Sunday, January 31, 2010

48 Hours From Right Now Greatness Returns

Lost Season Six begins in a mere two thousand, two hundred and eighty minutes ... and everything that's ever going to be explained about the show's complex mythology will begin its final unveiling.

Just 48 more hours to go. It seemed so long away back in May but here we are, so close you can almost smell the fried chicken on Hurley's breath.

"Doc" Jensen posted a great article recently laying out his own "final theory of Lost". It's a must-read for all fans of the show.

What's Wrong With Sellers Setting The Price?

I've already seen some rancor directed toward the recent development in which Amazon has reluctantly agreed to honour publisher Macmillan's pricing model of asking more than $9.99 for e-books. Previously, Amazon had steadfastly refused to sell any e-books for more that signature price, period. I imagine that, to some people, this represents a (possibly temporary) defeat for "the little guy" since $14.99 seems too much to pay for an electronic copy of a book. I totally get that. And I'd personally show my support for that stance (if I were a buyer of e-books) by simply refusing to buy at that price. I wouldn't steal the content (go to a torrent site, for example); I'd eschew it entirely, until such time as it became available at a price that I thought was appropriate for the content and media. Isn't that the right way to drive pricing models: through supply and demand? If you supply what I don't demand, or you supply it at a price that I'm unwilling to pay, then I don't buy it; in other words, I go without. And if enough people think like me, market pressure forces a reset of the price.

As someone who's at least toyed with the idea of making my next book available in electronic form, this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. I want the right to price my book at whatever I choose, and I want everyone else in the world to have the right to buy it at the price I set or pass it by. Isn't that what a free market pre-supposes? I'd hate to have someone tell me that it had to be priced below a certain mark in order to go on sale. Advice to that effect is one thing; mandating it (as Amazon wants to, with a $9.99 max for e-books) is quite another.

Kimota94 = One Man Army

This afternoon I got to level 45 in the multiplayer arena of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. With that comes one of the last remaining new perks, called One Man Army. If you choose to equip it (rather than any of its peer perks) then you lose your secondary weapon slot but gain the ability to swap between classes without having to first die and re-spawn. At first, this seems like a lame option, but the more I read about it online, the more intrigued I became.

For one thing, it's a great way to replenish your ammo when you get low. All you have to do is swap from class A to class A (in other words, swap but don't change) and your primary weapon and grenade caches will be refilled as if you were just coming off of a re-spawn. Since the perk that I had to give up to use it was Scavenger (which allows you to find ammo and grenades off dead bodies), this seemed like a fine trade-off.

I've now got a class for regular play (the same loadout that I've been playing with for a couple days now) as well as one for sniping, one for explosives and a couple other, less specialized choices. When you use One Man Army, there's a 5-second delay while you switch classes. After 120 kills using it, however, that goes down to 3 seconds. I've only just started with it, and so I have about 110 kills to go still before it'll be faster. I think I'll like it, but I'm still getting used to it.

My typical obsession in First Person Shooters is the kill-to-death ratio, which I've been slowly bringing up in CoD:MW2. It was around 0.5 or 0.6 when I started getting serious about the game, and it's currently sitting at 0.88. I'd love to get it up to 1.0, just to be able to say that I gave as good as I took, but that may provable unattainable, especially with Aliens Vs Predator only 2 weeks away (less until the demo arrives). Even climbing above 0.90 would be something, considering how tough this game is and how many really good players are running around in it right now.

Learning From Canadian Banks

I love it when the rest of the world acknowledges how exceptional our Canadian banks have rather matter-of-factly tended to be. I never realized, when I worked for a bank all those years, that it was anything special compared to how things were done elsewhere. But then as the recent financial crisis turned into the big news story of 2007/08/09, I kept hearing about financial practices going on in the States and in Britain that I was pretty sure would never get off the drawing board here in the Great White North.

