Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Very Bloggy March!

This month has seen the largest number of posts on this blog over the past year. I attribute part of that to the launch of my Math book, which I've been trying to promote a bit on this site. There's a less obvious way in which that event has contributed to more entries here, as well: since I'm not writing a book anymore (for the time being), I've had more creative energies to direct to blogging.

Whatever the reason, it's been a good month for those of you who come here to waste a bit of time seeing how the other half lives (where "the other half", in this case, means people with lots of free time on their hands). Hopefully you've gotten your fill!

Cheating Spouses Now Get Rehab?

I remember when husbands who fooled around on their wives (and got caught, presumably) used to get frying pans thrown at them. Then, we evolved a little as a species and they'd just be sent packing, having to pay large divorce settlements. Now, apparently, if Tiger Woods and Jesse James are any indication, they go into rehab for "sex-addiction issues" or the like.

Hard to figure that a guy with a name like "Jesse James" would turn out to be a scumbag, so you can't really blame his wife, Sandra Bullock, for not seeing that one coming, can you?!

Anyway, I eagerly await my own wife's pithy comment to this post, which I'm sure will keep me on the straight-and-narrow and help me avoid any rehabilitation stints in my own future!

Blackest Night Ends On A High Note

When I stop to think about it, DC's 8-issue event series of 2009/10, Blackest Night, was pretty amazing. I'm not just talking about the story elements of it - although those were rather exceptional in their own right - but also how few delays there were in its publication (possibly none, at least that I can remember), how high the quality of writing and artwork remained throughout, and how tightly integrated the various miniseries were to the main title. Those are not the sorts of attributes we've come to expect from wide-ranging comic book events.

The conclusion of the series (out today) opened a door that was somewhat expected, but brought a few people through it that probably weren't. I doubt anyone reading this blog cares about having the ending spoiled, but just in case, I'll leave it a little vague: some dead DC characters were brought back to life ("permanently" or at least what passes for that in comics), as part of the evolving story in Blackest Night, and a few of them were fairly surprising to me. As a story beat itself, the absence of a couple of deceased folks among that group was also commented on, perhaps as a tip of the hat to the readers who expected to see them.

I suspect that Blackest Night is destined to become one of the mainstay trade paperbacks from DC in the future, in the same way that Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Death of Superman are. It's likely going to become "required reading" for new fans of the mythology, in order to truly understand where the stories are coming from over the next few years. Fortunately, it's a very, very good tale, with outstanding artwork, and therefore it'll almost certainly deliver on its promise as Blackest Night is experienced anew each time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Books I'm Currently Reading (March 2010 Edition)

It's been a few months since I last provided a reading list, so it's time to correct that oversight right now.

I've recently finished a couple of books, so let's start with them:

Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer - Vicki recommended this one to me, and it was a very entertaining read. I had one sort of overarching issue with the way Sawyer put the concept together but otherwise enjoyed it. For those who haven't read it: it's set in a near future Toronto at a time when a company has perfected the ability to both scan the entirety of your brain (so as to recreate its thought processes outside of your body) and produce artificial bodies that can then house those mindscans. The lead protagonist lined up to have his brain scanned and that copy put into a new body because he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. So far, so good. But somehow he had expected to be "transferred" into that new and improved shell when in fact it was clear from the outset that it would be a copy of him that went there, and that the original mind would still be stuck back in the failing human body. His disappointment and confusion (which much of the rest of the story hinges on) didn't make any sense to me and seemed ill thought-out on the part of author Sawyer. But otherwise, it's a good page-turner.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - This deserves a bigger and better treatment than I can do justice to here, but I can at least skim the surface. Dawkins does a fantastic job of laying out the reasons why there is almost certainly no God and addressing the usual objections that are raised to that stance. He proves that we don't really take our morality from holy books - thank goodness! - and makes a compelling case for something I've always believed: that children should choose their belief system, rather than having one forced upon them. I'm a living example of this, as my mother was a fairly devout Christian but allowed me to decide for myself (I chose atheism, obviously). Dawkins also dives into much of the pain and suffering that organized religions have visited upon humanity, going back thousands of years in some cases. He ends the book on a high note, showcasing the many ways Science and the pursuit of understanding and knowledge (rather than superstition and ignorance) can be truly inspirational. This is one of the most gripping non-fiction books I've ever read.

Now for the ones I'm still in the middle of:

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell - This is a collection of New Yorker articles by Gladwell, which somewhat weakens its overall impact, I think. For one thing, some may already be familiar to you (I've encountered one like that so far); for another, there's not really much in the way of updating done, even for columns written nearly a decade ago. I'd enjoy it more if each article were followed with a page or three of Gladwell's thoughts on the topic since writing the original. But it's still a very interesting book, full of typical Malcolm moments during which his unique perspective completely catches you off-guard.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon - This is an alternate history novel in which most of the post Second World War Jews were shunted to Alaska (rather than Israel). The story takes place in the latter half of the 20th century, just as the Jews are about to be rousted again (this time because of anti-Semitic feelings in the U.S.). It's a tough book to get through if you're largely ignorant of Jewish words, beliefs and history (as I am) but Chabon's mastery of the language and characters make it worthwhile. I'm about 1/3 of the way in and am already hooked by the seemingly innocuous murder investigation that two of the title characters are engaged in.

The Real Salesperson In The House

Vicki managed to sell a copy of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) today while at a meeting for her women's club. How she does it, I have no idea. But this is the 4th or 5th copy she's sold in unlikely venues so far.

I think that puts us somewhere around 30 copies sold, which means that we're still a long way from breaking even on the big initial order that I placed... but Vicki's doing everything she can to get us there!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Comic Sells For Almost As Much Money As I've Made Over My Lifetime

I don't know exactly how much I've made, but it's not substantially more than the 1.5 million dollars that a high-grade copy of Action Comics # 1 went for recently at auction. That is one fine looking first appearance of Superman, I'll give you that! Too bad I can't quite afford to add it to my own collection...

