Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just What We Needed: Another Reboot!

It seems like it was just 25 years ago that the DC Universe was being rebooted as a result of the 12-part miniseries, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Apparently a quarter century's long enough to warrant yet another do-over, as today we got this news: come September, it's happening again! I have to give DC credit for the ballsiness of their approach, as they're rebooting their entire line (52 titles) and starting every series over at # 1. On the other hand, the fact that two of their most venerable titles, both of which stretch back to the 1930's - Action Comics (birthplace of Superman) and Detective Comics (whence Batman) - were within several years of reaching # 1000 and now, apparently never will, doesn't sit well with me. I'm more than a little skeptical of this bold new direction, but will ponder it (and await further details) before commenting further.

[For the rare soul who's really interested, there's some interesting speculation about this huge news here.]

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Much Better Swimming Day This Year

One year ago today, as I know thanks to the remote memory that this blog serves as, we were waiting for our new pool liner to be completed so that we could begin filling it, then warming it up, and then eventually (days later) swimming in it.

Today, on the other hand, the water was in place and a balmy 82 F (28 C), which meant that I was easily able to cool off from the summer-like mugginess after a morning walk with Julie and Cooper by just jumping in. Since I'd biked to their place and back (about 4 km each way), I was particularly appreciative of the fact that, unlike this time last year, we were in good shape, pool-wise!

We did have to replace our pool heater this year, but that's another story for another day!

Less Than 100 Days To Go!

With a release date of Sep 6th, Resistance 3 is now - finally! - less than 100 days away!

While the single player campaign of Resistance 2 didn't live up to my expectations, the coop and competitive offerings totally made up for it. I ended up playing nearly as many hours of R2 online as I had its predecessor, Resistance: Fall of Man. Hence my excitement that I now have only 99 days (counting today) to make it through before getting my hands on the 3rd installment of this amazing franchise from Insomniac Games.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Day Of Summer 2011?

Officially, summer doesn't start for another three weeks and a bit, but today was the first time this year that it's felt like summer to me: I mowed both lawns, had my first swim in a pool that was finally crystal clear after various opening-related issues over the past couple of weeks, and we had both a nice day today and a weeklong forecast of warm to hot temperatures.

In other words: summer has arrived at last! Or, at least, I hope it has.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Boneman's Bruins Are Gonna Play For The Cup!

In a very exciting Game 7 tonight, the Boston Bruins claimed the 2011 Eastern Conference Championship by edging Tampa Bay 1-0! They'll begin what should be an epic Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night, marking the first time Boston's been there since 1990, I believe. As for the Canucks...

Well, if my memory serves, it was 1994 the last time Vancouver vied for the Cup, and they came very, very close to winning it that year. I seem to recall a Game 7 then, as well... Fortune smiled on us long-suffering Rangers fans on that historic Tuesday evening, indeed, and we got a Game 7 for the Ages! Maybe Boneman will be equally blessed by the time the dust settles on 2011's big matchup.

Does My Novel Need Saving?

Today I started reading a book that Julie gave me for my birthday back in March: 179 Ways to Save a Novel by Peter Selgin. She'd skimmed parts of it before buying it for me, and said that she thought I'd find at least some of it helpful. For a combination of reasons - and somewhat to Julie's disgust, I imagine - I didn't start looking at it until I'd finished the first draft of Game Over. For one thing, I didn't want to get distracted by a book on the craft itself while I was in the middle of writing, for fear that the result would be a mishmash of styles. I could've seen reading it before starting Game Over, but that would've required getting it for Christmas, I suppose. I was also a little skeptical about its usefulness to me, as I've taken university-level writing courses and been actively paying attention to what goes into creating fiction for several decades now. Plus I already had several other books on the go.

But today my curiousity got the better of me, and I cracked the book for the first time. It's - as the title suggests - 179 tips on how to create effective and entertaining fiction. I'm about 15% of the way in already, and am enjoying Mr Selgin's approach so far. I wouldn't say I'm having many revelations as of yet, though. It's more a case of reading an item, thinking, "Nope, I didn't fall into that trap" or "Yeah, I definitely had that in mind as I was writing," and feeling at least a little bit validated. Having said that, there have been a couple of places where I recognized something that I could've done better, and am now at least considering whether to fix them or not. So it could end up being time well spent.

Mostly, though, it's just fun seeing some of the examples of really bad writing that the author chose to include to illustrate various points!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2010/11 Tutoring Schedule Winding Down

With only about a month left in the school year, my tutoring workload is finally starting to ease up. As of today, three of my seven regulars will be done until September or later. They're all primary schoolers who don't have final exams to worry about, meaning that their academic year is very nearly done. The other four, plus one other student who's more sporadic (almost all of whom are in high school), will probably continue for several more weeks before wrapping up.

