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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Wife, The Genius

As we continue to deal with our flooding basement, we had initially been using a wet/dry Shopvac to suck up the water. However, this was a never-ending job, as the water we removed was being replaced by more of the same as fast as we could empty the Shopvac.

Then, after a couple of hours of that, Vicki said, "I've got an idea. What if we got the submergible pump that we used to use to drain water off the pool cover, and set it on top of the wettest part of the carpet? We could run the hose from it into the laundry room sink, and it would do the rest."

I was initially skeptical that the water level would be sufficient for this to work, but holy crap! She was absolutely right! For the past hour, it's been running down there, with a steady stream of water coming out of the hose end into the sink. Basically we're just transferring the water that's flooding in directly from the floor to the sink, but automatically with no intervention by us. Freaking genius, that woman of mine!!

Waterlogged

After dealing with the crack in the foundation earlier this year (or was it last year?), we really hoped that we were done with water in the basement. However, this morning we woke to discover significantly more water down there than we've ever had before. It was immediately clear that this was not a repeat of the previous problem (different location) but that was hardly comforting. Lots of boxes that were on the floor down there were soaked, and we spent over an hour just clearing crap out of the affected area. Then we got the Shopvac out and started vacuuming it up, only to discover that it's coming in (through a drain in the floor, under the carpet, we suspect) as fast as we can suck it up.

Calls have gone out to the insurance company, a basement leak contractor, and the city. Our neighbourhood's water lines were cleaned this summer, necessitating (among other things) a huge and deep hole being dug in our front yard. Considering that we've been in the house for 13 years and never had a drop of moisture in this part of the basement, and then the first heavy rain after that work was done by the city results in hundreds of litres of water down there, I'd call that suspicious. So we'll have to see what comes of this once the carpet's been pulled up and the source of the problem uncovered.

I'd call this a crappy day, except that doesn't do it justice. And making it worse still, my niece Amanda is dealing with the same sort of problem at her house. Misery really doesn't love company, in this case!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Do My Best Thinking On My Feet

I've typically used that expression in the context of presenting or leading a workshop, as I'd get asked tough questions and have to come up with reasonable answers very quickly. I always enjoyed that challenge, and it's one of the reasons I would agree to doing something so obviously out of my normal introvert's comfort zone.

Now, though, I'm finding that a lot of the plotting of my novels - Game Over earlier this year, the new book now - is happening while Julie and I are doing our walks with Cooper. Tonight, for example, I outlined several new ideas I've had recently for her consideration, and each one of them ended up better by the end of the walk than they'd been at the start. Oh, sure, you could point out that maybe it's actually Julie who's doing most of the thinking on her feet, but really, why split hairs?

Seriously, we made some good progress tonight and I now have lots more to think about. The book is currently 7 pages long but will undoubtedly grow considerably before I decide that it's ready for publication. 7 pages, however, is quite a bit better than nothing!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mousepocalypse 2011

When Julie's cat, Finley, was with us (along with Cooper) over the Halloween weekend, he managed to find and stun a mouse in our basement. I went looking for Finley at bedtime and found him with his prize laid out beside him and not moving very much. I set it free in the backyard but assumed it probably didn't survive long.

A couple weeks later, I went into the kitchen late at night, just in time to see a mouse scurry out of Lucy's food bowl and toward the gap under the dishwasher. Lucy, meanwhile, had been sitting high up on a chair overlooking the scene, apparently unconcerned that some of her food was being enjoyed by her supposed arch nemesis!!

Not long after that disturbing scene, Vicki started finding little bits of mouse turd around the house. And that, as they say, was the last straw. This meant war!

When our friend Susan was over on Monday last week, Vicki mentioned to her that we were having mouse problems, and Susan said, "Canadian Tire has the best mouse traps known to Man. Google it and you'll see what I mean."

The next day, Vicki and I were returning from an errand and she requested a quick stop at Canadian Tire. I'd forgotten Susan's advice, but Vicki hadn't. In fact, she had Google'd it, and was now a woman on a mission. She went into the store and was back within a few minutes with two of the aforementioned traps.

That night, I went out to cycling class and then to visit a former co-worker. When I came home, around 10:00, all of the lights in the kitchen were on and Vicki was standing in the middle of the room, looking anxious. I asked her what was going on, and she directed me to the door leading to the backyard. I looked where she was motioning, and saw a dead mouse lying on the steps leading down to the back deck.