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Reading over the list of Math book recommendations to be found on this Science- and Math-friendly site really makes me want to buy them all! I'll have to pace myself, though, as I already have books piled up waiting to be read. But there's definitely some good suggestions there.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passing Of A Comics Legend

Comic book inker and editor Dick Giordano died yesterday, at the age of 77. When I was reading DC Comics as a teenager, he was the Executive Editor for that publisher. His editorials always ended with "Thank you and good afternoon" (which showed up as a Silver Age trivia question that I correctly answered a few years back), a signature phrase which probably always appealed to this Canadian fan for its polite friendliness.

But it was Giordano's work as an inker, years earlier, that made him a legend to me. He was a favourite finisher for Neal Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and various Batman stories in Detective Comics, Batman and Brave and the Bold. It was very likely the range of talent that Adams' pencils would be handed to that first impressed upon me the importance of selecting the right inker, and Giordano was one of the best ever. He always brought out the strengths of his partner rather than covering them up, as so many other embellishers did.

Dick Giordano will certainly be missed, and his loss mourned, within the comics industry and its fan base.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

They're Finally Giving The Poor Guy A Break!

It's official: Fox cancels 24 as of the end of the current season.

There have been rumours for a few weeks now that NBC might pick the show up for a second life if Fox did, indeed, deep-six it. Otherwise, watch for Jack Bauer to next appear on the big screen, although obviously the format would have to change.

Personally, I've found the last several seasons to each be frustratingly uneven. There are moments of edge-of-your-seat suspense and brilliantly-conceived twists sprinkled among way too many unbelievable developments and ridiculous examples of federal incompetence. I've long thought that a better writing staff on that show could have turned it into a first-rate action drama but I guess now we'll probably never know if I was right.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nature Vs Nurture: Sometimes It Doesn't Even Matter

As Vicki and I were busy not selling any Math books last night at the school bazaar, we had lots of opportunities to people-watch. One of the things we noticed was how often it looked as if parents who seemed to have limited education themselves were leading around children who were almost certainly headed in the same direction. These were assumptions on our part, and could undoubtedly be completely out to lunch. But when you overhear adults saying that they never liked any of the subjects in school except Phys Ed, have no interest in reading books, and couldn't wait to get out of school, then you inevitably draw some conclusions.

Then you see the next generation at their heels and wonder, "How will they ever break that cycle?" If Nature plays a significant role, then they'll be inheriting their parents' anti-school, Math-phobic chromosomes and be doomed before they ever set foot in a public school. On the other hand, if the environment they grow up in makes the biggest difference, then what is it about their home life, with their values being established by their dropout parents, that could possibly elevate them to a better future?

As just one example of what I mean: the vendor next to us was selling children's books and so we watched a mother of a 5- or 6-year-old need serious convincing before spending $10 to buy an exciting, colourful picture book that her child dearly wanted. Her first objection: "He can't read by himself." When the vendor pointed out that this book might in fact help him learn how to read and that the mother could possibly read it to him the first few times, this suggestion was apparently perceived as a major hardship. The mother hummed and hawed over spending $10 "on a book" but eventually relented. So now consider just what the young boy has to overcome if he's ever going to become someone capable of doing "knowledge work" (as I talk about in Chapter 3 of my book): he has to outwit his own genes and flourish in a home where reading is considered a nuisance at best.

Needless to say, all of this was rather depressing to me.

Mystery Solved Exactly One Year Later??

I swear it's a total coincidence!

One year ago today, I blogged about my iPod and how it would fail on me shortly into a bike ride sometimes despite having a full charge. Well, today it happened again!

I was biking downtown in -4° C weather this morning with my freshly charged device and it stopped playing about 10 minutes in! I'd had it in my hoodie's pocket, as I always do, so I decided to switch it from there to my pants pocket. My theory was that it was the cold temperature that was causing the malfunction. Over lunch, I was in a warm restaurant for about an hour and a half (with no option to charge the device up). Once I was ready to bike home (still about -1° C) I started my iPod playing again but then put it back in the pants pocket, where it would be considerably warmer than in my hoodie (less cold air around it, closer to my body and with hard-working leg muscles to insulate it). Sure enough, it continued to play music for me the whole way home!

Therefore, I think the problem is the ambient temperature. If the iPod is in a very cold environment, it seems to shut down. I don't know if that's by design or not, but it definitely appears to be happening. (Funny that I'd solve the mystery exactly one year after posing it, though!)

Math In The Lower Grades

AgileBoy pointed me (indirectly) to this interesting article on the Psychology Today website. In it, you'll learn (among other things) about an experiment in the late 1920s/early 1930s in which several American schools stopped teaching Math before Grade 6. The theory being tested was that kids 10 years old and younger don't get much out of their Math education anyway, so why not delay its start until Grade 6 when their brains are better equipped to understand it? The results were surprising, to say the least!

I have to admit, as I started reading the article I was very skeptical. I see examples of young kids grasping Math quite well and continuing to excel at it as they move right through high school. In my book, No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), I even relate a story - told to me by a friend - involving Math drills in a very low grade and the positive effect they had on several members of that class. And yet the article at Psychology Today makes a compelling argument that most kids get very little out of Math at that age, and that they can more than make up the lost ground later on.

By the time I'd finished reading the entire piece, I could see some truth in what the author was saying. I suspect there's a difference between what "the norm" is in the American public school system and what we have here in Ontario, but even so: how many of our primary grade teachers were "Math-phobic" (as the author of the article puts it) when they were school children? I'd never considered that question before. Now that I do, I realize that it's probably a disquieting proportion of them.

When I tutor Math, one of my goals with every student is to instill in him or her a love of Math. It obviously doesn't always work out, but I'm pretty sure I succeed more often than not. I'm not sure, however, that many teachers are achieving that... or even striving for it! It's possible that all of the many other concerns they have to deal with - maintaining discipline, using different styles for different learners, making sure the curriculum is fully covered, keeping parents happy and off their backs - may occupy their time so much that something as intangible as "fostering a love of Math" might not even enter into the equation. If so, then this is something parents really have to take on, as best they can.

Not to sound like a broken record, but that's where my Math book for parents can help.