I've decided that I'm going to try very hard not to have any tutoring sessions over most of the summer, with the only exceptions being students who are in serious distress for the upcoming year. For those who simply want to get a leg up on the next year or who need a little "jogging" of their Math memories before classes start, I'll do tutoring in the last week or two before the school year starts (late Aug/early Sep). That way I get almost the entire summer off (kinda like a real teacher!), which I haven't had since I was a student myself! 2008 saw me working in July (last day of work was Aug 2nd); in 2009 I had a couple of students through the summer; and last year I had several, as well. So I'm looking forward to some down time which I expect to spend on revisions to my novel, Game Over. Vicki and I also hope to take a week in July or August and drive somewhere for our first real vacation in several years, which would be great!

So now all we need is for the weather to smarten up (enough with the rain already!) and Summer 2011 can officially get underway!

A Brief Tammy Update

Our world-traveling daughter has now started her six-week South American trip (Continent Number Five for her, leaving only Oceania/Australia and Antarctica to go), this time in the company of her wonderful boyfriend, Ryan. We had gotten a couple of e-mails from her already, but last night had a much better treat: a Skype conversation with the pair of them! Their Internet connection in the Mendoza (Argentina) hostel was seriously suboptimal, meaning that both the video and audio were pretty sketchy, but it was still terrific to see and hear them even under those conditions! And we're hoping that the next video call, in about a week or so, will be better quality (it'll be hard-pressed to be any worse!).

Tammy's dedication to this particular goal of hers (seeing all seven continents by the age of 25) is quite awe-inspiring and well beyond anything that most of us would have ever aspired to at that early stage of our life. Nice to see her 5/7 of the way along now!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Classic Cooper Story

(File photo not directly related to this story.)

I should have posted this a month ago, but I've been kind of busy finishing my first ever novel. Better late than never, I always say.

Anyway, while Cooper (and Finley) spent two and a half weeks with us in April, lots of funny little stories occurred. However, no other one is quite as heart-wrenching and yet hilarious as this one. Julie had left a couple of store-bought bones for us to give Cooper, each of which has a hard outside and some sort of chewy treat in the middle. A few days after he arrived, I gave Cooper the first of the bones, and he immediately went to town on it. He would chew it and chew it and really seemed to love the thing! But after a couple of hours, he appeared to tire of it, as he brought the bone over to where I was sitting and gave it to me. I thought, "That's kind of strange," but put it away.

A couple nights later, I thought of the bone again, and got it out for him. He once again started working on it, but this time it was only half an hour or so before he'd had enough, and presented it to me once again.

Repeat the pattern a few more times, and then eventually Julie comes home from Africa. She's over to pick up her babies and have supper with us, and at one point she spies the two bones, one of which hasn't even been unwrapped yet. Picking up the other one, she says, "How come you didn't push the chewy stuff in the centre out for him so he could get at it more easily?" I say, "First of all, you didn't tell me about that, and secondly, how would I know when to do that?" And she says, "Well, usually he'll bring the bone to you so that you can push it out for him...." I could barely bring myself to tell her the rest of the story.

I still get teased about that little comedy of errors now, a month later. I feel like, in that one instance at least, I was probably the worst dog owner ever. The poor guy kept faithfully giving me his bone to fix, and I kept "rewarding" his misplaced trust in me by putting it up out of his reach! It's a wonder he didn't attack me in my sleep one of those nights!

Lost: One Year Later

Our old friend Jeff "Doc" Jensen, of Entertainment Weekly fame, returns today, on the one-year anniversary of Lost's series finale, to post the first of a two-part retrospective on the show's concluding episode. Reading it just now brought back a slew of great memories from the good old days when Lost was still on the air and occupying a lot of cycles in my brain!

Vicki's Game Over Progress Part 2

Vicki's just a little more than halfway through the novel now, and today presented me (and Julie, over the phone) with her first real conjecture as to what's going on. I won't share her theory here, nor confirm or deny its veracity (just as we didn't to her, after she unveiled it) but I will say that it shows that she's really paying attention to and thinking about what she's reading. And that's as high a compliment as any author can get!