"Wow! You've caught a mouse already! That's impressive."

"Look closer," she instructed me.

I did so, and saw that there were actually two dead mice there!

"Holy crap! You've gotten two of them in the little bit of time I've been gone! Amazing!"

"Go look in the trap by the dishwasher," she further instructed me.

I did so, and there was a third dead mouse, still caught in the sprung trap!!

Later that evening, we heard a loud SNAP! and our fourth invader met his early demise. The next night, at roughly 3:00 a.m., another SNAP! rang out. I didn't hear that one (Vicki did) but not long after both of us heard the sound of something being dragged across the hardwood floor of the kitchen. Fearing that Lucy (or "Useless", as I now refer to her) had caught a paw in the trap, we rushed to see. No, she'd simply grabbed the carcass of the fifth dead mouse and was dragging it, and the trap itself, off to the basement to play with it.

I've since disposed of the bodies, but before I did I gathered the following graphic evidence of both Susan's expertise on mousetraps and my wife's proficiency with same:


Among the local mouse population, Vicki's name is now uttered in hushed tones usually reserved for the likes of Stalin and Hitler.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Evolution Shouldn't Need Defending

It's a crying shame that videos like this "Let's Talk About Evolution" piece even need to be produced, but they do. In it, female scientists and science journalists explain why understanding evolution is so important to Science, and why it should be taught in schools. How can these statements even be in doubt, a decade into the 21st century? I'd say it boils down to a combination of willful religious ignorance (among some, but certainly not all devout believers across many faiths) and stubborn human pride.

On that latter aspect, I can sympathize at least a little: the more I learn about evolution, the more humbling it really is. To go from believing that we're made in God's image and placed at the centre of the universe to understanding that we're the result of billions of years of chance (albeit advantageous) genetic mutations and exist as an almost infinitely small dot against the backdrop of a universe so vast as to boggle our imagination... I suspect that's simply too bitter a pill for some to swallow. The thing about the truth, though, is that it's true, whether you believe it or not.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

AgileMan's Latest Real-Life Adventure

Exactly one month ago today, I posted about an upcoming Agile 101 session that I was going to run for the local chapter of the Project Management Institute. That particular event happened today!

I'm happy to report that the session sold out, and that there's already a waiting list building for another one (currently slated for mid-January). Of the 24 attendees, I knew 3 of them from past work experiences. It was a good, enthusiastic group, and the day flew by (for me, at least!).

The results of the 1-page survey that I always ask them to fill out were:

Effectiveness of the presentation portion: 8.7 (out of 10)
Effectiveness of the hands on portion: 8.2 (out of 10)
Effectiveness of Product Manager role for the hands on: 8.9 (out of 10)

These are pretty typical results for this workshop, which always seems to go over well. I was actually surprised at the difference between the ratings for the hands on itself (8.2) versus the facilitation of it (8.9), but there was one person who gave the former a 4 and the latter a 9, perhaps explaining at least part of that. I think it's also a reflection of the high quality of assistance I got, as Vicki and the chapter's president acted as Product Managers along with me during the hands on.

Anyway, it was a great - albeit draining!! - day, and provided me with both some good experience as well as a bit of income. I'm likely to be doing more work for the PMI in the future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Happier News

I sat down on Friday afternoon, last week, and just started writing the next novel. Julie and I've talked about it enough by this point that I definitely know how it starts, but not a whole lot more than that. So I thought I might as well see if I could put some of what we've discussed into written form, and before I knew it I had more than 2 pages written.

When Julie was over on Saturday night (for yet another stay-up-talking-until-nearly-dawn visit that she's known for in our household), I read the 2.5 pages to her and Vicki, just to gauge their reaction and also to hear the words myself. Both seemed to really like it, with Julie even giving me a high-five and a loud cheer when I finished. So that's good.

I'm actually kind of excited to be writing again.

Failure Apparently Is An Option

There are still 3 days to go, but considering how busy the rest of my week looks it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that I won't have finished this year's Christmas shopping by Nov 25th, as is my goal every year.

I'll be most of the way there, as I've already got a pretty good stash built up in the basement. But there are at least 10 more still to go (even though I bought one today!!) and I don't expect to have any time to go out shopping again until next week. So I'm admitting failure right now, and beginning the self-flogging in the most public place I know of... right here.

