Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Defeat For McFarlane

You'd think that, at some point, comic mogul Todd McFarlane would learn that he simply can't beat Neil Gaiman in court and shouldn't waste any more money trying. I mean, he keeps losing, battle after battle, and yet keeps coming back for more. The verdict in the latest contest between the two men has come in, and sure enough: Todd's been found to be in the wrong, and Neil's got the law on his side. Again. This is news as welcome as it is predictable. Way to go, Mr Gaiman!

It's almost like McFarlane lives in some parallel universe where all that matters is what you believe... not what the facts actually support. I've known a few people like that over my life, and arguing with them is largely a waste of time. Programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report often showcase those poor, deluded folks by simply letting them talk (like the guy recently who apparently believes that Hitler and the heads of the Nazi party were all homosexuals, as a way of justifying his own homophobic stance). It's just sad to think that one member of that category of reality-deniers is a highly popular comic book writer/artist (no accounting for tastes on that front, but that's a whole 'nother blog post).

The Designer Of The Design Of Design

Wired has a far-too-brief interview with Fred Brooks, the legendary programmer, software architect and author of The Mythical Man-Month (required reading for anyone in the software business, if you ask me). Brooks, who will soon turn 80, has a new book entitled The Design of Design. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds like something I should add to my list.

As an Agile enthusiast, I enjoyed this point from the interview:

"When I first wrote The Mythical Man-Month in 1975, I counseled programmers to “throw the first version away,” then build a second one. By the 20th-anniversary edition, I realized that constant incremental iteration is a far sounder approach. You build a quick prototype and get it in front of users to see what they do with it. You will always be surprised."

On the other hand, my love of team collaboration took a mild hit when Brooks said:

"For instance, I once argued that every member of a team should be able to see the code of every other member, but it turns out that encapsulation works much better."

If anyone out there has already read The Design of Design, comments on it are welcome here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What A Concept

As I was working on fraction arithmetic with a tutoring student tonight, I was struck by just how much easier this would be if some popular video game managed to work fractions into its leveling up framework. I don't mean in some clumsy way, like presenting you with a lame fraction addition question before you can unlock a perk or gun. I mean if fractions were part of the vernacular of the process, such that kids knew that if they were at level 7 and 2/3 that they needed to accumulate 1/3 more XP in order to get to level 8... Well, let's just say that fractions would probably go from being one of the weakest Math skills out there to one of the strongest, virtually overnight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Global Warming Is Undeniable

According to a recent, comprehensive report on the topic, anyway. I'm sure the skeptics will continue to be, uhhh, "skeptical", no matter what reports are filed, but wow! This looks bad.

Those Long-Awaited Photos

Anyone with a weak stomach may want to stop looking now.

Here's what the boil (or cyst) on my back looked like before surgery was done to drain it on Saturday:

Vicki kindly placed the loonie in the shot so as to provide a sense of scale (she's always thinking, that wife of mine).

Post-surgery, I now have a narrow slot in my back (where the draining occurred) that has to be packed and re-dressed each day. The Victorian Order of Nurses provided that service the first couple of days, but they've now handed some of the work over to the Victoria Order of Nursing Wives (Vicki), who did it for the first time this morning. First time on this wound, that is... she got very good at repacking the previous boil's crater in 2007. Here's what she's working with this time around:

Speaking of the previous boil, you can see the crater that it left behind, in both of those shots (off to the lefthand side... kind of hard to miss!)

So anyway... if you've wondered why I haven't been blogging much over the past couple of weeks, you should have your answer now. Both the boil, and the aftermath of it, have been quite painful. And the worst news of all is that this latest one has only been drained, not removed. Getting it cut out is still looming in my future at some point.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where Were The Big Announcements?

This year's San Diego Comic Convention seemed noticeably lacking in big announcements. Last year, we learned that Disney Comics had acquired the rights to Marvelman, as one example of a big shocker coming out over the 4 days in 2009. There was nothing even close to that this time around.

For example, DC Comics is launching a new Batman title (what? the 5 or 6 we have already aren't enough), and lots of miniseries and creative team changes were revealed. But it was all just sort of blah this year. Or maybe the drugs I'm on have dulled my ability to be impressed? I guess I'll only sort that possibility out when I'm off the meds in a week or so.

And it was sort of cool seeing all of The Avengers actors on stage together for the first time, I guess.

The BoilBoy Update

(Still no pictures to share, but maybe I'll have something soon...)

So Saturday morning I went into the hospital to get the abscess or cyst (or boil) drained, which involved much cutting and pain. It started with a local anesthetic being applied that involved the intern injecting material into the very sore area deeply, several times... I was squirming all over the bed while that preliminary work was happening. The actual surgery was even more painful, but at least it was quick (a few minutes in duration). After that, the wound was packed with gauze and then covered with a bandage and we were sent home. I had a prescription for percoset but didn't wait to get it filled, as past experience made me aware of just how bad it was going to feel as soon as the freezing wore off. So I requested 2 tablets at the hospital and took them before leaving.