I can hardly wait for her to finish it so that we can finally talk about it "in the clear!" But for now, all that Julie or I can say to her is, "Very interesting!"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vicki's Game Over Progress Part 1

Vicki's now read the first four chapters of Game Over. I'm realizing just how different an experience this is for me from any of my previous books - where Vicki knew the gist of the material before she ever read the first word - as well as from having Julie reading the chapters as I produced them. In that latter situation, we had discussed the plot and characters at length and so, for Julie, it was more a matter of seeing what we'd talked about transformed into words, along with the occasional surprise when I'd go in a direction that had occurred to me in the process of writing a chapter. I knew that she'd be comfortable with the plot on account of having helped create a fair chunk of it!

In all of those cases, then, I was almost exclusively focused on what my early reviewer thought of the writing style, since the actual material was well-known to her. With Vicki and Game Over right now, however, she has no idea at all where this book is going, what it's about, how it'll end, etc. It's entirely possible she won't even like the story in it, although she's usually pretty easy-going in that regard (much more so than me!). So I'm actually a little more anxious about this than I'd expected to be, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. This will be the first real test for my first novel: how does it play to someone coming into it cold?

It should be interesting...

Life After The Rapture

If you believe some of the articles published in the last week, there were millions of human beings on this planet who earnestly believed not that "the Rapture" is real, but that it was actually happening today! Not dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands... millions! I'm not sure how they'll square their expectations with the disappointment that must've fallen over them as the minutes ticked off the clock and the world kept turning as usual, but I'm sure they'll find a way. That's the saddest part, of course... their "faith" is so strong that nothing can undermine it, not even reality, facts or a complete absence of any evidence to support their beliefs. Might as well try reasoning with a turtle, if you ask me.

At least it provided lots of fodder for humour lately, I guess.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vicki's Reading Game Over On Her Kindle!

After Vicki joked that it's too bad she can't read the First Draft of my novel on her Kindle like she does most books these days, I did a quick bit of research and discovered just how easy it would be for me to get it there for her! Sure enough, it took me about 5 to 10 minutes to get her all set up, and now she's eReading away! Obviously this doesn't facilitate her making notes on it, but she wanted to do an initial read-through first anyway, which I think is a good idea for this particular work. Julie had wistfully talked about the same scenario, so I've also made the same offer to her as she's now a total Kindle snob who acts like she's never seen a paper book before!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Draft Of Game Over Finished!

About an hour ago, I completed the initial draft of Game Over, my first ever novel. That version is now with Julie (who's already read an earlier version that wasn't too terribly different) and Vicki (who's seen nothing of this book yet except for a few early pages that I read to her back in January to see what she thought of them). And now I wait...

Last night, I spent several hours with Julie, getting her take on what she'd read and brainstorming ideas for the book's Epilogue. Of most interest to me was her reaction to the final (pre-Epilogue) chapter, which I feel is perhaps the best writing I've ever done. I was hoping that Julie concurred, and was pleased to find that she agreed with that assessment. There are a lot of plot threads in Game Over, most of which had to be paid off in its final fifteen or so pages. I found that a very challenging task, but was extremely happy with the results after much editing and refining.

As for the Epilogue, it's potentially still a work in progress. I have one version in place now, and I'm reasonably happy with it. Julie believes that we can still make it better so I've left it with her to think about it some more now that she has the updated version, and we'll see what - if anything - comes of that. I warned Vicki that it was the portion of the book most likely to change while she was reading Draft 1, and that it shouldn't be much of a problem for her if it does.

Both ladies are pushing me to try to get this book published (rather than self publishing) but I'm on the fence there. Not only am I skeptical that any publisher would take it on, but I'm also reluctant to give up much in the way of control. Self-publishing three books already has probably spoiled me in terms of getting used to having the finished product be exactly what I want it to be. Compromise isn't a word I've had to get used to with my writing so far, and so I'm not sure how I'd do with that. But the jury's still out on this front at the moment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Yes, I'd Like One Of Those, Please!

Just a little more than 100 days to go now!!!

You can read just a little more about it here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Big, Big Book Update

This past weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to work on my novel, since Vicki was going to Toronto to spend some time with Tammy and the crappy weather meant no walks with Julie. And for once, things actually worked out as you'd expect: I got a ton of work done on the book, to the point where the first draft is essentially done!! (I still have an epilogue chapter to produce that I'm hoping to get some help from Julie with.)

I'll say that again: this sucker is very nearly complete in first draft form!

I can barely believe how much I got done over the weekend. I think it was either 4 or 5 chapters that I wrote... they blur together because I was at it for so long! I probably spent more than 30 hours writing and editing, between Friday morning and this afternoon. Over 30 hours! That's probably not much less than the total number of hours I'd put into it up to that point, to put things in perspective!