Happy Birthday To Boneman

All he got this year was a Stanley Cup (back in June) and a 9-game winning streak right now, both courtesy of his beloved Boston Bruins. Not too shabby, now that I think about it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Free At Last

This time last year, I briefly thought I'd freed myself from the annual cycle of paying for a mostly-unused Gold XBox Live membership thanks to my credit card getting a new expiry date and verification code. Then, to my horror, the transaction somehow still went through! I had planned to call Microsoft and push them to remove the automatic renewal from my account - since they don't let you do it online or on your 360! - but once I read all of the documentation that they require from you when you make that call, I knew I'd never get through it.

Instead, I waited until September of this year and then I called the card company to tell them that I wanted to ensure they wouldn't put through any outdated transactions like they did last year at this time. What I got for my troubles was a long song and dance about how it's all automated now, so the only option I had was to allow it to complete and then dispute it after the fact. I said, "Uh, no, there's another option... you can cancel my card and I'll take my business elsewhere!" Faced with that possibility, the service person said, "Well, how about if we just cancel your card, issue you a new one with a new number, and then you won't have to worry about any old transactions being auto-approved against it." It certainly wasn't what I'd have preferred, but I was also pretty sick of giving $60/year to Microsoft for a service I'd stopped using more than a year ago. So that's what we did.

And just last week I got a series of increasingly-urgent e-mails from XBox Live, imploring me to quickly update my credit card information so as not to suffer a disruption of service. I just checked a few minutes ago, and sure enough I don't seem to be able to get online to play games there anymore. So I think - I hope!! - that this may actually be the end of this saga. The bullshit approach to 'capturing' your business in this way has definitely made it very unlikely I'll ever again buy a game on the 360 if it's available on the PS3. So, y'know... way to go, Microsoft!

Whedon Talks Avengers

I really loved this interview Joss Whedon gave to Yahoo! Movies, as it provides lots of nice bits of insight into how he's approached the project without actually giving anything away. It's exactly the sort of thing I enjoy reading before watching a movie I'm looking forward to, because it perfectly whets my appetite for the big event, spoiler-free. I can only imagine how cool some of the extra features are going to be on the DVD sometime next fall, when they can finally provide some juicy behind-the-scenes details.

Can't wait for May 4, 2012!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Love Science

... especially when it's as amazing as this whole "neutrinos may travel faster than the speed of light" result that's now been reproduced under better test conditions. It's hard to even begin to comprehend how much this may upend some of what we thought we understood about the nature of the universe, if true.

I'm tempted to say that it's too bad Einstein's not around to see this, but considering how much he struggled against the emerging world of quantum physics throughout the second half of his life... maybe it's just as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Water On Europa? Possibly

In an article in Nature, a University of Texas at Austin report employs some fascinating Science to support the theory that there are great lakes beneath the icy shell of the moon Europa, orbiting distant Jupiter. Now the question is, can we send a spacecraft there with adequate equipment to check it out?

Of course, there's also Arthur C. Clarke's warning from 2010: Odyssey Two to consider - "ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE." Hmmm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Everyone Has Something To Say Except When I Ask Them To

So about a week ago, I put the call out for ideas on how best to describe Game Over to the members of the blogosphere who've read it. This would, in a sense, be an example of crowdsourcing, I suppose.

So far, I've received... [counts on fingers]... zero responses! That's right: this motley collection of opinionators who usually won't pass up any opportunity to chime in with mocking commentary on the ups and downs of my life have absolutely nothing to say! That kind of blows my mind, actually. Or maybe I'm just coming down with a cold. Either way, I got nothing.

Bah.

One November Agile Gig Down, One To Go

Yesterday I did my 8th (?) semi-annual guest lecture for the 2nd year Computer Science class at the local university. This time the daughter of a friend of ours was there, as she just happened to be taking that course. Of course, the last time I saw her she was about 13 or 14 years old, so it was great to catch up with her! The lecture started off slow and I was afraid I was losing some of the students at first, but then around the midway mark I seemed to get into a groove. I got the loudest and most enthusiastic applause at the end that I've ever gotten, so that assessment about pulling it out eventually wasn't just my imagination, either. No idea what went wrong and then right, though.

Next week it's the Agile 101 workshop for the local Project Management chapter, which is looking like it'll be about 20 or so people. I spent some time Monday and yesterday getting the slides ready for it, combining two sets from previous engagements ("Agile 101" and "PMs in an Agile World") into one hopefully cohesive presentation. Should be interesting, and if it goes well maybe I'll be asked to repeat it for other PM chapters around the area.

