Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should Evolution Be Taught In Schools, American Beauty Pageant Edition

You've probably seen this already, but just in case you haven't:

That 15-minute clip has, among other things, inspired its imitators:

Yeah, both are equally ridiculous questions to be asking in the 21st century, aren't they?

Just How Nice Should Your Castle Be?

I'm currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) The Big Short by Michael Lewis. It's all about the financial crisis of 2008, including the events leading up to it. Since I'm also reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail, on the very same topic, you might say I'm swimming in that particular topic at the moment!

Anyway, something I just encountered in The Big Short involves the ratio of house prices-to-income, for home-owners. Lewis mentions that, historically, the median for such a ratio in the U.S. was always around 3:1, but in the run-up to the Great Recession, it rose to 4:1 (with some areas of the country hitting as high as 10:1!).

That got me thinking about where Vicki and I had been when we bought each of the two houses we've lived in together (so far). In 1990, our combined income would've been around $80K or $90K, and we purchased a house that cost $124K, meaning that the ratio would've been roughly 1.5:1. In 1998, we moved into our current house, by which time we were grossing approximately $130K between us, and the price tag on this lovely property was $222K. The ratio that time was slightly higher, but still well below the 2:1 level. (And I should mention that, personally, I think it makes more sense to consider mortgage principal-to-income, rather than using the house price. After all, if I buy a $500K house but only have to take on a $100K mortgage to do so, what significance does the much higher value have on anything? It's all about the debt load, not the bling factor! In our situation, the 1998 mortgage was only for $160K, meaning that our principal-to-income ratio actually went down!)

At any rate, I've always been fairly convinced that Vicki and I were atypical in our spending when it came to houses... and this would seem to confirm that theory. Since we consistently maintained a price-to-income ratio well below 2:1, whereas the median value (for the States, but I have to think Canada's similar) has been more like 3:1 or even 4:1, we've clearly been living within our means... and then some! Which probably goes a long way toward explaining why we were able to enter semi-retirement as early as we did.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Counting Down To R3

OK, how about you join in this game with me:
  1. Hold up all ten of your finger/thumb thingies.
  2. Each time a week passes by, starting now, you get to lower one of those digits.
  3. As soon as you run out of fingers and thumbs to turn down, you get to start playing Resistance 3!!!! Sweeeeeet....

Another Traveling Tammy Update

With just a week to go on their South American trip, we got an update today (via e-mail) on Tammy and Ryan's impressions of Rio:

"Rio as a city is amazing! Definitely the most stunning city we´ve seen so far in South America, and possibly my favorite stop on our whole trip. Basically the city is in a little valley right on the ocean - so you have gorgeous beaches framed by mountains in the background. It´s the least "3rd world" city we´ve seen here - pretty modern and nice (and more expensive as a result - prices are similar to those at home, maybe a bit less, definitely way more than everywhere else in SA)."

It sounds like things have all been excellent so far, and we can barely wait to see the pictures in July!

Neil Gaiman Isn't Kidding!

Does The Onion deserve a Pulitzer Prize? Neil Gaiman has an opinion on that he'd like to share...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Walking Goal: Week 3 Report

It was a pretty productive 3rd week, despite another no-show from my previously-reliable walking pals, Julie and Cooper. Vicki and I did a lot of walking from venue to venue for Fringe Fest on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I took my pedometer along to capture all of that. Interestingly, this past week also featured my first missed day since I started toward my goal of 500 km, as I got no walking of any significance in on Tuesday, Jun 21st (the start of summer!). In my defense, I had yoga, a fair bit of tutoring, and the X-Men: First Class movie to fit in there, so it's not that surprising. And only skipping one day through the first three weeks is a good sign, too!

Anyway, here's what I'm at now:

125.2 km (bringing me to 25% of my goal!!)

At this rate, I could achieve my goal in about three months! But I don't want to count those unhatched eggs as chickens just yet.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fringe Fest Thoughts

This weekend has been all about the Fringe Fest... for Vicki and I and our friend Susan, that is.

Last summer, Susan talked us into taking in a couple of performances at Fringe Fest 2010, a cultural phenomenon the likes of which neither Vicki nor I had ever attended. We saw one play that really impressed us (Monster) and another that was entertaining but nothing all that spectacular (which I sadly don't remember the name of). As such, my reaction to Fringe Fest was: It was OK, and maybe next year we'd try it again.

