Sunday, February 28, 2010

Well, That Was Certainly Something!

As hard as it was to watch Team Canada (men's hockey) blow a 2-0 lead and go into overtime against the U.S. today, in hindsight it made the accomplishment of winning the final gold of the 2010 Olympics just that much more dramatic. Setting a record for golds in a Winter Games (14) is pretty sweet icing on the cake, too.

I'm delighted that 3 golds and 1 silver went to our four teams for curling and hockey. It's a great Winter Olympics when we can take home that much excellent hardware in the two sports that kind of define us at that version of the O's.

Hard to imagine how players from the U.S. are going to get back into league games in just 48 hours, but since at least two of them are headed to Madison Square Garden (Drury and Callahan), they'd better figure out how to pull it off. At least they'll have silver medals as... uh, consolation?

Math Book Print Draft Copy Ordered

I put the finishing touches on No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) this morning, with Vicki's help. I'm sure I've missed something, in all of the checking and re-checking of the past couple days, but at some point you just have to lob the ball and hope for a touchdown.

If things go as they have in the past with such Lulu projects, I should have this first physical copy in hand sometime in the next couple of weeks. As of right now, I have approximately ten pre-orders for the book (some more firmed up than others) but am planning to do a considerably larger first order than that. Exact numbers are still being debated, but it could go as high as one hundred. That first bulk order should arrive sometime in late March or early April, assuming that nothing is too terribly wrong with the copy I ordered today.

I'll be pricing the book on the Lulu site (and in bookstores, if I can get it there) at $24.95. However, for copies that I sell myself, I expect to provide an "author's discount", bringing the price down to a nice, round $20. If you're interested, and haven't let me know yet, please consider doing so at your convenience. I've gotten pretty strong, positive feedback on it so far, and I honestly think this is a book that every parent (or parent-to-be) should read. But then again, I guess I'm a little biased on the subject...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Can Comic Books Become Any More Mainstream?

Earlier this week, I was watching the latest installment of Totally Lost, the "Doc" Jensen/Dan Snierson feature that recaps and analyzes the most recent episode of Lost. In it, Jensen was shown to be reading an issue of Big Numbers, the aborted 10-inch by 10-inch comic series by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz from the early 90s, only two parts of which ever saw print before the artist bailed on it. (Lost, itself, has of course shown several comics over its lifetime so far, including a Flash/Green Lantern special and a trade paperback of Y: The Last Man, both of them in Spanish, strangely enough!) That shot of Big Numbers reminded me that, in the previous Totally Lost, there had been a hardcover edition of DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths sitting prominently on one of the hosts' bookshelf. OK, so Lost is pretty sick with comic references, but so what?

Well, today I visited CNN's website, and what should I see when I get there but the cover of Detective Comics # 27, the Batman-introducing comic, a nice copy of which recently sold for over a million dollars!

Add in the fact that at least a dozen comic-related movies are in various stages of development right now, and it's pretty clear that the genre has - for the moment, at least - undeniably thrust itself into the popular culture.

Somehow that development has not elevated me to Pop Culture God status, as it should have... but there's still time!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Because I'm now following Roger Ebert on Twitter, I was lucky enough to see a link to this rather fascinating website moments ago. I encourage you to check it out if you haven't already!

Congrats To The Canadian Women's Hockey Team

While the men's team this Olympics has been a little up and down, that other hockey team of ours was just rock solid, game after game. They played a beautiful three periods tonight and delivered a gold medal performance, even while Governor-quitter Sarah Palin bailed on the Health Care Summit coverage in order to fruitlessly cheer the American ladies on. About the only Olympic medal that I was 100% confident of, going into these games, was that the women's hockey team would get gold or silver... it's really nice to see them post their third consecutive championship when it counts the most.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On The Home Stretch Now

I'm halfway done what should be my final read-through of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). I'd probably be able to finish it today if I didn't have 3 tutoring sessions ahead of me. As it is, I should be wrapping it up tomorrow, at which time Vicki gets to do one more pass, as well (looking for mistakes this time, not making more suggestions... or else I'll never get this thing finished!).

If all goes well, I'll be ordering a draft (paper) copy from Lulu sometime next week, and might have it in my hands by mid-March. Then I should have copies to sell by the end of March. It's starting to get exciting!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Possibly A Good Sign

I mentioned earlier that I had put in an ISBN application so that I could include one with my Math book in case I can get it into local bookstores. Today, I got a call from a nice woman in that government department who proceeded to ask me several questions, in a very thick French Canadian accent, about my publishing situation (will I be publishing it myself? is the name of the company really "AgileMan Consulting" and so on). Then she said, "There's one final question that I have for you, which I really need to know the answer to: will you be publishing a version of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math in French??" It turns out that she has a high schooler at home who's falling behind in Math and she can't find a good tutor for him, and even joked that she wished I would move to Ottawa so that I could help him!

