Agile Year 2 – Weeks 2 and 3

It has been over a week – closer to two, or three depending on how you look at it, but my life has been incredibly busy lately. I started my full-time job January 4th, and while I’m very happy to be working and it helps to have money coming in – that’s also 47.5 hours a week that I’m, well, working. Plus, for those first three weeks of January, I still had my A+ training class – which meant two days a week I had a 12-hour day, and I still had to finish the text, do homework, and start studying for the A+ exam.

However, I survived! Not only that – but I passed my final, with an impressive score (not bad for not really studying), and I’ve scheduled my first test for my A+ certification (It’s a two-test cert). And best of all – no more 12-hour days. So, needless to say over the last few weeks – I completely finished reading the text book (all 32 chapters). I also did the chapter reviews for the last three chapters, even though they weren’t “required” for the class – I felt they were a good review and I wanted to be completely done.

My review/study plan includes going through the chapter vocab (it’s a surprisingly effective review, and lead to good test scores on my midterm and final); reviewing the on-line course videos; doing some transcender practice tests, and doing some chapter review tests as I review the chapters – while working full-time. However, I have the text on my tablet, and some of the transcriptions for the video series, plus if I have access to wi-fi I can watch some of the videos even on breaks at work (they are on youTube). So I hope it will be enough. I’m also concentrating on material for the 801 only, at this time – Windows is on the 802. 801 is Hardware, Networking, Printers, and Operational Procedures. Hardware and Networking requires a lot of memorization though, and the only way to do that is to review and practice test, review and practice test, over and over. Printers is my bailiwick (25 years of temping in secretarial and data entry positions – if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to fix a misbehaving printer), though memorizing the exact steps of the laser printing process would be a good idea. Op procedures is the give away – and the only transcender practice test I’ve already passed.

This blog has suffered as I’ve gotten used to my new schedule – but I have several ideas for future entries. It’s all a matter of balance. In the past few weeks, however, I did review the animated movie, Justice League – Gods and Monsters, and last weekend I watched and reviewed Outlander Season 1 Volume 2 (the second half of the season). I’m enjoying Outlander – though I hope next year they just do a complete season set. I also reviewed Twitter Who volume 3 on GoodReads. Twitter Who and Outlander vol. 2 were both “gifts to myself” purchased with my Christmas gift cards.

I fully intend to keep up with this blog, writing technical tips and tricks articles, and reviewing movies and TV-on-DVD, as well as the occasional other article. I’m not as sure about keeping up with specifically using Agile as a motivator though. It helps when I get stuff done, but when I have a couple of weeks of not much progress it’s less of a motivator. I know I need to get in shape and exercise for example, but there’s less time than ever to actually do it. That said, now that my schedule is a bit more normal maybe I can try to schedule myself to do yoga two or even three times a week. I miss it very much – but my class was mid-afternoon, and now I work then.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 2 Review (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 Vol 2.
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Douglas Henshall, Laura Donnelly
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This second DVD set for Outlander picks-up where the first set cliff-hanger left off. Jaime manages to rescue Claire from the clutches of Black Jack Randall. They return to the MacKenzie’s castle but all is not well. The MacKenzie discovers that Dougal has been raising money for a rebellion against the English king and in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause. The MacKenzie is not happy about it. Dougal is banished, and Jaime’s ordered to see to it that Dougal leaves MacKenzie lands. Jaime warns Claire to stay out of trouble – and to stay away from Geillis the local healer and Dougal’s secret mistress. Claire, however, is tricked to visit Geillis and the two are accused of witchcraft. Ned Gowen attempts to legally get Geillis and Claire free, but the trial turns against them. Claire learns that Geillis is also a time-traveler – from 1968. As Claire is from 1945 or ’46 – Geillis is from her future. Ned urges Claire to turn on Geillis but she refuses. Jaime arrives to rescue Claire, and Geillis sacrifices herself so the two can leave. Knowing that they cannot return to the MacKenzie clan castle, Jaime and Claire head to Lallybrook – the Fraser clan castle. Jaime finds his sister, Jenny, married and pregnant with her second child. Everything is going fine at the Fraser castle when the Watch arrive. Even with the brigands in the castle, things seem fine, until Jaime is forced into a position to agree to help with their raid. The raid is a trap – Jaime is captured by the British, and most of the gang are killed. First Claire and Jenny try to find Jaime, then Jenny returns to her castle and her new-born baby daughter, and Claire works with the MacKenzies to rescue her husband. Although they save him from being hanged, it isn’t before Jack Randall finds him first and tortures him. Once Jaime begins to recover from his ordeal, he and Claire head to France on a ship.