[Update Mar 28/10: Thanks to another Twitter friend, I saw this intriguing document that relates to the earlier link in this blog post. It's highly recommended to anyone interested in this topic.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Academia Vs The Real World

The university lecturer who twice a year invites me to guest lecture for her class today e-mailed me a link to this blog post from (coincidentally) back around the time that I was quitting the full-time software scene. In it, blogger/coder Alan Skorkin lists 3 things that he wishes his Computer Science degree had prepared him for:
  1. Open source development
  2. An Agile process
  3. Office politics
It's a good read (other than a few distracting typos) and I agree with much of what he says. I'd hazard a guess that prepping someone for the corporate landscape as far as politics are concerned is probably a much bigger challenge than either of the other two, though, as my experience has been that every company - and sometimes, each department within a company - has its own unique set of hidden agendas, power struggles, misaligned value statements, unspoken expectations and everything else that makes up its culture... meaning that preparing for it would be quite difficult. I suppose that, at a minimum, students could be taught that those things exist, and perhaps could be lead through some role-playing for a few of the more common instantiations of each political element. That wouldn't be a bad thing.

Naturally, I'd like to see Agile added to the Computer Science curriculum, including for the reason that Mr Skorkin mentions: so that graduates would be more likely to bring that approach into an "old school" company that might otherwise never adopt it. I've even thought along those lines where our own local university is concerned, and have had some brief conversations with the aforementioned CS lecturer about it. So far, nothing concrete has come of it; but maybe someday...

A Tale Of Two Book Events

Well, it was a bit of an uneven day, to say the least.

The signing event for No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) at my old office went well, both in terms of sales and the joy of seeing old friends. I'd estimated to Vicki ahead of time a range of how many copies I expected to sell there, and we hit that mark.

The evening's activity, on the other hand, was very nearly a complete bust. We didn't sell a single book at the school bazaar, nor would I say we ever really got very close to making a sale. Keeping it from being a complete waste of time and money were the following bits of learning:
  • demographics matter - the school was in a much poorer part of town than we live in, and unfortunately that translated to parents who were not only less likely to give up $20 for a chance to help their kids with Math but also unlikely to consider the prospect of reading a book to be anything less than a chore
  • bookstores might work for us - talking to another self-publishing author there (of children's books) provided some good info for what we have to look forward to in getting our book onto store shelves
  • our promotional material needs some work - watching how people responded to what we'd put on our signs helped me re-think what sorts of things should be on them in order to catch someone's attention
I think, for future bazaars, we'll be a little better prepared than we were today. I'm just glad I didn't carry more than one box of books into the school (we had 4 boxes of them in the trunk!).

To any former workmates of mine who stopped by to see us this afternoon: thank you! It was the bright spot of my day, as you can see.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

That Entreprenurial Spirit

Friends of mine launched an iPhone app today, and you can see it for yourself right here. I've played the web version of the game many times (and even blogged about it) and so I can attest to how fun and addictive it is. Any iPhone owners out there should seriously considering sinking $0.99 into this and trying it out for themselves.

Big Day Tomorrow

Vicki and I have two book-related events scheduled for tomorrow, which should make for a very hectic day (I also have a tutoring session to do between the two). In the afternoon, we head back into my old office, as I blogged about recently.

The evening activity - a school bazaar - will probably give us a better sense than we have right now as to how appropriate a venue of that sort is for promoting and selling copies of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). It could be that there's little interest in the contents of the book to be found there, or lots of interest but little inclination to spend $20 in cold, hard cash in order to find out more. By this time tomorrow night, we'll have some idea of the answer to those questions, at least.

Today saw a couple of unplanned sales, as both our dentist and my chiropractor bought copies, unsolicited. We also heard of other "leads" that may turn into sales, which is always an exciting prospect. This is such a different experience than my AgileMan authorship was!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mind Boggling

From the White House blog:

"... until last night, insurance companies in eight states and the District of Columbia could still discriminate against [female] victims by declaring domestic violence a preexisting condition."

That's the sort of thing Republicans were fighting to maintain. If only the Democrats were as effective at getting stuff like this into the limelight as their Conservative counterparts are at spreading misinformation, they might have actually gotten a public option form of Health Care Reform today. As I said to Vicki today, a prime example: people like George Will and Karl Rove spout off that the polls show "a majority of Americans don't support this reform bill" but significantly fail to mention that a non-trivial chunk of that razor-thin majority opposed the bill because it didn't do enough! In other words, some of those people were against it because there was no public option or single payer system in it. Now that the bill has passed and those folks realize that they won't get those better measures anytime soon, they're much more supportive of the changes (and poll numbers have started going up). Those liberal-leaning souls certainly did not want the status quo maintained, no matter how much Republicans tried to spin it that way. The so-called "Right" in the U.S. are unquestionably the masters of misinformation!

Oh, and to any American who claims that his or her country can't afford to provide universal health care to its own citizens? You're one of the richest nations in the world! You not only can afford it, but you ought to be ashamed that it's taken this long to provide it while business executives take home millions in bonuses after having driven the world economy into the crapper over the past several years.

Just Playing Dumb Or Just Plain Dumb?

Disney Comics today announced that "Marvelman Returns in June", which is the long-awaited word on what they'll be doing with their recently-purchased character. In the article, they proudly trumpet "the debut of Marvelman Family's Finest #1, a new ongoing series reprinting Marvelman's greatest adventures for the first time in the US!" Implied in that statement (and all-but-confirmed elsewhere) is the fact that these are the early, Golden Age adventures of the Marvel Family characters, not the 1980s/90s material that brought them to worldwide prominence.

Is this just typical Disney (nee Marvel) hype, or do they really not get it? The greatest adventures of this character didn't happen in the 1950's/60's... those were largely crap, and their eventual disappearance from the comic racks in the U.K. wasn't exactly mourned by many British fans, from what I can tell. Instead, it was the work Alan Moore and (later) Neil Gaiman did with the characters between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s that brought the Marvels/Miracles to prominence, both in the U.K. and North America. Claiming that the original, dreadful stuff contained the "greatest adventures" is like saying that the greatest portable music device was the Walkman. It's either a spurious claim, or a really ignorant one. Or maybe, because this is Disney Comics, it's both.

[By the way, if you don't know who I'm talking about with this "Marvelman" stuff, but would like to, check out the Marvelman Primer I posted last year. It's got a lot of background material in it that's intended for those who don't read comics as much as I do!]

