So, today the preorders for Schlock Mercenary: The Sharp End of the Stick are up. I’ve reviewed Howard Tayler’s masterwork of online serialized science-fiction before (wow, I’ve tried to bring this blog back from the dead a lot of times since then), but I’ll do it again because wow, it’s gone from my favourite webcomic to still my favourite webcomic but with a lot of strong competition for best science-fiction comic out there (also, there’s a contest on). There is one, count ‘em one, comic that has me whipping out the iPhone at update time, and that’s Schlock (pre-iPhone, that was “trying to find a way to get away from what I’m doing and find a PC, so hey, technology). There’s also one, count ‘em one, comic out there that has named a character after me (my online handle, anyways), but I’m not biased by that, no siree.

So, why is it my favourite? I’ll put my reasons in list form, because I hear the internet likes list form:

  1. SOLID writing. Howard Tayler knows a thing or two about writing, and it shows, especially in the more recent books. Writing a punchline-a-day comic strip that also works as a serious (but funny) story over the course of years? Brilliant.
  2. Art. Want to see how someone learns to draw and refine their style? Just hop in the archives and jump ahead years at a tim
  3. e, and watch it go. Gives a hack like me hope that, with daily practice for many many years (as opposed to daily avoidance for many many years), I might just learn to not suck. Hiring professional colourist Travis Walton (pretty sure he’s not the UFO guy that comes up when you Google him) makes the recent stretch a real visual treat as well.
  4. Consistency. The comic has been up daily for coming on twelve years now, on-time. No guest artist weeks, no “stick guy” weeks, no “here’s a sketch instead of a comic” days, it’s the strip, on time, no ifs-ands-or-buts about it. It’s been late once or twice, but that took an explosion taking down the data centre to do it (and the strips were available elsewhere, which is impressive customer service to get for something that’s delivered free of charge.
  5. BOOM, baby, BOOM.

Yeah, what more can I say? Give me shiny pictures, a fantastic story with characters I care about, and sprinkle explosions and fancy tech to taste, and I can’t resist. Sharp End of the Stick is Tayler really stretching his legs, and is where I learned in media res, which is a really fun phrase to pull out at parties (NOTE: I don’t get invited to parties very much, probably because I try to show off with Latin phrases). It’s free online, but the print version will have exclusive margin art, added footnotes, and a bonus story that, if the last seven books are any indicator, will be very much worth your while to read.

So, my awesome wife let me see Transformers: Dark of the Moon last night/this morning (mostly this morning), and I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Revenge of the Fallen set a pretty low bar, and by golly this movie exceeded that very low bar!

So, let’s start with the highlights. Probably my favourite part was Starscream. He’s probably one of the most consistently characterized characters in the film, and certainly the best Decepticon (with only ‘Screamer and Megatron having any significant dialogue, this isn’t exactly a challenge). He’s a suck up when it suits him, but a sadist whenever he’s around anyone weaker. Pretty much bang on for what I want from a Starscream. The action sequences, as many have said, were much more coherent than in the past, likely due to the use of 3D forcing Bay to keep the damn camera relatively still. The 3D was used to good effect, and at the theatre I went to I noticed no dimness and my headache didn’t get any worse, so I’d say it’s a win. Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Sentinel was excellent, Peter Cullen’s Optimus was exactly what you’d expect, and even most of the human actors pulled off some very nice performances (I’m hesitant to include Rosie Huntington-Whitley in the “actors” category, since this didn’t seem to require a whole lot more acting than she normally puts in as a model).

As for the lowlights, I’d have loved to see a Transformers film done by someone aware of the distinction between “characterization” and “broad stereotypes”. Damn near every character seems flat (and in the case of the robots, mostly down to “car with an accent”), and most of the Decepticons are nameless mutes. This is a handy way to rack up high body counts in the fight scenes, but it makes for a bit of a dull story when most of the “bad guys” have no visible motivation. There are plenty of interesting Decepticon characters out there, but instead we get an army of grey mooks getting demolished (something that sadly seems to have spilled over into Transformers Prime, but at least they mix it up with significant ‘Cons). Would it have killed them to at least give them some colour? Especially egregious with the scenes on the Ark, where Sentinel Prime is the only character that isn’t grey. Or were the rest of his crew just hanging around the bridge naked? And yeah, the complaints about pacing especially towards the end are valid. But maybe I’m just inclined to agree because I was watching it tired.

Well, inspired by Khatzumoto, I went ahead and set my iPhone’s interface into Japanese. It didn’t seem like it would stretch my skills that much (after all, the icons don’t change!), until I went to voice dial and it interpreted “Kim Dobie-Watt” as some random sequence of numbers. So, now I have to learn how to actually use the voice commands in Japanese.

