying when you're ready to play but can't get online
  2. Fun factor - this is obviously somewhat subjective, but c'mon: designing an online game where anyone new to it is likely to be killed immediately upon spawning just isn't smart; the best game designers can put enough thought into what they deliver that the results can be fun for noob and pro alike
  3. Reliable matchmaking algorithms - whether it's by type of game, type of map, skill level or some other criteria... just make sure your code actually finds the best-suited game based on what I selected, would ya?
  4. Balanced play - I'm not fond of games where players who've spent more time in the game have artificial advantages (level ups, better weapons, better perks); being better at the game in terms of skill level is fine (and expected), but don't also make them better-equipped
  5. Variety - The more maps, the better; the more game types, the better; and if you really want us to keep playing this game, deliver new content - free of charge - on a regular basis
As you can see, it doesn't take all that much to make me happy where online play is concerned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Massive Action Game For PS/3 Owners

After months (years?) of idle talk about MAG, it looks like it's nearly here. Game developers Zipper Interactive have just posted news about the game going gold and an open Beta for it beginning on Jan 4. I haven't really given much thought to buying this (online-only) game, but I suspect getting to play the Beta for almost a week will probably decide the matter, one way or the other.

Anyone else interested by this news?

The Unkillable Equation

Via Wozniak, on Twitter: It's pretty cool!

A Hard Date For Aliens Vs Predator Game?

First time I looked, AvP (for the PC, PS/3 and 360) had a release date of "Q1 2010" (1st quarter, or Jan - Mar).

Next time I thought to check, the launch date had been updated to "Feb 2010", which put it squarely in the middle of that first quarter.

Today I saw a reference to it coming out on Feb 18, 2010, which puts it almost squarely in the middle of February! They just keep on splitting the difference, which is fine by me!

If that Feb 18/10 date is solid, then we're down to less than 60 days until I get my hands on a new addition to the franchise that placed an entry at # 3 on my Top Five Video Games of all time list. That's right: I'm now officially counting down to its arrival! And, of course, if Rebellion releases a demo ahead of time, I should get to try it out even sooner than that.

Fingers firmly crossed...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Math Book Update

I went on a writing jag or two this weekend, with the end result being that I passed the 100th page milestone on draft # 1 of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). As you can see, I've even found my subtitle along the way, it appears! I'm working on Chapter 10 right now and it feels like there are perhaps another 4 or 5 to go, meaning that I'm roughly 2/3 of the way home. With so little tutoring scheduled over the next 2 weeks (5 hours in total, compared to the 21 that I'd normally get in a fortnight) I should be able to make some substantial progress before school starts up again on Jan 4th.

It's truly starting to feel like a real thing, this latest book of mine.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Superman"-like Neighbour Spotted In Kansas?

Is the DC Universe finally coming to pass before our very eyes?? It all started in 1938 with the publication of Action Comics # 1, featuring the very first appearance of the Man of Steel. In it, mild-mannered Clark Kent, raised in the farmland of Kansas, begins wowing the world. And now we get this story, in which a Kansas man apparently lifted a car off of a little girl after the vehicle had rolled onto her.

Keep your eyes peeled for a man dressed as a bat who helps the police solve crimes next...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Mythical Game 9

Despite the early World Series championships sometimes featuring best-of-nine series (1903, 1919 and 1921) and the allowance of tied games (called on account of darkness; no electric lights!) in pursuit of getting one team to 4 wins, there was never a Game 9 in the history of the Fall Classic. There were several Game 8s, but never a Game 9.

When you think of the excitement that modern day Game 7s hold (in the MLB, NHL and NBA), just imagine what a Game 9 would have been like!

A Review That Mirrors My Expectations

Ever since I saw the first trailer for the Guy Ritchie-directed, Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law-starring Sherlock Holmes film, I've been very apprehensive about it. As a self-professed Holmes fan (as well as being an actual Holmes!), I tend to have pretty high standards for any story in which the character appears. Of course, with the Conan Doyle tales now in the public domain, they're fodder for anyone who wants to try their hand at it.