Last night was pretty bad for sleeping as there's no position I can lie in that doesn't hurt as the medication starts to wear off. We had to be back at the hospital this morning at 8:00 am once again to have the wound checked, so we had an early alarm set for that. Naturally, that meant that we had a brief power outage overnight last night, requiring us to be up in the middle of the night - once the electricity came back on and clock displays began blinking - to reset the alarm. I love how these outages have started coming at the most inopportune moments lately.

Today's hospital visit wasn't nearly as painful as yesterday's, although the intern who did the re-packing of the wound could really stand to learn not to be quite so rough with a recent injury like that. Anyway, now we switch to Community Care clinics to get the dressing changed each day, at least until Vicki feels comfortable doing it herself. That process will continue for weeks, until it doesn't need to be bandaged anymore. Then I get to wait a few months before having the entire affected area cut out, as was done - all in one fell swoop - with the previous boil. At which point it all starts over again with a big hole and frequent re-dressings. Ain't life grand?

Avengers... Assembled?

I'm sure there are links to better coverage than this out there but at least it gets the message across: here are your Avengers, folks!

I was hoping there would be more than just one female member (Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson) as that's going to make for a lot of testosterone when they're gathered around the Avengers Mansion table... but it still looks pretty darned good!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Out Of Surgery And Into The Pain Ward

I just had what sounds like it'll be the first of two operations on my back. The infected area is now drained and packed, and sometime in the weeks to come I'll probably have to have it all cut out. I'm on my first of many doses of percoset (just starting to take effect now) so I may not be blogging much over the next several days... or maybe I will, and it'll all just be even more incomprehensible than usual.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back Surgery For Sure Tomorrow... Or Not

I've now got an 8:00 a.m. appointment with a surgeon at a local hospital tomorrow, at which time he'll either cut this boil out (as happened in 2007 with the last one) or he won't. I don't find out until I get there and he gets a good look at it. I so love the huge piles of uncertainty in my life right now.

(I really, really don't love that in the least. Just in case that wasn't obvious.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SDCC Day One: Kind Of Quiet

Not much real news seemed to come out of the first official day at San Diego Comic Con. Oh sure, Joss Whedon stole Disney Studios' thunder by announcing that he's directing The Avengers while he was taking part in a panel with JJ Abrams (led by our old friend Jeff "Doc" Jensen)... but other than that? Not much going on, as far as I can tell.

Of course, Friday and Saturday are usually the big news days there anyway. So we'll see what tomorrow brings.

I may be off the air all day as I have a morning doctor's appointment to see what the next step with the big bad boil is going to be. The good news on that front is that it's started to ooze over the last 30 hours - and no, I can't believe that I don't have photos of that, either! So I may be showing off a smaller pile of pus when I see my friendly physician tomorrow.

We're Actually Pretty Educated!

I found this U.S. college completion progress report mildly interesting for its insight into what the Obama administration is doing to try to improve post-secondary completion in America. I skimmed parts of it, looking for info on what kinds of changes to the education system are being considered.

But on page 16 of the PDF doc, there's a chart showing the "Percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds with an Associate Degree or Higher, 2007" across 36 OECD (Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development) countries, which really caught my eye. Rather surprisingly, there's Canada sitting at the # 2 position, behind only the Russian Federation! In fact, here's how the top 10 break down:
  1. Russian Federation (54.0%)
  2. Canada (48.3%)
  3. Israel (43.6%)
  4. Japan (41.0%)
  5. New Zealand (41.0%)
  6. United States (40.3%)
  7. Finland (36.4%)
  8. Korea (34.6%)
  9. Norway (34.2%)
  10. Australia (33.7%)
Note that, just as Russia is essentially in a class all its own - almost 6% better than anyone else - the Great White North also has quite a substantial jump on everyone but Russia, perched nearly 5% above our nearest competitive nation. Also consider that the U.S. goal is to get to 55% by 2025, which is quite an impressive challenge considering that no nation is there right now!

On a more sobering note, what does it say about the state of education in the early 21st century that the majority of countries in this group of advanced nations have less than 1/3 of their adult population holding post-secondary degrees? The United Kingdom, for example, sits at 31.8%; France manages to educate only 26.8% of their grown ups; Greece (the home of entitlement) weighs in at 22.7%; and Italy barely registers at 13.6%! The OECD average is a mere 27.5%, which is truly depressing. At a time when low-skilled jobs are disappearing entirely or moving to third world countries, it can't be good that so many leading nations are producing so few degree-holders.

By the way, on page 17 of that report, they look at 25- to 34-year-olds with Associate Degrees or higher, and Canada does even better: we finish 1st, with 55.8%! That's a very good sign, since those folks represent the short- to medium-term future of this great land of ours!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Let The San Diego Fun Begin!

Just in time to be given away at San Diego Comic Con this week, we get movie posters for next year's Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor films. I've always been a much bigger fan of Cap than of the Thunder God, and I'd say these two images do nothing to change that. I'm much more intrigued to see how Steve Rogers and his trademark red, white and blue frisbee fare in World War Two than to watch another throw down between Thor and his evil adopted brother Loki that will once again settle nothing between them.

As you can see by the text on the posters, we're now officially within a year of finding out just what Disney Studios has in store for these two Avengers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Geek Week About To Begin

San Diego Comic Con starts tomorrow night (or Thursday morning, officially), after which there should be a steady stream of geekgasms as news flows out of it. I enjoy this event greatly every year, despite having never made it to the Con in person.

