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Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Forget: Saturday Is Free Comic Book Day


It's only hours away as I write this! And look: even director/comic geek Kevin Smith is pimping it! Don't miss out on your free stuff... it'll be a whole year before you get another chance like this.

Start Counting The Days

Well, we finally got an official release date for the next Batman film this week: July 20, 2012 (that's before the world ends, according to Mayan legend, right?).

I loved Batman Begins when I saw it for the first time, but wondered afterward if perhaps my adulation was as much an expression of relief after the travesty of Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman and Robin as it was a reflection of Chris Nolan's mastery of the subject matter. Then I watched it a second time, and eventually a third time, and realized it really is a wonderful film.

Then I saw The Dark Knight and wondered how any superhero movie could ever top it! It was as perfect a creation as I'd ever seen in the genre, and still has no competition in that regard. If they'd expanded the Best Picture category of the Oscars one year earlier, it would surely have been one of the ten.

Because of that, I'm all a-quiver at the thought of another Nolan Bat-flick. Maybe it won't live up to it, but on the other hand I would never have believed The Dark Knight could ever improve on its predecessor to the extent that it did... and yet it did! So who knows?

Everything Happens For A Reason

I was one of those solitary folk who actually enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan's 3rd film, a little Sci-Fi feature called Signs. It certainly wasn't as exquisite as The Sixth Sense or as intriguing as Unbreakable, but Signs had a lot of good moments in it. I liked the suspense it built up about the alien invasion, and I admired its dedication to one of its central themes: everything happens for a reason. (I'm not exactly sure what the reasons were for The Village, Lady in the Lake or The Happening, but that's another matter altogether.)

Tonight a funny thought occurred to me while talking to one of my job-seeking friends (I have dozens of them at the moment) which brought Signs to mind. The context of the conversation was the proverbial job interview in which a prospective employer asked the applicant about his or her experiences with Agile at their previous company. Now, not everyone from that dying company would want to speak highly of their Agile journey nor be interested in ever working in that sort of environment again; but some surely would. For members of that second group, it may prove daunting to recall the specifics of how our Agile adoption unfolded, thanks to both the passage of time and the fact the organization moved in another direction around the time I retired. How, oh how, to refresh one's memory of those heady days?

And then it came to me: I wrote a couple books about it! Anyone with copies of those books (or the single volume compilation of them) could spend a little time reading, re-reading or even just skimming my AgileMan books and come away with at least a fairly detailed representation of how I viewed the shenanigans! In point of fact, though, it's more likely that each individual reader would instead be reminded of his or her own experiences during that time, which is even better!

It's almost like I knew, way back then, that someday my friends and colleagues might have need of some form of record of what transpired while their heads were down, learning a new methodology! Everything really does happen for a reason!

And you're welcome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Change Is Hard (But It Still Happens)

Back when I was the Agile Manager for my previous employer, I was - by necessity, as well as by choice - a very vocal advocate for change. There was the macroscopic version of change represented by us moving from a Waterfall development process to a more iterative Agile approach, of course. And then there were all of the myriad "little deaths of the status quo" required by Agile as existing processes are fine-tuned, product backlogs are constantly adjusted, long held development and testing paradigms are turned on their head by dint of actual metrics being gathered, and on and on down the list. Agile, in other words, is all about change.

People embraced or resisted all of that to varying degrees, depending on their personalities, specific team situations and countless other parameters (including my own limited competence at "selling" these ideas). Those who welcomed the changes were often said to have "drunk the Kool-Aid" (evoking nasty imagery of the Jonestown massacre) while resisters were sometimes made to feel like Luddites for their views. Why was there so much sturm und drang over this? Because change is hard. At least, it is for most of us mere mortals. Some people love flux, and much prefer it to just about any status quo. But it's more often the case that change causes stress, or anxiety, or discomfort. "Better the devil we know..." as it were.

Many of those same folks who I personally bedeviled in our Agile transition are now facing an even larger change in their work life. The company that we all worked for is ending its existence in about 8 weeks' time, and so each and every one of them has been forced to look for other employment (assuming they can't simply "retire", as I did when I left that office). The job search itself will impact different people in different ways, but most will probably find it at least somewhat stressful. If you've been in the same job for even a few years, it's quite jarring to return to the supplicant's role ("Please consider me for this position...") and have to prove yourself all over again. You're suddenly back at Square One where your reputation is concerned, and that's downright demeaning at times. It's also the case that most job applicants suffer some rejections before they ever find that new employer, and how can that not be tough on the ego?

Once the new job is found, then you're dealing with... you guessed it, change once again! "But I never had to get my manager's approval before doing that at my last job!" or "What do you mean I have to be in by 8:30 every morning?" are the sorts of reactions you might find yourself having to a drastically different corporate culture than you were previously used to. Of course, it could just as easily be, "Wow! This is way better than what we had at the old place!" but those rarely make the same impression as the negative ones do. No matter what the new job ends up being like, the only thing you can count on is that it won't be the same as the old one. And that can be very frustrating.

As Agile Manager, I tried to convince people that change was inescapable, so rather than fight it, why not make the best of it? Why not use our Retrospectives to give voice to those things you've always wanted to fix? How about you give this new thing a try instead of just bitching about it, measure how it's going after awhile, and then adjust it as need be? Some bought into that; others didn't. But change rolled over them all, just the same.

For the 125 people in that office living on borrowed time right now, I'd provide the identical advice: make the most of it! Pursue a different career path if that's what you've been wanting to do for awhile (but lacked the inertia to try it); find an industry that personally interests you; scratch that entrepreneurial itch that you've always wanted to, if you can still manage to pay the bills and support your dependents appropriately. With the right outlook, this whole "upheaval" could easily end up being something that you look back on in the future as one of the best things that ever happened to you.

And that's no death-inducing Kool-Aid, either!

Blast From The Past

Given the sad events of this week, I couldn't help but think back on this old post.

Ah well, at least that particular "problem" has now been "solved", as it were.

Was It An Historic Upset Last Night?

I hate the fact that the Montreal Canadiens overcame a 3-1 deficit in their first round series against Washington this year and advanced to the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs. Absolutely hate it! Can't stand that team, period.

But, I have to admit that there's some small sense of satisfaction in seeing the Capitals suffer the same ignominious fate (losing a best-of-seven series in which they led 3-1) that they themselves inflicted upon my Rangers just one year ago. Ha! Looks good on you, Caps!

But there's more to it than that. Washington allowed the biggest playoff comeback in history (measured by team seeds), as someone pointed out to me this morning. This is the first time a # 8 team in the conference has been down 3-1 to a first-place seed and come back to win the series. So that's pretty embarrassing, if you happen to be a Washington Capital. (It's just so very sad that it had to happen to Montreal, of all teams, though.)