This Paul Krugman article, which in turn points to another, longer report, highlights not only our banking sector's robustness, but also how its recent health debunks so many of the self-serving theories in the U.S. as to what happened within their crazy house of cards. Canadian banks are a testament to regulation, for example, whereas some Americans try to say that regulation (rather than deregulation) was to blame for their meltdown. Granted, you won't have seen the big stock advances in TD, BMO or Royal Bank stock here that was prevalent for their American counterparts, but many of those "runaway successes" turned out to be illusions down south, anyway.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's Still Sometimes Hard To Find Something If You Don't Know What It's Called

In doing some formatting of my Math book today, one of the items on my list was "Opening word of each chapter in special style." Vicki and I had talked about this after I published the final AgileMan book (where I didn't use that technique), and I had it in mind to incorporate it into whatever my next book might be. Way back when we originally discussed it, in late 2008, I'd even known what it was called (probably thanks to my lovely wife) and how to do it.

Today, on the other hand, I had no what the name for it was nor how to make it happen. Vicki's out shopping, and so I resorted to Google searching for my answer. Now, it's possible that I'm just really bad at thinking of search criteria, but several minutes of attempts yielded me nothing useful. I then resorted to Help within Word itself, putting in keywords like "chapter first word" or "special intro" but getting nowhere.

Eventually I looked under the "Format" tab in Word, saw something called "Drop Cap" which I didn't recognize, and there it was! But this is yet another example of how difficult it still is, in this day and age, to find something if you don't know its actual name. I experienced this same problem earlier in the week, trying to find out how some players in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 manage to have uniforms that blend into certain backgrounds. I tried "camouflage" and "blend in" and "uniforms" but got nowhere with any of them. Later, I happened upon a reference to a "Ghillie suit" which is actually what they're referred to within the game, and then I had tons of reference material available to me. But without the magic word, it's sometimes difficult to take advantage of our information-rich world. Maybe the next breakthrough in search algorithms will come when the code can accept a little broader set of parameters for what you're trying to track down.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Quiet Week

I've had even less to post here than normal this week, as things have been pretty quiet. I've been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (like the rest of the gaming world, it appears), and have gotten into a routine whereby I start in the evening and stay at it until around 2:00 a.m. As I said to Vicki, "You know how this goes... I burn brightly at this, but I also burn out quickly." Considering that the last game I got this into was Resistance 2, and that ended almost a year ago, it's not a full-time thing, either. And I'm already starting to tire of it a bit, although I haven't hit my saturation point just yet.

It's less than three weeks now until Aliens vs Predator comes out, which will either be a huge disappointment for me or the next big thing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Third Draft Of Math Book Now Underway

I've now gotten all of Vicki's feedback on No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), incorporating the easiest of it as we went along but leaving the more challenging ideas to work on subsequently. I've got a page full of suggestions that were all very insightful, which will keep me busy for another few days. Then Draft # 3 will be complete and it'll be time to send it off to a few more reviewers for another set of critiquing. What a great process this is for a writer!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A New Video Game Distraction

I was really enjoying the Special Ops section of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 when I could find friends or relatives who'd go online and play it with me, but lately those opportunities seem to be getting few and far between. Some people apparently have... jobs?... and family responsibilities??... that were getting in the way of the most important part of life: playing video games with me!

So over the weekend I decided to brave the multiplayer portion of the game and see if I could do any better than I had previously (where admittedly, I'd have really needed to work at it to do any worse). I think I spent about 8 hrs on Sunday, sandwiched before, between and after the 2 Conference Championship games in the NFL, slowly improving my skills. I'm still far from being any threat in the game, but at least I'm now occasionally finishing in the top half (1st once in a while, even!) and getting more kills than deaths. It's quite the complicated game to get good at, considering all of the ways in which you can customize your weapons and equipment. It's also set up to help the rich get richer, as you get more and more perks the longer you play. I could do without that aspect, but it's there, regardless.