Although disc one of this set was a bit slow, I flew through disc two. I sat down to watch one episode this morning – and ended up finishing the entire disc (between a few short breaks for meals and such). “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” the last two episodes of the set, are intense and definitely R-rated. Captain Black Jack Randall not only tortures Jaime physically – but mentally, not simply raping him, but using his power to get Jaime to submit to sex that isn’t exactly forced – though it is, because Jaime is a prisoner, and his submission to everything Jack wants is the price for Claire’s safety and freedom. Jack expertly moves from harming Jaime to caring for him, but it isn’t a surprise that a bit of Stockholm Syndrome sets in. (As Claire’s from the mid-1940s I’m not sure she would know the term. She seems confused by her husband’s suicidal depression even after he’s rescued and she cares for his worst physical injuries.) Claire is determined to rescue her husband from his melancholy, however, and her determination eventually wins the day.

Outlander is a series where the women, though few and far between (other than Claire who’s the pov character) are very strong. Jenny Fraser Murray is extremely strong – not only strong-willed in dealing with her brother and her husband, but running the Fraser estate, and even riding off with Claire to find Jaime within days of giving birth. Jenny’s an admirable character – and she’s a realistic look at how women needed to be strong in such hard times as 1700s Scotland. Geillis is also strong, knowing she’s going to die anyway, she sacrifices herself so Claire can escape. Geillis chooses her own fate, knowing she has no way out. By her sacrifice, Claire is allowed to escape with Jaime. And Claire, now fully in love with Jaime, purposely chooses to be with him, when he takes her to the standing stones. Claire is also a bit more free with her story – telling Jaime who she is and more importantly when she’s from. Jaime, in turn, tells his sister that Claire might “tell her things, things that seem impossible – listen to her”. Claire discovers this, when she tells Jenny to “Plant potatoes, sell off excess land for gold, and that famine is coming.” Claire even tells her entire story to a Franciscan brother. And she uses her reputation as a witch to threaten Black Jack Randall – cursing him, and telling him the date of his death. These slips Claire makes seem very dangerous – we’ll see if they catch up with her.

Overall, Outlander is an excellent show. It’s beautifully shot, with excellent music, and a fine cast (many familiar Scottish actors make appearances such as Bill Paterson and Douglas Henshall.) I will keep an eye out for future seasons on DVD. I don’t get Starz on my satellite system, so I can’t watch the show as it airs – but I do intend to buy season 2 whenever it becomes available.

Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Agile Update – Year 2 – Week 2

I am now in my second year of using Agile as a personal and professional time management and organization tool. Last week was also my first week at my new job. I’m getting used to my job, the hours, and my co-workers. So far so good. So I had a full 40-hour week last week.

Last week I also had class Tuesday and Thursday night after full days at work both days. Tuesday’s class was difficult but I made it through it. Thursday I was overly tired but I still made it through class. I also got 100% on my final quiz of the class. That was totally awesome – it was my only 100% in the class. I worked on Chapter 29 – the dreaded Security chapter throughout the week, but I managed to get it done and do the chapter review worksheet on Sunday. I even skipped Downton Abbey (I recorded it and will catch-up later, plus the DVD comes out at the end of the month). And yes, I still need to catch-up on Supergirl.

For writing – well, I posted my Agile review for the last week of 2015 – closing that project, though I’d love to get a book out of it. I also reviewed The Batman Season 4. Finally, my third bit of writing for the week was that I reviewed the Star Wars book I, Jedi on GoodReads. See the widget on the lower right of this blog for my review.

The new year has started well. I’m still adjusting to a completely new schedule, but it’s good to be working again. I hope to still write at least three posts a week on this blog, and to start doing Yoga again – I actually miss it.