Monday, March 22, 2010

AgileMan Returns As... MathMan?!?

This Thursday, I'll be making a return to my old AgileMan workplace. Not to do consulting work, though... but rather, for a book-signing event! The manager of HR there has been kind enough to set up a "fun and unique opportunity" during which I'll be selling and signing copies of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) to those who pre-ordered the book as well as anyone else who'd like to read all about how parents can help their kids with Math.

It should be an exciting visit, and I can hardly wait to see a lot of familiar faces again!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

U.S. Moves Out Of The Early 20th Century

With tonight's historic House of Representatives 219-212 vote for the Health Care Reform bill that's been brewing for about a year now (but don't tell Republicans that, as they're characterizing its passage as an example of something being "rammed through Congress"), America seems well on its way to taking one giant leap closer to the rest of the industrialized world (and parts of the developing world) by offering almost-universal health care to its citizens. The fact that so many denizens of that country could still believe that universal health care will inevitably lead to ruin, when there are literally dozens of examples showing just the opposite and no examples of what they're afraid of, speaks volumes about how backwards some segments of the population have become. Growing up in the 60s, I could never have fathomed that America would fall so far behind the rest of the world, and yet here they are... the last developed country to provide affordable health care to its people! Wow.

At any rate, it's terrific to see such an amazing turnaround from just two short months ago. That's a huge testament to President Obama's involvement, as well as some incredible work by people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. I predict that this will become an assumed "American right" within a few years, and those who opposed it will find ways to make it sound as if they supported it all along. Canada without universal health care, for example, is just about impossible for most of us to imagine. Thank goodness Tommy Douglas had the strength of his convictions when we needed it most!

Weed Whacking The Copyright Thicket

Once again thanks to Twitter, I was directed to this article in which Lawrence Lessig writes at length about the thorny issue of copyright law. Digital copying has made a re-thinking of this topic an absolute necessity, and Mr Lessig does a nice job on that front.

Stay In Your Car And Keep Your Mouth Shut

That's the best advice I can think of, after reading this harrowing account of a Canadian writer being convicted in a U.S. court last week after he got out of his car at a border crossing to ask what was going on. He was first physically assaulted by a border guard, then arrested, and now convicted of a crime that may see him serve up to two years in prison. That place to the south of us just keeps on getting crazier.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Power Of Misinformation

On Twitter just moments ago, a tweet from a friend included a link to this Snopes article, debunking a particular urban myth about refugees receiving more government assistance than retirees. It's the sort of thing that everyone should read at least a few examples of, as it really conveys the way people will use absolute rubbish to push their own agenda.

In this case, it may have originally started as an honest mistake - a one-time payment being interpreted as a monthly sum - but it's awfully hard to believe that the subsequent clarification in the same outlet wasn't read by the person who started the big ball of bullshit rolling. Not surprisingly, given the ideology-driven motivation involved, the discovery that the "facts" behind the outrage were complete nonsense did nothing to stem the tide of indignation that flowed out from the initial misinterpretation. Never let the truth get in the way of your argument!

A Christian Nation? Really?!

One of the most befuddling aspects of the Health Care Reform battle being waged in the U.S. right now is that many of the loudest opponents of the reform bill also claim to be among the most religious. While it's easy to dismiss the looniest of the bunch - Glenn Beck's call for people to abandon any churches that preach "social justice" makes the Howard Beale character in the film Network seem positively rational by comparison - there are obviously some earnest and well-intentioned folks on that side of the argument. Which makes no sense to me at all. What kind of a Christian wants people to die because they can't afford skyrocketing health care premiums once they become sick? What follower of Christ would ever possibly favour the interests of big business - the health insurance industry, in this case - over the welfare of individual citizens?

I can't think of another hypocrisy of this scale within the heart of the religious-minded American since he or she was working feverishly to keep fellow men and women (or "Negroes", as they were called at the time) in chains on the plantations. And sure enough, there was someone in Virginia today, warning that there will be "Civil War" if Health Care Reform is passed tomorrow. How does it feel, I wonder, to be that screwed up inside? To spend every hour of every day having to hold two such contradictory principles in one's head: "Love thy neighbour, and do unto him as you would have him do unto you" right there alongside "Screw over the other guy!"? I guess it's no wonder they all go crazy after a while. And only an American could possibly believe that something every other developed country has already institutionalized - universal health care - could possibly be wrong for them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm All About The Prepositions

While I was updating the layout of this page tonight, I happened to notice that there is only one word that shows up in the main title of each of my 4 published books: of!

I'm not sure what to make of that, but it seems significant in an insignificant sort of way.

['Of' also appears 6 times on this page prior to this little note, too!]

First Book Sale!

I'm happy to report that none other than the Boneman himself made the first official purchase of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) last night. I say that's the first "official" sale because Vicki moved a copy on Tuesday night, at cycling class, but we won't see the $20 for it right away because the buyer didn't have any cash on her. And I say "first" because I hope there will be many more!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Wife Has Some Bazaar Ideas!

While I was enjoying an afternoon nap today, Vicki was reading flyers and thinking about selling copies of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). She hit upon the idea of renting a table at school bazaars and trying to move some books that way. Considering that the attendees are generally parents and more specifically involved parents, that actually seems kind of brilliant to me. I hadn't considered it before, but now we're talking about logistics and what kind of promotion we could do.

And all of this came to her while I was sleeping!

Does It Even Matter Who's To Blame?

In his first 14 months in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a lot of signals that he's serious about education reform. He's said repeatedly that things have to change in America where graduation rates are concerned, and he's riled up teacher's unions by talking about firing teachers who aren't performing. Getting a lot of coverage right now is the situation in Central Falls, Rhode Island where a majority of the high school's teaching staff and administration are being let go before school starts back up in September of this year. That's probably an overly dramatic scenario, but if nothing else, it's gotten people talking about the problem! (Talk about a wake-up call!)

