Thursday, February 26, 2009

More future to "Futurama"?

Two independent sources have indicated that sales of the three "Futurama" DVD movie/episodes have sold so well that the gang is making noises about making more beyond the fourth, released this week, and about bringing the show back for a whole season on Fox.

Our family loves the show. I think the original run was some of the best television ever. We were all disappointed with the three movies so far, though. The writing seemed stale. the culprit may have been the format. Each movie was written in four chunks so that each chunk could be broadcast as a complete episode on Comedy Central. It didn't work for us.

Nevertheless, the DVDs have sold well. So well, that creator Matt Groening has discussed the possibility of making more with CNN: "We're having discussions and there is some enthusiasm but I can't tell if it's just me."

Meanwhile, star voice Billy West (Fry, the Professor, Zoidberg, Brannigan, etc.) mentioned that Fox is interested in a new season:

If and until then, there's the new DVD, "Into the Wild Green Yonder", to not suck, we hope.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One more tied end

Remember my Amazon credit? I decided to buy a camcorder and have it delivered to Elvi's sister in the Bay Area. I bought a Canon Z900, which Consumer Reports highly rates.

I'm surprised that consumer-level camcorders (in the $200-$300 range) still rely so much on tape. I'd have guessed that most of them would have memory stored on chips or hard drives by now, but that technology remains a step up the cost ladder.

Oh, yeah - and Child Two got her ears pierced in California.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tied ends

I had a follow-up at the doctor today and asked about generic substitutes for Cipralex. I knew there were none, but I also knew the dubious history of the drug.

Cipralex is the brand name for escitalopram, which partnered drug companies developed after their patent for plain old citalopram expired. Without getting into the chemistry, let me explain that escitalopram is just a purer derivation of the same compound - and it could be and was patented anew while citalopram is available in generic form.

The next end to be tied is my next book. I've finally received a package from my co-author Alex and I will get to work on that soon. With luck, the book, on the B-17 bomber in the Israeli Air Force, will be out by the end of summer.

Elvi and Child Two have returned from out west. I'm taking off south with Child One next Monday. Elvi and I are looking to get away alone over the coming weekend, our only one together over a month-long span.

Boy, those last two items are repeats, eh? Sorry.

Child Three's regular season ended tonight with a game that decided whether we or our opponents would finish in second place. Our team played beautifully, I remarked to the other coach that we should frame this game and hang it in a museum. We won 5-1, with the other team scoring on a play in which one of our defencemen put the puck between Child Three's skate and the post. Oh, well. Playoffs start in a week and a half, and I'll miss the first week of them.

Lastly, I applied to be part of a study on undiagnosed ADHD. I can't even get that job. The screening ruled me out - I don't have ADHD. I'd suspected I did, but no....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kid stuff

Child Two is off to California for the weekend. When I was a kid, a sleepover was a big deal.

She's flying as an unaccompanied minor to join Elvi and Elvi's sister in Mountain View. Child Two and I had some time to kill at the airport so we were thinking of ways she could make her journey more entertaining.

I told her to act mentally handicapped so that she gets free food. We also started joking around with what answers she could give when a flight attendant asks, "Hi, sweetie, what can I get for you?"

Possible answers:

1) "I'm hungry, but I still only breast-feed."

2) "I'm hungry and I only eat cheese."

3) "I'm hungry and I only eat things that are orange."

4) "Are there any cute boys on the plane? I'm in the mood for smoochin'!"

I am, once again, Superdad.

As for Child Three, here is the article that appeared in this week's Suburban:

The team in red, the Panthers, has won every game but two they've played this year. Those two games were the tie tie against us in the game described in that article and the championship game in the NDG tournament, a game that our team won in a shootout.

Here's that winning shootout, from late last December:

It'll be an interesting playoff season.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Highs and lows II

There's a funny postscript to the story of my medication (see last post).

As I wrote, Elvi's student insurance changed and part of that was the dropping of the drug plan. Quebec requires drug insurance and will provide it with a program called RAMQ if a resident is unable to secure private insurance. That happened to us, and RAMQ is retroactive.

