Comics On The Horizon

This is kind of a pointer to myself but hopefully others find it useful. I’ve heard a few interviews with comic creators that interested me in their work:

  • Today I heard the Inkstuds interview with Derf. I’ve never heard of this guy before but I’m really interested in his graphic novel Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. I’m a fan of the punk rock and am a kid from a small town. When I lived in my small town in the late 70s and early 80s we were still catching up to Black Sabbath and T. Rex and early Rush more so than punk rock. I did my catchup when I got to Atlanta in 1985 and saw the Circle Jerks and Jody Foster Army and Suicidal Tendencies and Gang Green, et al. I’m really interested in this graphic novel. Having recently seen Julien Temple’s The Future Is Unwritten I’ve had Joe Strummer on the brain. I’d love to read this GN with him as a character. I think I’ll be popping for this one.
  • A long time ago I heard Miss Lasko-Gross get interviewed on Indie Spinner Rack. At the time she was talking about her book Escape from “Special” which was the first of a trilogy. The second, A Mess of Everything, is coming out this week. She sounds like she might be a little on the nuts side, but I like that. These books sound really interesting to me and I think I will pick them up.

Medium, Meet Message; Message, Medium

Yesterday I saw Dave Kellett post about a brand new book he was interviewed for: Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age by Scott Kirsner. “Interesting sounding”, I thought to myself. Bearing in mind the subject matter and given that I have a brand new Kindle burning a hole in my backpack, I figured this book would be my first electronic impulse buy for the reader. Guess what, no Kindle edition! I was set to drop $8-$15 on this book right then and there and see the first book magically appear on my device. No dice.

Maybe I’m giving Scott Kirsner too hard of a time. This book seems to be self-published and maybe he didn’t have the resources for doing this. However, he does have a PDF version for sale from his site for $12. I ran his downloadable sample through the Kindle converter and it came out pretty bad. Lines were broken in funny ways that split up words. It was not totally unreadable but it was bad enough to make it tough sledding to read.

I emailed Kirsner about this, and I’ll see if and what he replies. But folks, the Mobipocket Creator program is a free download (if Windows only) and even if you are vending this yourself, you can take your own HTML source and run it through the program to create a .mobi file that is natively readable on the Kindle. If you are writing books about the online world and digital culture, failing to put the hour or two into this process throws your credibility into question on the topic.

Why I Will Block You on FriendFeed

Here’s a primer to how to get blocked by me on FriendFeed. I used to try to engage with people with trollish tendencies, now I’m just blocking out of hand. I’ve crossed the “life is too short” threshold in dealing with it.

I will block you out of hand, no warning or recourse or anything if:

  1. I’ve never heard of you or interacted with you before
  2. You aren’t subscribed to me and came in via some friend of a friend relationship
  3. Your first ever interaction with me is to pick a fight, tell me how stupid I am or pompous I am or how bad a person I am to hold whatever opinion I hold

It’s that simple. I’ve put in a feature request to FriendFeed to have the capacity to block myself from the whole “friend of a friend” post thing. The first hour I started using FriendFeed, I hid the FoF posts for myself but I really don’t want to appear in them for other people. That’s where the trouble starts, at least for me. I’d like to reduce or eliminate the number of drive-bys that drive by.

I use the site to interact with my friends, and I’m tired of the aggression of strangers. If the first thing you ever say to me is negative, you begin overdrawn at the karma bank so that the first check you write on it bounces. Sadly, this whole dynamic isn’t new to me. I’ve been through it on FriendFeed, on Twitter, on Sff.net, Google groups, IRC, Usenet, Compuserve, GEnie and local BBS in Augusta GA.

I might have to admit that despite my leanings toward and belief in infotopias, given a large enough pool of people to interact with, there will always be people that make it their personal project to ruin your day. No interactive medium is immune to griefers. My 25 years of dealing with people electronically have boiled down to a series of hacked up mitigation strategies. I’ve walked away with more friends than enemies (and blissfully have forgotten most of the latter) but it always feels like more work than it should be and like we all are wasting a lot of energy on pointlessness.

In a slightly related topic, I registered the domain “douchebagfeed.com” today.

Social Media on a Timeout

I’m an impulsive guy and unlike a lot of people, I do better at cold turkey than tapering things. One day last spring I just decided to stop drinking diet coke and went from 3-6 cans a day to drinking maybe a dozen in the last year. Last fall I decided to stop using Twitter pretty much all at once, based on their treatment of the I Want Sandy acquisition.

Today, out of nowhere I decided to taper down my use of FriendFeed quite a bit. From my hiatus message and comments:

I’m thinking hard about taking a FriendFeed timeout. It feels like I have a big imbalance between the time I use it and the value I receive from it. I also really don’t like that I used to blog 10 times a week and now I do it once or twice a week.