Even worse, however, is the possibility that this is the biggest playoff upset in NHL history. Now, it all depends on how you measure such things, I suppose. Point differential at the end of the regular season, between the favoured team and the underdog, for example, would be one way to go. Here, that differential was 33 points (Wash = 122 pts, Mtl = 88 pts), which might or might not be big enough to take the prize. However, another way to consider "upsets" is to look at where the teams finished the season in terms of overall seeding. Washington took the President's Trophy with the # 1 spot (best team in the league!), whereas Montreal finished nearly in the bottom third of the league with their 19th place season. (8th in the East, but 19th overall.) What are the chances of a 19th seed even making the playoffs each year? Well, somewhat long but nowhere near unheard of (it all comes down to how balanced the two conferences are). But then to knock off # 1? Has it ever happened... before last night, that is?

Anyway, I'm disgusted with the performance of Ovechkin and his teammates over the past week, because it failed to eliminate my most-hated team from the postseason. But it's possible that they feel even worse than I do right now, and that would at least be a little consolation!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Few Quick Resume Thoughts

Since I'm starting to be shown resumes (several in the past 24 hours), now seems like an opportune time to provide a few general-purpose suggestions. Feel free to ignore them if you like (hey, I just work here).
  1. Proofread your resume. Then proof it again. Then ask someone whose literary skills you respect to give it a go. Then find another person to do the same after you've incorporated what was pointed out by the first person. Typos, grammatical mistakes, non-sentences and inconsistencies look unprofessional, even when you're applying for a "technical" position. Trust me.
  2. Wherever possible and appropriate, provide actual numbers. Don't write "Reduced delays" when you can write "Reduced delays by 75%" (assuming you can back up the claim in an interview). Don't just claim that "Automated tests were created" when you can truthfully state that "Automated test coverage increased from 0% to 88.5%".
  3. Don't fling acronyms around without first defining them, unless you're 100% sure they're well known. Figure out the difference between industry standard shortforms (e.g. TCP/IP) and ones that only mean something to the people you once worked with (e.g. PTR, CMAC).
I'm sure I'll think of others, but I just wanted to get those ones out there. Might save myself some work later on, if you know what I mean.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Job Search/Salary Rule Of Thumb

I heard this one recently, and with today's news and the fact that many of the affected employees follow this blog, now seems like an obvious time to mention it:

Expect one month of job searching for every $10K in salary you're pursuing.

Now, that's only a rule of thumb! But it's probably a good estimate for people to keep in mind, even if it's more of a worst case scenario in some instances. Anyone looking to replace a $80k/yr salary, for example, should brace himself or herself for eight months of sending in applications, going to interviews and generally networking like crazy.

Of course, you might get lucky and find work right away. Bonus!! To be safe, though: hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

[Update later that same day: I should mention that, when I was looking for a new career while still employed by the bank, it took me at least six months to find one. And I was making about $70K at the time, so the rule of thumb was fairly accurate in my case.]

"I'm Out Of Order? No, Sir... You're Out Of Order!"

I got a notice in the mail today informing me that I'm to report for potential Jury Duty near the end of next month. I've got no good reason for not taking part in this aspect of our civic responsibility, but of course it may end up wreaking havoc on my afternoon tutoring schedule just as the end of the school year looms. I guess that's what weekends are for...

Art, Or The Art Of Pretension?

Movie critic Roger Ebert recently enraged some among the gaming community by expressing his opinion that video games can never be art. While I generally like Roger's writing, I have to admit that I didn't find this particular opinion of his to be very well-founded or articulated. However, I couldn't help but reflect on what he'd written after diving into a bit of research into next month's long-awaited Alan Wake game.

If you've never heard of Alan Wake before now, you're probably not a hardcore gamer. It's a name that I first encountered over a year ago, and as its May 18th release has gotten closer and closer, the hype for the XBox 360 title has been ratcheting steadily upward. To get you up to speed, I recommend this article, which also contains the (so far) two short videos that have been unveiled as prequels to the game. It was the viewing of those mini-episodes today that really got me thinking.

As the aforementioned article makes clear, the primary inspiration for Alan Wake comes from Twin Peaks and some of the stories of Stephen King (most especially The Shining, I would imagine). I've tried to read exactly one King story over my lifetime (The Dark Half, as I recall) and I think I got most of the way through it before deciding that the author was simply too cruel and cavalier toward his own characters for me to ever want to invest in them. Having said that, though, I've watched many a film based on his work and even loved a few of them. Somehow the two-hour commitment required by motion pictures seems more appropriate to the gut-wrenching task than what reading a book entails. But I digress.

While my King-exposure is somewhat limited, I was - once - quite the fan of Twin Peaks. The original miniseries really caught the imagination of both Vicki and I, back in the early 90s. So many mysteries! We could hardly wait for the next installment. As it transitioned into a weekly series, though, the program ran completely off the rails. The "resolutions" made no sense, and it seemed that weirdness was being introduced for its own sake, rather than in service to a coherent story. Twin Peaks became - or perhaps it always was - a pretentious piece of stylistic crap, posing as "television art." Or, to put it a little more kindly: lots of potential, but extremely poor execution and payoff. It was, in other words, what many Lost haters have tried to portray that show as. (I disagree completely with that assessment, but that's an argument for another day.)

If you've watched the two Alan Wake prequels and seen virtually any episode of Twin Peaks, then you've certainly already noticed the similarities. Whether it be the woodland setting, the slightly-off quirky characters, the diner, the hallucinations, or the supernatural element, it's a fairly loyal homage to David Lynch's TV foray. As I watched it play out, though, I felt the same twinge that I get whenever that TV show's name comes up now. Does it look interesting? Sure! Will it ever deliver on its promise? Not bloody likely! Is that going to be the legacy of Alan Wake, as well? It's hard not to worry that it will be.

I'll wait to see what the reviews are like, I guess, and decide whether to lay down $60 or $70 once I've digested them. I'd love to experience a really good, psychological thriller in the form of a video game. Some of the F.E.A.R. games have achieved that already. I also believe that, Roger Ebert notwithstanding, it's possible to play a game that represents true art through its use of storytelling, visual integrity and character immersion. But it remains to be seen if Alan Wake can pull off either of those two lofty goals.

All Good Things Must Come To An End

The remaining employees at my former workplace learned today that their office will be shut down by the end of June this year. Rumours about this possibility have swirled for years now, but it's still a bit of a jolt to see it actually announced. That office was once a pretty impressive collection of talent, rather notable for this city of moderate size. Of course, a significant growth spurt in the mid-00s had necessitated a lowering of the overall quality bar somewhat, and some of the best minds had already left (present company not counted in that group) but it was still a programming force to be reckoned with. Certainly, the current ownership had done a lot to de-motivate the people and derail the effectiveness of their gifts, but still... there was something there.

