Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Working On Work

There are a number of reasons why I haven't posted much here lately - the biggest single contributing factor, honestly, is that I haven't had all that much to say of late - but one of the more interesting causes is: I'm busy making up slides for an Agile 101 workshop that I'm being contracted for by a local company. Nothing's been signed yet, as far as I can tell, but the session does appear to have been approved internally. So now I've begun putting together what I hope to be about two hours of introductory material, to be followed by another couple hours spent on a hands-on activity that I'll be designing to give the attendees some sense of what working in an Agile manner feels like.

Anyway, more details later but in the meantime blogging will likely continue to be light... for a myriad of reasons!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Temporary Dog Ownership

Beginning on Sunday (six days from now), and running for about two and a half weeks, Vicki and I will be playing the part of dog owners. Julie's golden retriever, Cooper, along with her ragdoll cat, Finley, will be staying with us while their mistress makes her first ever journey to Africa.

Finley's arrival would be enough to throw our cat, Lucy, off her game (although she eventually adjusted to Charlie, the beautiful Siamese who we looked after for two weeks earlier this month)... but what Cooper's presence in the house is going to do to her, we can't even imagine! We're expecting that she may become an upstairs-dwelling cat for the duration, and so we're planning to have water, food and litter box up there for her use. Cooper's well-trained enough that we'll be able to keep him on the main floor, allowing Lucy to stay away from him if she so chooses. Finley, of course, will no doubt invade her space just as he did the first time he came over for a visit, back in February!

For whatever reason, this Spring has seen us taking in animals for vacationing friends of ours. If nothing else, it's forcing Lucy out of the comfortable and lazy rut she's been in since Rascal left us last year!

Friday, March 25, 2011

One Year Later (Vicki Sells A Book!)

I just realized that today is the one year anniversary of the Launch Day for No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help), and Vicki just happened to sell a copy of the book this afternoon! This was the first sale of 2011, unfortunately (unless we count the 2 Kindle sales I've had so far), which makes it all the more coincidental that it came today, of all dates! Go figure, eh?

Way To Go, Canada!

Things like this make me proud!

According to the chart at that link, 58% of Canadians believe that humankind evolved through the unguided process called natural selection (compared to 16% of Americans), and another 19% of Canadians believe in Evolution but give God some credit for it (compared to 38% of Americans). So that means a total of 77%, or just over three quarters, of my countryfolk understand that Evolution is real, with more than half of the country needing to find no divine intervention in the process. It's still a little saddening to see that 14% of Canadians (compared to 40% of Americans) actually distrust or are simply ignorant of all of the mountains of scientific evidence that disprove the Biblical claim that the Earth is only 10,000 years old, though!

As I continue to burn through Richard Dawkins' most recent (and amazing!) book I can at least take some solace in the fact that here, in the Great White North, a strong majority of us have the necessary perspective to appreciate what Mr Dawkins calls, quite appropriately, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Birthday Report 2011 (Part 4)

For the final installment of our 2011 Birthday Extravaganza, we traveled a few kilometres to Julie's house last weekend for a delicious dinner (chicken wraps... my current favourite!) and...

... presents!!

Vicki got a fire pot, some smelly stuff, and a lovely bag, while I picked up a new T-shirt (slogan: "Vegetables are what food eats!"), 2 books and a DVD called Earth: The Biography. Here we are, after being treated so royally, with a yummy ice cream cake awaiting us:

And for those who worry about such things: my drink, for the evening, was a non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice which was quite delightful.

And now, at long last, the birthday season is over... with just 9 months to go until Christmas!

You Never Forget Your First Avenger

As longtime readers of this blog know, my very first comic book featured one Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America. More than that, it just happened to re-tell his origin story, which is pretty much exactly what you'd hope for when encountering a new character for the first time! Keeping that in mind, try to imagine just how much I love this latest trailer for Captain America: The First America:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Needle Drops Explained

When I come across something like this, I can't help but want to share:

"In theatrical and television production, a ‘needle drop’ is industry jargon for the insertion of licensed music into a scene on a specific cue."

[Via a Newsarama article.]

Do Not Try This At Home (Especially Not At My Home!)

