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Friday, November 30, 2012

Public Shaming Time

I'd gotten back on a good roll with novel # 3 before the Las Vegas trip, but I haven't written a word since.  We've been back 2 weeks now, so I think that's about enough of that.  I need to set a longer term goal soon, but for now I'm putting on the record that I'll get Chapter 5 done this weekend.

There.  I've said it in public.  Now I have to do it, right?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Latest In The Medical Saga

My current illness, which has lasted, in various forms, about a month and a half now, just keeps on hanging in there.  I went to the doctor today - my 4th visit over the past 6 weeks - and she confirmed that my ear infection has mostly cleared up.  However, I'm still coughing a fair bit and am exhausted after even a 1 or 2 km walk, as I discovered earlier this week when I walked to the mall and back.  By this point even Julie's beginning to express frustration that I'm not available to her as a walking partner, and she's pretty understanding about such things!

So the doctor gave me a prescription for an inhaler to use whenever the coughing's bad.  It's supposed to help clear up the airways somewhat.  We'll see how that goes.  She also instructed me to use a Netti pot, which I only know about because Emma had to buy and use one a couple months ago to address a bad sinus headache she was getting.  I tried it for the first time tonight, and it's very strange: you basically pour warm salt water up one nostril in the hopes that it'll come out the other... yeah!  I had a lot of trouble getting the water to do that, which probably means my sinus passages are, indeed, plugged up.  By the end of my first attempt, though, I was getting a little bit of flow, and some disgusting mucus was coming out.  I apologize that I don't have photos to post of that - I know, what was I thinking? - but you'll just have to take my word for it.  I'm hopeful that tomorrow's ritual will go better, and that eventually I'll be rewarded with some free-flowing movement.  The doctor seemed firmly convinced that this is what's going to take care of the post-viral issues I'm having, so I'm certainly willing to give it the ol' college try.

This is definitely the longest I've ever been sick, and I'm really, really ready for it to be over.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mitt Romney's 47%

Yesssssss.  That feels good.

A Harrowing Look Inside The Music Streaming Business

I'm always interested in articles that shed light on how various entertainment industries work.  As a writer now, I'm particularly drawn to anything related to publishing, as I find myself dipping my toes into that tepid bath.

And then there's the music industry, which I get a great deal of enjoyment from, while lacking any direct involvement in.  I've got a copy of David Byrne's How Music Works, for example, and look forward to reading it as soon as I get through some of my current pile.  In the meantime, though, there's this Pitchfork article about music streaming services Pandora and Spotify.  The revenue numbers provided in it are horrifying to anyone who imagines musicians actually making a living from their work.  As the author notes, those services appear to exist solely to make money for their investors and provide their users with easy access to music.  That's all well and good, but what of the artists providing the actual goods in question?  I get so irate these days when I think of people enjoying the fruits of others' labours while the labourers get next to nothing (or, in the case of actual pirating, nothing).  Maybe we're simply approaching a point in history where art really won't be considered to have any intrinsic commercial value, but all that can possibly do is discourage most people from making it.  The only ones who'll bother, I suppose, will be those who don't need to be paid for their efforts.  Mitt Romney's Greatest Hits can't be far off, I guess!

When I read articles of this sort, I think: just keep publishing my books, selling them one copy at a time, and count myself lucky I can even make that much money.  It's sad, really.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just One More Reason I'm Thankful I Don't Live In Kentucky

Not that I needed any, but this would certainly do it! In case there was any doubt as to just how backwoods that state continues to be, well into the 21st century, they've got a law requiring the acknowledgement of Almighty God as the only thing keeping them safe.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Future Post-Apocalyptic Historians Take Note

Apparently, in my original Vegas write-up I inadvertantly attributed a couple of photos to the Venetian hotel complex when in fact they were actually taken inside the Wynn (or Wyrm, as Meena calls it).  Those would be the shots of the waterfalls and colourful indoor display.

I wouldn't want anyone responsible for the virtual reconstruction of the early 21st century, (aka "before the Fall"), with only my blog to go by, to get that wrong.