This sort of response to the premise of the book seems to be quite common. I saw it when Vicki was appearing on the local current events TV program and the other guests wanted to talk to me about the book when they were in the green room with me. It's quite the change from my AgileMan book experiences, where most peoples' eyes glaze over when I describe what those ones are about. I can only hope this means that bigger and better things await this latest book of mine.

Aliens vs Predator Selling Very Well In UK?!

That's what Sega claims, which is kind of surprising to me. Granted, it's early in the year so maybe their statements ("fastest selling game of the year") don't really mean all that much. But I still expected that its retro look and feel would have killed any momentum that the brand recognition might have started. Hmmm.

Having said all that, as I've been playing through the Marine campaign there have been two results that speak well for the game:
  1. I don't know if I've ever moved as slowly through a map as I'm constantly doing in this game (it's really tense!); and
  2. I've already replayed the first mission (on a higher difficulty setting) because I wanted to go through it again now that I'm more familiar with the game!
Most games I try out these days don't qualify for either of those treatments! So that's something!

What A Great Birthday Gift This Would Make

No, really!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Never Underestimate Our Ability To Choke

I've been keeping an eye on the daily Olympic Medal Count Projections over at FiveThirtyEight, in which they pool/average various predictions about how each country will do in this year's Winter Olympics and compare those numbers to the actual results. For several days early on, Canada, the U.S. and Germany were all forecast to be in a very tight race for the most medals of the games (around 32 each). As the actual competitions have unfolded, though, the U.S. has pulled out in front and Canada has started to fade. Today's projection (the first link, above) has Canada and Germany battling it out for the 2nd spot (getting 28 to 29 medals), with the Americans expected to take home 4 or 5 more trinkets.

When I first saw that Canada was expected to be at or near the top, I was shocked. I said to Vicki how surprised I was to hear that. But I should've realized that the people doing the prognosticating probably weren't aware of just how likely Canadian athletes are to disappoint, when it really matters. So far in this year's games I've heard of one athlete of ours who failed to show up at the "check-in" point for his event on time and was disqualified; one of our favoured bob sled teams rolled their vehicle completely over during a run yesterday; and two brothers were in a speed skating final with three other men last night, meaning that the only way neither of them would get a medal was if the pair of them managed to finish dead last... which they proceeded to do!

Canada currently has the largest variance deficit (-3.9, tied with Germany) against the projections, for medals that have already been awarded. The U.S., conversely, has the biggest positive variance (+3.4). That right there says a lot about the differences between the two countries, when it comes to competing on the world stage. No wonder so many American athletes are arrogant, insufferable jerks!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Math Book Update II

Today turned out to be a fairly significant day in the life of my upcoming book, No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). I'm still awaiting feedback from some of the early reviewers (due by Sunday, if you happen to be reading this!), but I decided to do a trial run of the publishing cycle at Lulu. I know from past experiences (AgileMan books, anyone?) that this part of the process can often be time-consuming and reveal some obstacles that have to be overcome along the way. So I thought it might be prudent to start in on it nice and early this time around.

Sure enough, I discovered that the page layout that I was using for the Word document was not consistent with the printing format that I want for the book. I thought I'd lined things up in that regard before I started, but apparently... not so much. So a good chunk of the afternoon was spent switching over to the new parameters, which significantly changed my page count (adding about 40 pages to the book) and involved some non-trivial re-formatting along the way. That was all necessary work, though, and I'm glad I tackled it sooner rather than later.

I also wanted to get my front cover sorted out, which chewed up another part of my day. I've now got that all squared away, though, and I think it's going to look very nice indeed. There's still the back cover blurb to take care of, but that's usually the easiest part of the process, as it just requires me to write the text and make sure that it fits into and fills up the allotted area.

In a bid to really get ahead of the curve, I also researched how to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for this latest work of mine. Since I have some vague notion that I might be able to get copies of it into actual brick and mortar book stores, having an ISBN for No Kid is a must. From what I've learned so far, we Canadian authors (hey, stop laughing) can get free ISBNs via the Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS, or "kiss" as they pronounce it). I've submitted my application for that online, and now we'll see how that goes.

As I said to Vicki this afternoon, there seem to be about a million little details involved with writing and publishing your own book. At times, the minutiae can start to get me down, but in general it's quite a thrilling experience, every time. I love working on projects where - for the most part anyway - everything is dependent upon me, and only me. Too many years of dealing with other people who over-committed, under-delivered or just generally didn't know how to get things done, I suppose. It's nice to have all that behind me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Great Moments In Gaming

After dipping my toe into the blood-soaked Aliens vs Predator pond today, I got "called back to duty" for some Modern Warfare 2 action tonight. McChicken wanted to play some Special Ops to start, and I was more than happy to accommodate that request. The two of us earned a couple of stars in the Wardriving mission, and used sentry guns and Claymores more strategically than I think we ever have before!