Almost too painful for me to look at!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Hottest Rock In The System

NASA's reporting tonight that the Messenger spacecraft has achieved Mercury-orbit, a first for an object launched from Earth. I can't wait to see what kind of photos and data comes back from our overheated neighbour (and I'm not talking about "ugly naked guy"!).

This Disposable Society's Gonna Kill Us All

Right now I'm typing on the 3rd laptop I've purchased in the last 2.5 years. My first one - an Acer piece of crap - was just a poor choice on my part, as I tried running Windows Vista on a machine with only 1 GB of RAM (hey, they were selling them that way!). (And thanks to a bizarre new keyboard, I just somehow managed to Publish this blog entry right in the middle of writing it. Sigh.)

Anyway, that misstep led me to buy a Toshiba laptop less than a year after getting the Acer, and I was very happy with that machine... until its motherboard died suddenly on Wednesday! Since I hadn't bought an extended warranty, and the replacement board was going to be almost as much as a new device, I opted to buy my 3rd one since August of 2008. While I'd planned to pick up an extended warranty this time around, the price ($100 for 1 extra year, $200 for 2 extra years) just didn't seem worth it. We'll see if I once again end up regretting that decision. If nothing else, I've got to get this whole 'moving to a new laptop' thing down to a science, including automating my backups.

As much as we enjoy how much computer prices have come down, I'm kind of nostalgic for the days when I'd replace one not because it suddenly stopped working when I least expected it but rather because its technology had gotten obsolete... you know, after 4 or 5 years!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Off The Air

My (less than 2 year old) laptop has decided it doesn't know how to boot up any more, and so my online activity has been relegated to my basement PC for now, while the repair shop takes its best shot at fixing that hunk of junk. In the meantime, there probably won't be much blogging or tweeting.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Birthday Report 2011 (Part 3)

Vicki's now received her birthday presents from me, which included a Traveling Wilburys CD, some Lush cream, a couple of mystery books, and...

... a Kindle!

That's right, the same handheld eReader that I've been porting my books over to is also the latest toy in Vicki's ensemble! She was genuinely surprised by the choice, but in a good way. I gave her a carrying case and a $30 gift card for it, as well, and she's already ordered her first eBook: Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer! It should be interesting to see what this does to her reading habits, now that so many possibilities are just a few clicks (rather than klicks) away!

Meanwhile, I'm working on the Kindle-izing of my More Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Year 2: Easier Said Than Done). I've had 2 Kindle sales so far, one each from the U.S. and U.K. stores, both for my Math book. It still remains to be seen whether there's any market for AgileMan in this eBook landscape.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Birthday Report 2011 (Part 2)

Tammy's now safely arrived for her visit, a mere 10 weeks after the last time we saw her! It was fun trying to think of all the things to update her on - "Hey, check out the cool coasters we got for Christmas after you left in December!" and "Oh, that's right, you haven't seen the new car yet!" - but seriously: that's too long between visits!!

And Tammy didn't come empty-handed: Vicki got a rice cooker for her birthday (a couple days early) and I received a book and 2 DVDs for mine (2 days after the fact). I got Naomi Klein's No Logo, which I can't wait to read, considering how much I loved The Shock Doctrine, as well as The Social Network and Inside Job, both of which I've heard good things about. Tammy always has such great taste in movies for me, and these two seem like no exception.

Now if only I could convince her to play some Killzone 3 co-op campaign with me...

That's Snow Fun!

I wasn't crazy about the big dumping of snow that we got yesterday, especially when I tried to shovel the driveway and felt my back go out on me!

On the other hand, when Julie, Cooper and I went for a walk in the woods last night, it was all worth it:

The trees were all bent over - or in some cases, knocked down! - by the weight of the snow, making for the most difficult passage that Julie's ever seen in 5 or 6 years of walking those woods. We were about two hours covering a distance that normally takes about 45 minutes, but saw some amazing sights... including this impromptu natural shelter that certain members of our party couldn't resist trying on for size!

If my back hadn't been so sore, I would've enjoyed the experience even more. But it was still a pretty amazing trek that neither of us will soon forget!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Birthday Report 2011 (Part 1)

Vicki made my birthday special today by bestowing upon me quite simply the largest book I've ever seen. The image to the left does not convey the enormity of Paul Levitz's 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking. I'd heard it was large; I hadn't realized that small children could be trapped under it! The thing actually comes in its own carrying case; that's how big it is!