In two months' time, however, it will all just be memories. I'm obviously concerned for some of my friends there who either failed to find other work before now or else failed to even try, because it's going to be a tougher market now that so many folks are flowing into it all at once. On the other hand, though, they'll get some sort of severance which should soften that blow at least a little. Far be it from me to ever sneer at the power of "the big kiss-off", as both Vicki and I received one from the bank when we left it, and that was the start of a nice financial outlook that saw us eventually enter early semi-retirement.

Anyway, I hope the good ones land on their feet, and I don't really care what happens to the handful of jerks that did their best to undermine the hard work of the rest. One era ends, and another begins. That's life for ya!

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Saturday Is Free Comic Book Day

That's right, we're only 5 days away from Free Comic Book Day 2010 (and therefore only 11 days until the premiere of Iron Man 2). If you only go to a comic store once this year, this Saturday is the day to do so!

You can check out this year's free fare here, and I think it's safe to say there's something for just about everyone. Smaller kids can come home with Archie, G.I. Joe, Shrek and Toy Story funnybooks, to name but a few. Older readers may be more interested in Iron Man/Thor, War of the Supermen, The Tick or Irredeemable, but there's lots more than that to choose from.

If last year was any indication, you may find yourself lining up when you get to the comic store, but the queue moves fairly quickly. And while you're cooling your heels in line, don't be afraid to check out the non-free stuff on the shelves. You'll have (literally) tons of graphic novels to choose from, including some classics that are unlikely to disappoint:
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
  • Planetary (several volumes) by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
  • Y: The Last Man (ten volumes) by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
  • Sandman (approximately 10 volumes) by Neil Gaiman and various awesome artists
  • Sin City (several volumes) by Frank Miller
  • Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
  • The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
  • Starman (several volumes) by James Robinson and Tony Harris
... and many, many more!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First Round Of Playoffs Rolls Along

A week and a half into the 2010 NHL playoffs, here's what we know about the first round:
  • there were no sweeps
  • only one series finished in 5 games (Phil over NJ)
  • at least three series will end up 4-2 (Pit, San Jose and Van all winning in 6)
  • at least one series will go the distance (Det and Pho tied at 3-3)
  • three series will go either 6 or 7 games (Bos, Wash and Chi all lead 3-2 at the moment)
Not long ago, I blogged about the incredible parity demonstrated at the start of the postseason this year. While that tight start let up a bit as we went along, both in terms of series results and individual game scores, we've still seen a lot of overtime periods and empty net goals lately (both indicative of close games).

If we compare what we know about this current first round to last year's results, we see that there were three sweeps in 2009 compared to none this year, which is certainly not offset by the fact that no series finished in five games last year while one did this time around. There was a total of 44 first round games in 2009, and we can count on a minimum of 48 before we're through to Round 2 this year, with the possibility of as many as 51 games. In other words, the proceedings have unquestionably reflected more parity this year than last.

I've watched some portion of all 44 games so far this round, and very few of them have failed to provide good entertainment. If hockey fans in general aren't excited about the playoffs right now, then I'm not sure they really deserve the label "fan"... and I say that as someone whose team isn't even in the festivities, so that's hardly an excuse for Leafs, Oilers or Flames followers!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Perspective

I'm reading (among other things) David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win, in which he recounts in gory detail the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. It's the sort of book that a political insider would consider riveting, thanks to its attention to detail and potentially-critical insight into a highly successful campaign. For me, though, I'd say it's a fairly interesting read but not nearly as compelling as some other non-fiction books I've read recently.

However, I just encountered a sentence that reminded me of the kinds of situations I used to be in the middle of at work all the time. The contexts are different, but the description he provides applies equally to both. Here's the quote:

"The lead-up to missing an event was treated like a ten-alarm fire; afterward there would hardly be a puff of smoke."

In our case, the "event" was usually a deadline of some sort, ranging from the trivial (say, a request for data from some executive somewhere) to the significant (the completion of a project). Except that all were treated as the proverbial "ten-alarm fire" that Plouffe so ably references. Plans would be changed, weekends would be canceled, and fighter jets would be scrambled... only to discover, once we proved incapable of pulling it all off, that it didn't really matter all that much anyway. Arbitrary brain farts at a high level were regarded as royal decrees by middle management and resulted in huge upheavals for the lowest rungs of the ladder, all the while amounting to "hardly a puff of smoke" when they couldn't be done.

It's funny how many people in a hierarchical structure find it difficult to maintain a proper perspective when it comes to "word from above." You'd think that a democratic society like ours would've lost that knee jerk reaction by now, but I saw proof to the contrary all too often to believe any such thing.

What The Hell Were They Thinking?

Watching the end of the Blackhawks/Predators game this afternoon, I was shocked to see Nashville self-destruct in the final seconds of the third period. I'm not just referring to the tying goal they gave up with less than 15 seconds to go but more importantly to the play that led to it. (They'd eventually lose the game in overtime, giving the Hawks a 3-2 lead in the series.)

With about a minute to go in the 3rd period, trailing 4-3 and with their goalie pulled for an extra skater, Chicago took a 5-minute penalty for a crushing shove of a Pred player into the end boards. Just like that the Hawks were short-handed and had to face-off in their own end, meaning that the goalie had to go back into the net. Nashville controlled the play and started passing the puck around in the offensive zone as the seconds ticked off the clock. I thought to myself, "That's really clever... they don't need to score on this power play, they just need to keep the puck out of any Blackhawk's hands and they'll win without ever giving Chicago the chance to get their goalie out again!" And then the Predator with the puck decided to take a shot on net!

I was absolutely stunned. In addition to the sheer stupidity of that choice under the circumstances already mentioned, there's also the fact that the Preds were 0-for-21 on the power play in the series so what was the likelihood of scoring, anyway? Of course the shot was blocked and Chicago now had possession of the puck, allowing them to race down the ice (6th skater coming on to replace the departing netminder) and score the tying goal with 13.6 to go. To add insult to injury, the Hawk who took the 5-minute major was the one who scored the winner in overtime.

So why exactly did Nashville ever give up the pick? Normally, when you're on the power play, you're obviously trying to score. But in this case, they didn't need another goal; they just needed to not give one up! If they had simply continued to toss the puck back and forth (effectively playing "keep away"), taking advantage of, y'know, outnumbering the opposition on the ice, they'd be flying home tonight, up 3-2 in the series with a chance to advance with a home victory in Game 6. Instead, they're on the verge of being forced to start their golf season. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Something For The Alien Lovers

No, really! Go read it, unless you're shy about spoilers for the upcoming Ridley Scott-direct Alien prequel, that is.

Silver Age Comic Trivia Fail!