Then it was time for some Team Deathmatch fun, for which we invited Boneman to join us. The three of us did very well, but one slice of teamwork in particular stood out for me. On the Estate map, McChicken and I were both at the basement entrance to the chalet. He very wisely and considerately told me, "Kimota, there's two guys right at the top of these stairs!" Those would be the stairs I had been just about to run up! I could see enemies on my heartbeat monitor, but the three-story layout of that house makes it very hard to figure out where the bad guys really are (they could be on any one of the levels). With his warning, though, I reconsidered my plan and instead fired a flash band grenade up to the landing above our heads. As the two suckers up there staggered around blindly, I was able to pick both of them off with no problem. It was two easy kills with very little risk to my own life and limb (the best way to ratchet up your kill-to-death ratio!). And I owe it all to McChicken! What a pal!

Despite not playing for over a week, I found it extremely easy to get back into that game. That says something right there, I think.

JMS Dishes On Disney Comics

J Michael Straczynski is doing some very nice work at DC Comics these days, with standalone issues of Brave and the Bold every month that I'm quite enjoying. Today a very brief interview with him appeared on one of the comic sites, though, during which the writer finally revealed some tidbits about his relationship with his previous publisher, Disney Comics (formerly Marvel Comics). The quote that really jumped out at me was:

"Though Joe Q. has not spoken a word to me since I offered a critical opinion about Spider-Man: One More Day, the rest of the staff at Marvel could not be more welcoming or professional or friendly, especially [Marvel Publisher] Dan Buckley (who had to move into the position of my liaison once Joe put me in the cone of silence)."

Apparently Joey Q doesn't like having his boneheaded decisions questioned in public, even when it's coming from an award-winning author.

Aliens Vs Predator: First Impressions

Now that I have the (PS/3 version of the) game in hand, I spent about an hour this morning playing a bit of the Marine single player campaign. As I expected after trying out the multiplayer demo, it's an uneven experience that still offered some thrills.

The graphics are OK, but not really up to the standards of the current generation of console games. This game would've looked amazing six or seven years ago, but unfortunately has a somewhat dated feel to it coming out today. It's not so bad as to make the game un-enjoyable, however, and I imagine I'll just get used to it as I play it more. Then I'll switch back to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for an evening and remember what really good graphics look like.

I have to admit that I miss the so-called "iron sight" (the ability to aim down your sight with the press of a button) more than I thought I would. In fact, on more than one occasion already, I've pressed the secondary fire button (which is the iron sight in MW2) and inadvertantly launched a grenade when all I really wanted to do was line up an alien a little better before pumping some pulse rifle ammo into him. This, again, is something that I'll adjust to after spending more time with the game, I'm sure. After all those hours of MW2, though, it almost requires a leap of faith to begin firing "from the hip" as you have to in this game, especially when the Aliens are still several yards away and you know that letting them get any closer is a very, very bad idea. (While Newt may have claimed that "they mostly come out at night... mostly", I haven't personally noticed any hesitancy on their part to come out to play pretty much 24/7!)

The game play is very linear, as you'd have expected from almost any first person shooter ten years ago. What saves it, though, at least in the Marine campaign, is the ever-present tension created by the dark environments and potential of Alien attacks that you operate within. I can honesty say that I felt stress at times, moving through those tight corridors and sewer ducts with my motion sensor pinging like crazy at me. Strangely, the developers chose to completely ruin the mood once already by blaring loud music during one siege level. Call me crazy, but that part of the game would've been way better if the only sounds I could hear were coming from my motion tracker and the claws of my attackers skittering against the walls and ceiling. For the most part, though, the suspense is pretty impressive. I challenge anyone to play this campaign and not have their pulse speed up at least a little.

One noteworthy attribute of the previous Aliens vs Predator (PC) game was the random placement of enemies, which meant that replaying a section was never quite the same experience twice. Although I'm not very far into the game yet, it doesn't seem like the development team at Rebellion kept that aspect. If that's the case, it's a really unfortunate choice on their part as it was one of the best things about the old game. You couldn't simply die, re-spawn and then breeze through that part a second time, as you can with so many games, because the Aliens and Predators just wouldn't tend to be where you expected them to be. [Update Feb 20: I played another hour of the Marine single player campaign last night and did, in fact, spot one place where it looked like some randomness was built in. After dying and having to replay a particularly tense section, I was braced for an Alien at one specific spot because he had scared the crap out of me the first time through, only to find myself tip-toeing around with no xenomorph to be found. So that's encouraging.]