I had my second major brainstorm for this book on Sunday morning, just in time to incorporate what I'd come up with into it at the perfect spot. As I said to Julie on the phone today, it'll be hard for some readers to believe I didn't have this particular development planned from the beginning, but I really didn't... and yet it just fit like a glove!

The book has had a working title for awhile, but now that it's almost done, I'm making it semi-official. My novel will almost certainly be called:

Game Over

I'll be posting more info and teasers for Game Over as things progress. I'm actually much happier with how it's turned out than I ever expected to be, especially considering that it's my first attempt at a novel (as opposed to non-fiction). I'm so close to completion now that I'm confident, for the first time, that it's going to see the light of day. No date in mind yet, but presumably sometime in the second half of the year.

Still lots of work to do, but May 13 - 16 will now always be a hugely important period in the development of this book. I don't know when I've ever written so much in such a short time, but it was all worth it when I look at the results.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Best Obama Kills Osama Joke

From last week's Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live, Seth Myers killed with:

"In the wake of President Obama's decision to not release pictures of Osama Bin Laden's body, a number of new conspiracy theories are surfacing, claiming that Bin Laden is not really dead... which means Barack Obama will go down in history as the first black person ever to have to prove he killed someone."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two Starbucks In A Starbucks

[Via Bleeding Cool.]

Signs Of Spring

Last Sunday, Vicki and I opened the pool. It was a perfect day for it: clear, warm but not hot, with a slight breeze. We loved how easily our new winter cover came off - probably about 1/10th the effort of the old one, where we had to drain water and scoop wet leaves off of it and then struggle to get the still-quite-heavy sheet off the pool without dumping the remains of the dirty water into the pool. The one unpleasant surprise this year, at least for me, was discovering that the pool was absolutely green with algae! Apparently this style of cover, which is designed to be porous enough to allow the snow melt to seep back into the pool, also lets in enough sunlight in the spring to promote a ton of unwanted growth under there! As a result, I've been spending time this week vacuuming all of that out, which is worse than the pool-opening cleaning that was required in previous years. But we still came out well ahead of the game with the new cover.

On Monday, Julie, Cooper and I did our first big woods walk of the year in which the signs of the season were impossible to miss. This is my last season to see there for the first time, as we started walking last year in early September, when summer was still hanging on. Here I am strangling - I mean, restraining! - Cooper who desperately wants to get back into the river for another swim!

And here are my walking partners, in all their seasonal glory, against a backdrop that's absolutely bursting with life at long last:

I, for one, am utterly sick of winter, despite the many great walks and amazing sights we took in over the five or six months it seemed to last this year!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Thoughts On Thor

No big review for this one, as I had a very busy day today and just don't have the energy for it right now. But... I will say that I loved Thor, perhaps even more than I did the first Iron Man (but not quite in the same ballpark as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2, all of which have so far set the high water marks for superhero films). I thought the pace was excellent, the balance of action between Asgard and Midgard (Earth) was perfect, and loved both Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman as Thor and Jane Foster, respectively. The humour was very well done, the action was awesome, and about the only thing that didn't work for me was the 3D. I think I'd actually have enjoyed it more seeing it in 2D, as I found the 3D distracting.

For those who go to see it and stick around through the end credits to see the bonus scene (as we did): the object revealed within the briefcase looked to me to be the Cosmic Cube. That should be showing up in Captain America: The First Avenger in July, from what I've heard. It's something that allows its holder to warp reality to match his or her thoughts, and will likely show up in the hands of the Red Skull during World War II in CATFA, and possibly reappear in next year's Avengers movie.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Off To See A Man About A God Of Thunder

Tonight, Vicki and I are joining a pair of friends for a premiere weekend viewing of Thor. I have to admit that, a year ago, I was less excited about this film than either of Green Lantern (out next month) or Captain America: The First Avenger (debuting in July). More recently, though, as trailers for the three superhero flicks have been released, I've found that it's the Thunder God's big screen debut that looks the most promising. Well, shortly I'll have taken its measure, finally, and I imagine there's at least a chance that I might post some thoughts here either tonight or tomorrow. Unless I'm totally bummed out by the whole experience, of course!

Friday, May 06, 2011

What's Kid Flash Doing In The Toronto Of The Future?

Check out the street signs!

(The answer is that the artist for that cover, Frances Manapul, hails from the Big Smoke.)

Book Update

It's been two months (almost to the day) since I unveiled the existence of my novel-in-progress. For most of those two months, there wasn't a whole lot going on with it as I'd gotten mildly stalled again. The combination of all those March birthdays and anniversaries along with the excitement around taking on Julie's "kids" for 18 days in April put some pretty impressive brakes on my writing, for awhile. In the last week and a half, though, I've gotten back in gear and progress is once again the order of the day.