I pride myself one on my comic book knowledge in general, and my familiarity with the Silver Age of Comics in particular (having served on a Silver Age Trivia Panel in Chicago more times than I can recall). Just this past week, for example, a friend was asking me to assess one of his boxes of 1970s/80s/90s comics and I was naming many of them after seeing only the bottom 1/3 of a cover (they were in the box upside down)! I also pointed out to him that, aside from a few War comics that he had, I probably owned a copy of every comic he showed me. So my credentials on the topic are fairly respectable, shall we say.

How, then, to explain today's revelation when I read this week's edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed and discovered that the Silver Age Doom Patrol's Robotman had actually started out his existence under the name of Automaton?! I had never heard that before! In fact, an hour ago I probably would've bet someone $20 that it wasn't true. Not only did he start off under that name, but he continued to be called that for several issues! Now, I don't actually own many early Doom Patrol appearances (perhaps the only superhero team that I can say that of), and so it's not like I had read them and forgot that bit of trivia. But I'm still amazed that I'd never run across it before now. I'm so embarrassed!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Doctor Who 2010: Good First Impression

Tonight, Vicki and I watched the "Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who" special that Space (the Imagination Station) showed last Saturday, along with the first episode of the current season. Vicki got more out of the special than I did, as I knew at least a little of the show's history. Even so, it was good to see the most recent Doctors, as I'd had no exposure to them. I was somewhat gratified to see that the old reliables, Daleks and Cybermen, are still causing trouble, albeit with slightly - and I do mean slightly! - better special effects. I'd never heard of the Weeping Angels before, though, and I have to say that they sound like a pretty strange combination of creepy and silly.

Matt Smith, or "the 11th Doctor", really won me over. He's got a great handle on the character right out of the gate and delivered most of his best lines with just the right panache. His hilarious scenes near the start where he discovers just what food his new body likes and doesn't like were terrific! The humour inherent in the character now seems somewhat "Whedonesque" but of course it actually predates Joss...literally! (Doctor Who, the character, is the same age as me, and therefore one year older than Mr Whedon.)

The debut of the new season was quite engaging, even if it did borrow somewhat from The Time Traveler's Wife in the setup with Amy Pond and the Doctor. Karen Gillan, as Amy, was probably upstaged ever so slightly by the young actress playing Amelia as a little girl, but Gillan was still very good. The Doctor's always at his best when he has a strong companion, and Amy may turn out to be a classic.

We're going to give this latest incarnation a try and see if it continues to work for us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day 2010

If you'd told me as a teenager, back in the 1970s, that I'd someday write something with the title "Happy Earth Day 2010", my mind would've nearly exploded. First of all, Two Thousand and Ten was the sort of year you only encountered in science fiction and comic books back then. The words "Earth Day", as well, would have evoked a sort of futuristic vision in which perhaps humanity were celebrating the Earth on this particular day in 2010 from the far reaches of Mars, Venus and the Moon. Flying cars would've already become de rigeur back in 2001 or earlier, of course.

In fact, it didn't quite work out that way. Sure, things like the iPhone and GPS devices in cars are still pretty impressive symbols of technological advances, but they hardly compare with seeing Earthrise on the red planet. On the other hand, if we keep abusing the home planet at the rate that we're doing these days, we may have to up and move to another sphere just to survive. Even Earth Day 2030 may be a bittersweet event if we don't become a lot smarter in the next couple of decades. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leadership As A Part Of Education

For your reading pleasure, here's an interesting article. It's written by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, in which he describes some recent successes in applying those insights to the education system. I found myself agreeing with just about everything he wrote, and noting that several of his points are echoed in my own Math book (even though I've never read his book).

I particularly liked this part:

"Some adults who visit the schools at the urging of enthusiastic colleagues arrive on-site quite cynical. Some question the whole notion, saying, "It's unrealistic to think that every child can be a leader." But they miss the point, for in the Knowledge Worker Age, leadership is a choice, not a position. We don't define leadership as becoming the CEO or the few percent who will end up in big leadership positions. We are talking about leading your own life, being a leader among your friends, being a leader in your own family. Leadership, as one school put it, is doing the right thing even when no one is looking."

That's exactly how I approach leadership qualities with the students I work with. It's about controlling the aspects of your life (or Math studies) that you can by working hard at it, regardless of whether that puts you at the top of the class or just somewhere in the middle. Focus on taking charge of your own path and the rest will follow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Skip Week Coming Up... Bummer!

I just discovered that, while tonight's Lost is new - entitled "The Last Recruit" - next week we will be Lost-less. I had been assuming there would be no skip weeks left as we race toward the series finale in mid-May, but apparently that was just wishful thinking on my part.

Sigh.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A New Term?

I may simply be the last person on the planet to encounter this new word, but I was struck by its appropriateness when I came across it this morning:

screenager

I assume it's a play on teenager with the added dimension of reflecting just how much screen time the current generation gets (TV, Internet, video games, text messages). As I mentioned in my Math book, one study said that kids were averaging something like 7 hours a day in front of screens. This word may therefore be way more applicable than we'd like to admit.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sometimes I Think I Should Have Been An Editor

I sure seem to get a lot of editing practice for someone who's never actually had that role in any professional capacity. In fact, I was never even the editor of a school newspaper, nor the person responsible for any official corporate newsletter. And yet I still find myself playing the part of editor on a regular basis.

I edit myself all the time, of course, because I tend to write a lot these days (see: this blog, and my various books). Vicki often asks me to proofread things that she's written, ranging from work-related specification documents to club newsletters or speeches. But I also find myself "faux-editing" articles that I read, sometimes up to the point of e-mailing the author(s) in case they have any interest in incorporating my corrections and/or suggestions. Then there was Agile guru Mike Cohn, who appeared to be extremely grateful for the feedback I provided him on a draft of his latest book, even going so far as to say that I was finding errors that everyone else had missed.

Today I spent a little time providing editorial suggestions to a student friend of mine who's preparing a speech on "brains in a vat", of all things! It's not exactly the sort of thing you'd necessarily expect to find me doing on a Sunday afternoon in April, and yet it felt natural enough to me.

I'm not sure I could ever have really made a career out of professional editing... but some days, I feel like I already have!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Extremely Tight Start To The Playoffs

As I write this, 14 games are in the books to start the NHL playoffs (with one more game still to come later tonight). That's six series that have played a pair of games already, and two that have only completed a single game so far. All of the former are tied at 1-1, with the other two (obviously) sitting at 1-0. So that's pretty tight!

But now consider that, of those first 14 games, only one of them (Detroit vs Phoenix, Game 2) went into the final minute of the third period with a team holding more than a one-goal advantage! (And that one exception stood at 5-4 Detroit with just over two minutes left!) Think about that: 13 of the 14 games were either tied or featured one of the teams up by a single goal as the game went into the last minute of regulation! That's a pretty amazing situation, if you're a fan of close hockey games... as I generally am, when the Rangers aren't playing!