And here are a few more Vegas photos, as a reward for reading this far, locations unknown:

and our wine-and-smoothie treats


 not to mention my brother getting grabby with Meena


Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Ops II Progress Report

For the fearless few who care, I'm now through Day 4 of Call of Duty: Black Ops II online play, and it's been the usual bout of obsessive playing, as Emma and Vicki can attest to.  I've logged somewhere around 12 or 13 hours, I think, which really isn't all that much when you consider that 4 days have almost 100 hours in them!

Last weekend was a Double XP Weekend for those of us who bought the Nuketown 2025 map (it just came with my pre-order, but yay!).  That meant I could level up twice as fast as normal, and I did: going from nothing to level 43 (Brigadier General, I believe) over that span.  I started off well, then tanked as is more usual for me on new maps.  My kill-to-death (KTD) dropped briefly below 1.0 on Friday, and then bounced back up after I unlocked and started using the Target Finder attachment for the default assault rifle (MTAR).  That addition improved my skill considerably, and I started kicking some serious butt.  The Target Finder helps you spot enemies more clearly - always a problem for me, as the allies and enemies never seem to look any different to me - and gives you better feedback as to whether or not you're aiming at your target or not. 

My real goal for the weekend, though, was to get to level 40, as that's where the SCAR-H assault rifle is unlocked.  For the past several Call of Duty games, the SCAR-H has been my go-to gun, and I eagerly awaited trying it out in this version.  I got there last night, and was rewarded with a familiar feeling piece of weaponry.  However, I had to then unlock its attachments, just as I'd done with the MTAR earlier, and so it was only this afternoon that I got the Target Finder for it.  Since then, I've been on a big roll, pushing my KTD from around 1.20 to nearly 1.30, which is a higher standard than I've achieved with any consistency before.  I'm also learning the maps now, which allows me to run around them more confidently and pick better locations to reload or call in UAVs, for example.  I was planning to add the Extended Clip attachment, as I'm always running out of ammo, but just a few minutes ago I unlocked the Scavenger perk (which picks up ammo from dead bodies) and started using it.  I promptly went through a match only dying 3 times, and only had to worry about ammo once (after I'd stayed in the same high point for too long, with no dead bodies nearby).  It's a lot of fun figuring out the loadout in this game, as they've placed serious limitations on it, and it really is a zero sum game: after getting the essentials, you always have to give up something to get something new.

My next milestone will be level 53, at which point the Claymore finally becomes available to me.  I can barely wait, although I've been getting good use out of the Bouncing Betty that's kind of similar.

Loving the game so far, and haven't even tried the campaign or zombies mode yet.  That'll come later, when I burn out on the online play, as I'm sure I soon will.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Few Vegas Photos

I should have mentioned in my original write-up that the entire Vegas trip was organized and booked by my brother, Rich, who even went so far as to print off our boarding passes (leaving and returning) after telling us just to show up with our passports and baggage.  I'm used to Vicki taking care of all those sorts of details when we travel, and therefore I think she found it particularly enjoyable to be able to just sit back and have everything done for us.  He did a great job of it, too: it all came off without a hitch, from the flights and hotel rooms to the rental car and Cirque du Soleil tickets.  He should really consider a new career as a travel agent!

While we didn't take a lot of photos on our trip, we did manage to snap a few.  Prepare yourself for a brief tour of Sin City, led by someone who barely remembers any of what happened there...

Here's our rather huge room at the Palazzo, which is 'attached' to the Venetian (for those who thought I was making that pilates-like name up):  


Here we are standing outside the waterfalls at... I'm guessing... the Venetian?  My already poor sense of direction was even weaker than usual because of how sick I was:


Vicki and Meena fit right into the beautiful display that was up somewhere in our dual hotel complex:


One topic was never far from my mind, no matter how many miles we travelled:

 
On our second last night, if memory serves me, we walked to the Bellagio fountain show:



which held our rapt attention:


And on our final full day, Rich and I hit the comic stores:


And then it was time to head home and be greeted by Emma and her neglected roommate:


Now I just need to get rid of this viral infection that's plagued me for a month, and life will be good again!

Friday, November 16, 2012

On Vegas, Near-Death Experiences And Video Games

Vicki and I got home last night after a six-day trip to Las Vegas with my brother, Richard, and his wife, Meena.  I had a lot of anxiety about the trip, for months beforehand, because I travel so poorly and wasn't relishing the idea of inflicting that reality upon my brother and sister-in-law.  Little did I know that I'd not only be sick for the trip, but would actually get sicker as the vacation went on!  And yet that's exactly what happened.