As an editorial in one of our local papers pointed out recently, we need to be careful about laying all of the blame for how students are doing at the feet of teachers. It's an easy and comfortable position for parents and children to take, and it's one I often hear in my travels as a Math tutor. I get to listen to very earnest complaints along the lines of:
  • the teacher doesn't communicate enough about how the student is doing
  • the teacher marks too hard
  • the teacher "has it in for" my child
  • the material doesn't seem interesting or relevant enough
  • the student isn't getting enough of the right kind of attention from the teacher
  • the teacher can't explain things in a way that my child can understand
  • the teacher plays favourites and my kid's not one of them!
One of the ways in which I respond to statements like those is to say, "Well, at least little Suzy/Billy will probably get a different teacher next year..." Implicit in that outlook, of course, is the idea that if problems persist, year after year, perhaps some of the fault lies with the student. Not that you'd ever want to come right out and say that to some parents, however.

I don't have any data to say that teachers are any worse, or any better, than they were when I was a kid. I remember having a few really great teachers, a handful that were truly lousy, and a whole lot of them that were somewhere in between those two extremes. I imagine it's probably the same way today. It's a dream come true when you end up in the classroom of someone special - I write briefly about this in the Introduction to No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) - but that's not the normal experience across a child's academic career. Instead, most teachers are just regular folks doing the best they can to get through the current curriculum with a wildly-diverse group of 20 to 30 children. If anything, cultural changes in parenting styles - away from discipline and toward more of a "best friend" approach - may have exacerbated the situation by inadvertently making things harder on teachers. Parents seem much more inclined today to blame teachers than to question their own child's motivation, work ethic or commitment, for example. The days of facing a "tanning" because a bad report came home from school are thankfully behind us (I hope), but it's possible that the pendulum's swung a little too far the other way in the process.

Wherever the blame actually lies, students falling behind in developing their various scholastic skills is always going to be a problem that has to be shared by each of the three groups involved:
  • teachers
  • parents
  • the students themselves
In fact, my book doesn't really concern itself with figuring out who's to blame. Instead, it focuses on how to solve the problem, specific to a child's Math skills. It provides a lot of strategies parents can use to shore up what a student is learning in Math class and make sure that it's both understood and remembered. I write about the importance of making Math a part of each child's life, in the same way that reading and writing should be. It's my firm belief that parents can make a huge difference in how their kids do in Math - perhaps as much of a difference as an outstanding teacher can - and in No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) I do my level best to lay out how to accomplish that.

E-Mail Problems Redux

Last week it was a 2-day outage after Windows Mail switched all 4 of my e-mail account IDs to be the same ID; today it's a more widespread Sympatico issue affecting their e-mail servers that has me living within a communication dead zone at the moment. If you've e-mailed me about anything in the past 16 hours or so, I'm not really ignoring you... I just haven't received your note yet!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Math Books? We Got 'Em!

The big initial print run of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) arrived today, in 5 boxes no less! I'll shortly be figuring out the best way to get copies into the hands of everyone who pre-ordered one, as well as deciding upon some plan of attack for seeing if I can get copies into local bookstores. Click on the preceding link if you'd like to see what the book's cover looks like and read the first few pages. I don't think there are any spoilers in that part, either! :-)

It's very exciting to finally reach this stage of the process and be able to share the results of my labours for the last half-year or so!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Way The System Should Work

A friend pointed me to this article about an impending change in Israel that would allow those who've signed up to donate organs to get preferential treatment when it comes to receiving them. Besides laughing out loud at the Orthodox rabbis who oppose the law because they believe donating organs is "bad" (whereas receiving them is apparently okey-dokey... talk about a double standard!), I thought it sounded like a really good idea (and one I've espoused before). It seems funny to me that we often say "life's not fair" when it was never promised to be in the first place, but then we sometimes rail against systems that are inarguable examples of fairness.

Stuff Like This May Bring Down The Empire

When you hear about Texan fundamentalists dictating the contents of textbooks for all of America, you can't help but believe that we may be witnessing the beginning of the end for that country's dominance in areas like science, technology and engineering. After all, if an entire generation grows up with analytical reasoning supplanted by blind faith, it's not hard to imagine the U.S. going the way of those middle eastern countries that are still stuck in the Middle Ages. When it's just old white folks sticking their heads in the sand, that's one thing (they'll eventually die off). But when they get a chance to pass their ignorance onto not just their own children but kids from all backgrounds, that's one scary proposition.

Hopefully something will get done about this before the damage becomes irreparable.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Probability Problem

I'm almost halfway through Richard Dawkins' wonderful book, The God Delusion, and am loving every page of it. Obviously the author's (atheistic) point-of-view isn't going to be to everyone's tastes, and that's fine. But he certainly makes many compelling arguments in his quest to bring rational thought to a topic that so often falls back on the "and then a miracle occurs" brand of reasoning that's anathema to most lovers of science.

However, the editor in me couldn't help but notice a place where Dawkins could have added an example to more clearly make his point. In Chapter 4, "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God", he tackles (among other things) the "so-called anthropic principle." This, as he describes it, revolves around the improbability of Earth containing exactly the right elements and environmental conditions to support life. It has to orbit within the "not too hot, not too cold" Goldilocks zone of the sun, have the right amount of hydrogen in its atmosphere, have abundant amounts of water, and so on. Each of those prerequisites has long odds against it to begin with, in terms of likelihood to occur randomly, and when you multiply them together, our situation here seems so improbable that many people point to an interventionist God as the only "viable" solution. (As Dawkins mentions repeatedly throughout the book, though, falling back on "God" to "solve" every mystery simply deepens the mystery, since something else had to create that being or cause it to come into existence, resulting in a "vicious regress".)

At any rate, Dawkins addresses this puzzle by arguing that "We exist here on Earth. Therefore Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of generating and supporting us, however unusual, even unique, that kind of planet might be." He then goes on to show that, with at least a billion billion (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000) planets in the universe to choose from, even a one-in-one-billion chance of those kinds of conditions forming means that there are likely a billion other planets equally as capable of supporting life as Earth has proven to be. It's a good approach that I'm sure will resonate with some people.