I have to think there are some hockey fans out there who have probably nibbled their fingernails down pretty good by now! And we're only four nights in...

[Update Sun, Apr 18/10: Make that 14 of the first 15 games, as last night's Vancouver/LA Game 2 went into overtime. Since the Kings won it, that means seven of the eight series are now tied 1-1, with the remaining matchup still 1-0 for Nashville at the moment.]

[Update 2 Sun, Apr 18/10: Well, all series went to 1-1 after 2 games, but today saw 3 different games (Det/Pho, Pit/Ott, Chi/Nas) which weren't extremely tight into the final minute, as each one featured a 2-goal lead at that late stage. So the series are showing lots of parity but the games are starting to loosen up a bit.]

Reclaiming The Donners' Good Name

Despite what most of us took as gospel about the legend of the infamous "Donner party", recent scientific investigation has made a compelling argument that no cannibalism actually occurred within that group. If that's true, then just imagine how much additional pain was inflicted upon the survivors and their descendants, having to live with that unfair shame all this time. Maybe Science can finally "stop the bleeding" on that particular wound, although I suspect the legend has already grown too powerful to ever be undone.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Who's A Good Doctor?

Growing up, I sporadically watched Tom Baker and his long flowing scarf-of-many-colours prancing around on the family television set as the 1970s version of the Doctor. I have to admit, though: I don't know that I ever really "got" Doctor Who, the British TV phenomenon. I kind of enjoyed Baker's antics but the special effects were so laughable and the plots so chaotic that I never really developed any fondness for it. As "British invasions" go, I'd always put Doctor Who safely above Benny Hill and Fawlty Towers but well below favourites like the Beatles or Monty Python's Flying Circus. In other words, I could more or less take or leave the Doctor. When the series finally ended in the mid-90s, I didn't even know it had still been running all those years since the early 80s when I'd last seen it.

In recent years, though, Doctor Who has returned, with a vengeance. Fans on both sides of the Atlantic have been talking up the latest incarnation, but my long held indifference to the show had thus far kept me from becoming the least bit interested. Just a few minutes ago, however, I saw an ad for the new season (or "series" as they call each annual set of episodes in the UK) and was at least intrigued enough to set up a recording of the next installment. Vicki's a big SF fan and so I know that she won't mind checking out an episode. The Doctor gets exactly one chance to hook me, which should be more than enough if the program is as good as its fans would have you believe. We'll see if he manages to reel me in this time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Tip For New Self-Employed Folks: Use The Quick Method For GST

Looking at my GST return this week, I realized that I'd have saved some cash if I'd elected to use the Quick Method for calculating how much to remit. Unfortunately, it's something that you have to file a form for, well ahead of when you actually plan to start using it, meaning that the best I can do now is elect to use the Quick Method beginning in 2011.

For any entrepreneurs out there who are starting up their own business and expect to be collecting GST (as I've done on each of my consultation contracts), it's essentially "free money" if you use the Quick Method rather than its alternative, the Input Tax Credits (ITCs). With the latter approach, you can reduce how much of the collected GST you actually remit by itemizing expenses of yours and deducting any GST you paid on them from the amount you collected. In my case, that added up to less than $100 of savings. If I'd been able to use the Quick Method instead, I'd have gotten to keep about twice that amount from the GST I brought in. In Vicki's case, having made a lot more in 2009 than I did, it makes an even bigger difference (fortunately, she filed the Quick Method election form for her company years ago).

If all of this is goobledygook: just remember to look up the GST Quick Method online if you happen to start up your own business. You'll thank me later!

Some "Taxes" Are Less Taxing Than Others

In doing my Income Tax return for 2009 over the past couple of days, I noticed that about 60% of what I owe for the year is actually Canada Pension Plan payment money (after having paid no income tax or CPP throughout the year). Federal tax makes up about 30% of what I'll be paying and provincial tax another 10%, leaving the lion's share as pension payments. (And lest anyone worry needlessly: each of those figures, for me in 2009, is in the hundreds of dollars.)

That prompted me to go reading up on how CPP payouts work, where I learned that they drop the leanest 15% of your annual contribution amounts when calculating how much you'll actually earn upon retirement. Over a 40-year career (ages 25 to 65, say), that would mean the 6 lowest annual contributions would be omitted from the formula. In my case, though, I'm looking at having had 23 high income years (1986 thru 2008), followed by the remainder featuring contributions below the annual maximum. For 2009, for example, I'll be putting a little more than 1/3 of the maximum in for CPP (based on my meager earnings). So early retirement will (not surprisingly) reduce how much government pension money I get later on. Good thing I wasn't counting on it to amount to much anyway!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Universe Just Keeps On Getting Stranger

I love stories like this one, in which a new variety of "mysterious radio waves" has been discovered in another galaxy. Thank goodness for Albert Einstein's work in the mid-20th century or we wouldn't have the background to understand how the Theory of Relativity can explain why an object actually moving less than the speed of light can instead appear to be exceeding it from our point-of-view! Great stuff!

I can't help but wonder just how fundamentally all of our lives would be changed if we ever discover irrefutable evidence of other life out there. The mind boggles.

Yet Another American Debate

It's not quite at the same level as the Health Care Reform or Finance Reform bruhahas, but I still find these developments around biking in the U.S. interesting. It's nice to see Obama's Transportation Secretary "walking the walk" as well as his boss has been doing lately.

I guess we have to give American conservatives points - in this case - for consistency: they don't believe in climate change, and therefore anything done to encourage or support cycling probably makes no sense to them at all. And besides, the more they obstruct changes that facilitate more biking, the more they can argue that Americans will never commute on two wheels anyway! (Lovely circular logic, that!)

I wonder if any politician in my lifetime will ever come along to put the "conserve" back into "conservative"?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Twitter Finally Sells Out

Well, sort of, anyway. I guess we'll soon see just how annoying these new Promoted Tweets turn out to be.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Neighbourhood Grader

Nate Silver from 538.com helped produce this fun little app for the New York Times webpage. It allows you to adjust slide bars for a dozen different neighbourhood metrics (e.g. "Affordability/Housing Cost", "Green space") and then see how each of the New York areas ranks against each other. I can just imagine how useful this sort of thing would be for every city, although the data gathering might be problematic, both in terms of accuracy and timeliness.

A Name To Watch: Respawn Entertainment

Rather large news today within the video game industry, as Electronic Arts announced the creation of Respawn Entertainment, to be independently lead by ex-Infinity Ward executives Vince Zampella and Jason West. Those were of course the two guys ousted from development shop Infinity Ward by the ownership suits at Activision last month, not long after their amazing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 release took the gaming world by storm.

Obviously, Zampella and West will be starting from scratch with a new development team, and it's likely to be years before anything concrete comes out of Respawn. But even so, I eagerly look forward to hearing what their first offering will be, as CoD:MW2 has a whole lot of street cred around these parts!