I'd gone to the doctor with a persistent sore throat about 3 weeks before our departure date, and was given a prescription for a nasal spray to address my diagnosed "post-nasal drip."  About 10 days later, my throat was somewhat better but my chest was now congested and I was coughing extensively, so back to the doctor I went.  That particular visit netted me nothing but assurances that it should pass on its own and a suggestion to use cough suppressants and Tylenol in the meantime.  As it proceeded to not get better, my concerns about the trip to Vegas continued to grow.

I actually considered cancelling out and just sending Vicki without me, but she seemed to really want me along, coughing or otherwise.  I tried to prepare the other two travelers for what they had awaiting them, but I don't think I did it justice.  Within a scant few hours of getting together last Friday evening, though, I'm guessing they got the idea.  I've never coughed so much, or with as much obvious distress, as I have for the past week.

Vicki had a great time, however.  She partook in the three main activities of Vegas: gambling, shopping and eating.  I tagged along, as best I could, but sometimes had to bow out just to give the rest of them a break from my hacking.  We did take in a Cirque du Soleil show that was amazing - "Love", featuring Beatles music - and I kept it together for most of that, except whenever the dry ice would hit me.  Other than that, the cigarette smoke in the casino made it particularly hard to breathe, and I was brutally ashamed of how little walking I could do before being exhausted, but somehow I survived.  I expected to drop dead at any given moment.

On the flight home yesterday, my left ear wouldn't pop when the plane descended toward Detroit, and I was completely deaf in that ear for the next several hours.  This morning, I booked my third trip in a month to the doctor, and Vicki accompanied me this time.  Looking into my left ear, the doctor said, "That doesn't look good at all."  Apparently I now have an ear infection - maybe always did, although she looked in that same ear two weeks ago and didn't see anything - and am on amoxicillin.  I also had chest x-rays done, which I'm told came back clean.  I'm still confused as to how the ear infection could be causing all the trouble I've had for the past month, but on the other hand maybe the amoxicillin will just wipe out all vestiges of the virus.  I can only hope!

When we got home last night, Emma was excited and relieved to see us after the better part of a week by herself.  I took that to mean that she'd missed us, just as we'd certainly missed her.  She had a million things to tell us, and stayed up late to bring us up to date on everything.  This morning when she left for school, I think she was on the verge of tears at the thought of leaving us for the weekend.  But she'll be back Sunday night and then the three of us should have lots of quality time together between now and the Christmas break.

While Vicki did most of the shopping in Vegas, I did manage to come home with something I'm quite excited about.  Rich and I spent Wednesday afternoon going to comic stores.  Before you jump to any conclusions... that was his idea!  Seriously.  And he wouldn't even hear of skipping the final store we'd scouted out, as he told me, "No, I was promised three comic stores, and three comic stores is what I expect to see."  At the second store, Alternate Reality Comics, I saw a great display of original artwork on the wall and got talking to the owner about it.  He has an impressive collection of the stuff, including some pieces I'd love to own, but it was his jaw that dropped when I casually mentioned my Watchmen page.  It was clear that getting one of the extremely rare Moore/Gibbons pages from that seminal series was something he'd always aspired to, but hadn't managed.  Unfortunately, none of his artwork on the wall was for sale, but I did spot an item I've only ever heard of, but not seen: the 17" x 13" hardcover Original Art Edition of Alien: The Illustrated Story by Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson.  It's a massive art book featuring a comic book adaptation of Alien along with lots of other goodies related to the film.  Since I was missing Jonesy, big-time, I figured getting something that's sure to include his namesake was a good idea.  It should make an excellent addition to my Alien collection.