Right now, however, I'm awaiting a call from the doctor's office to find out where he's going to send me to get my latest back boil cut out. Considering how painful the last such experience was - before, during and for weeks after - it's not exactly a high point of the summer for me.

So which will win out: the thrill of San Diego Comic Con updates, or the pain in my back?

[Update that same day: Apparently any specialists who could cut the boil out are on vacation right now, so I'll be trying another type of antibiotic instead. Great... another 10 or so days of pain and discomfort! At least now Vicki won't find it so hard to convince me to keep taking ibuprofin!]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is This The Future Of Online Shooters?

There's been no shortage of rumours lately that Call of Duty franchise owner Activision (yes, the same people who've chased away many of the members of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 developer Infinity Ward with their heavy handed management style) is planning to introduce monthly fees for multiplayer access to upcoming Call of Duty releases (starting with CoD: Black Ops). Here's one reaction to that possibility, which mostly matches my own thoughts on the topic.

Just like I think it's unrealistic for game companies to expect a slice of the resale market, I believe they run the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden egg if they start charging additional fees in order to access multiplayer options. Somewhere along the line they've lost sight of the fact that $70 and up is a lot of money to pay for one game, and that offering different modes of play is one way to make that high price tag palatable to the average gamer. In fact, it's become fairly common for me to look into the online component of a new game before buying it, for the simple reason that a nice single player campaign by itself may not be enough to justify forking over the cash associated with a brand new blockbuster. Therefore, if the plan is to keep the retail price high but then add more to it for the "luxury" of playing its online component, I suspect it'll scare away more potential customers than just little ol' me.

This should be interesting to watch, although I have a sinking feeling it's going to "end badly."

[Update Jul 20/10: Both Infinity Ward and Treyarch deny the rumours.]

The African Queen, Part 3

Daughter Tammy sent out e-mails earlier today from Heathrow Airport, meaning that she's survived her journey through "the safe portion" of the Dark Continent! While she wings the last few hundred kilometres of the way home, here's the final installment of excerpts from e-mails she sent out about her time in Africa:

"We are in dar es salaam now. Just took the ferry over this morning to use the internet and check out the town; we are actually staying right on the beach (indian ocean) which is gorgeous. I got up at 8am this morning (believe it or not, that's the latest I've gotten up on the trip thus far) and went for a swim - I was the only person on miles of pristine beach with clear waters.

Dar is dirty, crowded (pop 3m) and disorganized. Reminds me of the large cities we saw last summer in SE Asia, like Bangkok. Not my thing - dirty cities are gross, but interesting to see it for an afternoon. Going to do some sunset kayaking this afternoon I think, or may just watch the Argentina-Germany game instead."

[Later:] "Tonight is our final night in Zanzibar - aka paradise. Of all the tropical places I've travelled, so far this is the best - nicest beach, best sunset. Went snorkelling yesterday which was a bit of a bust because a few of the girls were stung by jellyfish. I managed to evade them, however."

[Later still:] "All is well. I survived the serengeti - no one was eaten by a lion, although they were most definitely right outside our tents at night (no going pee!). I unexpectedly got my way onto a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the serengeti yesterday morning. AMAZING. We saw a pride of lions who had just made a kill, the female was eating while the male walked around roaring to mark his territory - we flew about 5 feet over their heads. Saw lots of lions up close, leopard, cheetah, rhino, etc. so everything I wanted to see. Great photos.

Tomorrow we begin making our way to Nairobi - stopping at a "snake farm" camping site on the way. I upgraded to a room tonight so only one more night in a tent at the snake farm, and then 2 nights in Nairobi. There's not much to do in Nairobi, probably just going to lay by the pool and try to find a mall if I can to use internet and that sort of thing.

Ready to come home now that serengeti is over (and thus no big highlights left to look forward to) - but it has definitely been a wonderful trip, quite an adventure."

Quite an adventure indeed... even for those of us who only wait at home, hoping for a safe return from a dangerous part of the world!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Superman Is Now Grounded

I'm not one to worry overly about what others think of things that I like (or dislike), as I find that my tastes often don't run down the middle of the mainstream as they're apparently supposed to. I loved the show, Lost, because it spoke to me in many different ways, not because it was an "it" program during its first season. And I continued to embrace it when others had moved on to other fads, for the simple reason that it delivered exactly what I wanted in an hour of TV. In fact, I'm usually more surprised when something that I take to proves to be popular than I am when it doesn't.

And so I read this week's Superman # 701, the kickoff to J Michael Straczynski's "Grounded" storyline, with an open mind... despite hearing that many readers hadn't liked it very much. The premise is that Superman feels that he's become detached from the problems of ordinary people on Earth, and so he decides to walk across a stretch of the U.S. in an attempt to re-connect. Each issue will supposedly have him in a different area, acclimatizing himself to the issues facing the locals. Part 1 has him in the City of Brotherly Love, where he enjoys a Philly cheese steak, tries to convince reporters that there's no story happening around his admittedly peculiar actions, sets on fire the stashes of several crack houses, and provides counseling to a would-be suicide. For some fans of the character, I suspect this may have been all too mundane. Given that it's JMS writing it, and that it's beautifully illustrated by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer, I was absolutely entranced!