Not Quite So Easy-Peasy

My cracked tooth adventure from last week, for which friend and commenter Sue G predicted an "easy-peasy" solution, turned out to be more "peasy" than "easy". Because the tooth in question had a filling in it, the old filling had to be removed, and then a new filling put in while building up the damaged section. Needles were involved, and that side of my mouth is still frozen, 2 hours later. It all seems of a piece with how my weekend went, actually.

Time to put on my "Life is crap" T-shirt and organize the pity party.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Take It Down, Jimmy! Take It Down!"

That's what Stephen Colbert says, on The Colbert Report, whenever a graphic is up on-screen that bothers him.


In this case, it's my previous blog post that I'm already sick of seeing when I come to this page.


Therefore I'm putting some filler in, right here...


right now...


just to push that painful reminder out of sight!


There. That ought to do it.


Time to move on now.

Stick A Fork In Them

It took 82 games, including an overtime period and a shootout in the final one, but the highly-paid New York Rangers managed to just miss the 2010 playoffs. With their 2-1 shootout loss to the Flyers this afternoon, they end their four-year streak of making the playoffs, finishing 9th in the East with 87 points this year.

In other words, after starting 7-1 in their first 8 games of the season, they couldn't even manage to go 0.500 the rest of way, posting a 31-32-11 record the rest of the way. How pathetic is that? Pretty damned pathetic!!

Congratulations to all the fans of all the teams that actually finished in the top 53% of their respective conferences this year. Too bad I'm not one of them!

The Relationship Between Reward And Performance

Thanks once again to a friend on Twitter, I just finished reading this Time article about a study done on the effects of "bribing" students to do well in school. It's a terrific write-up that should be read by anyone at all interested in this topic (which should include, I would think, most any parent).

I mention the concept of rewarding your child for scholastic performance in a few different places in the pages of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help). Right off the bat, in Chapter 1, I lay out a scenario where a parent might motivate a kid to raise her Math mark by promising "that jacket that you said you wanted" if a certain target was reached (85% on the next test, in this case). Then, in Chapter 9, while describing the importance of what I call "Golden Rule of Helping # 1: Keep It Positive", I provide a variety of suggestions for what form rewards might take, with cold hard cash only being one of them (others include privileges around the house, increased activity time, fun trips, and so on). The goals in all cases are to motivate the desired type of behaviour, reward it if it's achieved, help the child in achieving it, and build up a positive association for the behaviour in the child's mind.

Reading over the Time article, I could see a fairly similar approach there. However, the researcher draws an important distinction between goals that the student has control over, and ones that he or she doesn't. As a Math tutor and someone who'd like to see more parents get more involved with their children's Math development, I interpret that as meaning that parents can't just drop this problem into their kids' laps along with the promise of a paycheque. In other words, you can't just provide motivation; you also have to give them all of the support they could ever need in order to reach those set goals. There's a hypothetical example in the Time piece of providing a million dollars to someone if they can "solve a third-order linear partial differential equation." The punch line by the article writer is that he couldn't do it, even for that much money. But the appropriate question to ask is, "Could you solve it for a million dollars if I spent the next several weeks or months patiently teaching you how to do Calculus?" That's more what I hope parents will do, especially at the lower grades where the material is likely to be well within their capability to understand and explain.

I love the fact that experiments of that sort are happening on a fairly large scale, out there in the real world. I also hope that parents are trying similar types of approaches out in the home, and using whatever works to help their children succeed at school (and ultimately, at life).

The Double Whammy

This morning I simultaneously encountered two of my pet peeves when it comes to video game design. When these two particular annoyances arrive together, it's almost enough to make me give up on the game.

In this case, it was Aliens vs Predator, playing through the Predator campaign. The first irritation was that there were infinite Aliens being sent at me. I really hate when that happens, because it takes me right out of the game (where are they all coming from?) and inevitably runs me out of ammo and/or patience. I'd actually seen this same issue earlier in AvP (playing as a Marine) and wasn't impressed to run into it again. More frustrating, however, was that this time it was combined with an unclear objective. Specifically, I was supposed to douse some flames in order to be able to get out of the area that I was trapped in, and I was being told to "destroy the pipes" to do so. Unfortunately, the room was filled with pipes of various sizes and configurations, and so I had no idea which ones to take out, or how. I was smashing and shooting everything that looked remotely like a pipe, but getting nowhere. If there hadn't been an endless stream of xenomorphs attacking me, I might not have resented the "puzzle of the pipes" at all; but without a moment's peace to look around or experiment, it was just impossible to make any progress.

After dying about a dozen times, I finally consulted a game walkthrough site. It wasn't actually much help, though, as it simply said to destroy the "red/orange pipes" over the fire. I couldn't see any that were that colour, and was about to throw in the towel when I happened to press the Predator's "focus" button and spotted an icon in that area of the room (among the many icons that show up when you press that button). Up to that point, I'd assumed the marker was there to tell me that was the way out (as that's what it usually means in this game) but as it turns out, it was also marking the location of the pipe. Once I gleaned that bit of info, it was fairly straightforward to shoot at that spot and then stay alive long enough for the burst conduit to put out the flames so I could make my getaway.

So I guess my complaint is this: if you're going to provide infinite enemies, then make the objective brutally clear to the player so that he doesn't die a thousand times while he tries to figure out what to do next. Or, if you want to make it hard, then provide a set number of enemies for the player to deal with first, and then let him work out the puzzle in peace and quiet once he gets through the combat. But don't combine the two; that's just not fun!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Krugman On The Economics Of Going Green

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has written a very thorough article for the New York Times magazine that lays out a lot of background information about climate change as it relates to economics. It's a long read that I personally spread over a few different surfing sessions, but I highly recommend it.

Tragic Day For Poland

I could barely believe the news this morning: the President of Poland, his wife, and numerous senior government officials were killed in a plane crash in Russia. That's the kind of story you never expect to read outside of a Tom Clancy political thriller. After all, you just assume that the safety standards for government travelers would be even higher than what's in place for run-of-the-mill air traffic (and the trips the rest of us take by air are absurdly safe, statistically-speaking). Plus, aren't there rules against having that many high-ranking officials together in one plane... spurred by fears of just such a tragedy?

At any rate, this has certainly been one of the worst days in Polish history. And that's saying something, considering what so many of them were put through in the second World War. I had many Polish friends at my last place of employment, and I hope they and any family members back home are getting through this as best they can.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Happy 2700th To Me!

No, I'm not really that old! But this blog is! 2700 blog posts tell you just about everything you could ever need to know about me... including how much I like to blog!

Here's to 2700 more!

What's With All The Moles?

Spoiler Alert! If you haven't watched this week's 24 and FlashForward, and care about what happens in those episodes, stop reading now!