Overall, the game so far is about what I expected once I saw the demo: a good treat for fans of the previous version, but nothing that's going to steal people away from Modern Warfare 2 or any of the other big games coming out soon. I expect that I'll play through all 3 single player campaigns at least once and probably even spend some time online with it. It could have been an amazing game, though, if Rebellion had paid attention to what recent fare like Dead Space and the F.E.A.R. games have added to the genre. Instead, I'll just have to dream about the ultimate AvP game, as it still doesn't exist yet.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Checking a few sites online this morning (before yoga class), it looks like our Canadian retail outlets won't be getting Aliens Vs Predator until Thursday this week. Don't they know Tuesday is the day of the week when games and movies come out? So much for my Tuesday Morning Fever plans!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Canadian Foxes So Confusing To Americans

If you're Canadian and have a last name of "Fox" then you're all just a blur to our neighbours to the south...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tuesday Morning Fever

In approximately 36 hours, I'll be attending our regular Tuesday morning yoga class with Vicki, and then we'll head home by way of Future Shop. The reasons for the unusual detour are twofold: Aliens vs Predator (the game) should be out by then, or well as Peter Gabriel's latest CD, Scratch My Back. As I blogged about recently, the latter features Mr G covering a variety of his personal favourites by Neil Young, Radiohead, Paul Simon and others. As much as I wish it were new material instead, I'm still looking forward to hearing his interpretations of each.

As for AvP, about which I've written extensively hereabouts over the past several months, I'm still pumped about its arrival despite the underwhelming demo that came out a week ago. The prospect of playing through three different campaigns, one each as Marine, Alien and Predator, just brings back such good memories from the earlier incarnation of AvP. I still haven't decided which console to buy it for, however, and so that could end up being a "game-time decision", as they say in the sports biz. If it's any fun at all, then you can expect me to inflict my enjoyment upon you right here. And isn't that what blogs are for, anyway?

Spread The Love

Happy Valentine's Day, readers far and wide!

I posted a tweet last night that seems appropriate to repeat here and now:

"This is what makes a marriage work: Vicki watched "Predator" with me (on Blu-Ray) and then I watched women's moguls at Olympics with her..."

On the flip side of the coin is the dark side of today, about which I tweeted the following this morning:

"Today is the anniversary of all those days in my youth when I'd feel like a loser for not having anyone to celebrate V-Day with."

Hopefully your day has been more like the former than the latter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Someone Hears From Harlan

Thanks to Neil Gaiman's tweet-ish nature, I learned about this amusing development today. If you're a fan of Harlan Ellison's, or just very interested in how "fair use" is being interpreted these days, you should check it out. (And this is the part of the program where I always remind people that I've actually met Harlan, and he was as sweet a guy as you could imagine. That's not to say that I don't believe him to be a curmudgeon if you cross him, but he was a prince to Vicki, Tammy and I when we briefly encountered him at ChicagoCon all those years ago. And I'll always think of him first and foremost in that light.)

One Last Question

To make up for skipping a month in the publication of the Blackest Night miniseries (in order to allow the artists time to catch up), DC Comics came up with the somewhat clever idea of "resurrecting" eight past series of theirs, for one issue each. (Blackest Night, you see, is all about dead villains and heroes being brought back to life - sort of - in the form of evil Black Lantern Corps members.) Therefore DC picked titles from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and - hmmm - 00s? and published "the next issue" of each, but in the form of a Blackest Night crossover, tying into the current events of the miniseries. I was intrigued when I first heard about it, but as they actually appeared through January most left me cold. None of them really seemed to capture the feel of the old series they were representing, and so they seemed like gimmicks.

Until I read The Question # 37. Maybe it's the fact that original creator Dennis O'Neil was brought back in to co-write it (along with current star Greg Rucka), or that they went all out and got original Question artists Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz involved, but this little number really did sing! It perfectly matched the vibe of what we used to get every month from those folks, and yet advanced the Blackest Night storyline in the process. It had some kung-fu action, as we'd expect from The Question, as well as lots of philosophical twists and turns. This was exactly what I was hoping for when this "skip month stunt" was announced.

It's really too bad the other offerings couldn't have been up to this standard, but at least we got one really good one in the bunch. (And a disclosure: I haven't read The Atom and Hawkman # 46 yet, despite it coming out 2 weeks ago, because my local comic store didn't receive any of their ordered copies and has been a bit slow in re-ordering it. Maybe next week!)

