Friday, February 28, 2014

Bitcoin: By The Privileged, For The Privileged

This is a good look at the Bitcoin controversy that's been brewing lately, for those who might be interested.

The Changing Face Of The Comic Book Industry

I blogged a few months ago about the fact that my comic reading tastes are changing after more than 40 years in the hobby.  Specifically, I'm enjoying more creator-owned titles and fewer of the big publishing house releases (notably Marvel/Disney and DC/Warners).  I think there's a huge difference in quality between those two camps right now, with the creativity shown by the former group absolutely eclipsing anything coming out of the Big Boys.  There's only so much you can do with corporately-owned figures like Batman, Superman,  Spider-Man and the X-Men, after all, and only so much creative energy that a truly talented writer or artist is likely to spend on stories about them.  Titles like Velvet, Saga, Fatale and Lazarus, on the other hand, are all creator-owned and awash with new ideas and revolutionary stories.  All four of those titles, along with the monstrously-successful Walking Dead series, by the way, are published by Image Comics.

Recently, the head honcho at Image, Eric Stephenson, delivered a speech to a gathering of comic book retailers (i.e. a roomful of Comic Store Guys, in Simpsons-speak) that I think is brilliant and dead-on.  He talks about what it will take to bring new readers to the comics industry, highlighting the importance of being innovative in terms of character and story rather than in packaging and hype.  This sort of thinking, which he's obviously backing up in practice as shown by the incredible quality coming out of Image right now (in sharp contrast to the crap they used to be known for back in the 1990s), has the potential to revolutionize the comic book industry over the next few years if it catches on.

How's That War On Drugs Coming Along, Anyway?

I got into a lengthy debate with a friend of mine a couple years ago on the topic of legalizing marijuana.  I was for it; she was against it.  My argument was basically that weed doesn't seem any worse to me than alcohol (I don't partake of either, personally) and so, if one's legal, the other should be, too.  I also pointed out how many people were ruined for life because of the single crime of possessing grass in relatively small quantities, especially under "War on Drugs" laws such as "3 Strikes."  I'm all for dangerous criminals being locked up, but wanting to get high seems no more deserving of jail time to me than wanting to get drunk (again: I have no wish to do either).  And if downing a few beers was enough to put you behind bars, most of the people I know would have criminal records today.

Anyway, recent trends in Canada and the U.S. have definitely moved in the direction of legalization of pot.  I see this as a positive development, though I know not everyone feels that way.  However, Vicki brought my attention to a recent article in which the topic is examined in much more detail than anything I could come up with.  One aspect of it particularly struck me, which is how utterly ineffective the "War on Drugs" has been in reducing the addiction rate in the States.  They show a graph (reproduced below) with a blue line indicating the addiction rate and a green line representing how much money has been spent on the effort.  Missing, I suppose, is the incarceration rate, which has skyrocketed in the U.S. thanks to severe laws aimed at deterring drug use but ultimately only serving to make the privatized prison system in America ridiculously profitable.  Anyway, here's the graph:

Like gay marriage, this is another social transformation that I believe is headed in the right direction at long last.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is 2014 Going To Be The Year Of Godzilla?

Or could we at least finally be getting a good Godzilla flick?  The latest trailer would seem to suggest that possibility.

And considering the caliber of several of the actors in it - Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairne and Ken Watanabe -  I think we can reasonably hope this one will be far superior to the Matthew Broderick version from about a decade ago.

I'd personally love to lay some money down to see an awesome Godzilla on the big screen!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sum Of All Positive Integers? That's Easy: It's - 1/12

I'll admit I was skeptical about this when I first heard about it, but it turns out to actually be true:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + ... (to infinity) = - 1/12

While it's a completely counter-intuitive result - how can adding a set of strictly positive values possibly end up in a negative sum? - a relatively simple proof of it shows that it's true.  I'm even more impressed by the fact, referred to in the linked video, that quantum physics appears to point in this same direction.  I love stuff like this!

I have to say this reminds me of an unrelated phenomenon in computer science: because of the way numeric values are stored, a positive value that's constantly increased by 1 will (barring intervention by the operating system to prevent it) eventually go from a very high positive value to a very small negative value because of the high order bit eventually flipping from positive to negative (from 0 to 1).  Who knew that was reflecting, in a bizarre way, a functionality of the real world where infinite values are concerned?

Friday, February 21, 2014

3rd Draft Of Leap of Faith Is Now Done

Today I completed the third draft of Leap of Faith, my fourth novel, and ordered a couple of paper copies so Vicki and I can see what it looks like in printed form.  I'll be unveiling its lovely cover shortly as well as the back cover blurb that will give everyone at least a sense of what the story's about.

This latest version includes all of the edits and feedback that I received from editor Ernesto over the past several weeks as well as changes that Vicki suggested from her second full pass of the manuscript.  Ernesto succinctly summed up his assessment of Leap of Faith as "Great story, great twists, interesting characters."  I can't add much to that!

I'll be sending out my usual pre-order email about the book within the next week or two.  As this story is longer than my usual fare, it's naturally going to be a more expensive book to produce.  Not to worry: I'll be sticking to my usual $20 price tag, as that's just the easiest figure for all concerned.  Which means, of course, that my profit per book will be correspondingly less this time around, making it even more important that people let me know if they want a copy ahead of time.  The initial order is always the largest and therefore my best opportunity to save a little money by upping the quantity ordered and receiving a bigger discount.