Every single interaction the Man of Steel has in this issue rang true for me. His comments to the woman who wanted to throw her life away are poignant but not the least bit preachy. When she agrees to get help, and one of the policemen says, "She'll be alright. We'll get someone to talk to her", Clark's response is, "That's good. But maybe it'd be better to get someone who'll listen to her." That's beautiful stuff! I welled up a bit at that line.

If this is indicative of the material that we're going to get in "Grounded", then I'm thrilled to be along for the ride.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Do I Know It's Been A Busy Week?

Well, it's Friday night already and I still haven't gotten the week's comics yet... that's how!

Between the latest air conditioner crisis, the trip to Mississauga for the Lunch & Learn (which went very well, thanks for asking), a few tutoring sessions, weather too brutal to bike very far in during the hottest part of the day and a few other distractions, there's just been no opportunity. I'm hoping to make the trip this weekend, but with rain in the forecast both days that may require some careful radar-watching and timing.

I don't even remember what came out this week, but I'm sure it'll be fun to read once I get it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

When It Gets To 30, Sell!!!

We're currently sitting at 28.2 degrees Celcius on the main floor of our home. I think it's actually cooler outside! I was, ironically, glad to be on the road, in air conditioning, all day today!

[Update later that same evening: For those hoping to see a sell order go in, bad news: we got the replacement part in place around 7:00 pm tonight and peaked at an interior temperature of 28.6... we're now down to 26.5 and falling. And we've decided to expedite the air conditioning replacement from Sept to "as soon as we can get it". Who cares if we don't have the money in the house account to pay for it yet... that never stops anyone else from buying stuff, does it?]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back To The Stone Age, Again

Sometime this afternoon, our 30-year old central air stopped working... again. This time it appears to be fuse-related, as the old-style fuse cartridge at the electrical panel seems to have arced. We're now waiting to see if our neighbourhood A/C guy can find a replacement part for the housing to see if that will get us back to air-chilled comfort. In the meantime - and as I try to prepare for tomorrow's presentation - we're basking in sweltering humidity once again.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

... it's off to work I go tomorrow, as I drive to Mississauga to present a Lunch & Learn on Relative Estimation. It's always weird to get back into the workday routine, even if just for one day. But I guess I can't complain, considering how rare that sort of thing is anymore.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We're No. 1!! (But Not In A Good Way)

Looks like the first half of 2010 was the hottest on record, going back more than a century and a quarter. Indications are that the full year, when it's complete, may very well set a new standard for highest average temperature, as well. I doubt that many of the news outlets who were interpreting unusually high snowfall over the winter as signs that global warming is a hoax will give much coverage to this story, but it's obviously a much bigger deal. I hope we all like it really hot - and stormy, and chaotic, and devastatingly hard on human life - because it's pretty clear that we're headed toward that future.

The Painfully Unwelcome Return Of BoilBoy

Three years after his last appearance, BoilBoy is unfortunately back.

This time I've gone to the doctor straight away, though, and am now on a 10-day course of antibiotics. The hope is that the drugs will take the swelling down and then some hack with a scalpel - by which, of course, I mean a talented member of the medical profession - will be able to cut the core of it out without leaving a huge scar on my back or requiring daily re-packing like happened the last time (see 2nd link above).

Right now, the big hump on my back is still somewhat smaller than the previous one got, and about 2/3 as painful. Basically, it hurts when anything, including the cloth of my T-shirt, touches it, but otherwise not too bad. The nurse, upon seeing it this morning, exclaimed, "Holy Hannah!!" I kid you not.

Oh, and for those hoping for photos of the new arrival... sorry, nothing yet!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar Now Sleeping With The Fishes

If you've never experienced a Harvey Pekar appearance on David Letterman, go here and have a laugh.

Pekar, creator of the American Splendor comic series who was immortalized by Paul Giamatti in the film of the same name, died early this morning. I was never a fan of Harvey or his comic, but he certainly left an impression. He was such a curmudgeon that you often thought he must have been putting on a show, but I'm not so sure. And now he's gone.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Brief Math Book Update

I haven't mentioned No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) here in awhile, but it's never far from my mind. I recently sold the 45th copy of the book, which put us a little more than two thirds of the way toward profitability. I'm hoping that when the fall rolls around Vicki and I can try a couple more school bazaars, hopefully in slightly more affluent areas, though. That still seems like a good way to get some copies into the hands of parents who want them. I've done nothing on the bookstore front yet as I found some of the details that we learned earlier a little too daunting (damaged copies becoming my problem even if they get that way in the store itself, for example).

Along the same lines, I'm reading a book Vicki recommended: The End of Ignorance, by John Mighton. The author is the founder of JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies), an organization that helps students lose their "weak at Math" labels. I'm amazed by how many of the things that Mighton writes about line up exactly with what I've been doing and learning. That's giving me a much-appreciated confidence boost but also making me all the more interested in reading everything that he has to say on the topic. I've got a copy of his earlier book, The Myth of Ability, queued up to read next.