Too Bad

I'd actually thought that Disney Comics (nee Marvel Comics) had grown a pair when I read the latest issue of Captain America and saw the Tea Party nutjobs being briefly lampooned in its pages. Sadly, though, the Fox News conservative machine has forced the inevitable combo apology/retraction out of them. After all, you wouldn't want to offend people who carry around signs calling President Obama a Nazi/Socialist, now would you?

More Props For The Canadian Banking System

This article is almost 2 weeks old, but still very much worth reading. I'm a bit behind in my Krugman-following, or else I'd have seen it (and linked to it) sooner.

Anyway, I have to believe that part of the reason the U.S. won't follow Prof Krugman's advice and emulate our banking restrictions is that playing it safe isn't something that comes naturally to Americans. That's to their credit, in most instances, I think. But "when it comes to banking," as Krugman says, "boring is good." That's exactly true. So I guess our Yankee neighbours can build up to another financial meltdown, if they want to... just as long as we here in the Frozen North don't follow suit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What You Can Do With Flash Cards

I spend one entire chapter of my Math book on the topic of flash cards. When I started into that material, I wondered if I had enough to fill the six or seven pages that I hoped the chapter would span. I knew that it was an important topic but wasn't sure how best to get that belief across in printed form, and feared that I'd come up mostly empty.

As I got into it, though, it began to almost write itself. The more I thought about all of the things that I'd been able to accomplish with flash cards over the past 9 months of tutoring, in terms of getting many of the foundational Math concepts imprinted and then reinforced in young minds, the faster the words flowed out of me. Around that same time, Vicki found a set of my homemade flash cards (previously, business cards of mine from the bank). They'd been stowed away in a box upstairs after being used by Tammy while she was in high school. Although I'd forgotten doing it, I apparently had gone to town and put all kinds of interesting questions on them for Tammy to study from. Looking at what I'd come up with years before I ever began formally tutoring, I started to see new, potential applications for flash cards even beyond anything that I'd come with to date.

Before I was done, that chapter exploded into one of the longest in the book and, I happen to think, one of the best. If the book was out today and someone told me that they only had time to read one chapter in it, Getting Smarter, In A Flash! would be the one that I'd point him or her to. It's probably the signature chapter of the book. I can barely wait until people get a chance to read it... along with the 14 other great chapters, of course!

Aliens Vs Predator: Which Version To Buy?

The first review of the game gave it a 5.75 out of 10 or something like that, and was quite savage in its criticisms. Having played the demo, I can see how that probably wasn't entirely unfair. However, today we got a much more balanced and even favourable review that likely reflects a fan-of-the-franchise's reaction, and hence might be closer to my own. Nice to see that AvP isn't always getting shredded by the reviewers!

Now, of course, I'm starting to think about whether to buy the game for the PS/3 or the XBox 360. My default position is usually Sony, because I love my PlayStation and I find Microsoft's inevitable arrogance rather difficult to take and impossible to like. However, I'd like to get the best possible experience out of AvP, and that may mean playing it on XBox Live where the online community might be more active. Decisions, decisions!

Anyone out there in the readership planning to buy this game, and if so, on which console?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Burnout Complete?

Tonight, I played about an hour of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 before realizing that I was getting very little enjoyment out of it. It's become so automatic a part of my nightly routine over the past two and a half weeks that it took me that long to come face to face with the fact that I'm bored of the maps by now and have leveled my favourite guns up as much as I care to. I'm at level 60 (2-star general) and really just don't have the drive anymore to get to the top rank (70, or Supreme Commander).

Which is probably all fine, since I'd already put in about the equivalent of 3 days (i.e. 72 hours) of playing just the multiplayer component, without counting the many, many hours Tammy and I spent on Special Ops over the Christmas break or the enjoyment I've gotten from the single player campaign. All in all, I'd be surprised if I haven't pushed over the 100-hour mark already, making the game a pretty good return on its cost.

In less than a week, Aliens vs Predator comes out, at which point I hope to start into its three different campaigns (Marine, Predator and Alien), and that could keep me busy for awhile if it's any good. Maybe it's just as well not to go directly from one gaming obsession to the next!

A Taste Of My Math Book

Along with providing invaluable feedback on the early draft of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), Vicki was also on the lookout for material within its pages that she felt would be suitable as back cover blurbs. I'd asked her to keep an eye out for paragraphs or small sections that she thought would provide a good hook for the reader if displayed on the back of the book. To her credit, she came up with three of them, and I thought now would be a good time to share them with my blogging audience, keeping in mind that the book is in draft form and anything shown below may still change.