The Batman Season 4

  • Series Title:  The Batman
  • Season:  4
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  2
  • Cast:  Rino Romano, Alastair Duncan, Danielle Judovits, Evan Sabara
  • Original Network:  Cartoon Network
  • Production Network:  Warner Brothers (Animation)

I very much enjoyed Season 4 of The Batman. Season 4 brings Robin (Dick Grayson) on to the show. It also continues to use the new theme tune brought in during season 3. I don’t like the theme tune at all, and I found myself fast-forwarding through it for most of the episodes I watched. However, that is the only negative, really, about Season 4. The first episode of the season introduces Dick Grayson who quickly becomes Robin. The bare bones of the story are there but it changed slightly, so that Dick is even more involved in the death of his parents. He is actually on the platform for their acrobatics act, but is unable to catch his mother when the rigging fails.

Some new villains are introduced in one-off episodes in Season 4, but they are interesting and different, which kept the show interesting. In the episode, “Artifacts”, a future archaeological team is investigating the Batcave, hoping to find a solution to defeat Mr. Freeze, who is destroying Gotham with a new city-wide freezing weapon. The team discovers the cray computer memory is destroyed and cannot be recovered. However, Batman – anticipating such a possibility had embossed or etched all the information he had in his computer memory banks on the walls of the cave, including how to defeat Freeze if he ever woke up from his cryogenic sleep. The code was also in binary – meaning a future computer could translate the data. Once the team does that, they get a video message from Batman and other information to defeat Freeze – it was an excellent story.

“Two of a Kind” introduces Harley Quinn. But rather than having her as a hangers-on to Joker, it’s almost the other way around. “Doctor” Harleen Quinzel is the host of an advice to the love lorn phone in telephone show. Her so-called “doctorate” is from an on-line degree program, and it probably had no practical experience, and was not accredited. Additionally, she offers flip advice, and insults her guests (such as Bruce Wayne) and customers who call in for advice. She’s also bubbly and gives the false impression she’s a total airhead. Joker, meanwhile, has become “addicted” to her call-in show, and even schedules his crimes in such a way as to be “home” in time to watch it. Joker calls in to the show, using the name “Mr. J.”. When Harley is fired after she insults the head of the television network that airs her show – Joker decides that it is unfair. Before long, Joker and Harley Quinn are on a crime spree together, Bonnie and Clyde style. What I liked about this version of Harley was that even though she was a really terrible therapist, a reason was given for that (she had a paper degree and no real training), and she has agency – it was her decision to join Joker, her decision to accept Joker’s offer to become Harley Quinn, and her decision to engage in criminal activities. None of these things are good or lawful, mind you, but at least it was her decision. Other versions of Harley, such as in the otherwise wonderful Batman: The Animated Series (and even there the dis-functional relationship is the point) I’ve seen she reminds me of a abused woman – she’s fallen hard for Joker, and even though he treats her terribly she keeps coming back. Even worse, Joker, as a true psychopath, is incapable of ever loving Harley, so he abuses her, but she continues to love Joker anyway. In “Two of a Kind” it’s Joker who is attracted to Harley and wants a partner in crime, who can take care of herself, though he is still incapable of love.

Finally, the two part season finale, “The Joining”, is awesome. Just awesome. Bruce introduces Dick to Lucius Fox at Wayne Enterprises, pointing out that Fox knows Bruce is the Batman – and that Fox helped to build the Batcave, and builds Batman’s special arsenal and toys. Batman meets Detective John Jones, who he quickly discovers is Martian Manhunter. John bit by bit shows all his powers – mind-reading, shape-shifting, flight, telekinesis, invisibility – and his weakness, an aversion to fire. But Martian Manhunter is also there to get Batman’s help – an alien race called The Joining is about to invade and destroy the planet. They are a robotic but networked race that uses materials from the planet they plan to conquer to do it – in this instance, metals from Wayne Industries. They operate by absorbing all information from a world then destroying it suspiciously like Brainiac from Superman. “The Joining” was written by Jane Espenson, known for her work on Once Upon a Time (and it’s universe), the new Battlestar Galactica (and it’s universe), and Joss Wheldon properties such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse.

Batman, Martian Manhunter, Batgirl, Robin, Lucuis Fox, and Alfred work together and eventually destroy the alien invaders, saving Earth. At the end, Martian Manhunter takes Batman to the Hall of Justice in Space (or maybe the Watchtower) and invites him to join the Justice League! I loved that and actually clapped.

