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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wow, That's (Not) A Lot Of Blogging!

As November closes down and makes way for the last month of 2010, I see that I'll have hit another new low in terms of monthly blogging (probably 25, unless I think of something else to write about in the next 3 hrs). I have to admit that this month flew by, so it's not too surprising that my output was so meager. I did a lot of walking (with Julie), Mad Men watching (with Vicki), Black Ops playing (some of it with Boneman), yoga (3 classes last week!) and have been busy reading quite a few books. Lots of living but not that much of anything worth blogging about.

For those who weren't following the blog that long ago, you might get a kick out of checking out what December 2006 looked like hereabouts: 175 posts! Yes, you read that right... 7 times the output that I managed in the current month!

Also worthy of note, I suppose, is that I'm closing in on 3000 posts here on Kimota94's Place. Sometime before Christmas I expect to hit that milestone which, given my pathetic blogging rate of late, might be the last one for a very long time.

Mythbusting Black Ops

The following three and a half minute video is pure joy for any Call of Duty: Black Ops fans out there. I especially enjoyed discovering whether or not you can actually dive over a Rocket Propelled Grenade!

Netflix Vs The Internet Providers

It won't surprise anyone who's been following such things, but it looks like the battle between video-streaming service Netflix and the cable and telecom companies who provide Internet access to most North American homes is starting to heat up. The battleground is obvious: bandwidth. Before the streaming of video became ubiquitous, bandwidth utilization was relatively flat - excluding increased market penetration, which is something that yields correspondingly higher revenue - and well within the parameters the ISPs were comfortable with.

With the introduction of a streaming (DVD-less) version of Netflix both here and in the States, however, longstanding bandwidth limitations have started to be put to the test. Roger Ebert tweeted recently that Comcast is at least considering some idea around charging Netflix for the use of "Kabletown"'s Internet pipes (more info here). There are also rumours floating around that throttling of Internet traffic will be imposed strategically, with the goal of either killing the streaming services or forcing them to pay for 'preferential treatment'. It won't be long before such stories become rampant, I suspect.

Anecdotally, I've been monitoring our own household Internet use, ever since we signed up for Netflix and a friend mentioned that his family had to up their monthly allocation as a result of using the service. We have a 60 GB (up and down) limit that we've had for ages. In the past, we usually averaged around 15 GB use each month, meaning that we were only utilizing about 25% of what we were entitled to. In the current billing month, which is really the first one that has seen us visiting Netflix on the PS/3 on an almost-daily basis, we'll probably finish in the 50 - 60% range. In other words, our use will have increased by somewhere between 100% and 140%! And I'm not even convinced that we won't go higher, since we only started watching Mad Men on Netflix partway through the month. (On the other hand, of course, we may not find many more attractions there as compelling as Season Two of that show has been.)

So if we're in any way typical, we should expect to see some significant tremors begin to rock the world of the Internet providers, any time now. My best guess is that we'll see some sort of across-the-board rate increases passed along to the customer base shortly, 'justified' by the sorts of statistics I've outlined above from our own experiences. Or maybe the ISPs will go after Netflix, YouTube and other big-use streaming companies, as Comcast is said to be. Or probably both!

[Update Dec 4/10: Our monthly total for Nov 4 thru Dec 3 came in just under 40 GB, slightly exceeding my 50 - 60% estimate (at 67%).]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And Don't Call Him "Shirley"

R.I.P. Leslie Neilson, immortalized for an entire generation thanks to Airplane! and a whole raft of campy movies. Little did they know that he actually used to do serious TV and movies before that.

The Sporting Wife

Just to mix things up a bit, today I asked Vicki if she'd be willing to play a little Call of Duty: Black Ops with me. I know that, when it comes to video games, First Person Shooters are not her cup of tea at all, but occasionally I can twist her arm into trying one out. I guess I caught her in a particularly good mood today!

We started off with some multiplayer (Team Deathmatch) Combat Training against Artificial Intelligence bots, the skills of which I'd dialed down to their lowest level. We played several maps but for whatever reason, the game kept putting us on opposite sides (must be a setting, but I couldn't find it). That wasn't particularly fun so then we opted for Zombies, instead.

This was a better choice for Vicki, and we enjoyed about four or five matches before Vicki was done in by the stressful and nausea-inducing action. We played online with two strangers each time, and so our success varied a fair bit as a result. I think we got to level 5 at our peak (I've gotten to level 11 or 12 when playing with 3 random partners before, once or twice) but Vicki was really getting the hang of it by the last game. She says she's up for more another time, so we'll see how that that goes.