What was missing, I thought, was an explanation of how probability works when you take perspective into consideration. Had I been providing Dawkins with feedback on a draft of this book, I would have suggested he include the following example (or something like it):

"Suppose that a wealthy billionaire dies, and his will dictates that one billion dollars from his estate be granted to one person on Earth, chosen randomly from its population. He instructs his executor to accept applications through each nation's government, and one billion names get submitted. Then one person from the list is picked through the use of randomizing software, and that individual is given a billion dollars. Each of the applicants realized that he or she had almost-vanishingly low odds at being selected. In other words, if you were one of those people, the chance of you being picked was so low as to appear to be zero unless you looked well past the decimal point. However, one person was chosen, and she wins the biggest lottery of all time. To that woman, it seems like a miracle that she was granted this incredible windfall. The odds against it happening, from her point-of-view, were so ridiculously high that it would seem almost impossible.

Life on Earth is like that scenario: it's a very unlikely event, but not an impossible one. It happens very rarely compared to the number of times it doesn't happen. Earth just happened to be one of the "winners", and that's the only reason we're here, now, wondering about the origin of life on this planet. If it hadn't happened to Earth, we wouldn't be here, just like there's no one on countless other - dead - planets to ask the question there."

I find that people often don't really get that aspect of low probability scenarios. When I'm thinking about that sort of situation, I often fall back on the lottery idea to gain the right perspective.

Burning Out On Modern Warfare 2, Take 2

After getting a second wind on the game a couple weeks ago, I'm now starting to tire of it again. I managed to level all the way up to 70, but so far have declined the offer to go into "Prestige Mode" where you start all over again back at level 1. I spent several hours today trying out the level 70 gun - an AK47 - and now have gotten enough kills with to equip it with a heartbeat sensor (my 3rd such gun I've brought to that point, along with the SCAR-H and Famas). But there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of point to continuing, especially since we haven't had any new maps yet to break up the monotony. I think it might be time to rejoin my Aliens Vs Predator campaign, already in progress.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Busy" Is A Four Letter Word

A friend on Twitter shared a link to a blog post entitled "The cult of busy". In it, blogger Scott Berkun talks about growing up somewhat in awe of busy people, and how he drew the natural inference that busy-ness implies importance. Since entering the work force himself, however, he's dramatically revised that assessment, and his post provides many reasons why.

What I couldn't help thinking about as I read over his commentary was the environment at the company where I was the Agile Manager from 2006 to 2008. As I touched on in various parts of the two Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan books, there were several different ways in which this "cult of busy" manifested itself there. Managers routinely allowed themselves to be booked into meetings all day long (often double- or even triple-booked, at times); developers were allocated to project plans at anywhere from 150 to 300% of their actual capacity, in order to produce fictional end dates that executives somewhere would find palatable in the short term; personnel would be moved frantically from one project, team or activity to another in the hope that such desperate measures would somehow speed things up (those who'd read The Mythical Man-Month apparently didn't comprehend its meaning). At the core of all those foolish endeavours, I think, was a cultural phenomenon that coloured every decision of that sort: the deeply-rooted belief that it was better to try, and fail, than not to try at all. While I think that's a noble philosophy, it's one that should only be embraced if:
  • there's some reasonable chance of success;
  • there's a widespread understanding that 'trying' is what counts, not succeeding; and
  • there's no other alternative.
I think our company failed (and possibly continues to fail) on all three of those fronts. We had proved, over and over again, in small examples as well as large, that overloaded people produced very poor results. It didn't matter if it was the ineffective manager who didn't have time to actually groom his or her employees, the project manager who was running in sixteen directions at once and getting nowhere, or the developer whose attention was being time-sliced to bits... they all had the same problem, and their work suffered accordingly. Then, the recriminations would begin. "But you committed to getting this done!" would immediately come out of some mouth, in a disappointed whine like a child might give a parent, despite the fact that the work had originally been agreed to on a provisional, "best effort" basis. The other option, of course, would have been to commit to less - whatever seemed actually possible - and then bear down to deliver the very best example of that, in the time available. For management, this would have meant learning how to say "No" to their bosses, for example. For the employees, this would have required some backbone, as well, but also a heightened sense of professionalism: "I say what I can do, and then I do what I say."

Now that my life is considerably less busy, I'm amazed at how well things go. My Math book turned out even better than I'd imagined, and yet I got it done in less time than I'd expected. I've had great success with most of my Math students by taking a long view with them, rather than reacting to every little setback as if it were a crisis. There's much more on this topic to be found in that aforementioned Math book, by the way.

These days, I have lots more time in my day to do whatever I think needs to be done... and yet I find I have less time than ever for "busy" people. Those who can't stop and have a coherent conversation without whipping out their Blackberry or being distracted by a phone call just aren't worth the effort anymore, if you ask me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Year's Birthday Haul

I'm a little tardy posting this, but better late than never!

This year, Vicki gave me two old Thor comics (#s 151 & 209) to go with the All Star Comics # 49 from our wedding anniversary, as well as the latest John Irving novel, Last Night in Twisted River. I also received a few candy treats, of which we now have a significant haul squirreled away! As usual, I made out very well indeed! Who says birthdays can't still be fun as you trudge ever closer to the big 5-0?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Birthday Treat For Me

Apparently, sometime on Monday of this week, Windows Mail decided to change the account information for all 4 of my e-mail accounts to be the same. Since then, every time I've refreshed my in-basket, I've actually been going out - 4 times - to the main account and checking it for mail, with no access to the other 3. Not all that helpful, really.

I thought it was strange that I got so little traffic today, considering it was my birthday. Little did I know that I'd actually received about a dozen e-mails, but almost none of them were to the main e-mail ID. It was only after complaining to the comic store guy about not sending out his "New comics are here!" e-mail today that I discovered there might be a problem on my end.

With the help of Boneman - sending me test e-mails - I was able to eventually track down the bottleneck and fix it. I'm not sure why the application felt it necessary to make that annoying "normalization", but I hope it doesn't do it again anytime soon!

For Those Who Care About Such Things...

... I'm now 47 years of age.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Dryer Update

Thanks to those who left comments on the earlier post about our dryer taking way too long to dry clothes, we did several things to address the situation:
  • First we detached the big pipe at the back and cleaned it out as best we could.
  • Then we followed the Man from Mars' advice and washed the removable lint filter.
  • Finally, Vicki discovered a big clump of lint in the outside end of the big pipe, and cleaned it out.
Whether it was just one or all of the above solutions, the end result is: our dryer now takes 70 minutes (not 3+ hours) to dry a big load of towels, socks and underwear! Yay, we're back to being somewhat energy-efficient, and just in time for Spring when we'll resume our laundry hanging-out practice for the next six or seven months.