Remember, don't go any further if you care about spoilers!

OK.

So, this seemed to be "Mole Week" for two of the shows Vicki and I watch. 24 featured a 2-hour episode (really, 2 1-hour episodes) on Monday, in which the CTU mole that was outed last week - Dana Walsh, played by Katee Sackhoff - finally gets discovered by her co-workers. As soon as that happens, she goes on a murder spree within the CTU office, killing several "red shirts" before finally, and violently, being apprehended just as she was about to make her getaway.

"Fast forward" (heh!) a few days to Thursday and it's FlashForward's turn to recycle the mole storyline. Once again, it's a woman who's found to have been working from the inside of a government group, in the guise of Marcy (who I guess we'd seen before but she hadn't really made any impression on me). As soon as she realizes the jig is up, she - you guessed it! - starts blowing away lots of federal agent co-workers in the form of expendable minor characters. She tries to make her escape but is roughed up and knocked out before she can quite pull it off. Who takes her down? Series regular Janis Hawk (played by Christine Woods), who we then discover is a second mole, cunningly tossing the first operative under the bus so ask to throw suspicion off herself!

At that point I said to Vicki, "So I guess the message here is: women are bad, they can't be trusted, and they need to have some sense knocked into them??" Gah! I'm sure it's just a coincidence that three different females on two different TV shows in the same week would be portrayed in this manner, but c'mon! Isn't this a little silly?

One Way To Appear Less Ignorant

Thanks to the Intersection blog, I saw this article reporting on how the American National Science Foundation removed the results of two survey questions from its annual report. Specifically, it was the data indicating how many Americans believe "[h]uman beings... developed from earlier species of animals" (45% do) and "[t]he universe began with a big explosion" (only 33% do). As the article writer notes toward the end of the piece, this clearly suggests an attempt to "hide a national embarrassment." What a sad statement on the scientific literacy of the once-great nation to the south of us.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

F.E.A.R. 3 (Or F.3.A.R.) Details Emerging

I freely admit: I've loved each of the F.E.A.R. offerings so far, even though some of them have been more lightweight than others. There's just something about the franchise that draws me into the experience each time a new version or expansion pack comes out.

Today, we got the first trailer and info for F.E.A.R. 3, which is being branded as F.3.A.R. I'm not thrilled to hear that the game has been handed to a different studio (other than Monolith). And the trailer, to be honest, doesn't look all that much like any F.E.A.R. gameplay that I would ever recognize. But I'll still eagerly await its arrival, just the same. I'm just that hooked on F.E.A.R.!

That's One Bad Sentence, Mister!

I think the standards of good editing have fallen so far nowadays that I barely even register it when sentences on the Internet have a mistake in them. Instead, my radar has apparently been forcibly downgraded to the point where it takes at least two boo-boo's before I'm thrown out of the reading. I've seen a few examples of that happening already this morning, in fact.

The winner of the day so far, though, has to be this little gem that should never have been blessed with life:

"Hey, readers, check out this animated short film that depicts what would happen if the 8-bit characters of our youth (well, my youth anyways) and decide to maleviolently wrecks havoc on our New York City…and then, THE WORLD!"

Note that the author doesn't just completely forget how he started his sentence ("... what would happen if the 8-bit characters of our youth...") by the time he returns from a short parenthetical thought with "... and decide to...", which is something I've blogged about before. No, he then continues proudly onward, misspelling "malevolently" and using "wrecks havoc" when he meant "wreak havoc" (note that both the word and the form are wrong). All of that wrongness, wrapped up together in one single sentence! That's some fine writing, I have to say.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

And Now, Everyone's Favourite Topic: Taxes!

If someone asked you to guess what % of Canada's Gross Domestic Product is comprised of tax revenues, what would you say? Most of us probably wouldn't even fully understand the question (myself included) because we're not all that well-educated in such macro financial terms. But I think many Canadians would respond from a gut level indignant perspective of "our taxes are way too high" and say, "Whatever it is, we're worse [meaning higher] than just about any other civilized country!"

Consider, however, the following chart, which I found in this 538.com article (click to enlarge for greater readability):



Note that Canada actually falls below average in terms of what % of our GDP comes from tax revenues (11th of 30 similar countries, in economic developmental terms). We're obviously not the "taxation Hell" that many residents perceive us to be, at least on a relative scale. That probably won't do much to calm down the tax-haters, but then again: nothing would. If our tax rate were magically cut in half tomorrow without losing any services as a result, many of those same people would be right back complaining about the new tax rate a year or two later. As the saying goes, "It's not about the money... it's the principle of the thing!"

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Different Perspective

I just, a few minutes ago, started reading Al Gore's latest book, Our Choice. Something that he wrote in it inspired a very different reaction from me than I'm sure was intended. Here's the passage:

"Moreover, we should feel a sense of joy that those of us alive today have a rare privilege that few generations in history have known: the chance to undertake an historic mission worthy of our best efforts." (pg 15)

Mr Gore goes on to write optimistically about our role in changing the current course of global devastation. But I found a much more depressing image forming in my mind as I read the start of that quoted sentence above.

Specifically, I wondered about this cycle of evolution that sees one species dominate the rest eventually, on the strength of some advantage that ultimately leads to one form or another of intelligence. Is it possible that it's an inevitable outcome of that cycle that the hyper-adaptive species always ends up destroying its own ecosystem once it has the power to do so and no natural predator to forcibly divert it from that path? Is this perhaps essentially a natural law, like the gravitational force exerted by objects upon one another or the speed at which light travels? Or, to pick a more commonplace example, are we simply in the late stages of a birth/life/death sequence of events, but on a larger scale than we're used to thinking along?

It was the word "privilege" in Mr Gore's description above that made my mind go in this direction. After all, if we really are in the final century or so of a scenario that's been brewing for millions of years now, then aren't we - in a perverse way - pretty lucky to be able to witness the conclusion of it? Thanks to Science we know a lot of the story leading up to now (moreso for the period most recently behind us, admittedly). But, unlike the billions of humans who preceded us, we also have both a pretty good idea of how it's going to end and possibly a front row seat to those dramatic events. Granted, that's a pessimistic and depressing thought, but isn't it also a pretty privileged position to be in? Maybe ignorance is bliss in a case like this, but it's still ignorance. Knowing has to be worth something, in the end... doesn't it?

"That Can't Be Good!"

That was my thought as a small piece of tooth about half the size of a Tic Tac fell out of my mouth and rattled around in the sink this morning while I was flossing. It came flying out as I pulled the floss up and out from between two of my front, bottom teeth. The fact that it didn't hurt (and so far, still doesn't) makes me think that the tooth in question had been cracked prior to this unsettling incident. I'd told my dentist, back in Jan or Feb when I last saw him, that I believed there was a crack in that part of my mouth because I occasionally experience pain when biting down on hard substances thereabouts. This would seem to be a confirmation of that theory despite him not being able to spot one then.