I'm now a rank 27 player, I believe (on a scale of 1 to 70) which speaks more to my longevity in the last 2 days than anything else. But here's the revelation I had late last night (while playing in the wee hours): Modern Warfare 2 is actually preparing me in one important way for the launch (3 weeks from tomorrow) of the new Aliens vs Predator game! How? Well, I've got a heartbeat sensor on my gun of choice, mimicking the Marine's assault rifle in AvP! You really do have to adapt your gameplay when you have that going for you, and I'm gradually easing back into it after nearly a decade away. Ah, good times!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When Exactly Did Focus Become A Rare Artifact?

I've written a couple of times previously about Continuous Distraction Mode (CDM), which is my term for the current phenomenon which seems to have rendered most people incapable of applying their undivided attention to just one thing at a time. In reading over the 2 new chapters in the 3.0 version of Thomas L Friedman's The World is Flat, I see that another name for it preceded mine: continuous partial attention. I actually heard that from a friend a few months ago, but couldn't remember the exact wording, which is why I made up my own. Regardless of what we call it, though, the effects are indisputable and getting worse all the time.

When I was still working, there was pressure being applied to have all managers and above carry a BlackBerry. I made it clear that I had no intention of doing so and was prepared to "go to the mat" (no pun intended) in defense of my position. Before it could come to a head, though, I resigned over other inane decisions that were being made (see the last several chapters of More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan for the excruciating details) which made the matter moot. Everyone at that level within the organization carries a BlackBerry now, I believe.

I've never owned a cellphone, either, although Vicki does (she seldom turns it on, however, except when she's expecting a call from me). It's just never seemed like a good idea, to me, to always be reachable. Yes, I know the mantra: "What if someone needed to get ahold of you, on a life or death matter?" Well, if even 0.01% of the calls cellphone owners engage in have anything to do with matters of any urgency, then they do an amazing job of covering it up by pretending to have conversations that at least appear to be completely inane and pathetic. That, and the fact that I've never needed to be reached for a life-or-death crisis in 46 years of living (so far), makes me doubt the veracity of that argument, at least.

While I was working, the products that we supported were within the entertainment industry, meaning that no lives - not even one! - were on the line because of our software. And yet, judging by the frantic need to have immediate responses to every little crisis that came along, you'd have thought that we were the geniuses responsible for keeping the nation's planes in the air or protecting our borders from marauding terrorists. In other words, somebody had completely lost perspective. A decision was made at some level that all of the people in the pyramid above the ground floor should be "on call", 24/7. In one way, I think that fed some egos and made people feel more important than they ever should have. But it also took its toll in the arena of focus, as I saw on a daily basis.

Too many meetings were attended by people tapping away on their laptops and not paying attention to what was being discussed. Too many conversations were interrupted by a buzzing BlackBerry, quickly un-holstered in one gunslinger-like motion, signaling the abrupt end of yet another attempt at communication. It was getting laughably bad when I left, and I suspect it's continued in that same direction in the nearly year and a half that I've been out of the place. There, as with most workplaces, focus is valued considerably less than "an ability to react."

In my Math tutoring travels, I can already see the impact that this unfortunate cultural shift is having on the next generation. Their thoughts flit all over the place, and most of them are only ever really engaged if you flash bright lights in front of them in the form of some sort of entertainment (TV, movies, video games). Against that backdrop, it's awfully hard to imagine very many of them growing up to have the creativity, discipline and insight that has made so much progress possible over the past century. Maybe we've actually peaked in that regard already, and this is just what it looks like as you travel back down the other side of the hill?

Car Wash In The Snow

Our Accord has been so dirty over the past month that even a glancing bump of it as I walked by would be enough to consign my pants to the washing machine at the very next opportunity. Therefore, as soon as the current temperature tiptoed up over the freezing mark (by 1 degree C), I headed out to the driveway with pail of soapy water in hand.

I don't think I've ever washed a car surrounded by snow before. It was a little surreal, but absolutely worth it in the end. It's supposed to get cold again within a few days, by which time I'll be very glad that I made the effort today.

