Saturday, April 30, 2011

Better Late Than Never

It tooks us four months (to the day) to find a suitable day for it, but today Vicki and I finally replaced the broken window in our garage that resulted from the massive icicle falling off the eavestrough on New Year's Eve. It was actually a beautiful day for a project like that, and we had fun working together. I'm better at the destructive aspects - pulling the shards out, clearing out the old putty and making it so the new pane can fit in - while Vicki excels where a lighter touch is required - puttying the new window in place and making it look good.

I'm just glad not to have this chore hanging over my head anymore, for the first time in so long!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Afternoon With Portal (The Original)

Rather unusually for a Thursday, I found myself with a clear schedule today: no tutoring sessions at all, and a wife who was off to Niagara-on-the-Lake on a bus trip with a girlfriend. In other words, I was gifted a perfect opportunity for some serious gaming! Unfortunately, the Playstation Network continues to be off the air - having been attacked early last week, they're still not back - so I went looking for other options. All the time Vicki, Ryan and I have spent in Portal 2 lately has made me nostalgic for the original gem, nestled in The Orange Box along with 3 other games.

I started a new game around 1:30, and the next time I noticed the time it was a little after 5:00 and I'd just killed GladOS and received my cake (or was the cake a lie?). I found it much easier than the last time I played it, but still a whole lot of fun. And I must say that some of the puzzles in it are still ridiculously difficult, even - as I discovered today - when you've gotten through them all a few years earlier! I appreciate some of the many humourous bits in the sequel more now that I've refamiliarized myself with its predecessor, which just adds to the enjoyment of Portal 2.

That Orange Box package continues to be one of the best values in gaming I've ever experienced!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Latest Sign Of The Apocalypse

Surely the statement that President Obama felt compelled to make this morning on the topic of his birth certificate qualifies as some kind of doomsday warning, right? How else to explain this development at a time when the United States is embroiled in two wars (three, if they're still fighting in Iraq), their economy is floundering, and the planet's climate is going to Hell in a handbasket while a majority of Americans deny the very existence of climate change (not to mention evolution, for good measure)?

No sane country should ever need its leader to take time out of his schedule to say the following:

"But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers."

Worse yet, no country that's not absolutely apeshit crazy would possibly continue to waste time on this topic afterward. But you know they will...

(and sorry about calling you "Shirley" off the top there...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Latest Toy

The last week and a half or so has been such an amazingly busy time that I completely neglected to blog about getting a new iPod! Between the Agile 101 Workshop that Vicki and I led two Fridays ago, Portal 2 coming out a week ago today, Julie coming home last Wednesday (and stealing my puppy away!!!), Tammy and her (relatively) new boyfriend paying us a long-overdue visit over the weekend, it just completely slipped my mind.

But my oh my, do I love my new iPod Touch! I had to replace my previous, pre-Touch version after a couple of bike rides this Spring during which the newly-recharged device ran out of juice within 20 minutes! I've really enjoyed both iPods I've had since 2003 or 2004, but they always seem to have short life cycles (about 4 years each). I get enough use out of it while biking that it was an easy decision to buy a new one. I had no idea just how much of an upgrade this purchase was going to be, though!

I love the sleek new shape, although I've dropped it a couple times already because there's so little to grab onto now! The presence of a browser and e-mail on it are very welcome, and I love the iPhone-like touch screen with its intuitive resizing and scrolling. I don't think I've discovered nearly everything on it yet, nor have I purchased any apps for it. Even so, I'm in love with this shiny little treasure!

I haven't had much luck getting Internet access when I'm out and about yet. I've already had the experience of being at someone's house who didn't remember their network password, but I'm sure that won't be a typical situation when I'm visiting friends.

This seems like the perfect compromise between owning or not owning an iPhone... I didn't really want the monthly expense of that device, but did covet the music, photos and browsing capabilities. I definitely got much more than I expected when I decided to replace my old wheel-based horse and buggy version!