I also received People First Economics, a book with many different contributors, including one of my current faves - Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine), as well as a couple of beautiful Thor comics from the Silver Age of Comics (the Thunder God has a movie coming out in a couple months, I hear).

Julie was kind enough to take me out to lunch today, and Vicki did the honours for dinner... meaning that I'm very well stuffed right now! Woof!

Tammy is supposed to visit this weekend, making her first return home since the day after Christmas! Assuming she makes it here, that may be the best birthday present of all! And the following weekend, Julie has invited Vicki and I over for a joint birthday/anniversary party at her place, meaning that the fun just keeps on coming.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

AgileMan Headed To Kindleland

In a mere 4 hours tonight, I produced a Kindle-friendly version of The Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan (Lessons Learned in Going Agile), otherwise known as the first AgileMan book. I'm not sure there's really much of a market for reading that particular treasure on a handheld device, but at least now (or within about 2 days, following the Amazon review process), folks will have that option.

I'll almost certainly tackle the sequel soon, as well. I'm just not sure whether I'll bother with the Complete edition, though, as it seems a bit overkill. On the other hand, maybe I should, just because most of the work will have been done already. Whatever! I'll figure it out.

[Update Mar 11/11: And we're live!]

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Rather Shocking: The Bechdel Test

If you've never heard of the Bechdel Test before, the following video will probably shock you (as it did me):

[Via Sheril @ The Intersection blog.]

Help Me Pick A Font

One of the more interesting criticisms I received about my last book was that my choice of font was rather underwhelming. I think it was Times New Roman that I'd used, which was admittedly not a very exciting selection. It was, in fact, more of a default choice, as I rarely think about such cosmetic matters as much as I should.

So... with a new book in the process of being written, I thought I'd put it out there: what's a good font to use for a novel? I'm certainly open to try something more exotic than TNR, although I may ultimately be limited by what's supported for whatever publishing option I choose. (Currently, I'd say I'll be using Lulu for that, but co-plotter Julie's already raised the question of whether I should try to find an actual publisher this time around. That sounds pretty daunting, and potentially quite depressing, but... we'll see.)

At any rate, now's your chance to try to sell me on your favourite font!

20 Years And Counting!

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary, and as Vicki said to me over dinner at The Keg: "Who'd have ever guessed we'd last 20 years?"

Now, before you judge that a particularly fatalistic comment for her to make, consider all of the people you know who were married to each other 20 years ago but aren't now. We ran through a quick, off the tops-of-our-heads list, and it was substantial. In this day and age, staying together that long may not necessarily be the exception, but it's also certainly not a given.

Anyway, I think I can safely say that we're both pleased and proud to still be together, and happy, two decades after we tied the knot at the Justice of the Peace's office in 1991.

And with that pronouncement out of the way, we begin our 21st year of wedded bliss. Bring it on!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Now It Can Be Told: My Next Writing Project

I've resisted the urge to mention this particular news before now, because... well, read on.

More than two years ago, I had an idea for a novel-length story and blogged vaguely about it at the time (Dec 2008). I then made an earnest attempt to write it, got about three chapters in, and completely stalled. Dead. I thought it was just a block, at first. But when months passed, and I didn't get back to it, I decided that it wasn't just pining for the fjords. No, this bird was deceased.

Flashforward two years later, to December of last year. My friend Julie and I had been throwing around the idea of writing a book together in the fall, but it eventually became apparent that, while she had the interest, she just simply didn't have the time to commit to such a project. (Working full-time, I guess, will do that to you!) Once I realized that our collaboration wasn't going to happen, I started looking for something to write on my own. It had been nearly a year since I'd finished No Kid of Ours is Failing at Math (How Parents Can Help) and I was getting that 'writing itch' once again. I didn't see any material for a 3rd AgileMan book, nor any reason to put together another Math book. Instead, I figured it was time to finally tackle the challenge of writing a novel.

Remembering my two year old idea, I started thinking about it once again. I realized that I didn't have as much of an outline as I'd originally thought - the ending, for one thing, was very unsatisfying. And I'd tried it once already, only to run aground. So how could I have any better luck the second time around?