From the 1st chapter, entitled "Why You Should Read This Book", comes:
  • As a reader of this book, you’re more likely to fall into the “sheer terror” category when it comes to thinking about high school Math than you are to join me in finding it “quite thrilling.” I get that. The good news is that this book is written for any parent, whether they love Math or cringe at the very mention of it. In fact, I think that it’s entirely possible to create an environment in which your children will grow up to be very comfortable with Math… even if you never have been! But it probably won’t just happen on its own. There’s much work for you to do to make that a reality, and that’s what this book is all about. And if you do your job really well, then by the time your children hit high school Math they’ll be just fine, whether you can help them or not.
Next we get a couple possibilities from Chapter 4, which is titled "Getting Smarter, In A Flash":
  • But the loss of marks due to silly mistakes such as getting the wrong result when multiplying two numbers isn’t even the whole story. Compounding the problem is the fact that kids who don’t have the basics down by the time the Math gets harder end up spending ridiculous amounts of time doing what should have taken a fraction of the time. That disadvantage shows up both with homework and on tests.
  • Kids who are slow at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, for example, will naturally have more Math homework because every question simply takes them longer. I’m certainly not anti-homework, by any means, but I also don’t believe that it does any good whatsoever to have a student working that slowly. It wears the child down, turns him off Math, and can even encourage him to skip some of the assigned questions if he thinks that he can get away with it.
If nothing else, those little snippets should at least provide you with some sense of what the book is all about.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Updated Blog Posting Chart

Since I know some people love this sort of thing, here's an updated chart showing how many blog posts I've put out there each month since I started. It looks like October of last year was the only month during which I didn't average at least one post per day, which isn't too bad over nearly three and a half years of activity. (For those scoring along at home, I passed the 2600 post mark late last week.)

New-ish Peter Gabriel Music Out Next Week

While it's not as exciting to me as the prospect of a truly-new set of music, I'm still fairly interested in the Scratch My Back project that Peter is set to release a CD under next week. He's doing about a dozen covers on it, but with orchestra and voice only. I heard his version of David Bowie's "Heroes" while flipping around the TV channels during the first few days after the Haiti earthquake, and it was interesting, at least. I'd much prefer that he produce a new studio album with the regular crew (Tony Levin, David Rhodes, etc) but since it's been almost a decade since that last happened, I'll take what I can get.

This one's called Scratch My Back, and it'll be followed up by I'll Scratch Yours, on which the artists whose work Mr Gabriel covered on the first one return the favour by reinterpreting songs of his. Among that group should be Bowie, the Talking Heads (or maybe just David Byrne), Paul Simon, Neil Young, Radiohead, Lou Reed, Canada's very own Arcade Fire and several others. It's an intriguing concept, if nothing else.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

An End To The Deficit

Today was the day I moved into positive territory in terms of kills compared to deaths, in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I had been creeping up on 1.0 for over a week now, and finally managed to push it over the top around 4:20 p.m. I'm now sitting at 1.04 (meaning that I've gotten 104 kills for every 100 times I've died), tying me for 2nd among the dozen or so people on my PS/3 Friends list who play the game. My rank's now up to 55, making me think that maybe I can stay with it long enough to achieve Supreme Commander (rank 70). We'll see how it goes. Some of the maps are starting to get a bit boring by now, I must say.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Not A Good Sign For AvP

Last night, I downloaded the PS/3 version of the Aliens vs Predator demo, to see how it differed - if at all - from the XBox 360 one I'd already played. When I had started it up on the Microsoft console yesterday, it had taken anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to get into a Deathmatch with four to seven opponents. On Sony's platform today, however, I waited more than fifteen minutes for it to "find a game" during which time my controller powered itself off due to inactivity! I realize that it's just a demo, and that it's the middle of the afternoon on a weekday (in this part of the world), but if absolutely no one's interested in it on the day after it became available... that's not good.

This, of course, is just one more problem with releasing a demo that only supports multiplayer: it's painfully apparent when no one else is playing it, and you have no other recourse available to you for trying out the game. I can just imagine how many folks have downloaded it, gotten a long wait time, realized there was nothing else to it, and deleted it off their hard drive. Ouch.

[Update Feb 6: There's a good review of the demo here. It mentions that the Predator starts off w/o any range weapon, making me feel less stupid about the fact that, the one time I played as a Predator, I couldn't figure out how to fire anything! There's also a statement that the finished product has more polish than the demo, coming from someone who's actually played the full game for review purposes. So that's encouraging.]

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Aliens Vs Predator Demo: First Impressions

I've now played 3 Aliens vs Predator Deathmatches on XBox Live using the multiplayer demo that became available today. My absolute first reaction is, unfortunately, "This demo isn't going to sell many copies of the game!"