When we were over at Susan's for dinner a few weekends ago, she and I spent an hour or so poring over the online Fringe Fest 2011 schedule, trying to find shows we thought all three of us would like. This exercise came about after I walked in and was greeted by Susan with the words, "Tonight I have an assignment for you!" which I initially assumed would involve her TV, settop box or something similar. Instead, she informed me that the Fringe brochure was now available and so our task for the evening was to map out at least the first foray to the festival. We decided we'd go on the first Friday night and then read some reviews before returning for the second weekend. Which is just what we did.

We've now completed our Fringe Fest 2011 experience, and it was excellent!! I'm already looking forward to next year, which is really sad as it's a long, long way away! Anyway, I thought I'd record a few words on each show we saw, for posterity. Here they are, in the order we saw them:

Earshot - Justin Quesnelle really impressed us last year in Monster but this year's tour de force one-man show was even better! He plays a slightly-deranged apartment dweller with exceptional hearing who carries on one-sided conversations with the occupants of the units above, below and on either side of him. I had one niggling complaint about a small contrivance in the plot but was otherwise mesmerized by Quesnelle's skill and the sharp writing. Despite being the first one we went to, Earshot ended up being my 2nd favourite of the festival!!

Rocky Horror Show - If you've ever seen the film or another live version of this, you know what to expect... and it was all that! I generally despise musicals but I always make an exception for Rocky and gang. This was a fun, fun two hours!

Men Telling Stories - They're two men, telling stories! It doesn't actually get much easier to explain than this! The two young raconteurs - and yes, they even make a joke using that particular term! - entertain well with tales from their pasts and a strange but lovable chemistry between them.

The One - Billed as a 'multimedia' event, this was a very well-done but somewhat strange one-woman show. Through slide shows, video and live performance, 'Jane Love' (possibly not her real name!) recounts how she met and fell in love with her fiance and man of her dreams... who don't happen to be the same guy! I liked this quite a bit but didn't love it, which is probably fine as it was likely more aimed at my two companions for Fringe Fest.

Chaotica - Wow, what an interesting concept: a woman bursts out of a large box on the stage, only to discover that she's trapped in an enclosed area filled with mystery boxes, instruction cards, and a disembodied voice that won't take 'no' for an answer! This was one of my favourites, as the concept was so intriguing and Christel Bartelse's performance so very hypnotic! About the only thing missing, for me anyway, was something to tie it all together at the end. I would've loved a hint as to what was really going on (or why), or even just some revelation about the various characters she embodied. Even without that, though, I loved every minute!

Bursting Into Flames - Martin Dockery delivers a one-man journey through the Afterlife that I'll remember for a long time to come! He paints vivid images of Life After Death that include a girlfriend who hang glides everywhere, a marijuana joint that stretches across North America, and a man on the edge of insanity. I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish and absolutely nothing should be made of the fact that Susan fell asleep during it! It was a late show and some people still have day jobs, after all!

Feats of Mystery - As mind-reading/magic acts go, this was pretty damn enjoyable! I can't help but spend most of my time at such events trying to figure out how each trick is done, and FoM was no exception. By the time I raced out of there to get us tickets for the next show on our list, I'd figured out about 1/3 of them. This morning, lying in bed, Vicki and I tackled most of the rest and think we knocked almost all of them off. But of course, we could be completely wrong on all counts! And really, what does it matter, when the show's as captivating as it was?

jem rolls IS PISSED OFF - My first (of only two) 'misses' for Fringe Fest, I just couldn't get into or behind Jem Rolls and his various performance poetry bits. I could see that he had talent but too much of his monologue was spent describing how hard he'd found it to get pissed off (!) after deciding on the title, and that sort of self-referential schtick never really works for me. Still, it was an experience, and I don't begrudge the hour I spent at it.

oz in a clozet - We checked this one out only after changing our minds about a pair of other shows, and I was especially curious to see it because a friend or acquaintance of Julie's was in it. It turned out to be a very clever, very well-acted 3- (or 4-) person play about a man who was about to propose to his 'true love' only to find himself locked in a utility closet with another woman. Both leads were great, and the "other woman" in particular really came across as a unique, well-defined eccentric. There was also a fair bit of physical stuntwork required, and it all came off without a hitch. The fiancee (in a smaller role) and a janitor (in a very minor role) were fine but it really was up to the two leads to carry the show, and they did!