Used Video Games Are Not Evil

I've been seeing a lot of comments from game development spokespeople recently that boil down to "The sale of used copies of our games are killing the industry" and "This problem is worse than piracy." Personally, I just don't see it.

I haven't bought very many used video games, but I've probably got a small handful of them. In each case, I wouldn't have purchased it at full retail price, as it was long after the game had launched - meaning that the quality and quantity of online play would be minimal - and I knew that I wouldn't be getting the full $60 or $70 value that I expect from a new game. Or, to put it another way, I think of it the same way as I do buying a used book, back issue of a comic book, or a second hand lawnmower for that matter: the producers made their money when the item was new, and the vast majority of ancillary sales of it are going to happen at significantly lower amounts and just aren't going to end up making the originators any additional money. Maybe that's not right, but it's the way the world works. Even when an old Marvel or DC comic is sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars, its original publishers don't make a nickel off the transaction. The people who've held onto it all those years are the ones making big bucks, if there are any to be made. And 'twas ever thus.

For game companies to think that their product should somehow be different, such that they receive a piece of the action each and every time it changes hands, is kind of nuts, if you ask me. I have no problem with them building in incentives against that sort of thing - such as providing bonuses in sequels that are only open-able if you still have the previous version kicking around the house - but whining and complaining about used games sales just seems petty and childish to me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Casting The Avengers

With San Diego (aka Comic-Con International) only a week and a half away, the rumour mills are churning out comic and movie announcement predictions at triple speed right now. One of the more interesting theories concerns the possibility that the cast of The Avengers movie (to be released in 2012) will be brought on stage in San Diego and finally revealed/confirmed. There's still lots of uncertainty surrounding what should be Disney Comics' big theatrical event of the decade: collecting Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, among others, into one huge, balls-to-the-wall superhero extravaganza. So what do we and don't we know?

1) Iron Man - This year's big sequel opened the door for the possibility that Shellhead would be in The Avengers but that it wouldn't necessarily be Robert "Tony Stark" Downey, Jr in the suit. That's easily accomplished within the framework of any story, of course, since Iron Man 2 showed a second tin man in the form of James Rhodes in the War Machine armour. However, I can't imagine that Downey, Jr would want to miss out on something as potentially lucrative as this big slug-fest, especially since he'd clearly be the biggest name in it. I'm guessing Iron Man and Stark are both in.

2) Thor - Despite the Thunder God's film not coming out until next year, I fully expect him to be featured front and centre in The Avengers. In the comics, he, Iron Man and Cap make up "the big three" (currently being showcased in a miniseries entitled Avengers Prime, by the way) and most fans see them as the backbone of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Chris Hemsworth stars alongside Natalie Portman (playing love interest Jane Foster) and Anthony Hopkins (Thor's father, Odin) so it shouldn't be any big jump for him to share the virtual stage with someone like Downey, Jr. Pretty much a lock to be in.

3) Captain America - While I'm a little lukewarm on Hemsworth's debut as Thor, I have much higher hopes for next year's Captain America: The First Avenger feature. I'm not sure they'll really be able to pull off what I see as one of the great origin stories (puny Steve Rogers wants to sign up to fight in WWII, but is 4F and therefore rejected; he's then offered the opportunity to be part of experimental "Super Soldier" process that will transform him into the ultimate fighting machine, during which the mastermind behind it is killed before Rogers' eyes leaving him as America's only Super Soldier in the battle against Hitler) but if they can... it's like a cross between Saving Private Ryan and the original Karate Kid (or something like that). Anyway, Chris Evans (Johnny Storm in both Fantastic Four flicks) dons the red, white and blue chainmail and cowl in a picture that has the word "Avenger" in its title, so I think this one's a lead-pipe cinch. Fans expect that Cap's initial solo adventure will be restricted to the Second World War and possibly end with him being thrown into suspended animation... such that he can be revived in 2012 at the start of The Avengers. That would mimic how the character came back in the Silver Age after a long Golden Age run in the 1940s. Definitely in.

4) Nick Fury - Samuel L. Jackson has simply owned the Fury character since his cameo after the closing credits of Iron Man. It probably didn't hurt that the character was drawn to look exactly like Jackson in The Ultimates comic series (the introduction of a black Fury) nor that Sam's such a comic geek to begin with. I don't know if Fury will be an actual member of the team or not, as it's more likely that he'll orchestrate its creation and bring its players together. Jackson's mentioned as appearing in Captain America: The First Avenger, which suggests that he's going to be shown in WWII alongside Cap, necessitating some explanation (other than suspended animation) for why he's still spry 65 years later. (In the comics, he's given some sort of serum that keeps him from aging as quickly as he should.) Regardless, as far as The Avengers are concerned, he's in, in one capacity or another.

5) The Hulk - This week's big news has been that Ed Norton is not going to be a part of The Avengers, although Bruce Banner and the Hulk almost certainly will be. We can probably expect to find out who's replacing Norton in San Diego, which will also officially confirm Greenskin's involvement in the team film. Whether he's a member, the villain that they all band together to fight, or something else... remains to be seen. I'm calling him in, though possibly not in-in.