Anyone else get the same idea today that I did, or was I the only crazy one?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Avatar Lives Up To Its Hype

Five weeks after its debut, Vicki and I finally got out to see Avatar this afternoon. After being turned away two weeks ago, we decided to opt for an afternoon matinee during the week (hey, why not take advantage of being semi-retired?). It was great to be able to arrive only 15 minutes before the start time and watch the film in a theatre with only maybe another thirty or forty people in it.

I went into the experience with a lot of skepticism, based on several factors:
  • the extreme amounts of hype around the film
  • the fact that most of the trailers looked pretty pedestrian and boring
  • past experience with overblown expectations falling short
This time out, though, James Cameron's visionary fable delivered the goods, big-time. While the 3D effects didn't have me clawing at the air in front of my eyes (as a few scenes from The Birds did, at Universal Studios in Orlando), they created an immersive environment for this version of the 22nd century that became incredibly real as the story progressed. I was blown away by just how different this experience was from what I'm used to with futuristic movies. That illusory third dimension completely worked at making me feel like I was in the middle of it all, and I suspect that just such a reaction was important to the empathy that Cameron was hoping to evoke from his audience. Yes, the morals of Avatar are completely unsophisticated and delivered with a bludgeon rather than a scalpel, but I didn't mind that at all.

When I first read a reviewer's claim that "Avatar is going to change the way movies are made", I almost laughed out loud. After seeing it in person, though, I almost wish that he were right: how hard will it be to enjoy a standard - flat, perfunctory - tale projected onto the screen, after this? I'm sure we'll all get over it, but wouldn't it be amazing if this sort of thing became the norm going forward?

If You Can't Be Happy, Would You Settle For Looking Happy?

I was reading this article on the Freakanomics blog and the following sentence, in particular, got me thinking:

"You know, on Facebook, some people can’t stop posting self-taken photos of themselves looking beautiful, as if that’s going to impress anyone."

Not only did that observation resonate with me in general, but it reminded me of how a certain type of person always seems to surround himself or herself with joyous family shots despite the fact that they're actually not very good at being happy together. I've known a few extreme examples of this over the years, and the galleries that they've created in their homes were really quite sad in their anti-Dorian Gray way. I've never been a big one for photos, myself (other than on vacation, when you're seeing sights you might not ever get back to). I guess for some, it's a variation on the Billy-Crystal-as-Richardo-Montalban skit: "It's better to look good than to feel good!" Or maybe that illusion of happiness is simply the closest they can ever get to it with any regularity.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Divided States Of America

Sounds like Tuesday's shocking win by a Republican of Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat has now spelled the end of Health Care Reform in the foreseeable future. The irony that it would be Kennedy's state (and seat), one of the most liberal areas of the entire country, that would bring about this incredibly unfortunate turn of events is almost beyond words.

I had such hope for that country a year ago, but I really think that it's imploding on the force of its own stupidity any more. When people can depict an attempt toward universal health care as being equivalent to Nazism and there are thousands who accept that insane notion, you know that your country is headed toward ruin. I'm sure there are still millions of intelligent members of the species living there, but they're definitely being outshouted by their moronic brethren right now. And President Obama doesn't seem to have a clue how to deal with it, as he continues to talk about "bipartisanship" as if the Republican Party where made up of people who could actually think for themselves.

I suppose those of us outside the U.S. should at least appreciate the fact that we have front row seats for the spectacle of this train wreck.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Feedback Is Good

A few minutes ago, I got my first batch of feedback on the Math book. Vicki's about 1/4 of the way through it already, and passed along several points that she'd picked up on so far. Each bit of constructive criticism has opened my eyes to ways in which I can make it better - yay! - and along with that has come a lot of general, positive feedback of the sort that every writer's ego just aches to hear.

So far, so good.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another Milestone Passed

About half an hour ago, give or take, I finished up what I'm calling the 2nd draft of my Math book, No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). That included a complete re-read and edit of the entirety of its 15 chapters, the addition of several new sections and one Appendix, and an attempt to tighten it up in a few ways. It's now 160 pages long, and just over the 60,000-word mark.