  • 連絡先 【れんらくさき】 (n) contact address
  • 自宅 【じたく】 (n) one’s home
  • 携帯 【けいたい】 (n,vs,adj-no) (1) something carried (in the hand); handheld; (n) (2) (abbr) (col) (See 携帯電話) mobile telephone; cell phone
  • 勤務先 【きんむさき】 (n) place of employment
  • 編集 【へんしゅう】 (n,vs,adj-no) editing; compilation; editorial (e.g. committee)
  • 送信 【そうしん】 (n,vs) transmission; sending

So, now instead of saying “Call Kim Dobie-Watt, home” I have to say キム・ドビーワット、自宅.

So we went to Zellers at West Edmonton Mall yesterday to look at dresses for Lydia and her cousin for the weddings we’ve got to go to this summer. My mother-in-law went to pay, and the cashier (no name-tag, but the receipt says operator number 1897326 at store 294) told her she could save 20% if she applied for the store credit card. Never mind that the lineup was growing because they’re always kind of slow and lacking in open tills at this store, apparently she’s got to ask everyone this, regardless of how much their order is for or whether it makes sense to fill out a credit card application to save 20% on a pack of gum or whatever.

So my ever patient mother-in-law fills out the application, at which point the cashier tells her that ooh, actually, none of the items you’re buying are eligible for saving 20% off, so it’s regular price. Fine, my mother-in-law says, then I’m not interested in the credit card, and she tears up the application. At which point the cashier tells her that she can’t do this, as the application is store property, and if she’s got a problem with it she’ll have to wait for the card to come in the mail and cancel it (hey, at least the postal strike is ending tomorrow, right?) My mother-in-law asks to speak to a manager. So down comes the manager, who snatches the torn application from her and repeats the line about the application being store property (never mind that it’s covered in personal information that is not the store’s property).

What I want to know is how they can decide that as soon as information is on the form that there’s no backing out, even before the form has been submitted to them. Is that even legal? Never minding whether it’s worth fighting with a customer about. They must really be hurting for credit card applications if they’ve got to get them through trickery and by force.

: Life

It’s been a wet, wet week up here in Edmonton. So, what better way to stay warm (and dry) than by studying? Let’s work on some vocabulary for discussing the weather.

  • 雨 【あめ】 (n) rain
  • 降り込める; 降り籠める 【ふりこめる】 (v1,vt) to rain (or snow), keeping people indoors
  • 水たまり; 水溜まり; 水溜り 【みずたまり】 (n) puddle; pool of water
  • 雨合羽 【あまがっぱ】 (n) raincoat; oilcoat
  • 傘 【かさ】 (n) umbrella; parasol
  • 茸(P); 蕈; 菌 【キノコ(P); きのこ; たけ】 (n) mushroom
  • 蚯蚓 【みみず; めめず; きゅういん】 (n) earthworm

I especially like some of the kanji we’re finding in this list. 雨’s imagery of falling raindrops from heaven (天) makes it fairly easy to remember and recognize, and 傘’s imagery of several people (人) huddled under an umbrella is also particularly handy as a mnemonic. 振り込める might be tricky, a combination of 振る (to come down, as rain tends to) and 込める (to put into; notice the 入 radical for “enter”). 雨合羽 is an interesting bird, with the obvious 雨 matched up with the seemingly nonsensical 合, which seems to mean “0.3306 meters squared wing”. It’s actually a word that was chosen because it sounds like the Portuguese word for raincoat, “capa”.

Translations will have to wait; I’m not gonna try that from a mobile app that doesn’t even do Autocorrect. OK, I got the translations up!

  • 家 【いえ】 (n) (1) house; residence; dwelling; (2) family; household; (3) lineage; family name
  • 引っ越す 【ひっこす】 (v5s,vi) to move (house); to change residence
  • 梱包; こん包 【こんぽう】 (n,vs) packing; crating; packaging
  • 段ボール箱 【だんボールばこ】 (n) cardboard box
  • モーゲージ (n) mortgage
  • 弊行 【へいこう】 (n) this bank (humble); my bank

Yeah, lazy, but at least i got it up for Monday. 僕の家を梱包しの時間だよ!

Wow, I suck. I even thought sticking “weekly” in there would help me stick to a schedule. Shows what I know, eh? Well, I better poke fun at myself a little bit. So, why not a word list on screwing up?

  • 仕事 【しごと】 (n,vs,adj-no) (1) work; job; business; occupation; employment; vocation; task
  • ずくなし (n) bum; slacker; good-for-nothing; loser
  • 果せる 【おおせる】 (v1,vi) to succeed in doing
  • 欠かす 【かかす】 (v5s,vt) to miss (doing); to fail (to do)
  • 早い(P); 速い(P); 疾い(oK); 捷い(oK) 【はやい】 (adj-i) (1) (esp. 速い, 疾い, 捷い) fast; quick; hasty; brisk; (2) (esp. 早い) early (in the day, etc.); premature; (3) (esp. 早い) (too) soon; not yet; (too) early; (4) (esp. 早い) (See 手っ取り早い) easy; simple; quick; (P)
  • 遅い(P); 鈍い; 晩い; 遲い(oK) 【おそい】 (adj-i) (1) (遅い, 鈍い only) slow; (2) late (e.g. “late at night”); (3) (遅い, 鈍い only) too late

Now, to add a calendar entry to remind me to post next week. Or hey, I could even work ahead.