Thanks again for all of the great suggestions! You guys are the best, when you put your minds to it!

What 19 Years Of Marriage Is Worth

I'm kidding, of course, as my marriage is worth a lot more to me than a comic book, even one as nice as the All Star Comics # 49 (from the late 1940s) that Vicki gave me for our 19th wedding anniversary yesterday. But it was still pretty special to receive such a outstanding token of her affection, all these many years after we tied the knot as (relative) youngsters.

I haven't read it yet, but I'm dying to know how the Golden Age versions of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash think that chiseling a warning into the side of a hill is somehow going to avert "the Invasion of the Fire People!" I don't know for sure, but I suspect there may be time travel involved! (And how exactly did they split the work up between Flash and Wonder Woman, as she's still working on the middle of the message when the whole thing's looking pretty finished?)

Vicki received a couple of books from me, as well as a gift certificate to a favourite gardening centre of hers. Something tells me the timing worked out perfectly for that, as it's absolutely Spring-like outside right now. I don't think she'll have any trouble using that money in the next several weeks!

The Fun You Can Have With Video Games Even Before You Play Them

OK, I realize not everyone has seen Alien eight or nine times, like I have. Some of you probably wouldn't even include it on your Top 20 Movies of All Time list, crazy as that sounds to me. But if you have any love at all for that Ridley Scott classic film, you should really spend 7 minutes enjoying this video of one fan unboxing his Collector's Edition Aliens Vs Predator game. It's worth it for the music alone! I laughed out loud several times while watching it.

Funny Stuff You May Not Know About

Over the weekend, inexplicably listed hundreds of comic book-related items for ridiculously low prices. It was mostly Disney Comics (nee Marvel Comics) material, with items that normally go for anywhere from $30 to $100 appearing with prices of $8.49 to $14.99.

In the Old World, this might have happened, been noticed by the odd person, and then eventually corrected days or weeks later, once someone at Amazon realized that they were losing money on these items. However, in the shiny New World of 2010, Rich Johnston picked up on this glitch, reported it on his Bleeding Cool rumour site as well as tweeting it, and all Hell broke loose. Comic fans by the hundreds or even thousands placed orders, and Amazon was flooded with money-losing sales. This caused them to cancel most of the orders and send apologetic e-mails out, explaining that a mistake had occurred and those items were no longer available (when in fact, they were still being listed, but now at the correct prices). Johnston has even heard, apparently from an Amazon insider, that his site showed up as a bullet point at a high-level meeting held to discuss the matter.

If nothing else, this shows just how different things are now than what most of us are used to. "Viral" is a pretty important adjective to get your head around right now, and it's probably going to get even moreso as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Tony Stark Displays Textbook Narcissism? Agreed."

JMS Doubles Down!

Big, big news in the world of comic books this morning: J Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 and longtime comics scribe, will be taking over the monthly writing chores for both Superman and Wonder Woman, starting this summer! I'm a huge fan of JMS' work, and will generally buy any comic series he pens, just on spec. To have him working on two of the three main titles of the DC Universe (the other one, of course, being Batman) is incredibly exciting. I can hardly wait to see what he has up his sleeve for the Man of Steel and Princess Diana!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Earth Needs More Women (In Technical Fields)!

It's been an Oscar tradition for years (decades, probably) to send a beautiful Hollywood actress to host the Scientific and Technical Awards portion ahead of the main event. I always get a kick out of seeing who draws that duty each year - this time it was the lovely Elizabeth Banks, recently seen opposite Oscar co-host Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock - but what really struck me was the shot they showed from the banquet. There's Ms Banks with dozens of award winners arrayed around her... and not a single one of them was female! I think in past years it may have been much the same, which is why a "babe" is usually chosen to do the honours there. If it had been an aberrant occurrence, then it wouldn't be such a big deal. But I saw that image of zero women within a group representing scientific excellence in the motion picture arts, and despaired.

What can we do to get girls interested in Science, Math and Engineering (because it's obviously not happening)? Half of our population is non-male, which means we're under-utilizing our brain potential as a society if significantly less than 50% of the species is pursuing those disciplines, as seems to be the case. We need to correct that. We need to encourage girls to be "technical" instead of assuming that it's a male field. As a Math tutor, I've come to believe that just about anyone can be strong in Math through to the high school level at least, given the right environment, inspiration and encouragement. But as soon as a youngster starts to struggle with this Math concept or that one, some parents immediately say, "Well, I guess he/she's just no good at Math" and consign their child to a future that doesn't include any of the technical fields mentioned above. It seems to happen more with girls than boys because of long-held prejudices that stopped making sense (if they ever did) once women entered the work force big-time in the 60s and 70s. Those outdated views are likely still contributing to the lop-sided gender balance in those occupations, but they need to go the way of the Dodo bird. Whatever the cause, it's really in our best interests to change that situation for the better.

I get into this topic in more detail in No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), although I don't specifically call it out as a gender-based problem. Too many boys are also falling behind in Math these days for it to be a "girls only" issue, after all. But as parents, we should be particularly watchful that we don't pigeon-hole our daughters outside of those fields that always need more insightful, intelligent contributors. It's a disservice to them, and to our species.

Signs Of Spring

I walked a student home from a tutoring session over the weekend, and she had a sleeveless vest on, instead of a winter coat.

Kids were out on the street playing road hockey this afternoon, dressed in T-shirts, jeans and running shoes.

The Man from Mars just tweeted that he's prepping his bike for a ride into work tomorrow for the first time in 3 months.

There's no two ways about it: Spring is just around the corner, and I, for one, can hardly wait. And maybe I'll even have copies of a certain Math book to sell by then!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Not Wishing The Year Away, But...

... now I definitely have something big to look forward to toward the end of the year: Portal 2! As I mentioned recently, the first game (Half-Life 2: Portal) was an amazing piece of head-scratching wonder. Vicki and I loved playing it, right up to and through the closing credits! Therefore today's announcement of its sequel arriving during the Christmas period 2010 is welcome news within these walls, indeed! It'll be tough to top the original, but then again we all thought that about Half-Life and its various expansion packs, and then were blown away by Half-Life 2. So who knows.