6) Black Widow - I loved Scarlett Johansson's all-too-limited appearance as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2. I kept thinking how perfectly she'd fit into The Avengers, since you can't just populate the team with powerhouses like Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk. You need a leader (which presumably Cap would be) and you need some lighter touches for those situations where knocking down walls or destroying giant robots just won't get you what you need. The way the Widow was used in IM2 showed exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. I predict BW will be in.

7) Hawkeye - One of the more popular Avengers in the comics, going all the way back to issue # 16 of the original series, Hawkeye may be a challenge to translate to the big screen. He's essentially Robin Hood (bow and arrow guy), but in a modern, technological setting. Yeah, OK, so he can have explosive arrows in his quiver, or arrows that emit gas or banshee-like screams, but is any of that really going to work? I'd love to see them try, but I'm not convinced they will. I'm saying Hawkeye's a maybe at this point.

8) The Scarlet Witch - Another villain-turned-hero(ine) like Hawkeye, Wanda Maximoff became an Avenger in the 16th issue back in the mid 1960s and has been with the team for most of the time since. Her power is to generate "chaos magic" that causes improbable things to happen around her, which is admittedly one of the weirder abilities out there. I personally think the big screen version of the team needs at least one more female (besides the Black Widow) but I'm not so sure it'll be the Witch. I'm predicting she's out.

9) Ant Man - Little known fact outside comic geekdom, but Ant Man is actually one of the founding Avengers (along with Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and the Wasp). He's supposed to be appearing in his own movie sometime, but that thing's been in the offing for years with no real movement so I doubt it's going to come out before The Avengers. What they might do, though, is use the team picture to launch a few spinoff franchises, and Ant Man would be a possibility for that. Rumours have included Firefly's Nathan Fillon for this role, which would be just fine by me. Something tells me that he might be in, but don't quote me.

10) The Wasp - Here's the team's 2nd female member, I think. She fits right in if you include Ant Man, and I think we'll see both of them. In the comics, Janet Van Dyne was the love interest of Hank "Ant Man" Pym back when the Avengers formed, and so the two were pretty inseparable. They were given a much rockier relationship in 21st century Ultimates series so I don't know which version we'll get if they're brought into The Avengers film. I'm marking Wasp as in alongside Ant Man.

So there you have it: the main candidates for the team and what I think the chances are for each to be included in the first film. And I say "first" because I hope it's a blast and that they make sequels galore as a result. Now's the time to dream about such things, before The Avengers comes out and shatters all such delusions.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Speaking Of Gorgeous

Today wasn't just the day that I received that first beautiful Absolute Planetary volume... it was also the day that the first issue of Batman: Odyssey came home from the comic store with me! This is the Neal Adams miniseries (two 6-part series, by the sounds of it) that was first rumoured several years ago and then confirmed earlier this year. Neal writes, pencils and does most of the inks in the first issue, and will carry on at least the first two of those duties for the duration, I assume.

My expectation was that the story would be somewhat goofy because I'm not a huge fan of Neal Adams, the writer. And sure enough, it reads like a cross between the 1960's Batman TV show, the Frank Miller/Jim Lee All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder series (that I've often referred to as a pleasing-to-the-eye, over-the-top train wreck) and a sort of bizarre fan-fic take on the Caped Crusader. I can't say as any of the main voices in the book sound like they should, nor that the plot makes much sense, but it's still mildly entertaining.

None of that matters, though, when you have interior pages by Neal Adams, the artist. This is what makes the book well worth its $3.99 price tag. We get pinup style panels, strange perspective shots, and some of the weirdest page composition you'd ever expect to find in a modern day comic... and it's all quite lovely! Several of the panels transported me back to my childhood, when we could still expect new Adams comics on a regular basis. His command of anatomy is amazing, to the point where every other comic book artist just seems to be delivering varying degrees of wrongness. I guess that skewed a viewpoint makes me an Adams fanboy... oh well, I can live with that label.

Absolutely Gorgeous

I finally broke down this week and ordered the first volume of Absolute Planetary. I've been holding off doing so in the hopes that Wildstorm would announce an Absolute edition that included the 3 crossover issues (JLA, Batman, and The Authority), which are the only Planetary tales not collected into the Absolute books. Since I don't perceive any movement in that direction, though, and seeing as a friend has recently been reading Planetary in trade paperback format, I figured the time had come to add this oversized version of the Warren Ellis/John Cassaday masterpiece to my shelf. I resisted the urge to order both Absolute volumes, however, as I want to take my time with the first one and only when I'm done it make the purchase of Book Two.

This will be the first time I've re-read the early issues of Planetary in several years, as well as my introduction to the pages in the much larger Absolute form. What a treat this is going to be!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

If It Seems Like I Haven't Had Much To Say Lately...

... it's only because I haven't had much to say lately.

There's just not all much going on at the moment. Math tutoring is down to just 4 hours per week. I'm not reading any comics that are absolutely wowing me. I haven't had any big revelations recently. I've been swimming in the pool a lot in the past couple weeks, but there's only so much you can say about that.