Based on this preview review by comic writer/gossip columnist Rich Johnston, it sounds like the latest big screen offering is every bit the bust that its trailer made it appear to be. In fact, Johnston's views line up quite nicely with my reaction to each trailer I've seen, which has been to think, "That's not Holmes." At no point does Downey seem to embody any of the Great Detective's attributes, leading one to wonder why they even bothered slapping his name onto it. Why not create a new set piece about a drunken, belligerent middle-aged Englishman in the late 19th century who goes around getting into fights while bumbling his way through private investigations? After all, if it was successful, the creators would own the exclusive rights to the characters and could make millions off the franchise.

Anyway, this sounds like a pass for me this Christmas season. Vicki and I will continue delighting in our viewing of the DVD collection of Granada TV's British episodes starring Jeremy Brett (which are truly excellent). I'm currently also reading two original books called The Final Solution (one by Michael Chabon and the other by Walter J. Harmidarow), both of which treat the Holmes legend with considerably more respect and admiration. Hell, maybe I'll even re-read Leah Moore and John Reppion's wonderful 5-issue comic series entitled The Trial of Sherlock Holmes. That just goes to show that some people know how to use the character well, and others are simply without a clue, so to speak.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Do They Even Get It?

Reading over this article at the Freakanomics website, I kept thinking, "Do they even get it? Why are they wasting their time calculating whether driving drunk is more or less dangerous for the drunk than walking home drunk would be (it turns out that it's less) when that's not even the typical concern that we should have with drunk driving?" Then I got to the comments, and right there, at the top, was the following:

"The real problem with your analysis is that I don’t care if some drunk idiot gets himself killed while walking. I *do* care if a drunk driver kills someone *else*.
— Ramsey H"

Well said, Ramsey H! I couldn't have put it better myself!

Glad To Know I'm Not The Only One Bugged By It

Yet another pet peeve of mine shows up in the headlines. Sounds like someone is finally going to do something about it!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


In a word, that's how I feel right now. Maybe I'm coming down with something.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So Long SARA?

Based on a pamphlet and letter that came in the mail from Rogers today, it sounds like our cable provider will soon be either replacing or upgrading the Scientific Atlanta Resident Application (SARA) that's been a mainstay on our SA8000 box for years. It's a little unclear from the material we received whether Rogers is simply putting a new set of screens in front of SARA or replacing it completely. The letter states that you can still access "your original channel listings in the Interactive Program Guide" by pressing the Guide button a second time, but does that mean that SARA is still there, or just its functionality? I wouldn't shed a tear at the loss of SARA, if it's actually going away. But most of my issues with it pertain to the recording side of the box, which unfortunately fall under a separate application. It remains to be seen if any of them will be improved by this change.

One of the new features that they're touting with this mid-January release is a set of mosaic-style offerings on which they'll combine (at the head-end) six Picture-In-Picture-sized channels on a related theme ("Kids", "News", "Sports") into a single broadcast channel. Vicki scoffed at the execution (specifically that there's nothing there for women) but of course I think both the news and sports option might be interesting.

Anyway, as I said to Vicki while I read the material, "This is by far the most interesting thing Rogers has sent us in years."

[Update later that same day: Further examination of the screen shots in the flyer lead me to believe it's simply a new front-end to SARA, not a replacement... but I can't be sure just yet, since they might have opted to model the new UI after SARA.]

Happy Birthday Wishes To Tammy!

That's right... as of a few seconds ago, our "little girl" Tammy turned 23 years of age. That means that for the first time ever (and only for a short while), I'm now twice her age! I'm sure there's some greater significance to birthday # 23 than that, but it's late and my old brain needs a rest.

We won't get to see her until a day or two before Christmas, but she probably won't look too much older by then! And once she gets here for her holiday break there should be insane amounts of video game playing to enjoy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Do What You Love; Love What You Do"

I may just adopt that as my new motto for living and working (replacing my old standard of "Everything goes along fine right up until I have to rely on someone else.")