Shortly I'll be handing it over to Vicki for its first critical look by someone other than the bozo who wrote it. That should prove interesting, to say the least!

So far I only have 2 pre-orders for the thing, which is a little scary.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

There Aren't Always Two Sides To Every Story

It's become quite a problem, in recent years, that the journalistic practice of "providing both sides of the debate a chance to speak" gets applied to ridiculous topics. It's something of a lazy approach, since it essentially implies that every possible disagreement is made up of opinions with equal merit. In other words, if I decided to claim that the moon is made of green cheese, then my delusion should be given equal weight as that of scientists who might state otherwise.

Chris Mooney, over at The Intersection blog, posts a wonderful rebuttal of this practice called "Blinded By Science".

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why I Love 30 Rock

We just finished watching one of this week's episodes - there were two, for some reason - and I almost wet myself when Kenneth was trying to navigate the computer in the house that he and Jack had broken into. First he manages to take a picture of himself with the laptop's webcam while trying to get to a browser, then he accidentally makes that image the desktop background for the machine itself... before inadvertently e-mailing the picture to the house owner's e-mail address! He really Lemon'd that operation up!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

33 Days And Counting

If the release date doesn't change between now and then, it's a mere 33 days until the long-awaited arrival of Aliens vs Predator (the new game). The demo for the game should be out sometime in the next couple of weeks, although no firm date has been announced for it yet. For anyone who'd like to play a truly scary video game, this may be one to check out. The original version from the late 1990s was definitely not anything that you wanted to find yourself playing alone in the dark.

I'm just saying.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More On CDM

I started off the new year posting my thoughts about Continuous Distraction Mode (CDM). Today a friend 'tweeted' a link to this Stanford study about multitasking versus focused attention. It's worth reading, if you can manage to stay undistracted for several minutes, that is. I tend to think that I'm an exception to their findings, but I could also just be kidding myself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Needs Eggs Made Of Gold Anyway?

I had to laugh at this development out of Sony: Spider-Man 4 won't be happening, and instead the franchise will be rebooted with a new cast and director. I'm sure there will be some who herald such a change in plans - presumably because they didn't enjoy Spider-Man 3 as much as I did - but I have to say: Wow! That goose was laying golden eggs every few years over the past decade, but I guess that wasn't enough. Now we'll see how rebooting a successful franchise works out for everyone.

Mark McGwire Finally Comes... Uh... Clean?

I'm not sure how this qualifies as "clean" exactly, but at least he's admitted what we all knew: that he was taking steroids when he was hitting all those home runs. I kind of hope that Major League Baseball wipes those 61+ home run records (by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds) off the books eventually, or maybe just gives them the asterisk that Roger Maris' record apocryphally had assigned to it after 1961 (his only "sin" was playing at a time when the regular season was 8 games longer than had been the case years earlier).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stick A Fork In It

The 1st draft of my Math-for-parents book, No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), is now complete. I put the final few touches on it just before midnight tonight.

Now I get to rest for a day or two and think of other things before beginning to review what I have in order to transform it into the 2nd draft.

What Makes Great Teachers Great?

Thanks to a friend on Twitter, I got to read this fascinating article about Teach for America and what the Obama administration is doing to try to fix the education system in America. As someone just finishing up a "Math book for parents", I could not have been more interested in the contents of that story. It's more than worth the time it'll take you to read it.

The Last Lecture By Randy Pausch

Tammy first mentioned this amazing lecture a year or more ago, but I've procrastinated watching it because I knew that it would be heart-wrenching and I'm such a soft touch in that regard. Today I took the plunge, and it's everything Tammy said it was, and more. I think Professor Pausch provided a treasure trove of good advice in a mere 75 minutes, and you could do far, far worse in your life than to try to live by what he lays out there.

Thanks again, Tammy!