I blame the weather, personally... it's been so hot that my brain doesn't seem to be as active as usual. Or maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

In Pursuit Of Some Work

Thanks to a friend, I got an introduction to someone working in the Toronto area who may be in the market for my Relative Estimating/Story Point workshop.

As a variation on the "try before you buy" method of getting your foot in the door first, I've offered to visit the company and do a (free) 45-minute Lunch & Learn on the topic up front, in order to give the folks there a better idea of what they'd be getting for their money. That's now being scheduled for Thursday of next week, after which we'll discuss the possibility of bringing the full workshop in-house for them.

Needless to say, there's a bit of pressure on me to do a good job with the Lunch & Learn, but really only to the extent that I always feel when I do a guest lecture or other speaking engagement. I've never taken any of them lightly in the past, and I don't plan to this time, either. It just happens that there's actual money riding on the outcome of this one, for a change.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Two Movies I'm Keeping My Fingers Crossed On

Each of the next two Fridays features debuts of movies I've been looking forward to for awhile now:

Predators premieres next weekend, and it can't possibly be any worse than its two most immediate predecessors: Predator 2, the awful Danny Glover/Gary Busey trainwreck that featured some of the worst dialogue in the history of movie-making; and Aliens vs Predator 2, which managed to make most of us realize just how relatively enjoyable the first AvP film actually was! With Robert Rodriguez attached as its main producer, and stars like Adrien Brody, Lawrence Fishburne and Topher Grace, I have at least some grounds for hoping this new addition may actually deliver some good thrills. I'd certainly like to see the losing streak that both the Alien and Predator franchises have been on lately come to an end, and with Ridley Scott set to direct the next facehugging feature, that may not be as unlikely as it once was.

Based on his previous work, Christopher Nolan's upcoming release, Inception, automatically piques my interest. It launches in two weeks' time, and features such interesting names as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe and Tom Berenger. Nolan has yet to let me down, spanning two Batman features (both amazing films), a successful "gimmick" picture (Memento) and a fun period/SF flick (The Prestige). I haven't seen Insomnia yet, although we recently purchased it on DVD, meaning that that oversight will be remedied shortly. What little I know about Inception is what I've gleaned from the trailers I've seen. It looks a little Matrix-y but I'm sure there's more to it than that. I also tend to think DiCaprio is probably picky enough by this point in his career that he wouldn't sign up for just any old thing.

It's not very often that I see back-to-back weekends in which theatrical releases might actually drag me out of my shut-in existence for a few hours, but it could be about to happen. Wish me luck!

[Update later that same day: Just watched Insomnia with Vicki, and we both liked it a lot. Quite the psychological thriller, although there weren't a lot of surprises in it. As I said to Vicki, it's probably Nolan's weakest film but that still puts it above 99% of the films that come out.]

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Books I'm Currently Reading (July 2010 Edition)

Time for another list, as much for my own future reference as any other reason:

I just finished Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, in which Mr Mooney (co-host of The Intersection blog, one of my favourite Science sites) runs through the many ways in which George W Bush's administration and Republican conservatives in general have tried to undermine and/or co-opt Science to push their own anti-Science agendas. He focuses on examples such as the banning of embryonic stem cell research, overturning environmental protection measures, introducing "intelligent design" into the public education system as a viable alternative to evolution, establishing a fake link between abortions and breast cancer while denying the obvious connection between junk food and obesity, and several others. It's a good, albeit somewhat-dry, read. A passage that really spoke to me was "When politicians use bad science to justify themselves, rather than good science to make up their minds, we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead." I'm tempted to say that it's an easier pill to swallow now that Bush is gone, but of course Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the rest of the anti-intellectual Conservatives are still out there, trying to twist the universe into whatever fits into their narrow interpretations of ancient texts.

Our Choice by Al Gore - I mentioned this in passing previously, as a means to an end (it prompted a certain line of thinking for me). As for the book itself, I'm finding it to be something of a "good textbook", in that it's answering a lot of my questions about various aspects of Climate Change while not necessarily providing all that much in the way of entertainment. A few years ago I would've put this book down for that reason and never picked up it up again; today, however, I'm interested enough in the material that I can handle a small chore like this in the pursuit of knowledge.

Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins - After being so thrilled by Dawkins' The God Delusion, it was a no-brainer that I'd go in search of something else by him. I've only just begun it, but it gets off to a good start. If it lives up to my expectations, I plan to get a copy of The Greatest Show on Earth next, presumably once it comes out in softcover. Dawkins is quickly becoming someone whose insights I pay a lot of attention to.

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving - I'm a big Irving fan, with The World According to Garp being one of my favourite books. I think I've read nearly every one of his novels, liking most of them quite a bit. Last Night has one of the worst opening few chapters that I've ever encountered by Irving, to the point where I would've given up on it had it been written by almost any other author. However, I stuck with it, and things improved about 25% of the way in, and I'm now enjoying it well enough. The characters are likable, which is a typical trait of his books, although I'm finding the non-linear storytelling a bit annoying. At this point, I'd say it's not one of the author's best, but I'm only a little more than halfway done.