Such is my work life at the moment. Plus I need to start thinking about the next novel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Elizabeth Warren's First Senate-Run Ad Is Out

And it's a beauty!!

But is America already too far gone to elect someone to the U.S. Senate who is so obviously perfect for the job? Is there enough anger in Massachusetts toward the big banks having gotten rich on everyone else's losses to overcome the Conservative movement's momentum in dismantling the social gains of the last 80 years? Here's hoping.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Modern Warfare 3 Update

I came home with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 five days ago, and it's been a rollercoaster ride since then. I loved the little bit of Special Operations that I played on the first couple days, before venturing into the multiplayer arena and becoming... very frustrated.

Because of the popularity of the Call of Duty franchise, online play for each new release in the series tends to be particularly challenging. A lot of the best first person shooter players - period! - are currently spending their time in CoD:MW3's multiplayer games. They can level up quite quickly because they're playing a lot and are really good at it, which unlocks the better weapons and loadouts for them more quickly, making them... even better players. It's a vicious circle that can make jumping into one of those matches when you're not one of the best players pretty humbling, to say the least.

So after about 10 or 11 hours of online play, I was up to level 42 (not bad) but had a kill-to-death ratio below 1 (not good). I usually start off that way only to slowly improve, but this time I didn't seem to be getting any better. As recently as midway through play last night, I was still having my ass handed to me, game after game after game. I'd racked up 100 fewer kills than deaths, and was stuck around 0.86 on my KTD. I was at the point of thinking that I might as well switch to the campaign if I was never going to carry my own weight in multiplayer anyway.

Then, in desperation, I decided I'd completely alter my game play style to more of a "camping" approach. This isn't something I'm proud of, as generally campers are the objects of scorn, but I didn't know what else to try. I was constantly getting shot in the back, or from a distance so great that I couldn't even see the other player, and it just wasn't any fun at all. So I started crouching in corners and waiting for enemies to pass by, allowing me to shoot them in the back for a change! I began looking for the best locations on each map to stay hidden in that fashion, and pretty quickly saw my results dramatically. I had a 9-1 (9 kills, 1 death) game, followed by a 9-2, and 11-4, and a 10-5... all much better than I'd been doing previously.

I've never had to go this extreme in order to turn things around, but the calibre of play really does seem higher with this Call of Duty game than I've seen before. I'm trying to stick with it until at least level 53, as that's when you can finally equip yourself with Claymores, my favourite Call of Duty grenade type. After those great matches last night, I went to bed sitting at level 46 and with a KTD of 0.924. So I just need 7 more promotions to get Claymores, and then I'll see if I can be at least a little less of a camper without driving myself crazy.

As with previous games in this series, Modern Warfare 3 is proving to be quite the mixture of addictive appeal and teeth-grinding frustration. Well worth the $60...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Marvelman Creator Dead At 95

Mick Anglo, the original creator of Marvelman, died on Halloween. As the preceding article mentions, the question of what this development means to the rights quagmire surrounding the character is up in the air at the moment. I don't know whether Disney Comics would see this as a positive or a negative, aside from the obvious "our prayers go out to his family" aspect (I mean, c'mon... the guy had a loooong life so there's really nothing sad about his passing).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

How Would You Promote Game Over?

As mentioned earlier, I'm trying to do more to promote Game Over. As part of putting it for sale on Smashwords, I need to post a catchy description of it on the forums there. I've been looking at what others do to drum up interest in their books, but I'm still stuck on how best to entice someone to try mine.

So... if you've read Game Over and think it was time well spent, can you please take a minute and provide some idea of how you'd go about interesting a stranger in it. This can be in the form of a comment on this post, or you can e-mail me if you'd prefer. Just don't put anything in a comment that would be considered too spoilerish for those who haven't read Game Over yet, obviously.

I can't believe there isn't a really great way to promote this novel... I just can't seem to find it!!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Resistance 3, You Don't Owe Me A Cent!

I posted on Facebook at the start of the weekend that I needed to complete the single player campaign of Resistance 3 by the end of today since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 comes out tomorrow and will no doubt preoccupy me for some time to come. Well, I did it one better - I finished it twice!

I completed the campaign on Normal difficulty early last night, and then noticed that I'd accumulated some credits doing so. Those credits can be used for various things, such as new skins (for multiplayer), artwork and such, within the game. But they also can be traded for cheats for use during the campaign itself. I saw two that interested me in particular (two of the three most expensive ones): one for regenerating health by not taking fire (which is how Resistance: Fall of Man and most current First Person Shooters work) rather than having to rely on finding health capsules in the game; and Infinite Ammo. So I purchased them both, and then restarted the campaign at the next highest difficulty setting (Difficult).