At that point, I started talking to Julie about it. She didn't have the time to co-author a book with me, but thanks to our frequent long walks together, we realized that we had a golden opportunity to plot one together! And so we began to do just that.

Over the course of several weeks, the idea that I'd had in late 2008 blossomed into a full story, with an actual beginning, middle and ending. Julie suggested I try switching from the third person, omniscient narrator style that I'd employed the first time around, and try first person, instead. At first I resisted, because I wasn't sure how I could possibly tell that particular tale from a single character's point-of-view. But the more we discussed it, the more I could see options becoming available. As a result, I set aside what I'd written in 2008 and early 2009, and started from scratch.

Earlier today, I finished the fifth chapter of my still-untitled first novel. I'd estimate that I'm about 40% of the way complete on the first draft, more than 80 pages in. Vicki's heard a tiny excerpt from chapter one, way back when I first wrote it in January of this year, but otherwise only Julie and I know anything about this book. As I've finished the first draft of each chapter, my walking buddy has gotten to read it and provide high-level feedback. To date, that's been in the form of enthusiastic praise and a demand that I write faster, as she can't seem to wait for the next installment. She's almost certainly a little biased, not the least of which because she's actually contributed to the contents, but it's still a good sign.

I couldn't be happier with the way this project's progressing, thanks in no small part to the help and encouragement this good friend of mine has provided. That, along with an amazing wife who gives me the time and space I need in order to write every week as well as a belief that whatever I'm creating will actually be worth reading, has allowed me to get at least this far down the path toward producing a piece of fiction that I now expect to finish, sometime later this year. It's also felt, in the last few weeks in particular, as though I've gotten a bit of momentum behind me. Whereas I was struggling to write a chapter in a few weeks, at the start, I produced most of chapter five today. As in, like, the last 12 hours! Not that I expect to repeat that feat anytime soon, but it's - dare I say? - another good sign.

More details to come when things are further along.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Getting On The Kindle Gravy Train Bandwagon

Between about 4:00 p.m. on Thursday and 8:30 last night, I was very much a man on a mission. I was working fairly obsessively at producing a Kindle-friendly version of my Math book after a friend pointed me to some information about how easy it is to sell books for that device via Amazon. In fact, he was right: it's a pretty straight-forward and well-documented process, which is always a pleasant surprise to run into.

The complication, once I got into it, is of course in making the book look even half-decent on that eReader. While I imagine it's technically possible to just "port" it over as is, assuming that the Kindle customer will forgive the fact that the book looks like crap on the device, that's not anything I'd be comfortable having my name on. So I spent what probably amounted to 12 to 15 hours creating a Kindle version of my book in Word, iteratively making changes and then seeing what they looked like via a piece of software called the KindlePreviewer. Once I started, it became an all-consuming task (much like programming used to, at times). This was a tedious process, but also a rewarding one: I could watch as my book progressed ever so gradually from God-awful ugly on the Kindle to something I'm at least a little proud of.

For example, I had to figure out what to do with all of the page # references in the original version, as they were completely meaningless on the hand-held device. I discovered that I could replace each with an internal hyperlink, which then opened up all kinds of possibilities for dynamic linkages that I couldn't do with a physical book. In the end, I didn't follow down that path quite as far as I could have, as there were subtle references in the text that, had I taken the time to find each one, could all have been modified to include hyperlinks. To be honest, though, after that amount of time, I was getting fairly burned out and just wanted it published. So I settled for replacing all page and chapter #s with links, along with a few of the less obvious references that I stumbled across.

I also had to reconfigure all of the tables in the Word document, of which there were many! The table borders were not showing up at all on the KindlePreviewer (and therefore, I assume, wouldn't appear on the device itself). Worse yet, the contents of the columns were being squished together with no space between them. Knowing that I had to change them anyway, I took the opportunity to completely change the layout of those tables to something that would look better on the Kindle. The results are great; the amount of work involved, however, was substantial.

Along the same lines, I shifted all bulleted lists all the way to the left margin, since real estate is so limited on that sort of device. Even after doing so, the bullet points still show up indented, but not as dramatically. A handful of other similar modifications were required as I'd see what something looked like via the preview application.