While I'm fortunate enough to be picking and choosing just what to work on and how to approach each such engagement, I'm regaled on a weekly basis by friends who are disgusted with one aspect or another of their own current employment. It doesn't even seem to matter which field they might be in; the story always seems to be the same. Bad bosses; incompetent peers; unreasonable customers; long hours spent on activities that end up being a waste of time; all adding up to endless frustration. I have to say: I really don't miss those days!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Only Kind Of Jewelry For Me

Back before we got married, Vicki and I had "the ring discussion." She likes jewelry and therefore rightly expected to wear a wedding ring that we would buy for that purpose. I have no use for jewelry (unless it serves some other function, such as telling me the current time) and therefore didn't want to waste any of our money on the "traditional" wedding band that most men wear in our culture. I did say at the time, though, that I'd happily wear a Green Lantern ring if Vicki could find one for me. Unfortunately you have to be born without fear and be in close proximity when a current Green Lantern dies in the line of duty in order to get one of those suckers, and since I quake with terror every time I watch the Rangers blow another lead, my chances were pretty poor.

However, with this year's Blackest Night event from DC Comics, though, the publisher has been giving away promotional plastic rings made in the design of the various "colour corps" that have sprung up in the DCU recently. Each of the 8 rings was tied to one particular issue of a DC comic, and you'd get that ring if you bought that issue. I told my friendly comic store owner that I'd like each one and would therefore reserve each of those comics. As of a couple weeks ago, the last one in the set came out, and I now have all eight rings. There's slightly more to this story than that, though.

Pictured to the left are the 8 rings. Clockwise, starting at the top, you can see the rings of:
  • the Black Lantern Corps (death)
  • the Red Lantern Corps (rage)
  • Agent Orange (avarice)
  • the yellow Sinestro Corps (fear)
  • the Green Lantern Corps (will)
  • the Blue Lantern Corps (hope)
  • the violet Star Sapphires (love)
  • the Indigo Tribe (compassion)
It makes for a lovely set of matching merchandise for any DC fan.

However, as the rings were being produced, mistakes would happen. So, for example, there would be the odd red ring that would bear the insignia of one of the other groups rather than that of the Red Lanterns. Once word of this got out, then it became something of a lark to try to find such "variant" rings, each of which would fetch $10 to $20 on eBay due to its novelty. Around the middle of the promotion (when half of the rings had come out but half were yet to arrive), I mentioned this to the owner of the comic store, and he and I began sifting through his supply to see if he had any. In fact, out of the dozens that he had in stock, I found one orange ring with the wrong design on it (I think it was the Star Sapphire insignia). The owner wasn't about to let me swap my regular orange ring for it, mainly because the store's brand colour is orange and he thought that a variant of that shade would be a good marketing tool. Instead, he promised me the next irregular that came in, since we still had several more rings ahead of us.

And sure enough, the next week he presented me with a blue ring that was incorrectly cast with the yellow ring's design. If you look at the picture above, you'll note that those two are the closest in appearance, and so it took me a moment to even recognize that it was "wrong." I proceeded to buy a regular blue off of him (so that I'd have the complete set of normal rings) but particularly cherish my variant that somehow, inexplicably, combines hope with fear.

It's things like this that really bring out the geek in me.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Old Boss Gets New Lease On Life

OK, perhaps that title is just a bit on the hyperbolic side, but I'm really and truly happy to see how well my previous boss (and current friend), the VP of Engineering who had installed me as his Agile Manager three and a half years ago, is doing now that he's moved on to a much better job. Gone are many of the ridiculous external pressures and conflicting messages that characterized our previous existence together, replaced by an atmosphere of true empowerment and vision-setting that he's largely responsible for creating. He now exudes a lot more confidence and enthusiasm than I'd seen out of him in a few years and that's a terrific change.

We had a ninety minute coffee break together yesterday and probably could have easily talked for twice that long, had I not had a tutoring session to get to. Even just the fact that we could enjoy an hour and a half without being interrupted by a Blackberry buzzing or an emergency meeting being called shows how different his new environment is from the one we last worked together in. The joy of simply discussing ideas and comparing notes (mostly around Agile, in this case) is something that you unfortunately forget can even happen once you allow yourself to get trapped in a Crisis Mode work culture... as we both had, for awhile anyway.