Also of interest to some of you out there: the launch party for Leap of Faith is looking likely to happen on Sunday, April 13th, although that date's not 100% just yet.  Once we've firmed that up, I'll let everyone know for sure. A big turnout at the party always starts things off on the right foot, so hopefully we'll get a good crowd this year.

Friday, February 14, 2014

American Version Of Broadchurch Coming

As Bleeding Cool reports, an Americanization of the great British series Broadchurch is being filmed, with David Tennant reprising his dysfunctional cop role while Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn takes over as the female detective.  This version is apparently called Gracepoint, presumably the name of the small community where the murder takes place, as was the case with Broadchurch.  The original UK series was excellent, with only the revelation of the killer's identity and motivation at the very end being a little weak.  Tennant was outstanding in it, and of course I'm a huge fan of Anna Gunn and her years as Skyler White on Breaking Bad.  So this new miniseries looks extremely appealing, and one of the few compelling reasons for me to invest myself in a new Fox show in the fall.

P.S. Thanks to Tammy for encouraging Vicki, Emma and me to give Broadchurch a chance when it showed up on Showcase last year.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Have A 60-Year-Old Brother (I Feel Old!)

Yes, it's true: my brother Richard is 60 years old today, and that does make me feel old.  The good news, of course, is that he's way older!  So there's that, at least.

Many happy returns to the birthday boy on this, his special day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Open Letter To Executives Leading Agile Transformations

Thanks to the Man from Mars, I saw this wonderful open letter written by Brian Irwin.  In it, he lists 10 pieces of advice for executives who are leading the introduction of Agile within their organization.  I think all of his points are excellent (and wish I'd seen them back in 2005 when we were preparing to go Agile at TV Works Canada) but I think two of them are especially important and relevant, based on what I've seen over the past 9 years:

5. Completely drop discussions of "resource allocation" and speak only of "team availability."

In my role as Agile consultant, I've repeatedly seen organizations make the mistake of believing that they can slice resources up into neat little sections, dedicating person A to project X at 30%, project Y at 30% and project Z at 40%, for example.  Despite all kinds of research showing the overwhelming cost to productivity imposed by multitasking, management types continue to behave as if resource allocations like that will somehow prove effective.  And even beyond that issue, there's also problems with team unity and priority-setting that are introduced when individuals are split over multiple fronts in that manner.

7. Give high praise for "complete" features only.

This point really speaks to me.  When I've gone into various organizations to do my Agile 101 training session, one of the course concepts that often meets with at least some resistance from both management and team members is the "done done done" principle that I preach.  This is the idea that there are only two % values that can be assigned to a feature: 0% and 100%.  I really try to drive home the point that saying a feature is "75% complete" is absolutely ludicrous, for the simple reason that you never know how much more work is involved until it's finished.  As an example of why this is true, consider how often the testing phase of a feature extends on and on and on, as more and more bugs are found as more and more fixes are made.  For that reason, at TV Works Canada we hit upon the notion of insisting that features be "done done done" (nothing at all left to do, not even documentation or last little tweaks) in order for that deliverable to be considered complete within the iteration.

Anyway, it's a very good article that I encourage anyone involved with Agile to read.   

Thursday, February 06, 2014

AMC May Yet Bring Us A Preacher TV Series

Anyone who's read the comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon knows just how amazing Preacher really is... And yet every attempt to bring it to the big or small screen has seemed cursed up to now.  Nevertheless, AMC is still trying to figure out a way to insert Jesse Custer and friends into its Breaking Bad-less TV lineup, and I'm just keeping my fingers crossed.  For those who think that The Walking Dead was the coolest concept to ever come out of a comic book, Preacher could easily blow that misconception out of the water if it were done right.  It's chock-full of colourful characters and unexpected plot twists that blew my mind when I was reading it in the 90s, and I'd dearly love to see how it works as a TV series.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

And The 2nd Draft Is Now Done

February 5, 2014: Leap of Faith Draft 2 is complete!  I can safely say the second version is an improvement over the first, as I tightened things up quite a bit and reduced many of the worst offenders in the "word overuse" category.  As usual at this stage of the project, I spend half my time thinking it's a really good book and the other half convinced it's utter crap.  And so it goes.

Soon I'll have my first feedback from outside of our home, though, as seafaring Ernesto has been sent an electronic copy and will be editing/reviewing it over the next few weeks, hopefully.  That's both exciting and terrifying, for all the obvious reasons.  Oh well: everything's fixable, as Vicki always says.

Monday, February 03, 2014

2nd Draft Of Leap Of Faith Nearly Done

I finished my start-to-finish editing of Leap of Faith today, only about a week after I started it.  Lots of little inconsistencies were found and fixed, which is typical of a second draft pass (for me, anyway).  I still have one more chore to complete before declaring this version complete, though.  That involves me searching for words that I typically overuse, and reducing the number of occurrences of each until they're down to an acceptable level.  I think on one of my earlier novels I started out with several hundred uses of "but" (in a book that was less than 200 pages long) and eventually got it down to something closer to 150 or so.  I've built up a small list of words to do the ol' search-and-replace on, and that's what I'll be up to tomorrow before I'm done.