It was so much fun playing through it again with the improved health situation and not having to scrounge for ammo that I just kept going. And this afternoon I finished it a second time, having levelled up all of my weapons in the process.

Between those two passes through the single player campaign and the 60 or 70 hours of multiplayer that I greatly enjoyed, I'd say I got my $60 worth several times over on this game. Yet another great release from Insomniac Games!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

ePub Version Of Game Over Now On Smashwords

I'm getting ready to try some promotional angles for Game Over, after procrastinating on that topic for a couple months now. Someone recently pointed me to MobileRead, a website where self-published authors can promote their work (presumably to other self-published authors). In reading over its FAQ, I came across several references to the eBook-selling site, Smashwords.

After several hours of reading and reformatting this afternoon, I've finally gotten Game Over on sale there, where you can purchase it for $2.99 in any one of 9 different eBook formats (including Kindle, ePub and PDF). I have more confidence in this ePub version than I do in the one on Lulu, but both are probably fine.

Today's felt a little like working on a nested problem, where each new place I went to look at led me to something else, and I'm now finally beginning to unwind the nesting. With this development of having the book on Smashwords, I can go back to looking at how to promote Game Over, starting with MobileRead.

Friday, November 04, 2011

3 Months To Die For In 2012

Between May 4th and July 20th next year, I may actually become the latest victim of spontaneous combustion. Here's why:

May 4th - The Avengers movie debuts, which I've quite frankly been waiting nearly my entire life for. I started reading that comic series at the age of 8 or so, just as the legendary Kree-Skrull War storyline was ramping up. One of my favourite single issues of all-time would have to be The Avengers # 93, the double-sized, all new Roy Thomas / Neal Adams masterpiece that still amazes me today. Rumours continue to abound that Joss Whedon's 2012 film featuring Earth's Mightiest Heroes will in fact involve an invasion by those self-same shape-shifting Skrulls that I first became acquainted with back in my youth.

June 8th - Ridley Scott returns - maybe - to the Alien universe he introduced us to in 1979, with next year's Prometheus. Is it a prequel to that seminal film that ushered us out of the 70s (and me out of my childhood)? Or is it another take on the original? Little is known, and I try to avoid reading much about Prometheus anyway, as I'd prefer to be surprised. Scott's such a great director - Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down - that this project seems like a slam dunk for Sci Fi Movie of the Year. I've been waiting since 1986 for a worthy Alien movie to follow the first two, and I'm actually hopeful that this may be it!

July 20th - The best superhero movie of all-time, and one of the most enjoyable films - period - was The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker was obviously a huge reason for that, but director Christopher Nolan also had a lot to do with it. Batman Begins, which started Nolan's Bat-trilogy, was excellent in its own right. Therefore there's every reason to expect an incredible finale when Christian Bale reprises his Batman role one last time under Nolan's direction, for The Dark Knight Rises. I didn't think they'd be able to top Batman Begins, and then they blew it out of the water with The Dark Knight. Can they possibly improve upon TDK? I'm ready to believe that maybe they can, with TDKR!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

I Love This Story

Clearly the Occupy Wall Street movement has made a ton of mistakes and poor choices, but this example is one they could all learn from. This guy's so polite I can't believe he's not Canadian!

My favourite line is the cop's, to the banker: "If you don't like free speech you should move to another country."

Family Photos

We had my brother Rich and his wife Meena over for a long-delayed dinner last Sunday. They'd already had us over to their place a couple of times, including for Thanksgiving dinner in October, but it took us from August until now to make it happen at our house.

Here are the happy couple, hanging out in our family room:


Like Tammy, I don't think these two ever take a bad photo! (I have the opposite trait, which is why I prefer to be the one behind the camera whenever I can.)

Vicki looks pretty fantastic, as well, in this shot that also features a certain four-legged member of our life:


Not content to be on the sidelines for long, camera-ham Cooper practically forced me out of the picture but I somehow managed to squeeze in for the one image that was years (decades?) in the making:


Dinner was spaghetti and garlic bread, followed by Vicki's delicious cherry cheesecake for dessert. It was a great evening of conversation and food. Better still, we all expressed the desire to make it a monthly tradition from now on.