Last night I submitted the book for review. It appears to have passed that stage as it now shows up as "Publishing" on my Kindle dashboard within Amazon, which is supposed to only take another 24 hours. Once it's actually out there, I'll post a link to it if it's accessible via the website (for all I know, you may only be able to see it via a Kindle itself).

Now I just have to decide if I want to go through that all over again for my AgileMan books! For the moment, at least, I'm taking a break. I'm still not convinced that I'll make (m)any sales out of this, but I'd love to be proven wrong!!

[Update the next day: Looks like it's live!]

Thursday, March 03, 2011

And Another Thing...

Sure enough, I ended up spending my evening in a completely different way than I'd expected! After a friend pointed me to some information about how to get my book(s) onto in electronic form for Kindle-reading, I started looking into it... and have now spent about 7 hours reformatting my Math book so that it'll look half-decent on that device! I figure I've probably still got another 4 or 5 hours of work left, so maybe by the end of the weekend I can put that chore to bed.

Here's hoping it's all worth it, although I can't help worrying that I'll see as few sales there as I've seen on Lulu in the past year.

A Day In The Life

Today has just been one of those days. I thought I had a handle on it when I got up this morning, but I was completely off the mark.

I had planned to spend the morning playing a little Killzone 3 - which I've barely touched since the weekend - only to receive an e-mail shortly after I got up inquiring after my AgileMan services and wondering if I had a 1-page bio that I could provide. Just like that, my morning was re-purposed toward that hopeful goal.

I thought I had one Math tutoring session for the day at 4:00 this afternoon, but it ended up not happening because the student was sick. (I had to phone about his whereabouts 5 minutes into the session to find this out, though.)

So naturally at this point, I can't help but wonder just how the rest of the day is going to compare with my expectations. We're supposed to be receiving the family cat of friends of ours, in order to look after him while they're away on vacation. Will that still happen? Who can say! I hope it does, though, as it'll be nice to have an actual friendly cat in the house for a change, since Lucy certainly doesn't qualify (and Rascal's been gone for months). Of course, we're expecting fireworks once she discovers that she's got company in the pet department, but it's hard to feel sorry for her.

(The current plan right now calls for our four-legged guest tonight to stay for just over two weeks, followed by a couple weeks of "normalcy" before we get yet another feline visitor for about 17 days. Yes, it feels like we might just be turning into a Cat Hotel around here!)

Vicki's supposed to be tutoring her student tonight, in a session re-scheduled from last night when that pupil was sick! It seems like there's a bug going around, or maybe it's just National Change of Plans week and nobody told us!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Honest Mistake Or Clever Manipulation?

On The Colbert Report last week, host Stephen Colbert showed a clip from Fox News in which one of the anchors presented the results of a poll asking the public whether they favoured or opposed taking away unions' collective bargaining rights (as is being attempted in Wisconsin right now). In the initial segment, the on-screen results incorrectly portrayed a majority of the respondents (approx 60%) favouring the removal of those rights and a minority (33%) opposing them. The host then railed on at length about the evils of unions, how those in unions had become greedy and detached from reality, and so on... the usual conservative talking points that Ronald Reagan epitomized when he made up, out of whole cloth, his story about the "welfare queen driving her Cadillac" (who never existed).

Then, 20 minutes later, the host "corrected" those earlier results, saying that he'd accidentally reversed them. It was actually 60% who opposed taking away collective bargaining rights for union members, while only 33% were in favour of it. And then moved on to other news!

So... was this an honest - though staggeringly unprofessional and stupid - mistake, or is this something new in the conservative media's bag of tricks? When you don't like the poll numbers, just misstate them, launch into a lengthy rant using the fake results as your justification, and then quietly correct the error later... after the damage has been done. It's unlikely that your retraction will undo much of the effect of the original diatribe, after all.

[Update the next day: Today's Fox News example of media abuse involves them showing supposed footage of union violence in Wisconsin, the only problem being the palm trees in the background and short-sleeved shirts on the protestors not quite fitting what one would expect to find in late February in Madison, WI! So I'd say there isn't exactly a benefit of the doubt being earned there.]