I definitely have not gotten into Black Ops like I did Modern Warfare 2, at least not yet. It's fun, but not nearly the addictive experience the earlier game was. I can't put my finger on what the difference is, or whether maybe it's the fact that the two games aren't different enough that's to blame. Still and all, I'm certainly getting my money's worth, unlike earlier purchases of Left 4 Dead 2, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Krugman Speaks Truth

I always enjoy economist Paul Krugman's Op Eds, but his recent piece The Hijacked Commission is especially impressive. In it, Prof Krugman very succinctly lays out what's going on in the U.S. right now as they try to come to terms with their deficit. I often think that living in that country must absolutely frustrate liberal-leaning individuals like him, as it's so obviously becoming a conservatively-run nation, despite the recent election of its first black president. That's not surprising, I suppose, considering that the rich and powerful have all the loudest voices, and they've never been richer or more powerful than they are right now. I guess the citizens there are really just getting the governance that they deserve, as it's a country more clearly founded on the principles of capitalism and "looking out for # 1" than on the "liberty and justice for all" ideal that gets all the lip service.

Anyway, I'm glad to be living in Canada!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Back To Work Day Tomorrow

For the afternoon tomorrow, at least, I'm a working stiff once again. I'm off to the university to facilitate a Retrospective, my first paying gig since... the last time I was there, doing the same thing (roughly a year ago)! I'm looking forward to seeing some of the same friendly faces again, plus a former co-worker from my last full-time job who's arrived there since my last visit. It'll be fun to flex my Agile muscles again, as well, just so long as I don't pull one of them! (With all the exercise I've been getting recently, pulled muscles have become a daily hazard, I'm afraid).

Anyway, that's what I'll be up to on Thursday afternoon, just in case any Jedis out there detect a disturbance in the Force and wonder WTF is going on...

The All-But Forgotten Math Book

When Vicki came home from "the office" recently (she mostly works at home on her current contract but occasionally heads downtown for some face time with her boss) and informed me that she'd sold a copy of No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) there, I was delighted, as always. But when I went to update my accounting spreadsheet for that product, I discovered that hers was the first sale in about 6 months! Yikes! I knew it hadn't been selling, but that's ridiculous!

Now, as luck would have it, another book request came in just a day or two later, so things are moving again, but... just barely. Of course, I assume all responsibility for this sad state of affairs, as I haven't been advertising or even promoting it like I should. The truth is that sort of thing has always made me feel uncomfortable, and it doesn't seem to get any easier with practice.

As it stands right now, I think we're about 20 sales away from breaking even. I obviously don't think we'll make that mark before the end of the year, meaning that - for the first time - I'll have a net loss in terms of publishing costs within a calendar year. Both AgileMan books achieved profitability quickly, but they were also printed in smaller numbers initially, thanks to some chickening out on my part. Live and learn, I guess.

Monday, November 22, 2010

(An Almost) Happy Birthday To Boneman

It had all the makings of a very special 41st birthday today, when he found out that he had to travel to Tampa with his boss on business at the same time his beloved Bruins were visiting the Lightning. Sure enough, they got tickets and headed out to the game tonight... what a great birthday present!

I first knew that things weren't going well when I got a text reading "This game blows" (which I initially mistook as coming from Julie, my usual texting-buddy, making me wonder just what game she was watching!). After being down 3-0, the Bruins pulled a little closer but the game ended 3-1. As I texted him back, that's the kind of game I usually get when I make the mistake of watching the Rangers live: they get behind early and never have a lead! Oh well... at least he got to the game!

Mad About Mad Men

OK, maybe not quite "mad", but definitely enthusiastic. We've finished the Season One DVD that I bought and have now started watching Season Two via Netflix. It's certainly well written and engaging, although both of the concerns that Tammy expressed as to why she thought I wouldn't like it were valid. I guess I'm just able to get past them better than she'd expected.

There's also something to be said for watching the early episodes with someone who's seen them already (Vicki) and being able to bounce ideas off of her as to where I think things are heading, when she knows more about what's going on than I do. I'll give my wife top marks in not spoiling anything so far, which is better than I could do if the situation were reversed, I'm sure.

I'd say the 2nd season hasn't started off as strongly as the 1st one finished, but that's understandable as those last couple episodes of the inaugural season were pretty damned impressive. We're now at the point where we typically watch one each day, after starting much more slowly than that. Netflix should get us through Season Three, and then after that I'll have to figure out how best to get current so I can start watching them "live" (or, PVR-live). Thanks to all those who encouraged me to give Mad Men a watch.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Matrix Meets Inception?