Today I finished chapter 8. I'm anticipating either 13 or 14 chapters, meaning that I'm firmly past the halfway mark now. A week ago, as I was working on chapter 7, I decided that I needed a "plot chart" to help me keep track of details as well as to see the overall shape of the book's framework. It took me most of last Friday to construct this fairly large hardcopy sheet and fill it in for the first 6 chapters, but ever since then it's been invaluable! I showed it to Julie when she was over on Saturday night and it was pretty obvious that she was impressed. Using it, I was able to sketch out the upcoming chapters at an extremely high level, giving me my first real feeling of confidence as far as how much work was still outstanding.

I'm in a bit of a feedback vacuum at the moment, though, as Julie has chapters 6 & 7 but hasn't read them yet (what's up with people letting jobs interfere with their home lives, anyway??). I don't know whether to give her chapter 8 now or wait until she's gotten through the other two before handing it over. Worryingly, since the last 3 chapters represent more than 40% of the book so far, it's entirely possible I've gone completely off the rails and just don't know it yet because Julie's almost 60 pages behind in her reading! Hopefully that's not the case, but it's definitely a concern...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

3 Project Managers Walk Into A Bar... Late

Tonight I was out with Vicki, our friend Susan, and another acquaintance of ours from our days at the bank. All three of them are, to one degree or another, project managers. (I've played the part of a PM at various points in the past but don't really consider myself one.)

So the plan drawn up by them was to meet at the acquaintance's newly renovated house near downtown for dinner around 5:30, and then head out to a performance of The Hobbit for 7:30. Things got off to a flying start when Susan was more than a half hour late thanks to... wait for it... locking herself in her car! How does one lock oneself inside a vehicle? Well, you'd have to ask Sue as I couldn't possibly do the story justice! She did manage to make several calls from inside the vehicle, though, so at least there was no danger of her dying there.

Dinner was wonderful but way too much for the time available. I can't remember ever being late for a play in my life (and I've gone to dozens), but of course this evening my wife and her two PM buddies could not seem to fathom that an elaborate dinner notionally kicking off at 5:30, involving three busy women (and me), was never going to be compatible with getting to a play by 7:30. Sure enough, by the time I'd dropped them off at the theatre, found a place to park, and gotten back to the theatre, it was 7:40 and I'd missed the first 15 minutes of Tolkien's classic by the time I got seated.

My advice: never socialize with project managers when hitting a deadline is important to you! :-)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Crazy Start To May

In the past 48 hours, two events not directly related to my own personal life have preoccupied my thoughts. One, I received with great joy and just a little trepidation; the other, pretty much the opposite! I guess maybe that means the universe is still in balance?

First came the welcome news Sunday night that U.S. forces had finally located and put down the mad dog responsible for the Sept 11th attacks. I can't deny that at least some of my growing intolerance for religious fundamentalism over the past decade stemmed from the actions of Bin Laden and his ilk, who seek to force their own centuries-out-of-date view of the universe onto the rest of the world. I personally couldn't care less what anyone believes... but as soon as they start inflicting their anti-Science superstitions onto others, I take exception. The Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. are not quite as bad, in that they're not planning mass murder as far as I know, but it's all of a piece to my way of thinking. I therefore rejoiced upon hearing that Bin Laden had been executed, and only worried a little about the inevitable backlash that will likely follow. Neverthelss, major kudos to Pres Obama for doing, in just over 2 years, what George W Bush couldn't manage - despite promising it repeatedly - in more than 7 years in office. Good riddance to bad rubbish, who's at least apparently finally doing some good by feeding the fishies now.

Last night, I watched as the Harper Conservative government finally got the majority they've craved for several years, in an election they didn't even want... though one wonders now why they resisted it so vigourously! Were they really worried about losing? The NDP were the other big winners, with the Bloq and Liberals playing the part of Charlie Brown this time around, in historic proportion. While I can't quite imagine that Harper and his cronies will really do as much damage here as the Bush administration did south of the border between 2001 and 2009, it's still a pretty big concern. Our government's head-in-the-oil-sands attitude toward Climate Change is both shocking and embarrassing, leaving me to wonder if many of us will soon appreciate what liberals in the U.S. went through in the previous decade. On the other hand, maybe if Harper's politics turn out to be extreme enough, the Canadian people will revolt against it 4 years from now and the pendulum will begin to swing back the other way. Are we really a country that wants to screw over the poor and do favours for the wealthy? I can't believe we are, despite last night's results.