Emma had kindly brought in the special package that I'd pre-ordered months ago, which had arrived on Wednesday while we were away: Call of Duty Black Ops II.  I was thrilled to see it, but also frustrated that I felt too sick to even try it out last night.  Instead, it had to wait until this afternoon to be unwrapped.  I've now played 3 or 4 online Team Deathmatches, and surprisingly have an early kill-to-death ratio of 1.82:1.  Usually I start off terribly, amassing a KTD well below 1.00 at the beginning, and have to struggle to bring it up to respectability.  Somehow this time I've gotten lucky and been put in games with total noobs, resulting in the impressive early stats.  I'm not going to complain, as I definitely needed a pick-me-up.  But I also don't expect it to continue.

My other near-death experience involves my laptop.  It decided to encounter serious hardware problems of some sort literally an hour before we left for our vacation a week ago.  Vicki and I had to scrap the plan to take my laptop, and took hers instead.  She was nice enough to let me use it extensively during the time away, which provided a much-needed balm for my sick self.  However, I spent considerable amounts of time worrying about having to deal with my computer when we got back home, and was quite depressed and stressed about it.  When we arrived last night, I powered it up just so I could see what error message it was giving, and lo and behold! it came up fine.  I don't know what the problem was last week, as I didn't have any time then to look into it, or if it's likely to reoccur anytime soon.  But at the moment it's working fine once again.  Strangely miraculous, that.

And that's the past week, in as much detail as I can manage in my weakened state.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

More On Denialism

Paul Krugman has a great article on how far down the rabbit hole the Republicans willingly and willfully fell in the run-up to this year's election, as well as a look back at some of the same behaviour during the Bush Jr era.  I love the way they actually felt empowered by 'unskewing' the polling data until that it became supportive of their unrealistic views.  Usually that sort of thing has caused enormous problems for the rest of us - see the economic disaster under Bush, as well as the ongoing climate change denialism - but in this case, it actually did a lot of good.  It kept them out of power for another 4 years and gave Obama another shot at fixing things.  That's a tall order, I know... but it still beats the alternative!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Life In The Parallel Universe

It's seemed for a while now that some of the Conservatives in the U.S. live in a parallel universe with some significant differences from our own.  You know the universe I'm talking about: where climate change is a hoax, the planet is only a few thousand years old, lowering taxes on the rich magically improves the situations of everyone, and evolution's still - at best - a crazy theory that could never be proved.

Well, in the aftermath of this week's election results, we can add another line item to that list of differences: the reliability of polls in predicting outcomes, and by extension, how math works.  Romney was apparently shocked by what happened as the election returns came in.  Why, when it had been so clearly forecast by a multitude of polling-aggregators?  Well, as an article at Huffington Post puts it:

'[T]he campaign was unprepared for this in part because it had ignored polling that showed the races favoring Obama. Instead, it turned to its own internal "unskewed" polls, which it believed more accurately reflected the situation on the ground. They didn't.'

That's what life must be increasingly like for those folks.  They know, to their very core, all kinds of things that just keep turning out not to be true.  That's pretty rough, but I find it hard to feel sorry for them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Great Day For America And The World

Yesterday's U.S. election went as well as any left-leaning observer could've reasonably expected.  And it went just about exactly the way Nate Silver, at FiveThirtyEight predicted it would, based on his aggregation of thousands of polls.  If Florida goes to Obama, as it looks like it will, then Silver will have gotten all 50 states right, as well as most of the Senate races.  And yes, Elizabeth Warren, one of my favourite voices on economics, will be sworn into the U.S. Senate in January!