My Cipralex had cost $70 and a dozen sleeping pills, prescribed should I need them, had cost $7. I filled and paid for the prescriptions the day before our RAMQ coverage began, but I knew I'd be able to go in later and make a retroactive claim.

I tried that Monday. Cipralex is not covered by RAMQ, which is a shame. I really can't afford an extra $70 a month right now. The better story is the sleeping pills.

The pharmacy charges $7 for uninsured customers. (I don't entirely understand why there are any uninsured customers, but that's what the lady at the counter told me.) RAMQ covers 50% of the cost of pills, but the pharmacy charges insured customers $18. She printed up the forms and told me I owed her another $2.

I was literally speechless for a moment, which gave her time to try to explain the above. That doesn't make any sense. I was flabbergasted, and the nice lady was sheepish. She didn't feel good about it, for sure.

We exchanged comments - mine perplexed, hers embarrassed - until she ended the stand-off. She slid the official forms she'd printed across the counter to me and whispered, "Let's just forget you ever came here." I told you she was a nice lady.

But I'm still flabbergasted.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Highs and lows

For the past year - or years, or possibly lifetime - I've been feeling bleh. I've had trouble falling asleep, I haven't felt much joy or satisfaction, and the effort I require to start to work has been mountainous. I wouldn't get as much done as I wanted - or, often - anything done - and I'd beat myself up over that.

I've never been the cheeriest person, and this didn't feel so out of the ordinary. I'd have occasional down periods, but I'd never say I felt classically depressed and never felt even remotely inclined to self-harm.

This winter, I heard a radio campaign about depression and it felt like they were talking about me. I know I didn't used to be this way - OK, not so much this way.

I called my GP; I was overdue for a check-up anyway. Through Elvi's student status, we used to have good private health insurance that would pay for private clinical work and offered a drug plan. Things changed, though, and the latest student insurance plan doesn't cover the $600 cost for blood work at my GP's in-house clinic when I could go to a hospital and get it done for free with my provincial Medicare.

In January, I called my GP to book an appointment and got one that same month. When I mentioned that we didn't have the private insurance anymore, couldn't afford the $600, and would need a requisition form to get this done at a hospital, the receptionist said she had to move my appointment to August. She did say to make an appointment if I had an emergency, but I didn't think my suspected chronic low-grade depression was an emergency.

The rest of my family uses a family health clinic in a local hospital, but they were not taking on new patients. They referred me to another clinic and I got an appointment for a couple weeks in the future.

I saw this new doctor February 4. I had been hoping for a referral to a psychiatrist, but he was willing to prescribe an anti-depressant right then, and to take me on as a new patient. In an odd coincidence, he was born in Rehovot, Israel, within sight of the airfield (Aqir/Ekron/Tel Nof) that was 101 Squadron's first base.

So I've been on Cipralex for two weeks now. I suffered a few side effects immediately, not all of them bad. For example, the daily pills make me sleepy and I've taken them after supper, so I've been getting to bed at a more regular hour. They also seem to suppress my appetite; I enjoy my food as much as ever, but I just can't eat as much as I used to. Not bad, eh?

The pills are supposed to take three to four weeks to kick in, but I'm feeling pretty good today. I did a lot of smiling. Maybe I'm just having a good day.

When I opened the front door to take the kids to school, there was a skunk about a foot in front of it. I closed the door quickly, but nothing happened. The kids wanted to see the skunk, and it was extraordinarily cute, so I gently opened the door and peered around it. The skunk was sniffing the concrete where some garbage had spilled Sunday night. It was completely calm and ignoring us and it didn't smell in the least. The kids and I watched it decide there was no food here. It squaeked through the railing and waddled off on the snow. Score!

I took Child Three to a dermatologist for a red scaly rash on his hands. It turns out to be "winter hands", excessively dry skin brought on by winter air and too much washing. All he needs is some lotion. Score!

I went to the hospital to get my blood test after dropping Child Three at school. It's terribly hard to park on the street there and the lot costs $15. A spot opened up in front of me half a block from the entrance but the street sign said there was no parking Tuesdays 9:30 (the time at the time) and 10:30 so I drove on. It wasn't until I'd circled a few blocks that I realized that the parking regulations only kick in between March 1 and December 1. I beelined as much as possible for that first spot and it was still empty. Score!