6 Guitars - I didn't really expect to see anything at Fringe Fest that would absolutely blow me away, but our 2nd last show did just that. Chase Padgett, out of Florida, delivered the most incredible 'solo ensemble' piece I've ever seen live! He 'became' six different guitar players, one each from the diverse worlds of Blues, Jazz, Heavy Metal, Folk, Country and Classical, and interwove their backstories and views on music into an hour I'll never forget! While I loved Fringe Fest 2011, this was the only performance that I would've gone back to see again, had we gone to it earlier in the weekend! Padgett did it all: tight writing, excellent acting, improv with the audience, amazing music, insightful themes, and seamless transitions between all of them! This was far and away my favourite act. Interestingly, this was one that Susan and I had talked about on that original weekend, and which I was more interested in than she was, but it didn't make our final list going into this weekend. Therefore we wouldn't have seen it had it not won the "Impressario" award for its venue and thus earned another performance on the final day (today), which is the one we took in. I hate to think that I came that close to not seeing what turned out to be my absolute top pick!!

'33, A Kabaret - Did I mention I loathe musicals? Well, somehow I still let myself be talked into this one, and unfortunately it fell into the usual category for me: difficult to make it through! However, the actor/singer/dancer at the centre of this one-man-show about a Nazi-terrorized cabaret in the 30s was clearly loaded with talent, and for anyone not opposed to musicals, I'm sure there was lots to love! I'm just not that guy.

Wow, that's a lot of stuff we saw! At $10 a show, though, I think we got more than our money's worth. As I mentioned earlier, I'm already excited at the thought of seeing even more of Fringe Fest 2012, a mere twelve months from now...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dude, Where's My Feedback?

Four days ago, I requested some feedback on our first attempt at a Game Over back cover blurb. I know you already know this, because chances are you're a regular visitor to this blog. So then my question to you is: why have I only heard from two of you so far? Was it really that bad of a cover blurb that you don't want to say anything at all? Three of us are waiting eagerly to hear what you think, and then to potentially come up with something better based on what you say.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beautiful Miracleman Artwork

Walking Goal: Week 2 Report

My second week of walking wasn't quite as productive as the first, which isn't surprising considering that I had no visits from Cooper nor any invitations to join Julie for a walk all week! But Vicki generously went out with me a couple of times, and I managed to bring my total up to:

87.6 km (good for 17.5% of my goal)

I'm still on a good pace which should see me hit or exceed my goal of 500 km by Sep 30.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Comic Books In The Mainstream

Loved this article about a House of Representative member in the U.S. government using Green Lantern to make a point about the way the conservatives have driven that country into the ground!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Feedback Desired

Last night, Vicki and I headed over to Julie's for dinner (spaghetti! yum!!) and an evening of brainstorming on Game Over, my hitherto-undescribed first novel. Specifically, I wanted the three of us to come up with a brief-but-compelling "blurb" for the book - something suitable for the back cover that would serve as enticement for a typical reader who might be browsing. We spent a good three or four hours at this, throwing around ideas, looking at other examples, and attempting to hit just the right notes. I'm not sure we've quite got it yet, but I figured it was probably time to seek some feedback from the blogosphere. Therefore, I'm going to share what we have right now and ask you to add a Comment indicating what sort of effect - if any - the current blurb had on you. Did it intrigue you at all? Did it make you more - or less - interested in getting your hands on Game Over once it's published? In general, do you think it's effective as a 'hook', and why (or why not)?

So, without further ado, here's your very first taste of Game Over (keep in mind the wording is likely to change between now and publication):

Malcolm Greene has always considered himself somewhat of a flight risk – the kind of guy who runs at the first sign of trouble. And trouble has definitely found Malcolm and his colleagues at Great White North Games, as the company’s new hit video game, Knight of the Living Dead, seems to be wreaking havoc. Unexplained slowdowns are plaguing systems even after players exit the game, leaving the company’s reputation hanging in the balance. As Malcolm and friends race to uncover the source of the problem in the software, strange occurrences in the real world begin to distract them. The son of Malcolm’s co-worker is pushed in front of a bus, a dead body turns up in a freezer, and a mysterious computer program seems to be influencing reality. Will Malcolm put his exit strategy into effect or will he stick around long enough to unravel the puzzle before it’s Game Over?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Quarter Century Of Goodness

It's hard to nail down exactly when Vicki and I first met, because it was kind of incidental, at the time. She and I were both working for the bank and ended up on the same development team not long after I started, but we both had a period prior to that during which we were in training together. The two of us, and several other employees, were co-located in a temporary "training area" for a few weeks, as I recall, and it was while situated there that we first made each other's acquaintance. If I had to put money on the actual date, I'd put it around the end of June, but couldn't really get much more precise than that.