Check out the trailer for Source Code, and tell me if this doesn't feel like a cross between two of cinema's science fiction touchstones of the past decade (ish, since The Matrix actually debuted in 1999):

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Art Of Not Being A Liability To Your Team

As we work our way through the second week of Call of Duty: Black Ops, I'm already reaping the benefits of having played some Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer just before its successor came out. In the past, when a new game has arrived and I've ventured into its online arena, I've always seen the same pattern: my kill-to-death ratio takes a beating while I learn the game and its maps, and eventually have to make a concerted effort to push that stat up over 1.0 (meaning, have more kills than deaths). I've chronicled this in the past with Resistance: Fall of Man, Resistance 2 and the aforementioned Modern Warfare 2, , and it's often a long, arduous journey that requires me to play quite defensively in order to keep my deaths low. In fact, I've had some very frustrating sessions within each of those three games where I've been trying my damnedest to simply knock out a few more kills than deaths, only to hit a dry spell where I'm just spawning and dying.

With Black Ops, though, I only briefly fell below the 1.0 KTD mark early on, while I was stuck with a substandard gun (M16) and had yet to unlock my preferred perks (Ninja, Ghost and the quick reload one). Once I'd upgraded to the Famas assault rifle and adopted those perks, I quickly got back into the positive and am already up over 1.2. I think he highest I ever got in Modern Warfare 2 was 1.24, and that took ages to achieve. Besides the recent warmup with MW2 (which is a very similar game with identical controls), I've also been doing some Combat Training sessions in which I play the same maps but against AI opponents. That's helped me to learn the maps more quickly, and I've ramped up the quality of the enemy AI almost to the top, which has forced me to play better even while training.

As a Team Deathmatch fan, I like the fact that I've rapidly moved from liability to asset, in terms of doing my team more good than harm. That's a great feeling that this team player appreciates achieving so early on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

10 More Years Of Newspapers In Canada

... if you believe this article, anyway. Canada's newspapers will disappear in 2020, 3 full years after our neighbours to the south lose theirs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

AgileMan's Off To School... Again

Tomorrow I do my semi-annual pilgrimage to the local university so that I can guest lecture to a 2nd year class of Comp Sci neophytes on the basics of Agile. I've updated the slides to include a bit of late-breaking developments within that very campus (at the business school where my good friend is CTO) but otherwise it's the same ol' dog and pony show that I've done about a half dozen times now. I guess the fact that I keep being invited back every semester must mean I'm doing OK at it, but it does start to seem old to me after awhile. I suppose that feeling is a good indicator that I was smart not to go into teaching as a profession way back when!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Game That Keeps On Giving

Not surprisingly, I've been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Black Ops of late. Yesterday, when Vicki was out of the house for all but a couple of the waking hours, I probably put in about 10 hours of online play, which is about as much as I can handle in a day. I got my kill-to-death ratio back up above 1.0, although the leaderboard stats seem to be screwed up, as it's showing me right now with over 13,000 kills which is off by at least an order of magnitude.

So one thing this latest game has introduced is an easy way to review your online game play, via an option called "My Recent Games." The video and audio are saved on a Treyarch server, apparently, such that you can replay the game in spectator mode anytime you like. You can also select up to six of the games to place on your "player card", from which anyone can view them. I've loaded up four so far, each of which showcase my... umm, unique playing style! They're quite hilarious to watch, and I encourage anyone reading this who owns the game for the PS/3 to check out my selections. You'll likely laugh out loud a time or two if you do.

Friday, November 12, 2010

For The Call Of Duty: Black Ops Fans

There's a very nice COD:BO weapon summary here. I found it quite informative, and I probably won't even use most of the guns available in the game!

Fun Distraction

While I'm busy playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, please feel free to entertain yourself with this. It really puts things in perspective... literally! (In case it isn't immediately obvious, that's an interactive application, activated via the light blue slide bar at the bottom.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Temporarily Closed For Renovations

(If "renovations" means what I think it does, which is the non-stop playing of Call of Duty: Black Ops!)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Best Buy Fail!!

Well, I put my faith in Best Buy, pre-ordering Call of Duty: Black Ops back in September. They shipped my copy out yesterday, but there's been no sign of it today. They used Canada Post, which is probably the real reason it's not here. Not only did they not manage to get it here from Mississauga in 30 hours (a 2-hr drive!), but they haven't even updated their tracking information once since this time last night.

I think this means I'll never rely on Best Buy again, when timely delivery matters. Sigh. I think if it hasn't arrived by dinner time tomorrow, I'll go out and buy a copy somewhere else and shove the Best Buy copy back down their throats when it finally gets here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Cat Women

Vicki and Julie are heading to a cat show this afternoon, while I stay home to fight the good fight (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, to warm up for Tuesday's big Call of Duty: Black Ops release). Vicki's been to several before, but this is apparently Julie's first. They started talking about it after we watched Best in Show for one of our Movie Nights, and it just went from there. I'm not sure if they'll also try to find a dog show at some point, as Vicki's not all that much of a dog person. But maybe.

If they return with any awe-inspiring photos, I may post them here later. I just hope they don't come home with fleas!