Now that it's over, here are a few reflections and observations on what it all means:
  • Nate Silver FTW!  It's fun to watch the same Conservative attack dogs who, just a few days ago were claiming that Silver's results were "skewed" by his liberal bias, suddenly declaring that "he just averaged the poll data; he didn't do anything special."  That's right, you dummies: he didn't do anything special, and yet it was still more than you could manage!  Makes one wonder what value any of you have, doesn't it?
  • So yeah, the rampant denialism about what the polls were saying about the election, among Conservatives especially, was soundly and dramatically thrashed.  What are the chances that those folks will learn anything useful from that experience, such as what that might say about their similar attitudes toward climate change and evolution?  (Slim to nil, is my guess.)
  • In my mind, the single most important outcome of last night's events is that Obamacare will survive long enough for the American people to get used to it.  Yes, there are going to be problems with it, and likely some will hate it.  But what won't happen, that's been occuring with shocking regularity over the past couple decades, is families won't be going bankrupt when someone gets sick any longer.  And people won't decide against visiting a doctor about a condition out of fear of not being able to afford it.  I personally believe that, once they get a taste of this - a watered down version of what the rest of the industrialized world takes for granted - there'll be no chance of ever getting rid of it.  Welcome to the second half of the 20th century, America!
  • Mitt Romney, the Etch-A-Sketch candidate, has finally been erased from the political landscape. He may enjoy firing people, but in this case he couldn't even land the job in the first place. Romney can now continue not caring about the 47% of Americans who he views as parasites, and in fact can just go back to focusing on the top 0.01% of income earners, which is where he does well.
  • These results aren't going to make the country to our south any less divided, but that would've been true even if Romney/Ryan had won.  The growing diversity within the U.S. - blacks, latinos/latinas, gays - is something that those who fondly remember an America that never was just aren't going to accept.  It's possible, maybe even probable, that their children will, but that's at least another 10 years away.
  • Having said that, the fact that several states legalized gay marriage last night is huge!  These are examples of a popular vote favouring it, rather than a judge or political figure.  That shows real progress, if you ask me.  But, of course, as someone tweeted overnight, the real progress comes once it's not called "gay marriage" any longer... but just "marriage."
  • And did I mention that Elizabeth Warren will soon be a U.S. Senator?  I can't wait to see what effect she has on that stodgy out institution when she gets there.
Anyway, it was a truly exciting night. I coughed most of the way through it, unfortunately, but at least the good guys (and gals) won. And that lessened the pain considerably.

Monday, November 05, 2012

All Signs Look Positive

I'm not taking anything from granted, but I am encouraged to see that FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver now has President Obama's chances of getting re-elected tomorrow at 91.4%, which is certainly the highest it's ever been.  If accurate, that's an amazing example of peaking at the right time. It's the sort of thing that, in sports, usually results in championships (see: 2012 San Francisco Giants).

Considering all that's riding on tomorrow's outcome, I really hope Silver knows what he's talking about.

Weird

I always operated under the conviction, growing up, that Marvel Comics fastidiously avoided mentioning characters from their rival, DC Comics, even going so far as to refer to DC as "our Distinguished Competition" rather than by name.

And yet I just read a Marvel comic from 1979 (when I would've been all of 16 years of age) that included not one, not two, but three ads on which DC's Batman appeared!  Master of Fung Fu # 83, from December 1979, featured two Saturday morning cartoon advertisements, one for The SuperFriends on ABC and another for the Batman - Tarzan Hour on CBS, as well as a rubber mask promo that had Spidey, the Hulk, the Red Skull and Batman masks!  I guess I must've been skipping over those pages completely when I was a kid.  I wouldn't believe it now if I hadn't just seen it with my own two eyes! 

Speaking of eyes: I'm happy to report that this comic also had an ad for X-Ray specs, a longtime mainstay of comic book ad pages.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find one for Sea Monkeys (sorry, Meena!).

3rd Novel Progress Update

I think my Facebook post from this morning says it all:

My deadline for getting Chapter 4 of the new novel done? End of this week. 

Actual time when I got Chapter 4 complete? This past weekend! 

It's true: I don't just hit deadlines; I beat them senseless! ;-)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Good Brain Teaser

Courtesy of BoingBoing comes a nice little puzzle: 4 Men in Hats

I didn't figure it out, but I should have. I blame my illness!

Friday, November 02, 2012

That Obama, What A Job Killer!

Conservatives keep beating the same drum: President Obama has been bad for jobs! And yet the data shows:

Where the shrinking job market in the U.S. recently has been, of course, is in government positions. Forced by Republican obstruction in the House of Representatives and elsewhere, and fueled by an absolutely moronic misunderstanding of how austerity affects a recession where interest rates can't go down, millions of jobs within the eduction and public service sector have been slashed. So-called 'deficit hawks' insisted on those cuts with one breath, while demanding tax reductions for the wealthy in the next (so much for cutting the deficit!), and so the government rolls have shrunk significantly. Meanwhile, as the graphic above shows, the private sector's been pulled out of the death spiral George W. Bush put it into.

I can't remember seeing quite this level of dishonesty and dismissal of the facts among one of the parties since the Watergate days.