Anyway, I now have an appointment next Monday morning to see the dentist and discover what - if anything - he can do about it.

Monday, April 05, 2010

So Much For The Jays Going 162-0 This Season

OK, so that was never going to happen. But losing their season opener to the Texas Rangers by giving up two runs in the bottom of the 9th to blow a 4-3 lead doesn't exactly bode well for their year. When you take a lead into the 9th, it'd be great if you had a closer who could seal the deal for you. Instead, today showcased the first of what I suspect will be many blown saves in 2010 for the Jays.

On the brights side, at least "Doc" Halladay won't have to be the victim of poor Toronto bullpen support this season, as he's safely playing in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. On second thought, Roy probably wasn't victimized all that much in that particular manner while in Toronto, as he often (wisely) refused to leave the mound with a lead, instead sticking around to post complete game victories! Sigh. Yeah, that's what was lost when he left. [Update: Halladay, by the way, pitched the Phillies' opener, and went 7 innings in an 11-1 victory over Washington. I'm just sayin'.]

Let The Arguing Begin!

Interesting post at the New York Times site today, on the topic of illegally downloading an electronic copy of a book that you bought in printed form. The ethicist takes the (perhaps surprising) position that, while it may be illegal, it's not particularly unethical.

I have to admit that, as much as I despise most pirating that occurs today, I've pretty always subscribed to the notion that purchasing one format should entitle you to copy it for personal use. I was one of those teenagers/young adults who bought LPs and then copied them onto blank cassettes for enjoying in the car. I tend to look at it as follows: if you're downloading stuff that you've already paid for, then at least you've put some money into the pockets of the people responsible for creating (and often distributing) the art. If every person who's ever illegally downloaded a book, song, comic, TV show or movie lived by that principle, then I don't think there would be any issue with digital copies. It's my suspicion that most pirates don't pay for most, if any, of their booty that makes it more worrisome.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Step In The Right Direction But Only That

It's not as good as I had hoped, but this rule change late last month does at least improve the NFL's overtime situation in the playoffs. With this modification, if the coin toss-winning team kicks a field goal on their first possession in OT, the other team gets one possession with which to try to score themselves. Other than that, it's business as usual in overtime, meaning that in all other scenarios it will be sudden death.

The biggest flaw in this change is that it doesn't apply to a touchdown scored on that opening drive of OT, meaning that the coin toss is still making too much of a difference. I would think it would've been better to say that both teams are guaranteed at least one set of offensive downs in OT, and just leave it at that (sudden death in all other ways). The other considerable mistake made, I think, was limiting this rule change to postseason games. After all, there will inevitably be a tied game late in the season where one or more playoff berths are on the line and a team will win the toss only to run a couple of plays and kick a game-winning field goal.

Of course, it was only three months ago that I was blogging about how the NFL should adopt the overtime structure of U.S. college football. If you really want the best team to win in overtime, I truly believe the "tit-for-tat" approach that the NCAA uses is the best. What the NFL voted in last month was better than nothing, but it still leaves some significant problems in place.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

When Games Invade Real Life

Jesse Schell provides an incredibly entertaining 10-minute voyage into the future. He envisions how some of the recent developments in video games will impact the other areas of our lives, and I have to say: it all sounds eerily plausible to me! You owe it to yourself to watch and listen to what he has to say. Then come back here and discuss!

Friday, April 02, 2010

One Of The Greatest Stories Ever Told?

If you haven't yet heard the name "Henrietta Lacks" nor have any idea what she unknowingly contributed to the world of medicine, then you probably will find her story somewhat unbelievable. But it's all true! You can read a very high level recap of this story here, as well as listen to a recounting of what happened by the author who has put all of this jaw-dropping info into a book, here (her description and the Q&A that follows are both fascinating). This is the sort of tale that, once you're heard it, you'll inevitably wonder why it is that most of us are only hearing about it now.

Well, That Didn't Take Too Long, Now Did It?

It was a mere 37 months ago that the rumours started about Neal Adams drawing a new Batman story, and here we are in April of 2010 with DC Comics finally announcing the project! That means it took a little more than 1100 days, or about 160 weeks, for confirmation to arrive.

Now, I'm not taking DC to task for holding off on the scheduling of the Batman: Odyssey series, now slated to start in July and run for 12 issues. On the contrary, I applaud them for their diligence in that regard, since the last thing we fans want is another project that comes out on the frequency of All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (we're lucky if we get one new issue a year now). Adams - surely one of the greatest comic book artists of all time - is not exactly known for being quick in producing pages. So delaying the start of the publication until, presumably, many if not all issues are already in the can, is a wise and appreciated move on the publisher's part.

What I can't quite fathom, though, is why DC waited more than 3 years before even acknowledging that Batman: Odyssey was in production. Would it really have been so bad to have spent some of the past 3 years drumming up interest and excitement for the project? I mean, big budget movies often take 3 years to complete (from pre-production right through to premiere), and fans often spend that time ratcheting up their enthusiasm for the finished product. Was DC actually concerned that it would never happen, or just holding off for as long as possible so that they wouldn't have to answer questions about it in the meantime?

At any rate, it doesn't really matter now. The cat's officially out of the bag, and fans of my age group can start licking their lips at the prospect of some eye-popping Neal Adams Dark Knight pages in our future. I'm not sure that the story will make a lot of sense - hey, I've met Neal! - but the pretty pictures alone should make it well worth the price of admission.

[The first substantial comments by Adams himself about the project were just posted on the Comic Book Resources site. I think you can get a pretty clear picture of Neal's personality - warts and all - by checking that out.]

[Update Feb 9/10: In another interview, Neal mentions that he's working on # 8 right now. If Odyssey comes out monthly starting in July, that should mean that he has about a 9-month head start right now. Or, put another way, the 8th issue should be the first one in the series that could even possibly be late! And it's more likely to be the 10th or 11th issue onward that would be delayed, really. If you doubt that pessimistic assessment, just remember that he's on the 8th issue at the moment and has been working on this project, in one capacity or another, for over 3 years now!]

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Final Digit Of Pi Discovered

Truly incredible news, which I just saw on Slashdot, and which I actually never expected to read.

I especially love this part:

"After decades of believing that Pi was an irrational number, filled with an infinite set of non-repeating digits to the right of the decimal," stated Dr Will Magnus, Mathematician-emeritus at MIT, "we were frankly quite shocked to find that it just had a really, really, really long - albeit rational! - value. Imagine our surprise at discovering that seven billion, two hundred and nineteen million, thirty-five thousand, eight hundred and forty-one digits in... it just ends! And with a 0, no less! That was perhaps the biggest shock of all!"

What a wacky start for the month of April!