I like it when good people get out of bad jobs and into ones that better suit them, and it's just too bad that more don't.

Monday, December 07, 2009

World's Worst Husband

Vicki was on one of the local TV programs this morning, speaking about the Women's Canadian Club of which she's currently the president. I drove her there and then waited in the "green room" (really just a kitchen area) while she went before the cameras and did her spiel. Just before she was to go on, one of the earlier guests came back to where I was and started asking me about my Math tutoring experiences (which had come up before the program began). I got so involved in that conversation that I missed all but the last few seconds of Vicki's interview! What kind of a husband am I?

Fortunately, I had set up both the PVR and VCR to record her appearance, and we both got to watch it together once we got home. She did great, to the point where it's hard to believe that it was her first time on TV! No flubs, no moments where she looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and no flop sweat (see: Albert Brooks in the film, Broadcast News). She's a natural, and I expect they'll ask her back for return appearances in the future.

As for me, I got to try out more of my material from the Math book that I'm writing, and it really seemed to captivate the interest of each person I talked to. I just have to pay better attention to what's on the monitor next time!

Earth One = DC Comics' Ultimate Line?

Back when All Star Superman and All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder launched (what... three or four years ago now?) I wondered if the new All Star line was supposed to be DC's answer to Marvel/Disney's Ultimate universe of books. The way it was described - top-notch talent, stories set outside of regular DC universe continuity, a slowly growing set of titles - sure made it sound that way.

But then the delays began, and before long DC stopped talking up their All Star offerings and even told us not to hold our breaths waiting for the previously-teased All Star Batgirl (never materialized), All Star Wonder Woman (ditto) or any of the other hinted-at titles. As the first run (Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on All Star Superman) wrapped up, no further issues were mentioned. We're still waiting for Frank Miller and Jim Lee to complete ASBaRtBW, all these years later. I was never sure whether the horrendous lateness of those two titles did the idea in, or if the sales didn't match expectations (in fact, I think both sold well), but something definitely grounded the line.

And now we get this announcement today: an Earth-One series of original graphic novels, starting next year, and featuring some of the biggest DC superheroes in their own - brand new! - continuity. With another wave of top talent assigned, such as J Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, it's sounding awfully familiar to this jaded fan. I hope it's different this time, but it's hard not to be skeptical after the All Star debacle. Oh well, at least DC keeps trying to get it right...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On Past Work Places

Vicki and I were out at a Christmas party last night generously put on by the consulting company that's found Vicki a couple of her contracts over the past several years (and my own short-lived one in 2009). Many of the contractors at the event were old friends of ours from the days when we both worked at the bank (I lost count at about 15 familiar faces now marked by greyer hair or more creases). Because of that, it was a lot like a work reunion, 10 or 15 years out. Many of them seemed quite interested to hear that I'd written a couple of books (and was working on a new one) and that both Vicki and I were enjoying a form of semi-retirement, especially because we're younger than most of the folks who were there. It was great to catch up with so many people who had once been such a regular part of my life, but also kind of depressing to realize that most were much more inclined to talk about "glory days" from the 90s than to gush about what they were doing now. I guess I'm just more of a live-in-the-present type, and I can't help but feel sad when I see that sort of thing happening. If your best days aren't happening right now, then how do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning? Isn't that the way it's supposed to work: ever upward and onward?

All of that reflecting back got me wondering whether I'll have some similar experience with friends from my more recent employment, somewhere down the road. I've done a much better job - so far, at least - at keeping in touch with the folks who knew me as their Agile Manager than I ever did with the banking group. Even a year after leaving that job in the financial sector in 2001, my contacts there had shrunk to about 3 or 4, compared to the dozens that I'm still talking to sixteen months out from walking away from being the Agile Manager. Considering that about 1/3 of that most recent work force have since left that company (most by their own choice; a few through layoffs or contract terminations) it's a good thing that e-mail, Instant Messenger and this blog all provide such good vehicles for continued communication; otherwise I think it'd be almost impossible to maintain contact.