Friday, January 08, 2010

My Wife Wants To Know If You're Getting Enough Sex

Or, at least, that's what you'd think if you read this article. Me, I'm so stupid that I didn't even know she was a doctor! The things you can learn about your spouse on the Internet these days.

College Football Has Another Gift To Give The NFL

A decade or more ago, I started watching college football during the bowl season in late December/early January, and came to realize that there were some key differences between it and the NFL (which I'd already been following for years at that point). The one that stood out for me initially was the 2-point conversion option following a touchdown. I thought that was a great innovation that increased the scenarios through which a team could come back if they'd gotten off to a slow start. The possibility of converting a touchdown into 8 points, rather than just 7, seemed like a no-brainer for the NFL. And sure enough, that little gem was introduced to the professional league not too long afterward.

This year, as I watched the GMAC Bowl go into double overtime before a winner was crowned, I got thinking about how much I prefer college football's tie-breaking setup over what the NFL uses. In the big leagues, overtime is truly sudden death, as the first team to score in O/T wins. Unfortunately, since football is a sport in which scoring is usually restricted to the team with the ball, this gives a huge advantage to whichever team begins the extra quarter with possession of the ball. That starting possession, in turn, is decided by a coin flip.

That right: a flip of a coin!

I've always disliked the arbitrariness of that rule in the NFL, and think that it's absurd that game outcomes - even in the playoffs - are left so much to chance.

In college football these days, they employ a very different strategy to settle their tied games. Each team gets a turn starting with the ball on the opponent's 25-yard line, and they maintain possession until they either run out of downs (i.e. fail to make a 1st down) or score. If the two teams achieve the same number of points in an overtime period, then another period is added on. By the third overtime (I believe), any team scoring a touchdown has to attempt a 2-point conversion. They can't simply go for the single point that's awarded for kicking the ball through the uprights. This enhancement makes it even less likely that the two teams will continue to match each other's results for very long.

What I love about this solution is that both teams have just as much chance to win, because there's no arbitrary nature to it. Also, there are almost countless permutations around what the 2nd team will do based on what the 1st team achieved in their attempt. And finally, because they start so deep in the other team's territory, the overtime periods tend to be very quick. It's actually quite a brilliant approach, and I think the NFL would be crazy not to incorporate it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I Think I'll Just Keep On Using 3.14

I'm pretty easy going about such things, but I suppose it is good to know that I could get about 1.7 trillion (minus 2) digits greater in accuracy for pi, if I really needed to.

The Best 8:15 You'll Spend Today

The first five seasons of Lost - more or less - recapped just for you.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Examples More Should Follow

Last year's Darwin Award 'winners'. As always, we should thank them - posthumously - for removing themselves from the gene pool.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Lost Last Supper

It's hard not to love something like this! If nothing else, I'm enthralled by who's in and who's not! For a very detailed... um, analysis?... of this publicity photo, click here.

Four weeks from tomorrow, baby!!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Let The NFL Playoffs Begin!

Earlier this evening, long after they should already have been eliminated, the hated Steelers finally had the stake driven solidly through their hearts and any hope they had of defending last year's travesty was dashed. It certainly shouldn't have taken this long to knock them out of the postseason picture after they lost to the lowly Browns to go 6-7 three weeks ago, and yet it did, thanks to a comedy of errors in the AFC that saw teams like Jacksonville and Denver lose 4 straight to waste earlier records of 7-5 and 8-4, respectively. At least Houston (Houston!) and Baltimore were both able to pull off victories today, which made everything good as far as my enjoyment of the NFL is concerned.

It's already guaranteed that 2 matchups today will be repeated next week on Wildcard Weekend (Dallas-Philadelphia and Green Bay-Arizona) and there may be a 3rd such rematch if the Jets beat the Bengals tonight (those 2 teams would battle again next weekend). That's a pretty weird coincidence, considering that there are 16 teams in each conference. One of the sentimental favourite stories to follow will be Brett Favre's run for the Vikings in this, his second comeback season. I'm personally looking forward to seeing whether the Chargers can be for real this time around, as they've under-delivered several years in a row now. And then there are the Saints and Colts, both of whom flirted with perfect seasons until just a couple weeks back. What will they have left for the big games?