I Think This Is Where Castle Came From

Thanks to Peter J on Twitter, I found out about They Fight Crime, a website that generates random "He's a ________. She's a _______. They fight crime!" 'story ideas' at the click of a button. Here are a few examples to give you a taste:

"He's a bookish guitar-strumming matador whom everyone believes is mad. She's an elegant psychic hooker operating on the wrong side of the law. They fight crime!"

"He's an ungodly dishevelled card sharp from the 'hood. She's a bloodthirsty insomniac single mother prone to fits of savage, blood-crazed rage. They fight crime!"

"He's a superhumanly strong sweet-toothed gentleman spy with a passion for fast cars. She's a time-travelling hypochondriac femme fatale in the witness protection scheme. They fight crime!"

I'm pretty sure something like this is responsible for Nathan Fillon's improbably-popular TV show Castle, which probably began life as a pitch along the lines of:

"He's a ruggedly handsome mystery writer with a sarcastic streak and an ex-wife who holds a grudge. She's a hard-as-nails police detective who's secretly looking for love in all the wrong places. They fight crime!"

If only Fillon's Firefly had gotten even half as many viewers when it was on...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Portal 2 Co-op Fun

Tammy and her boyfriend Ryan visited us for an overnighter this Easter weekend, affording me the opportunity to try out the co-op campaign of Portal 2 with someone who's at least as good at the game as me (probably better, actually). I had thought that this role might end up falling to Tammy, but instead it was Ryan who really rocked at the puzzle solving!

Some of the dilemmas in the game are unbelievably difficult to figure out, thanks to the fact that there's often very little in the way of clues to help you along. I loved starting each new level, talking it over between us as to what we're supposed to do, and then often resorting to just trying random things to see what inspiration might come to us. Ryan's very logical mind got us through some of the toughest spots, along with my occasional burst of insight based on seeing patterns in the game play. I still don't think there's much replayability to this co-op campaign, though. A couple times we ended up having to replay a level, and in each case we found that we could race through it in a fraction of the time since we knew all of its tricks. But the original passage through each head-scratching map is well worth the cost of the game!

By the way, I do recognize that this post is an unfortunate example of "burying the lead." While our time spent together playing Portal 2 was ridiculously enjoyable and worthy of a blog post, it was much more important in the grand scheme of things that I finally got to meet Tammy's wonderful boyfriend. My apologies to him - and her! - for making that aspect of the tale an incidental detail rather than the main story! He's welcome back here anytime... the PS/3 controllers will be charged up and ready!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Friends All Gone!

The good news yesterday was that Julie survived her trip to Africa (she had an amazing time, actually!); the bad news was that she came to take Cooper and Finley away from us!

Here's a frame from the video I shot of her reunion with her two "babies", which was very moving to see. We had a great dinner together, hearing all about her time in Capetown and Johannesburg as well as on safari in Kruger National Park, and updating her on all of our various bits of news from the past two and a half weeks, but eventually our hearts had to be broken when the three of them departed, leaving an empty-feeling house behind. Lucy eventually wandered down from the upstairs, but it took her most of the evening before she'd really believe that it was safe once again!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Portal 2 Is Awesome!

I've only played about 25 minutes so far, but I could easily have continued for hours! The sequel is every bit as much fun as the original - so far, anyway - and I haven't even tried the co-op campaign yet. This is one game where it pays to listen to the dialogue as you go... it's freaking hilarious!! I laughed out loud so many times in the first few minutes that Vicki - who's supposed to be working - had to come and watch for a bit! I love this game already.

The one thing that seems strange about the idea of a co-op version of Portal is that, unlike shooters, I'm not sure how much replayability a puzzle game will have after you've been through it once. Won't you know how to do everything, making the game kind of boring? That's different from a shooter where the experience is always varied by the style(s) of the other player(s) in the game. Hmmmm. I should probably just trust in Valve that they'll pull it off somehow... after all, this is the Half-Life company we're talking about!