Pssht, yeah right. Someone tweet at me next Monday to prod me into doing it, okay?

Late again! I meant to do this last Wednesday, but things have been so hectic lately. So, why not do a wordlist on one of the things that has been making my life so hectic lately? Lydia had a spectacular birthday party yesterday, I (and, I hope, everyone else) had a great time at the Leduc Rec Centre, so let’s pull some vocab off of that.

  • 誕生日 【たんじょうび】 (n) birthday
  • お誕生日おめでとう 【おたんじょうびおめでとう】 (exp) Happy Birthday
  • 誕生会 【たんじょうかい】 (n) birthday party
  • 贈り物(P); 贈物(P) 【おくりもの】(n) present; gift
  • 泳ぐ(P); 游ぐ 【およぐ】 (v5g,vi) to swim
  • 友達(P); 友だち 【ともだち】 (n) friend

As always, dictionary entries come from WWWJDIC.

As I was driving to work this morning, I noticed something that I don’t think I’ve seen pointed out anywhere before. At least, if it was pointed out, I didn’t notice it.

To negate an i-adjective in Japanese, you drop the い and replace it with くない. To turn an i-adjective into an adverb, drop the い and replace it with く. You can use this adverb to modify a verb, like, say, ある (to be/exist for inanimate objects). ある is somewhat irregular, though, in that the negative of it is simply ない. Hey, isn’t that the same thing?

I’m sure this is a well known, obvious thing, probably taught in Japanese elementary schools, but I thought I’d point it out as, like I said above, I haven’t seen it pointed out anywhere in any of the guides to Japanese that I’ve looked at so far, and it seems like a neat mnemonic for remembering one or the other of these constructions.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about politics. Maybe it’s just the election coming up, where I encourage all eligible voters (even the ones that disagree with me) to go out and vote, because it’s important. At least, it should be, and maybe it would be if more people bothered. Last time, Canadians set a new record for poorest voter turnout in nearly a century and a half. Pick five eligible voters at random – odds are, two of them couldn’t be bothered to vote last time. Is anyone surprised that we have a system where the politicians don’t seem to care what the electorate thinks? Where they seem to think they can get away with damn near anything short of drowning baby seals in orphan tears without fearing voter reprisal? Quebec seems to be doing better, I’d really like to know what their secret is to getting the young to vote. I suspect, being in the middle of that age range myself, that the 1995 referendum (won by fewer than 55000 votes) may have convinced the youths there that their vote does indeed matter.

So, what’s the secret to changing this? How bad do things have to get before people care enough to get out and vote? I rather like this guy‘s idea: lower the voting age to 16, and get the high school teachers motivating the students to get involved. Perhaps more attention given to ridings that had particularly close votes in the media, particularly the online and social media that younger voters are more likely to be paying attention to. Perhaps we just need things to get screwed up enough that people finally get angry enough to go out and vote, but that’s a situation I’d rather not see. I’m definitely going to do my part this time and vote (as I have in every election since I turned 18), as well as encouraging everyone I know to get their butts down to the polls and have their say. It seems that our elections are decided by the seniors, since they turn out more reliably than youths, and they tend to vote conservative. I suspect this can be traced to two things: older people tend to be more socially conservative, and they don’t have to deal with the long term consequences of Conservative policies. Because they’re old and won’t live for very long.

What would I like to see, you ask? (I’m assuming you’re asking. You’re reading my blog, so I’m taking it as a given that you value my opinions. Or you’re here to leave some French casino spam.) Well, if I was running for office in this election (which I’m not, since the deadline has passed, and I haven’t got the time or money to run independently at the moment and I lack the connections to get nominated by any of the parties anyways), this would be my platform. If you are running in this or any future election, please feel free to take these ideas and not screw them up too badly.

First up would be to fix the broken first past the post system. How does 37.6% of the vote turn into 46.4% of the seats? While 18.2% turns into 12.0% of the seats, and 8% of the votes turn into 0 seats? The Green Party got nearly a million votes, and the BQ with 1.3 million votes got 49 seats while the Greens got none. Something seems wrong here. So the first thing, the day one thing, is to fix that. This should have been fixed years ago, decades ago. Why not? Because the people that have the power to change it are those least motivated to do so (because they benefit the most from it). The only parties that take it seriously are the ones that can’t get into power because this system keeps them marginalized.

My second goal if I found myself in office would be to break up the skewed power structure we’ve got in this (and, sadly, many if not most) countries. Elections can be bought, laws and politicians can be bought, and nothing seems to be able to change that. And, hey, surprise! The politicians that get money from the rich and powerful focus heavily on pushing through legislation to help the rich and powerful. The tax code, the budget, and the legal system in its entirety need a top-down scrubbing to make them fit what I feel should be the goal of any decent government: serving the voters, all of the voters, as best as is humanly possible and as fairly as possible. Preschoolers can be taught to play fair, so why does this seem to be so hard to pull off in a parliament allegedly composed entirely of competent adults?

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