Season 4 of the Batman was much better written, and more consistent than previous seasons. The tone of the episodes was more serious and darker, but having Robin there throughout the season also lightened things so the show didn’t get too dark. Batgirl was present some, and I enjoyed seeing Lucius who has always been a favorite of mine. And since Martian Manhunter was one of my favorite characters in late Silver Age/early Modern Age DC Comics – it was awesome to see him.

Recommended!

Agile Update Week 52

I have now been using the Agile project management system for a year. In that time I have learned new things, met new people, accomplished much, written regular blog entries – usually two or three per week, reviewed several books, and even worked to exercise and to try to get in better shape. I have also found and started a new job for 2016, which is a good thing. All of this through a positive program that stresses progress and accomplishments, rather than missed opportunities or goals not met. Agile is also a program that can be used cooperatively and in a true team environment – it’s never competitive. When using it for myself, I was only comparing my own weekly reflections to my weekly vision or goals, with the focus on continual improvement, not “beating myself up” over items not accomplished.

The last week of 2015 went well. I wrote two blog entries, and reviewed two books (a book and a graphic novel) on GoodReads. So that’s four total writing days, which is very good. I did not get the opportunity to do any physical exercise. My Yoga class was off for Christmas and New Year’s weeks, and I really miss it. I won’t be able to go to that particular class, at least in January because of my new work schedule. However, I did buy myself a new Yoga DVD with my Christmas Gift Cards (among other goodies) so I’m hoping to be able to fit in time to exercise at home. I really need it.

I also did well working on my professional development, as I work on completing my A+ Computer Certification.  I read and took notes for chapter 27, and 28 in the A+ book and did the homework review sheets. I only had class on Tuesday (Thursday class was on New Year’s Eve so we didn’t have class) and yet again I bombed a quiz because people were talking during it. I really wish the instructor would stop that. Anyway, I re-took the quiz at home (it’s open book) and received a 90% which was passing. I also did two of the on-line chapter review quizzes which are slightly harder than the chapter reviews that I need to turn in as homework. I always do those quizzes as close book, more to see what I know and/or remember (or can figure out, since they often quiz concepts beyond the text book). Finally, I started reading and taking notes on the next chapter (29), covering computer security. As a study and test prep I managed to finish doing the vocab review for chapter 26 laptops. My plan is to finish reading the book as soon as possible, then study, and the goal is to pass both A+ tests by the end of January and become A+ certified. This will help me with the new job I already have as you need that certification in place to become permanent, with benefits, in an promotion-track position. The position I was hired in for, which I think I will really enjoy is temporary/project based, so it won’t be considered permanent and it is not eligible for benefits. I think that’s too bad, and things may change, but that’s the most recent information that I have.

New Year’s Affirmations

Notice I titled this post “affirmations” not “resolutions” – this is because resolutions, at least New Year’s ones, are often meant to be broken. My plan is to continue my Agile project into it’s second year to help accomplish these weekly goals.

As part of my second year using Agile for personal and professional development I plan on the following:

  • Writing:  Post to my WordPress Blog at least three times a week.
  • Writing: Continue to post reviews of the books, graphic novels, and textbooks (including books for personal or professional development) I read on GoodReads.
  • Writing: Finish my “movie review” project, and start a new one.
  • Exercise: Exercise at least one to three times per week – yoga, pilates, or even walking at or after work
  • Professional Development: Finish my A+ Class, pass A+ certification exam
  • Professional Development: Take and pass Adobe Professional Development Classes at Kendall School of Art and Design
  • Professional Development: Re-enroll in STC, read magazine and journal, get involved in local group
  • Personal Development: Travel
  • Personal Development: Consciously work on interpersonal development, especially at work

I’m also hoping to turn my experience with Agile from last year into a book. The first self-publisher I contacted was very expensive, the second sounded somewhat scammish, but I’m hoping to find something legitimate, and affordable. Maybe even a small publisher so I don’t have to pay up front.

The hardest month for all this will probably be this month, January. I will be working full time, finishing up my A+ class, and studying for my A+ exams. I know I can do it but it also still seems very overwhelming. I also just added the personal development categories, because, well, it seems like more traditional “New Year’s Resolutions”, like my determination to exercise more and thus get in better shape.