I used to build value for myself, now I do it for FriendFeed. Others are doing it for Twitter or Facebook or whatever. This is the ugly underside of Web 2.0. We feel like we’re conversing but we’re really sharecroppers to make a few millionaires into billionaires. I’m having a 2.0 burnout/meltdown/rejection.

In fact, I’m closing the web page right now. For the time being, my only interaction with FF will be through the ~ 1/10th of my subscriber list that goes to IM (mostly locals with whom I might conceivably have lunch.) Time to start following my gut, and this feels right.

I really do feel like I’m getting played by social media in general. FriendFeed is without a doubt the social media that feels like I get the most value out of it and it isn’t enough. I’m tired of strangers who come in via friend of friend relationships giving me smack. (It’s already happened on my post above.) The whole enterprise feels like a time suck that doesn’t give me enough back to warrant my time.

I’m already gotten pushback on my paragraph #2. This is absolutely something I believe and have been talking about for some time. Tim O’Reilly and other Web 2.0 utopists talk about the upside to users. I’ve been noting that Web 2.0 and the Long Tail have a seriously dark underbelly in that while lots of people are doing bits of work and hopefully receiving requisite value back, the people who cash in are the aggregators and big players while the rest of us are just hamsters in their wheels. While we are running around and crying “Wheeeee!” for getting to ride in the wheel, they have wired us to the grid and are selling the power we generate. The real winners are Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Rose and Evan Williams. People think I’m nuts for this attitude, but it’s the truth. This is happening right now. I mentioned I Want Sandy above. Rael Dornfest sold his company to Twitter and the reason he could is that 50,000 or so people used the site. We created the value, someone else cashed the check. That’s what Web 2.0 really is.

So, I’m withdrawing somewhat from the social media world. I’m going to take that energy and try to post more to this blog. I’d like to record more podcasts. Perhaps I’m being a selfish prick but if I’m taking my time, I’d like to accrue the value. I have control of every post I’ve ever made to this here blog. I can’t say that about any social media site. I’m tired of building things in other people’s house. Let’s do some of it here or on your own site, in ways you control. Take back your time, rise up and stop your tweets and super pokes and what have you. I want to be in charge of my own identity, to own my own stuff and I’m tired of building someone else’s house 140 characters at a time.

Host/Hostname

Please, intarwebs, please. Tell me that I’m not the only person in the world who, while logged in as root on a Unix based box, has tried to look up the fully qualified domain name of an IP address and ended up changing the hostname of the box. “host” vs “hostname” is a pretty insidious thing. I might have to start aliasing “hostname” to “host” just to keep this from happening.

Kindling

I have ordered a Kindle 2. The dude who has the Stallman-esque belief that buying books for the Kindle is in itself an immoral act, get your negative commenting finger ready.

Update: it is here. I started to post “My Kindle is on the UPS truck for delivery” but I got paranoid about the infinitesimal but non-zero probability of the post being seen by someone who knows where I live and would be willing to swipe it. It’s charging right now. I’ll post my reactions to it shortly.

Update 2: My first reaction was “Whoa nellie, this is cool!” My second reaction was “Do I really need bifocals at age 41?”

The Wasteland, The Rite of Spring and the Collapse of our Present

I’ve been a listener of BBC’s In Our Time program for about as long as they’ve been podcasting it. I listen with varying degrees of interest. I’m not terribly versed in history and especially British Isle history, so I learn a lot from the historical shows but I wouldn’t say they are a primary interest for me. Of all the shows I’ve really enjoyed and taken a lot from are the ones on literature. In particular, I just listened to and loved the episode of T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. I hadn’t ever had it wrapped up in a historical context like that, tied to the same conditions in which Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring.

It makes sense, the sense of modernity and disconnection of the jazz age and the “modernist period.” That era seems to be one that speaks to me, as I love the work that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were writing in approximately this period. If you read Strauss and Howe’s Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 you’ll notice that the “lost generation” was the precursor “Nomad” generation to my own. We’re the ones who grow up in the shadow of our “Prophet” parents and learn to make our way despite that. I’ve always felt a kinship with art of that period, but it wasn’t until reading Generations I had a framework for why that might be.

Where the artists of that time were coming to grips with their loss of control, I think the successful denizens of our time have learned to accept that lack of control and just go with it. I still think about a line that Cory Doctorow said to me when I interviewed him. He was comparing and contrasting the way he looks at the past with the approach of say the Harlan Ellison of “Jeffy is Five” or much of Ray Bradbury and he point out that “our generation has learned to use nostalgia without a contempt for the present.” I love that line and think about it frequently.