The graphics look like something out of the 1990s, which is really too bad when we're almost a full decade into the 21st century now! Everything, from the choice of font right through to the details of the environment, feels cheesy and retro - and not in a good way! I'm sure the game makers will say that they were going for a very dark and dirty vibe, but they need to compare what they've produced to something like Dead Space or any of the F.E.A.R. games in order to appreciate what their game should look and feel like by this point in the industry's development history.

One of the first things that you see when you launch the demo is the following disclaimer: "This demo is based on pre-release code and does not reflect the quality of the final product." I really hope that's true; but I suspect it isn't. The issues I have with what I've seen aren't that it suffers from a few random bugs that need fixing; rather, it just doesn't seem like a modern-generation game.

Now, the underwhelming graphics notwithstanding, there is some potential in the gameplay. I got to play one Deathmatch each as Marine, Predator and Alien. I did best in the human role, which matches my experiences with the original AvP game from 1999. It's the one where you can really feel that you're in mortal danger at all times and have to rely on your motion detector, handy assault rifle and quick reflexes to have any chance of survival. The controls are sadly a bit clunky, but at least the thumbsticks don't do anything ridiculous if you press down too hard on them (yay!). When I was a Predator, however, I couldn't even figure out how to fire my weapon, leaving me to melee my way to a measly 7 kills. That's a minor detail, as I'm sure it'll soon become clear what I was doing wrong, but it's a knock against how intuitive the role isn't that someone who's played an earlier version of the game couldn't even suss it out immediately. As for the Alien, I always sucked at it before, and I still do. The choice to have you press one of the triggers in order to transition from one surface to another feels very wrong to me, but maybe it was always that way in the past. I just found today that I was always scampering up a nearby wall when I really meant to be lashing out in attack mode. I imagine most new players will find the Alien role, with its 360 degree range and weird key mapping, to be somewhat daunting and therefore off-putting. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as too easy a time as an Alien or Predator makes balance difficult to achieve in online play.

Of course, this demo only has multiplayer, and just one mode of it. As such, it's a very small sample of what the full package will deliver. I'm hoping that the single player campaigns - three of them, one for each species - will be as fun as I remember the original game being. It's hard to tell from this demo, though. Also, there are 6 other online modes, with Deathmatch being the most vanilla of them.

While I'm disappointed with the demo, I still plan to buy the game when it comes out in 12 days. I expect to play through all three single player campaigns, as I did with the original AvP several times before moving on to multiplayer. I think I'll just have to tone down my expectations around how the game looks, which is too bad.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Fun With Noobs

Playing Team Deathmatch in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 tonight, I eventually landed on one of my least favourite maps: Wasteland. It's a fairly simple design, where there is a bunker in the middle (that one team typically occupies) with 3 entrances to it. The general idea is that the team on the outside tries to push the bunker team out and take possession of it, although ultimately you're just trying to score as many enemies kills as you can to win the game. Usually I do terrible on Wasteland because the other players know how to defend (if I'm on the attacking team) or breach it (if I'm on the team that's inside of it) and I end up dying way more than I should. I've had some horrible results on it in the past.

Tonight, for some reason, I played against what must have been a rare group of newbies. They started off in the bunker, and we could just pick them off from the edges, as they ineffectively fired over our heads or to the side of us. I racked up so many consecutive kills that I earned both the Predator drone killstreak reward and the Harrier Strike one. Wisely deciding to wait until we'd evicted them before using either, I then proceeded to get a couple more kills via the drone before unleashing the three Harriers on their sad sack asses... by the time the smoke had cleared, I'd rung up 24 straight kills without dying! I ended the game with 31 kills and 3 deaths... by far my best result ever, and I earned what I think was only my second or third Supernatural accolade for getting at least 10 times as many kills as deaths in one game. It was quite the bizarre experience.

In general, I've lifted my kill-to-death result up to 0.94, and rarely seem to finish with a negative result even in a single game anymore. The One Man Army perk, with its access to unlimited ammo, seems to have done as much to improve my gameplay as anything. That, and having learned the maps, has made playing the game a much more pleasant experience for me (though probably not so much for the players on the other teams).

Aliens vs Predator Demo Hits Tomorrow (Feb 4)

With the game launch less than 2 weeks away now, I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever see the long-promised demo for Aliens vs Predator. Fortunately, the announcement came out early this afternoon: the demo goes online tomorrow! It's multiplayer only, which is a bit of a disappointment as I'd have liked to see what the single player campaign is going to feel like. But beggars can't be choosers, and I'll happily get some online experience in before Feb 16.

The demo (and subsequent game) will be available for PS/3, XBox 360 and PC owners. I'll probably try both of the first two for the demo, but likely make my purchase of the Sony platform version. Who knows, though: if it's awesome enough, maybe I'll end up buying a copy for each console!