However, the day I started work there was June 16, 1986, which is 25 years ago today. Since I know that we met sometime shortly after that, I'm celebrating our "silver anniversary" as of now, just to be on the safe side! What a great quarter century it's been having her in my life (and hopefully vice versa), and who knows? Maybe we'll get another 25 in together before the comet destroys us all!!

Fame Of A Limited Sort!

Last night, while watching the Bruins win the Cup, I did a little analysis of the upcoming DC Comics Relaunch survey that Comic Book Resources published yesterday, and then sent my results along to Rich Johnston, of Bleeding Cool fame. Rich was then kind enough to publish those results! Very bleeding cool!

In the Comments section for that article, people are pointing out that I possibly shouldn't have counted disinterest in a title as a negative (minus value) against it, which has some merit to it. But I tend to think that, in a fan-centric industry like comic books, lack of interest in a big, highly-publicized event is a failure, and thus should count against the overall success of the relaunched series in question.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Boston Bruins: 2011 Stanley Cup Champions!!

Congratulations, Boneman!!! There's nothing in sports sweeter than finally seeing your team win the greatest trophy of all! And now you've experienced it! Enjoy it to the fullest!!!

Tonight's The Night!

It's always particularly exciting when the Stanley Cup Finals go to a Game 7, and that's exactly what's on the docket for this evening: Boston Bruins @ Vancouver Canucks, and one of them will hoist Lord Stanley's trophy before the night is done.

For Boneman, I'm rooting for the B's. But I won't be heartbroken if Canada finally recaptures the silver chalice after an 18 year absence, either. In other words: it's all good! Let's just have a close, exciting game, and may the best team win!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Brief Tammy Update (2011)

Tammy and boyfriend Ryan have been in South America for more than 3 weeks now, and we've had a few Skype calls with them. I haven't been posting much about it so far for a variety of reasons, but here's a little bit from her latest e-mail to us:

"We are still alive, just got back to Cuzco after our Inca Trail hike. Sorry didn't get to talk to you guys after Puno, we've been internet-less - so sad. Anywho all is well - the trek was extremely grueling (42km total, mostly uphill - irregular, uneven, narrow, steep stone steps nonetheless) but well worth it. Two of the inca sites in particular were so huge of scale that it can't even come across in photos."

Sounds like they're having a great time!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Walking Goal: Week 1 Report

I'm off to a good start with my goal of walking 500 km this summer. Thanks to Cooper being over for three days last week, I managed to get a whole lot of trips in quite easily and as a result am well ahead of my required pace to hit the target. As of end of day yesterday, I was at:

46.2 km (or just over 9% of the way to my goal)

I don't imagine every week will be as productive as this first one was, but it's still nice to get some wind under my sails early!

Four-Legged Visitors Return!

What better way to spend a lazy Sunday than hanging out with Cooper & Finley? Julie was 'dragged' out of town for a soccer tournament all day and asked if we'd like to have her babies over while she was gone. Naturally we did, and so it was April all over again for a day (even the weather cooperated, as it was much cooler than normal for mid June!). Julie stayed for dinner when she got back and the three (five) of us enjoyed a lovely evening together, gabbing about Game Over and life in general.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

When EA Battles Activision, Fans Win!

The contest for online gamers' hearts, dollars and time toward the end of this year looks like it's going to be waged within the virtual confines of Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The companies that own those two franchises are already busy sniping at each other - with words, not bullets! - and it certainly appears that a major pissing match is brewing between them.

Personally, I hope both games are amazing, as I'd love to have a several month-long stretch over the winter where I have two games that I can't wait to play online each day! I already know my fall will be dominated by Resistance 3 - due out Sep 6th, and almost guaranteed to hold me in thrall for a few months. So if, by the time I'm starting to tire of R3, there are a pair of top-notch First Person Shooters available to take its place, I'll be thrilled. What I've heard and seen of both games has been impressive so far, and they're still almost half a year away. So I can't wait to find out if they live up to the hype!

It definitely looks like the back end of 2011 will be dominated by 3's!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The DC Universe Relaunch At-A-Glance

DC Comics has nicely assembled a gallery of 49 of the 52 first issue covers for the titles that are relaunching in September (missing are three Green Lantern-related series, for some strange reason). They're in alphabetical order, and hovering your mouse over each reveals whatever bits of info the publisher has released so far. Quite a handy little site for comic geeks like me.