Portal 2 Is In The House!

I made a quick trip up to FutureShop this morning and came home with the eagerly-anticipated Portal 2 for the PS/3! I've been checking out the online reviews on it since I got up, with 8.5/10 being the lowest I've seen so far, and all of the rest are 9/10 or higher! To say I'm excited about this game would be putting it mildly. I have yoga class in 20 minutes but hopefully after that and before my first tutoring session I can give it a test drive and see if it lives up to those mile-high expectations of mine.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

As Time With Our Temporary Pets Runs Down: Anything Goes!

We had been doing pretty well at making sure Cooper followed the rules, as set out when he and Finley first got here over 2 weeks ago now. He was limited to the main floor, had to have his paws cleaned whenever he came in from outside, and was only fed twice a day.

Lately, though, we've become just a little bit lax:

Meanwhile, Finley and Lucy continue their rocky relationship, mostly through the gate that separates the upstairs from the main floor. At least once a day, they seranade each other at the top of their lungs when Lucy ventures down to see if the annoying home invaders have left yet or not. We're just appreciative when it happens outside of the midnight-to-08:00 timeslot!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

AgileMan Does Good!

Yesterday's Agile 101 session went extremely well, and those interested can read all about it over at the Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Off To Save The World Tomorrow

Well, maybe not quite the whole world... but at least a part of it.

I'll be leading an Agile 101 workshop at a local company that's interested in knowing more about Agile. The morning-long session will be split between a presentation (by me) on what Agile is and isn't, and a hands-on exercise where the attendees will be broken into groups that will "go Agile" on an activity for the course of several 20-minute iterations. Vicki and another friend of mine will be helping out with the second part, as we'll need multiple "product owners" for it. It should be interesting to see how this goes. I'll write a little more about it - possibly on the currently-dormant Real-Life Adventures of AgileMan blog - after it's completed. In the meantime, feel free to wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

1 Week To Portal 2

The original Portal, which arrived via the incredibly economical Orange Box package, was worth the price of admission alone, despite being bundled with 3 other great Valve games (Half-Life 2, HL2: Episode 1 and HL2: Episode 2). I had no expectations for it at all, and yet it ended up being one of the most fun games Vicki and I have ever played together. As such, my hopes are probably too high for its sequel, which is due out next Tuesday.

To understand where I'm coming from, though, you have to appreciate just how great a game Portal really was! For anyone who has never tried it, the concept behind its gameplay is simple enough: you're given a gun that shoots two portals - one orange, and one blue - and forced to find your way out of increasingly difficult predicaments. Each portal is essentially a large, circular opening that will adhere to most surfaces in the game. Together, they form an entry/exit pair: whatever goes into the blue hole will come out of the orange one, and vice versa. To understand the utility of this, imagine you're at one end of a room that has a door out of it at the other end and a chasm filled with burning acid running all the way across the middle of it. You shoot one of the portals into the wall beside you and the other one into the wall at the other end of the room, near the exit. You then step into the (blue or orange) hole near you and immediately come out of the (orange or blue) hole across the room! Problem solved by the application of a tiny bit of spatial physics!

Lest you think the game is just a long series of similarly-trivial challenges, you're soon having to perform maneuvers like jumping off a ledge, shooting a portal below you as well as one in the ceiling above you, so that when you emerge from the upper hole (after falling through the lower one) you've got enough momentum to put to use after forming a portal in a side wall where you'll come out after plummeting through the floor-hole a second time and shooting across the room where you... well, it just goes on from there, in some of the harder puzzles. Vicki and I had a complete hoot trying to figure out how to get through the game, and spent weeks at it.

I don't know whether Portal 2 will live up to its predecessor, but I do know I can't wait to find out! I plan to pick my copy up next Tuesday morning rather than pre-ordering it for home delivery because I figure it'd just end up coming a couple days late, if I did. This one I want to be sure to get on its release day!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy 57th Anniversary Of The Most Boring Day In History!