My blood work required 12 hours of fasting. I'd eaten my last food at 10:59 p.m., having forgotten my plan to get the blood work done in the morning. I was confident there'd be some wait, but I figured 11 hours would be sufficient. I had my iPod and a book to help me spend the time. At 11:00 a.m. exactly, I was called in to have my blood drawn. Score!

I also learned this morning that the Suburban has plans to publish an article on our Novice B team tomorrow. Score! I'll try to get a copy, but the article may appear online.

I was miserable over the weekend, missing Elvi more than usual. It's not her domestic contributions I miss. I'm capable, and I kick into high gear when she's not around. I miss her friendship - and I'm jealous of the fun she seems to be having. But I feel good today, dwelling more on her return than her departure. Score!

I'm finally supposed to start working on my next airplane book, about B-17 bombers in the Israeli Air Force. Score! My producer loves the work I've done on that biopic. Score! Now, if only I could get to writing those instead of blogs.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Yesterday morning, I took Elvi to the airport. She's in San Francisco, taking a research course this weekend, presenting a paper at a conference next week, then spending the weekend after with her sister. Child Two will be joining her for the latter weekend.

We get to spend one week together when they return, then Child One and I are headed to my father's place in the Bahamas for spring break. The other kids don't get this break, they get Passover off instead - and I'll be taking them to my mother in Houston.

I did a little work this week, some computer consulting. I solved a confounding printer problem by re-installing OS X. I think the printing system wiped out and couldn't regain its feet even with the help of a number of targeted fixes.

But mostly, I'm thinking about the wife. She's made extra effort to keep life fun, and we've spent a lot of great time together lately. It sucks that she's so far away on Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Land of the free

It's reasonably established that if you provide free versions of paid content, you can benefit financially as fans buy your stuff. The most famous recent example is Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog", which was free for a week or so and can now be purchased.

Whedon hardly invented the format. Jim Baen was an early pioneer of this model. In 2001, Baen put online full texts of the SF books he published and hoped that doing so would spur sales - and they did. Other studies support the principle as well.

More refined analysis has turned up a relationship, which I've graphed to the left. The theory - a term I use instead of "hypothesis" because I think it's established to be true - is that financial benefit decreases with fame.

To put it another way, if I were to release an album, nobody would know about it. Even if I got it out to CD Baby and into the iTunes Music Store, I wouldn't make too many sales. But if I had a Web site and/or seeded file-sharing networks with the full songs, more people would learn about my product and more people would buy copies. In a sense, it's like busking.

Now, someone like Madonna doesn't need the same advertising I do, and what advertising she does need she gets from her labels. If she were to release free, full versions of her music, it would hurt her sales. Madonna would not increase her fan base with free product and she'd benefit most from discouraging its dissemination - which explains her infamous P2P files in 2003.

That was a longer preamble than I planned, because this post isn't about texts or music but about DVDs, specifically about TV show DVDs, and even more specifically about Monty Python's Flying Circus DVDs. The surviving members of that comedy troupe, or whoever controls their rights, have allowed YouTube to display clips of their TV show on their own YouTube channel.

Since creating the channel a few months ago, the sales of Monty Python's Flying Circus DVDs have increased an alleged 23,000%. That's an astounding number, but even if it's off by a magnitude or three, it's still amazing. Fast Company reports that figure as does Mashable, but I can't find a primary source for that.

Some day soon, I plan to buy "Australia" by Science for Girls from the iTunes Music Store. It's only 99 cents. In the meantime, I can listen to it here.

Wired has an extensive article on the future of free product, six pages long and a year old.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

One heck of a souvenir

Fans of the Israeli Air Force and its distinguished history might want to get out their checkbooks and check their balances. Israel's Ministry of Defense will auction one of the C-130 Hercules aircraft that flew to Uganda in the operation to rescue the Air France hostages at Entebbe in 1976.

This particular aircraft, built in 1971, is reliable but tired after more than 14,000 rotations. You can take a tour of the aircraft March 5. I can't find a copy of the official tender document, but Flight International has more. My embedded video is better, though - and not just because it has clips of former 101 Squadron ground crewman Beni Peled (who once sent me a sweet e-mail).