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem - Regular readers of this blog may recall that I'm a Lethem-lover. He's shown up quite a few times here, and always in a positive light. His Science Fiction stories are always more character-focused than most SF, which is probably why I like it so much. Chronic City, on the other hand, seems more like straight-up fiction than SF, with the protagonist living in New York City in a contemporary setting. He has a strange and interesting circle of friends, including an astronaut fiancee trapped in a slowly-dying space station as well as a reclusive critic who's obsessed with obscure movies and the secret messages contained within Marlon Brando films. It's extremely well-written and I'm having a ball with it so far (about 1/4 of the way in at the moment).

The African Queen, Part 2

Continuing my travelogue of daughter Tammy's African vacation (first part here), here are some e-mail excerpts from the middle part of the trip:

[Directed to me:] "Alive! Sky diving was absolutely amazing, I will definitely do it again if the opportunity presents itself (maybe on a future vacation). I would happily do it at home all the time if it was less expensive! If you want to go I will gladly accompany you, just let me know! I felt extremely safe the whole time - the tandem diver had 10 years of experience and over 5,000 jumps. We were clipped in together in 4 different areas and he had the main parachute and a backup as well. He said in his 5,000 jumps he's had to use his backup parachute 4 times only. I've got a DVD of it and lots of photos too."

[Later:] "Still alive, in good health, in possession of all my belongings, etc. We're having a brief stop in Rundu, a town on the Namibia/Angola border before we go to our campsite tonight. Tomorrow morning we head out for 2 days into the Okavango Delta - hopefully will not be eaten by a hippo/croc, since apparently there are plenty of those.

Mmmm let's see - guess I left off my reports in Swakopmund, which I loved. Would live there. Went skydiving and survived, and went sand boarding on some of the dunes on the outskirts of town. It was wet that morning, so the boarding was difficult but we also went down on mats and I think clocked in at about 70 km/hr.

We spent the next couple of nights in the bush with the San Bushmen, a traditional African tribe. Oh and two days in Etosha - which was amazing. We saw too many elephants, zebra, and giraffe to count, as well as 5 lions. We ALMOST saw a kill (that's the official terminology for when a lion catches and kills its dinner) - a female lion was stalking a zebra for about 20 minutes, but then a silly spring bok spotted the lion and alerted the zebra. When the lion realized that the zebra had seen her, she just stood up non-chantlantly, yawned, and walked back to the rest of her pride."

[Later still:] "We just arrived in Livingstone, and are staying at a waterfront area near victoria falls. We toured the falls today on the way in - AMAZING. No offense to Canada, but Niagara has got nothing on this - one of the most incredible things I've seen in all my travelling. Tomorrow I am going white water rafting at the bottom of the falls - in the video they showed you get flipped out of the boat frequently, so should be interesting.

So the last few days we have spent in the Okavango Delta area of Botswana, where we went out on mokoros (the little dugout canoes that a poler guides) and camped on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. Hippos were walking through our camps in the middle of the night - I heard them grunting very close to our tents! Our guides advised us: if you have to pee, just hold it or go right at the door of your tent. The polers stayed with us and put on a song and dance show at night. It was unbelievably cold those days - warm during the day in the sun, but bitterly cold at night. I have two sleeping bags ... and I slept with two pairs of a pants on, two shirts, sweater, and my rain jacket and was still freezing. Needless to say I came down with a cold, but it only lasted a couple of days and I feel fine now.

After Okavango we went to Chobe national park for 2 days - I now officially have some amazing, National Geographic-worthy photos. One of the highlights was a sunset cruise, where we saw hippos, crocs, and elephants (swimming!) up close. The scenery here is incredible, and we've seen all possible animals now with the exception of a leopard. Apparently the serengeti (which we visit towards the very end of the trip) will be even better than the parks we've been to so far."

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Perfect Response: Put Up Or Shut Up!

As I've watched the news coverage of the big Wonder Woman makeover story this week, I've been struck by the volume of negativity that's been associated with it. From comic fans far and wide to gossip queen Nikki Finke and even to Fox News, there's been a ton of dumping on Diana's latest phase... mostly from people who haven't read her comic in years, if ever. My response to that is: if you really want to have a vote in what happens to the Amazon Princess, you should really be buying her comic!

For those who prefer the traditional version (about to be - temporarily - updated), there are trade paperbacks and even the odd original graphic novels out there, the purchase of which would show some support for Star Spangled Pantie Diana. On the other hand, I'll be showing my faith in what JMS is trying to do with the character right now by picking up the next year or two worth of issues that he's writing.

For those who prefer to sit on the sidelines and gripe about the upcoming change with no skin in the game and no money on the table, I have no sympathy.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cat To Play Spider? (Not Quite)

The speculation has been absolutely crazy as to who would replace Tobey Maquire as the next big screen Spider-Man, and it looks like it's Garfield... no, not Garfield the Cat (although, hey, that would be pretty interesting!) but rather Andrew Garfield. You can read more about it here, if you're so inclined.

I know there are a lot of Spider-Man 3-haters out there, but if the new Sam Rami-less franchise ends up sucking, even you may look back wistfully at what I thought was a reasonably good film. And I think we can all agree that the 2nd Rami Spider-flick was one of the greatest superhero movies ever, right up there with Batman Begins, a bit better than either of the Iron Man offerings and just a little notch below The Dark Knight.