It's true! I just hope no one reading this is celebrating their 57th birthday today...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stars And 'Canes Defy All Logic And Break Their Fans' Hearts

I did a pretty good job of not following the NHL this season - I didn't even know about the new tie-breaker rule that was implemented this year until Boneman mentioned it to me a couple weeks ago - but that same Bone fellow dragged me back in when he claimed the Rangers were 9 points up on a playoff spot with about 6 or 7 games to go. It turned out they were only 7 up, but even that looked reasonably safe, so late in the season. Then the team chasing them for the 8th spot in the East - Carolina Hurricanes - proceeded to win just about every game they played, and it set up a nail-biting final weekend for the Rangers, for the second season in a row. Last year they lost a shootout to the Flyers on the final day, and missed the postseason by that small of a margin. This year they needed to beat the Devils on Saturday afternoon and then hope the red-hot 'Canes would be unable to win against the Lightning later in the day. Tampa Bay had nothing to play for, as they were already in and couldn't move up or down in the standings.

The Rangers pulled off their part, downing the Devils 5-2 to finish with 93 points. I would've bet a fair amount of money that Carolina would be able to win their game, considering that it was a "win and you're in" scenario. Instead, Rangers coach John Tortorella's old team from Tampa did him a huge favour and pummelled the Hurricanes 6-2, sending the Broadway Blueshirts back into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

It boggles my mind that Carolina would come up short in that situation, but then lightning (pardon the pun) struck twice more! First Chicago had a chance to secure a playoff spot by earning at least a point against Detroit this afternoon, but couldn't do it, losing 4-3 in regulation (in a game that featured a fantastic finish). That was surprising but not shocking, as the Wings are an excellent team and probably relished the thought of keeping the Hawks out of the postseason. But this set up the Dallas Stars for their game against Minnesota tonight, knowing that a victory against the golf course-headed Wild would propel them into the postseason at the expense of the defending champion Blackhawks... and they lost 5-3! How crazy is it to have one weekend where three teams choke that badly against opponents that couldn't possibly be playing as hard, or have nearly as much on the line, as they do? I would never have thought to see it. At least Chicago's fans lived to see their team play another day, as it were.

And now back to that tie-breaker rule... the NHL changed the first tie-breaker condition from most wins to most wins in regulation or overtime, thereby nullifying the value of any shootout victories beyond the 2 points that they carry with them. This set up a situation where, had Carolina beat Tampa last night, their 41 wins (and 93 points) would've been considered better than the Rangers 44 wins (and 93 points)! The Rangers had the misfortune to get 9 of those 44 victories in the shootout whereas Carolina was only 5-5 after overtime. I hated that rule change as soon as I heard about it, and I hate it even more now that it almost cost the Rangers a playoff spot. I really hope they get rid of it, even if that means eliminating the shootout and going back to awarding ties (if you get through the O/T without a winner). A double standard, as the rule provides now, just shouldn't be allowed.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Our Temporary Guests In Action

Cooper had a great afternoon with Vicki and I today, as the three of us went to the woods that Julie, Cooper and I normally walk, and he got to see all kinds of familiar sights... including the river that he can't resist going into! Here he is seconds after one of his dips:

Finley, meanwhile, spent most of the day engaged in his favourite "activity":

In other words, it was another in a series of great days all around!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"It's Funny, But That Bone Almost Looks Like It Could Be Shared..."