We must be getting to the end of yet another year, as that always seems to be when these retrospective thoughts come out. Hurry up and get here, January, so that we can all start looking forward again... like we're supposed to!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Math Concepts That Fry Young Minds

As I continue to tutor Math and write a book on the subject, I've gotten more and more familiar with the Mathematical concepts that seem to cause the most trouble at the various grade levels. There are quite a few of them (most of which I get into in the book) but two that have been coming up in my work a lot lately are negative numbers and linear equations.

Unlike fractions or word problems (two other members of that daunting list), though, I don't have any personal experience with ever struggling with Integers or line equations. So where it's easy for me to put myself in a student's shoes when he or she can't quite grasp how to divide one fraction by another or how to figure out which train arrives at the station first, I'm finding it more difficult to explain why 3 - (-7) is 10, rather than 4, -4 or -10 (as seem to be the most common results arrived at). I tend to refer the child to the number line in pursuit of the correct answer, but they don't seem to be getting taught that approach in school much anymore. I've tried variations like "subtracting -7 is like removing a debt of $7, meaning that you now have $7 more since you don't owe that $7 anymore" but that's admittedly a pretty circuitous route to take. In the end, I usually resort to flash cards and lots and lots of practice for the student.

With line equations, there appears to be a disconnect in the minds of some students as to what the equations even mean. In other words, they're taught that putting the equation in the form, y = mx + b, is important because they can then read the slope of the line (m, in the equation) and the y-intercept (b, in the equation) straight off the page. That much they tend to get. But they often struggle figuring out the x-intercept (since it's not staring them right in the face) as well as concepts like recognizing whether a point (x1, y1) is on the line or not, given the equation. The whole notion that a point is only on the line if you can plug its x-coordinate and y-coordinate into the equation (for the x and y, respectively) and have the equality maintained, just doesn't seem to be sinking in for some. Therefore, if you ask the question, "Is point (2,3) on that line?" they either look at you blankly or start to graph the line. All of which shows a fundamental lack of understanding about the relationship that exists between lines and equations, and that gap just compounds into larger problems once they're introduced to parabolas and other exponential functions. And yet, when I was taking Grade 9 Math way back when, it just seemed immediately obvious to me how equations with x and y in them worked, since we'd been working with the Cartesian coordinate system for awhile by then. So how do you get this point across if that particular penny hasn't dropped and equations still look like Greek to the student?

In my book I'll be confronting some of these questions and offering up what I can by way of solutions. At least I'm getting lots of real world experience dealing with what I imagine many parents are running into right now.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I Really Need To Get Some Help

Every week, when we watch Flashforward, I can't get past the fact that one of the actors looks exactly like a 30-ish Peter Gabriel! Jack Davenport, who plays Lloyd Simcoe in the TV show, is a dead ringer for the musical genius not long after he left Genesis. It takes me out of the episode every time because the resemblance is so uncanny. Who do I see about something like this?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

At The Intersection Of Lost And... Radiohead?!

This is the Spanish-language promo for Lost Season Six that has gotten so much attention from fans of the show lately. It's a wonderful little 45-second bit, but I only got about 1.5 seconds into it before I recognized the haunting music that's in the background: "Everything In Its Right Place" by Radiohead! What a perfect choice for the subject matter! Bravo, Cuatro!

You can read a bit more about it here, if you're interested.

Another Great Aliens Vs Predator Interview

The more I hear about the upcoming Aliens Vs Predator game (for the PS/3, 360 and PC), the more excited I get about it.

This interview with Rebellion art & design guy, Tim Jones, has really sparked my interest. I love the description of the game play and how it differs depending on whether you're a Marine, an Alien or a Predator... and the fact that there will be a different (but connected) single player campaign for each of the three species! Those were both key attributes to the original AvP, and it's gratifying to see that they're being retained in the new version. I loved when I was playing AvP back in 2000 and would suddenly recognize that the scene I was in the middle of as an Alien was the same one that I'd played through previously as a Marine... except that now the humans were the enemy! I don't know that I've ever seen that in any other game, before or since.

About the only downside I can see if this game turns out to be as awesome as I hope is the sad fact that Vicki probably won't want to watch me play it on account of it being so damned scary!