My current plan, which certainly may change between now and September, is to buy the first issue of each of the 52 series, although I may possibly omit a few that I'm fairly confident I'll have no interest in (e.g. Voodoo, Grifter, Hawk and Dove). However, any title that doesn't grab me right away probably won't get a subsequent $2.99 out of me in October or beyond. Based on the characters and creative teams involved, I'm inclined to break the 52 titles into the following groups:

No-Brainers / A-List
  • Action Comics
  • Aquaman
  • Batwoman
  • Green Lantern
  • Justice League
  • Superman
Likely Candidates / B-List
  • Batgirl
  • Batman
  • Savage Hawkman
  • Legion Lost
  • Legion of Super-Heroes
  • The Flash
  • Wonder Woman
Possibles / C-List
  • Animal Man
  • Birds of Prey
  • Resurrection Man
  • Stormwatch
  • Supergirl
  • Swamp Thing
The Rest / D-List
  • 33 other titles
So it should be interesting to see how my expectations match up with reality, once the comics start coming out and I get to read the actual product. I'm still considerably ambivalent about this direction, as I think it's an "all-in" gesture by a publisher that wasn't - in my opinion, anyway - in a position where it needed to take such a huge risk. I have a sinking feeling this will be considered a historically significant move on their part for all the wrong reasons, once the dust settles and we can look back on it with the advantage of hindsight and contextual perspective. But I hope DC prove me wrong.

[Update later that same day: Bleeding Cool has somehow gotten their hands on the September soliciations for DC - 3 days ahead of their release - and they certainly provide some interesting reading!]

[Update Jun 15/11: Comic Book Resources did a survey - which I took part in - asking fans to rate the 52 titles, based on what we know so far. The results are now posted!]

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Guess Who's Back?

I haven't had a chance yet to download the photos I took today, so you'll just have to take my word that good old Cooper's back for a short visit! Julie was kind enough to let him have a "sleepover" at his April home-away-from-home, starting this morning around 10:30 and lasting until she comes to get him after work tomorrow. Cooper and I did 3 walks today, totalling almost 10 km, the first two of which were in the oppressive heat that's finally left us in the last several hours. He and Lucy have been in the same room a couple of times today but mostly she's been staying upstairs.

It's so nice to have Coops here again, even if it's only for a couple days. I see him once or twice a week nowadays (for our walks with Julie) but that's just not the same as having him asleep at the foot of my couch while Vicki and I watch TV. (But no, I'm still not ready to get my own dog just yet!)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A New Goal

I've decided this week that I need some sort of a fitness-related goal for the summer, along the lines of my "bike 100 times to work" project in 2003. I like having a target to work toward, as motivation (or lack thereof) is usually my biggest problem to overcome where regular exercise is concerned.

So I'm planning to walk 500 km by the end of September, starting this week. Julie and I did a short walk yesterday morning (I'm estimating it to be around 5 km) but I didn't have my new pedometer in time to get an accurate gauge of it. Today the device arrived (having ordered it yesterday from Amazon!) and so I logged 5.4 km between 2 neighbourhood walks this afternoon and this evening. In other words, I'm already about 2% of the way to my goal after just 2 days! Which is good, as I only have a little over 100 days before the end of September, and I'm sure some of them won't be suitable for walking.

Anyway, I'll provide occasional updates here, as time goes by. I'm hoping that I crush my target, like I did that first year of biking (120 rides, or 20% over my goal), but we'll see how it goes. Encouragement from the Peanut Gallery is always appreciated!

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Life Of The Writer

Today, I decided to focus my attention on the opening sentence of my novel, Game Over. I've finished reading 179 Ways to Save a Novel, and it spends several of those 179 ways talking about the first sentence. So I tried to apply what I've learned.

I came up with what I considered to be a good alternative to what was in the first draft, and sent it - via e-mail - to my two muses/editors, Vicki and Julie, both of whom were at work. I should've known what would happen: one liked the new sentence I'd come up with better, while the other preferred the original. Well, that wasn't terribly helpful...

Death To Airplane Recliners!

One of my pet peeves is possibly a great test of a person's altruism. I'd pass the test with flying colours, as I never recline my seat since I know how much it bothers me when the person in front of me does it! My usual response, when their seat hits my already crowded kneecaps, is to bounce my legs frantically as if I'm listening to music. More often than not, they un-recline their seat, at least a little...