Learning About Fair Use

In my forthcoming Math book, No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), I employ quotations from various other sources to help make a few of my key points. In each case, the excerpt used is short - part of a paragraph, typically - and credited clearly to the author, book, page number and edition from which I took it. Recently, however, I got to wondering if what I'd done was actually kosher, within the realm of copyright law.

From the reading I've done so far, it sounds like I'm probably within the lines laid out by the "fair use" portion of copyright law. In particular, besides the brevity aspect (keeping the quotations short rather than copying pages of material), my usage of each hopefully qualifies as "quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations". After all, this is a book intended to show parents how they can help their kids with Math, and wherever I've included an external quotation, the excerpt was selected for its potential ability to drive home a specific point of mine. I'm also inclined to believe that each of the individuals whose work I've quoted would be supportive of the goals of my book - that of raising the general Math aptitude of the next generation - although I'm not sure that would necessarily mean much if any of the copyrighted material were controlled by publishing entities.

Anyway, as of right now I think I'm OK with what I've done. You'll get to judge for yourself in about three weeks, if you're interested.

[Update: In Canada, apparently it's "fair dealing" rather than "fair use", and there are six criteria rather than the American four. However, the general outline of the effect upon copyright law looks very similar.]

How Long Should It Really Take?

We use our clothes dryer much less than most families, I assume. For one thing, we never put our shirts or pants in the dryer, but instead hang them up to dry in one of the bathrooms. We've been doing that for pretty much the entire time Vicki and I have been together, which is now 20+ years (almost 19 years of which we've been married). For the laundry load that includes towels, socks and underwear, during the non-winter months (April through November, say) we hang those items up outside, on the spinner rack that's inconspicuously located in a corner of our backyard. That means that, for most of the year, we don't use the dryer at all. In the cold months, we use it for about every third load that comes out of the washing machine.

Because of that, I go months without using the dryer, every year. Therefore I'm not as "attuned" to its workings as I am the washing machine, which gets used 3 or 4 times per week, all year round. This winter it seems like the dryer is taking longer than usual to dry its load. I don't think the quantity of each batch is any bigger, and yet it seems to take at least 3 hours where previously I would've said it was 1.5 to 2 hours. Is this an indication that the machine is performing sub-optimally now, or am I just mis-remembering the duration because I use the machine so rarely? Any laundry experts out there who can offer up some insight?

[Update # 1: Based on the comments left so far, Vicki and I detached the thick metal hose from the back, looking for a big clump of lint in it. While we couldn't access the entire length of it, for the parts that we could get at, there were lots of bits of lint, but no big, obvious wedge. We cleaned out what we could find, and put it back together. I'm about to try a load of bedsheets in it, to see if the results are any different now. One thing struck me as curious, though: the air coming out of the hose, when we turned the dryer on - empty - for a few minutes, starting off warm but then quickly went to cool. I would've expected it to be hot or warm the entire time. So perhaps the problem is that the dryer's heat source isn't working very well, and that's why drying is taking so long? (Oh, and as Tammy notes: I'm the type who cleans the topside, easy-to-access lint trap out between every load, so that's not a worry.]

AgileMan Heads Back To School... Again!

Later this month, I'll be once again performing my AgileMan dog-and-pony show for the second year Computer Science class at the local university. I've done this four or five times already, stretching back to the end of my tenure as Agile Manager at The Incredible Shrinking Company (which is now a little more than half the size of what it was when I resigned).

For this year's show, though, I'm planning a new addition to the material: news that there are Agile folks working among them!!! The software development group within the business school there, you see, has recently begun adopting various Agile practices under the leadership of my old boss (their CTO), and so this time around I can add a little local relevancy to the topic. I think it'll make a difference to the students, but then again they might be too busy texting to even notice!

It should make a nice diversion from all the Math book-related stuff going on right now.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Math Book Cometh

Thanks to some speedy service by Lulu, the print draft copy of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) arrived on our doorstep this morning, while Vicki and I were out at yoga. I've taken a few quick flips through it to see how the font size worked out for that format of a book, and it looked great. We'll be giving it a more thorough going-over in the course of the next few days, and I expect to be placing the big order sometime next week. If all goes well, I should have many copies in hand by the end of the month and they'll all be looking for good homes... so if you know of any, please let me know!

It's a very special feeling to have a book with my name on it that I could imagine most people actually being interested in!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Star Studded Comedy

Nice to see so many familiar faces in the service of an important issue. Will Ferrell threatens to steal the show as GWB, of course, but all of them have some pretty good lines.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Great Games Generate Great Gospel

If you've never played Half-Life 2: Portal, then you probably have no idea just how impressive and addictive a game it is. But, if you read this article about what happened following an update to the PC version, you may in fact get an idea... at least of the sort of feverish fans it's fostered (not sure why I'm all about the alliteration today, but there it is).

National Roger Ebert Day

Roger's been in the news a lot lately, for various reasons. Today, it's because he's making his post-surgery TV debut (I think) on Oprah. A big Esquire article recently thrust him front and centre in the public eye, not the least of which because of the big, uncompromising photo that showed his shrunken jaw in a way that couldn't help but force a double-take by the reader. He no longer has the use of his voice, as a result of one of the surgeries, and so he's relied upon writing - mostly - to be heard lately. He's an unbelievably prolific Twitter user, as I've discovered in the week since clicking on his Follow button. On Oprah, however, he'll be showing off his brand new voice machine, which may very well be Stephen Hawking-like, for all I know right now.

In the grand game of "Seven Degrees of Separation", I'm only twice-removed from Roger. My daughter Tammy had the pleasure of meeting him during the Toronto International Film Festival a few years back, and I've no doubt that was a memorable moment for her (maybe for him, too, as she is a lovely girl!).

Today I read this article by Will Leitch (probably no relation to Brian), which is a wonderful true story about Roger and the impact he's had through his reviews and writing in general.

I think today should just be named National Roger Ebert Day and be done with it. He deserves at least that much.