There are still a few more college football bowl games to check out before the NFL playoffs start, but it won't be long now!

[Update: The Jets won, in a blowout, meaning that they will indeed play the Bengals again next weekend. In fact, theirs is the early game next Saturday, meaning that two teams (NYJ and Cin) will play consecutive NFL games, with no other games in between or concurrent... has that ever happened before?]

Can't We All Just Kill Each Other And Leave It At That?

As readers of this blog are well aware, I love certain types of video games (notably, first person shooters). I can even enjoy a certain social aspect to gaming, as I like playing with or against people I know. But some people take the stuff just a little too seriously and way too far. Every month I see stories about people being stabbed over a console, getting in fights as the result of one of them "pwning" the other, or kids freaking out because they have their gaming privileges taken away.

Worst of all, though, are the predatory patterns like this one. Now, here at least the younger of the two was 16, rather than 12 or 14 as more often seems to be the case. But still... 42 and 16?! Not quite Harold and Maude territory, but bad enough!

Let's stick to what video games were intended for: virtual death and destruction!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009: The Year In Science

Compared to the usual drippy year-end reviews (best movies, top bloopers, hottest trends), I found this list, by Chris Mooney, downright refreshing.

One Month To Go

One month from today, the sixth and final season of Lost begins. Having just completed our annual re-viewing of the previous season on DVD, let me just say that Season Five set a very high bar. There was so much going on there in general, but the addition of Jacob and the "man in black" as active participants in that season finale... Wow.

It's rumoured that the 2010 version of Lost will bring a new dimension to the program just as the flash forwards did at the end of Season Three and the time travel did throughout Season Five. I'm not sure how they'll be able to pull that off, but then again: I'd never have guessed that several of the castaways would go skipping through time for most of a season, either! Since we were left with a potentially history-changing hydrogen bomb detonation back in May, I suppose we could end up seeing different, parallel timeline events occurring. I kind of doubt it, since that wouldn't leave much room for wrapping up some of the larger mysteries. At the very least, we have to find out why Richard Alpert doesn't age, what the Dharma Initiative was really up to, and just what Jacob and his nemesis are fighting about (through their human pawns). And who really are the good guys in this, or is that a concept that doesn't even make any sense in the grand scheme of Lost?

As usual, though, I can hardly wait to find out what the creators have up their sleeves.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Continuous Distraction Mode (CDM)

The increasing use of "crawls" at the bottom of TV broadcasts seems to me to be reflective of our movement into what I'm calling Continuous Distraction Mode, or CDM. You can add texting-while-talking to that syndrome, as another example where people no longer seem capable of (or at least happy) committing themselves to doing just one thing at a time anymore. I've gotten very frustrated, at times, with trying to hold a conversation with someone who's constantly grabbing their Blackberry off their hip while we're talking. At what point did we decide, as a culture, that it was better to have many different things going on at once than to be focused on just one?

I probably have a skewed perspective on this topic, because I've always been inclined to "multi-task", even back when I was a teenager doing my homework while watching TV. These days I often blog while watching CSI or Law and Order, and have no problem being both coherent in my writing (I hope) and following the details of whatever is on the big screen. On those odd occasions where it doesn't work for me, I simply abort one or the other of the activities. What I find, though, is that most people don't seem to be very good at this, and so you end up repeating yourself a lot, or getting half-hearted responses because, while they may have heard what you said, they either didn't process it completely or simply didn't give it much consideration. And let's fact it: that's just plain rude. I'd rather not talk to a person at all than only get partial attention from them. Does that make me a dinosaur?

As we enter a new year today, I wonder how much worse CDM is going to become before it ever gets any better. At some point, you'd think most people would realize that it's preferable to be 100% engaged in one activity than to be doing a half-assed job at two or three, but I don't think we're there just yet.