Update later that day: Not sure if this qualifies as "awe-inspiring", but it's the winner being named for the Kitten category, a "Scottish fold" (which apparently means the ears are folded back, or something like that):



And here are the happy cat show gawkers, when they returned home afterward (sans fleas, as far as I can tell).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Cooks Source Affair

In case you didn't hear about this over the past week, we've just seen another interesting example of crowdsourcing: when the magazine Cooks Source stole a tart article (tarticle?) right off a woman's blog, the author went public with the rather assinine response that she received from the magazine's editor. That sent the heaving masses both into flame-mode (which is always fun to watch!) and into virtual search parties, scanning Cooks Source's online postings for other instances of the magazine's bad behaviour. Not surprisingly, they found many, many other similar offenses, all of which are now well-documented.

There's nothing else quite like the power of the Hive Mind, when it's fully deployed like that!

[Also, there's this take on it.]

Isn't That Typical?

I was prompted to fill out an online survey when I visited the Bell site this morning in order to check out my Internet usage now that we're Netflixing again. The survey was a bunch of questions about their website layout, which I've always found counter-intuitive and annoying. So I carefully answered each multiple choice query, and wrote up some more descriptive responses where allowed. Feeling quite good about myself, I clicked on "Submit" only to have it fail with an error message indicating that the site couldn't be contacted! The irony of that result is almost too on-the-nose...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Superman: Earth One: Worth Every Penny

When DC Comics announced their new Earth One line of stories in December of last year, many of us were surprised - and not necessarily in a good way - to hear that each tale would come in the form of a 100+ page hardcover graphic novel. That's a pretty expensive way to launch a new line, and a price point of $20 obviously eliminates some potential sampling by fans on a limited budget. It seemed an odd choice, to say the least.

Having just finished the first release, Superman: Earth One, I can absolutely see why they went that way. The re-imaging of the Man of Steel, from the mind of writer J Michael Straczynski and the fingers of artist Shane Davis, is truly breathtaking. Its pace is quite a departure from what we're used to, given the 22-page serialized form of most comics, and it benefits greatly from that freedom. It takes its time introducing its young Clark Kent, who's both like and unlike any version we've seen before. He's still a noble spirit who grew up under the loving guidance of Jonathan and Martha Kent, but he's more multi-dimensional than we're used to in our Man of Steel. His major motivation is to provide for his adopted mother after the death of Jonathan, and he resists for the longest time any urge to don the red-blue-and-yellow jumpsuit that's been prepared for him.

In fact, it takes a full-on alien invasion of the Earth before he accepts his role as super-protector, and even then he makes it clear that he's not there to do the job of police, fire fighters or other heroes. He doesn't want to take away Mankind's sense of self-determination, but rather to field the problems - like marauding aliens! - that our regular response teams just aren't set up for. And hey, I give Straczynski major kudos for going balls-to-the-wall with Kal-El's coming out party. There's a very "9/11" feel to the scenes where the alien armada begins targeting Earth cities for destruction, and that's about the largest canvas imaginable for the world's greatest superhero to debut upon.

The portrayals of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were superb, although neither of them were terribly-well developed in what was clearly Clark's story. I liked all of the nods to modern newspaper realities, such as dwindling circulation, online presence and the need for real-time updates. Assuming that we see more of this new "universe" in the coming months, I look forward to finding out where JMS will take the trio of intrepid reporters.

Still to come is Geoff Johns' Batman: Earth One, but I'm having a hard time imagining that it'll beat the standard set by JMS here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Working The Wife Again

I've neglected to mention hereabouts that Vicki's now on a work contract once again, albeit a much better one than last time. This one has her working from home most of the time (yay!), at a part-time pace (double yay!!) and for someone who's both a friend and a wonderful person to work for (triple yay!!!). It's actually almost too good to be true, but I guess maybe we were due some good luck after all those house-related headaches earlier this year.

Contract work continues to elude me, but my Math tutoring will probably get me fairly close to my 2010 "salary target" of $10K, so that's OK.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Giants Win The World Series While George W Bush Quietly Weeps

I don't know for sure, but it seemed to me that every time George W Bush - former owner of the Texas Rangers, I believe - showed up in his front row seat in Arlington this postseason, the home team lost. They definitely lost both times in the ALDS against the Rays, and it seemed like they did whenever he was there while the Yankees were in town. Last night and tonight he and Laura were on hand to watch back-to-back losses, 4-0 and 3-1, sending the Giants to their first championship since leaving New York in the 1950s. I'm sure I wasn't the only casual viewer of the playoffs this year who started rooting against the Rangers just because W was obviously pulling for them. That guy's legacy lives on!

Anyway, congrats to the Giants. They played 3 great series and deserve the title.