Lost Season Six Is Off And Running

Needless to say: Spoilers ahead!

I think it's safe to say that the big question going into the start of Lost's final season was, "Will the attempted reboot of the timeline (via the detonation of a hydrogen bomb on top of the island's mysterious energy source) fail or succeed?" About five or ten minutes into the season premiere last night, it became apparent that the answer to that question is, "Yes!"

Now, if you're thinking, "That doesn't make any sense..." then you either haven't seen the 2-hour premiere yet (in which case, why are you still reading this?) or you weren't paying much attention to it. What we appear to have gotten as a result of Juliet's brave and noble actions at the end of Season Five are two divergent universes:
  • one in which the past was changed, and Oceanic Flight 815 not only arrived safely in Los Angeles on Sep 22, 2004 but it also passed over a very much deserted and underwater version of the island
  • one in which the past wasn't changed, and where the only visible effect of the bomb's detonation was a resetting of the main characters' location in time (they've been thrown out of the 70s and back to sometime in December 2004 or later)
Since both of these versions of events are playing out simultaneously (from the viewer's point of view), we're left to wonder if one (or both) of them will be negated before the season ends. It's the sort of ballsy twist that we'd never have believed could be thrown into the show had it not featured time travel last season!

I can't help but think that somehow the two divergent paths relate thematically to the battle between Jacob and the Man in Black. Since those two entities have such opposing views of humanity, after all - Jacob sees all of the strife and turmoil as progress, whereas his enemy considers it corruption and destruction - perhaps what we're seeing is how things would play out if either of them were proven right. Babylon 5 fans will naturally recall that something similar played out in that show: the Vorlons and the Shadows held diametrically opposed views about the role of intelligent life, and did their level best to nudge their own ideology into a winning position. What's happening in Lost feels very much like that to me.

On the other hand, we know that Jacob brought the Black Rock to the island hundreds of years ago, and presumably caused the Oceanic 815 castaways to get there, as well. So maybe the "new universe" simply represents things as they would have been had he never interfered. That's a less judgmental, more fact-based interpretation, without any inclination to worry about what's good or evil, or right or wrong.

Those were the broad strokes of the episode, without even touching on any of the many, many smaller bits: Saiyid's death and resurrection; the return of Boone, Claire, Charlie, Dr Arzt, Frogurt and others; the revelation that the temple is still actively populated and guarded by a strange mix of races; Juliet's brief return and postmortem declaration of "It worked"; and the mystery of why Christian Shepherd's body and Locke's set of knives both went missing from Flight 815, suggesting that perhaps this new reality isn't quite as detached from the old one as we might believe.

If I have any complaint about the show of late, it's that the characters are becoming almost too complacent about the weird turn-of-events that seem to be building up. Jack doesn't even ask "what risks?" when told that healing Saiyid in the temple's waters may have complications. We assume that what was done to the former Iraqi interrogator is the same process used by young Ben in Season Five, but at that time Kate and Sawyer were told that he'd never be quite the same again (or words to that effect). With all of the strange happenings zipping by them, and Jack having just been proven horribly wrong (or so he believes) in his quest to reset time by detonating the bomb, why wouldn't he or his companions at least demand to know a little more before proceeding?

All in all, though, this is an amazing show that's giving every indication of getting stronger, season by season. It looks like we're in for a fast-paced, mind-bending conclusion over the next three and a half months, to which I say: bring it on!

[This may also be worth reading, if you're into the show like I am. Or even this.]

Monday, February 01, 2010

Bad Internet Ends Gaming Streak

I'd been on a nice roll with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 recently. For eight nights in a row (Sunday to Sunday), I'd spent several hours each night - starting a little before Vicki's bedtime - playing online before heading to bed myself. I'd put in something like 40 hrs over that stretch, and had a lot of fun doing so. Tonight, that particular run has come screeching to a halt.

Not because I'm tired of the game (I'm not, yet).

Not because of any other commitments (I have none at the moment).

And not because of my hands starting to hurt from all of the intensive activity (they should have by now but haven't, which I'm attributing to yoga classes since nothing else has changed).

No, I'm not playing tonight because our Internet connection keeps dropping! I started about six games over the course of nearly an hour, each one of which ended prematurely with a connection problem. Finally, I've given up, and am heading to bed at the ungodly early time of 11:30!

Here's hoping things are better tomorrow night. But eight consecutive nights of fun isn't a bad run, either.

Third Draft Out The Door

No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) is now in the hands of the... well, mortals rather than gods, but important mortals!

I provided a three week window during which to receive feedback, so now all I can do is... wait. Well, that and continue to make more changes to the book as they occur to me, of course. Time doesn't exactly stand still in these matters, after all!