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but this is Cooper "in the zone"... the Bone Zone, I guess you'd say! As soon as we gave him the first of two (apparently delicious) bones that Julie had left for him, he became oblivious to everything around him. I even asked him if he wanted to go for a walk and got no response at all (normally he'd jump up and come over if he even thought he might've heard the W word!). Finley decided to go keep him company... not that Cooper even noticed!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop Is Definitely Worth A Visit

Netflix has the fascinating documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop available right now, and I encourage anyone at all interested in the art world to check it out. Vicki's more of a fan of Art (with a capital A) than I am - unless we're talking comic book art, of course! - but we both really enjoyed this hour-and-a-half glimpse into the strange habits of a few of the better-known street artists. We now both completely get the whole "Who is Banksy?" meme that's been going around for months, whereas it was just noise before. The title of the film is especially apt, once you've watched it all the way through. I have to say that, to some degree, it validated my long-held belief that a significant portion of the art world is scam-artist-level bullshit, but on the other hand it also presents some amazing artists who are doing work that is absolutely brilliant and inspired. Not so much Mr Brainwash, though...

Five Or Six Walks A Day Is Normal, Right?

Actually, we've only been walking twice a day so far, but that still seems to knock the wind right out of Cooper once we get home again! Not that I'm complaining, mind you!

One Month Until The Hammer Drops

I'm surprisingly excited about the fact that the Thor movie is now only a month away. I think the trailers so far have been great, and the idea of a Shakespearian fellow like Kenneth Branagh directing it fills me with hope and optimism. Of course, it could still stink (as I'm worried Green Lantern will, in June), but at least we'll know in a month's time when the reviews start rolling in.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Cooper, The Timeout Warden!

"I'll just stand here and make sure he doesn't get any ideas..."

(Note: Finley actually put himself into the laundry basket, and then later took himself back out of it. But it sure does look like he'd been plunked down in there for a timeout, doesn't it?)

"I Think There's Been A Clerical Error Of Some Sort"

Before she left, Julie assured me that Cooper only gets fed twice a day: once in the morning, and once at suppertime. However, right around 3:00 p.m. most days, Cooper poignantly expresses his disappointment over that old chestnut that states that "there is no such thing as a free lunch (or any other kind, for dogs)":

Monday, April 04, 2011

Snow Dog!

When Julie and I talked about Vicki and I taking care of Cooper while J traveled to Africa, she said, "Well, at least with me going in April, you won't have to worry about dealing with him in the snow." Obviously, she didn't take Climate Change into consideration, or maybe just the variability of Canadian springtime! Because sure enough, yesterday we got a short-lived fresh coat of snow, out of the blue. And now, less than 24 hours later, it's 16 degrees outside! What crazy weather.

For his part, Cooper didn't seem to mind. Sticks apparently taste just as good when they're snow-covered...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The New Arrivals Have Newly Arrived!

Finley (left, feline) and Cooper (right, canine) arrived last night around dinner time, along with their mistress, Julie. The five of us (sans Lucy, who cowered upstairs the whole time) enjoyed a wonderful supper (lasagna for the humans) before sending Julie home to pack for her flight today to South Africa. I then took Cooper for a walk during which Lucy ventured downstairs, ran into Finley, and the two had a bit of a scene involving a lot of hissing, growling, chasing and even some peeing by Lucy, before Vicki separated them and Lucy escaped back upstairs. She hasn't come back down since, but is set up with food, water and litter box up there so we may not see much of her for awhile.

Finley's favourite toy at our house is the circular contraption shown in the photo, which contains a fake mouse on a 360-degree swivel that "runs" around the interior with the slightest provocation. The two "brothers" decided to share the toy for awhile, as they apparently do with anything that interests one or the other.

Now we just have to hope Lucy's not permanently scarred by our guests!

Friday, April 01, 2011

No Joke: Mad Men To Return!

Thanks to daughter Tammy, I heard this welcome news this morning (it was actually announced last night, ensuring that it's not a cruel April Fool's gag): Mad Men will get at least a fifth and sixth season (with a seventh a possibility, although it would mark the show's finale)! Slightly shorter episode lengths seem to be the biggest compromise that show runner Matthew Weiner had to make, although even that may be reversed for DVD or VOD viewers. The other bad news is that Season Five won't premiere until March of next year, which is a heck of a long time to wait for more Madison Avenue goodness. But at least it's coming back, with all of its key parts intact!