I flatly reject the notion that the past was this better, idyllic place. I can remember the early 70’s that is now entering a period of golden age, ahistorical reverence. Those days sucked. We prosecuted a president up until his successor flatly pardoned him, throwing the whole country in a tizzy. Cities were burning, the nuclear family was dissolving while we still had nuclear threats. I grew up with all the cold war paranoia, came of age in the time of AIDS and got none of the free love and all of the consequences. That we have arrived at a place with a balance of the past and future, now in these times where as Douglas Rushkoff points out the financial world is falling apart and that may be a good thing, I feel pretty good about it all. We will survive, and abide, and thrive. I feel suited to walking on ground that may or may not fall apart underneath my feet. It’s been that way my whole life.

When I hear Stravinsky, when I read Eliot, I feel that feeling. This world is chaotic, and might be crumbling. Perhaps it has always been crumbling, but I can live with that. As Eliot said, “Dry bones can harm no one.” More recently, as the philosopher Stipe put it, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and I Feel Fine.” We will continue, and find our moments of joy and love. Times will ebb and flow, and we will hope to avoid the worst of the calamities while hoping in our schadenfreude hearts that horrible things happen to the worst of the sons of bitches that put us here. All the while, there will be art and poems and drum beats marking this time. We are shockwave riders, and this time is one more to ride. Surf’s up.

CREATE South Donation Day

One of the things keeping me busy lately is helping to organize the CREATE South conference. It will be held April 25 2009 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The mission statement of the conference is to educate and excite people about the intersection of new media and creativity. If there are aspects of new media, of writing, community online or artistic endeavors that you want to learn more about or to help others with, this day is for you. Bring the family, drop them off at the beach and come participate in the conference all day! It’s really a big win all around. This is a vacation spot, you know.

Today we are working on a full court press in the social media mindshare space, as I have already posted on the conference blog and the Grand Strand Blogger site. If you can take a few minutes and spare a few of your hard earned dollars in these tight times, please go to the site and donate. The button is in the sidebar of every page. If you are interested in coming and participating with us, please go to the site and register. Registration itself is free and there is no obligation to donate if you can’t swing it. If you are in traveling distance and would like to learn, teach and participate then please do register and spend the day with us.

Finally, if you are the tiniest bit sympathetic to our cause, please help spread the word. Please post about our conference on Twitter, on Facebook, on FriendFeed, on some social media thing I haven’t hear about yet because I’m too old and uncool. Please blog about it, tell your friends, drop an email to anyone you know in the area. We had a great first year last year and we’re hoping for even better things this year. What makes these days special is the enthusiasm and passion people bring to the room. Please help bring some of that and help those who have it to know about our conference so they can show up and rock our world. Thank you, intarweb social people.

How to Commemorate the Death of the Newspapers

Scott Kurtz of the PVP webcomic has just posted about a new shirt available in his webstore. I think it is a hilarious slogan. “I’m killing newspapers by reading webcomics.” Ha ha, it’s funny because its true.

I like the little throwaway comment at the bottom of that page: “A follow up to our classic “I’m killing buggy-whips by driving in my auto-mobile” tee shirt from the late 1800s.”

Marley and Me/Gracie and Me/Koga and Me

Gracie
Koga

We’re off in Raleigh for a quick getaway trip. While we’re here we took in a second run showing of Marley and Me. It was an OK film, about exactly what I expected and was willing to pay $1.50 for. We knew going in that any film with Jennifer Anniston as a chunk of the emotional core had an uphill climb ahead of it, and that turned out to be true. It was mostly breezy stuff up until the last 20 minutes or so. I started crying during the scene where they went out in the rain with flashlights and didn’t stop until half an hour past the end of the movie.

Ahead lie spoilers of the mildest kind. All dog movies that cover any length of time have the same ending and you probably should be aware of what that ending is.

We hadn’t quite counted on how hard it is to watch scenes of a dog being put down. Those scenes more or less seemed exactly like my memories of when we put Grace down, down to the way the eyes slowly shut and his reaction to it. It’s a tough tough moment in a life that 15 years of fun and love can’t prepare you for.

We had 15 years of life with Grace, a year without a dog, and now about a year and a half with Koga. A dog makes your life have a different rhythm and different sets of priorities. Marley and Me was a pretty glib treatment of that on the upside and pretty devastating on the downside. After 3 years, I still miss Grace every day and sometimes when I look at Koga I see a little bit of her. I wouldn’t have missed the good times to avoid those horrible few last days, but they still hurt and probably always will. The trite saying about “trying to be the kind of man my dog thinks I am” is actually about as true as it gets. May I one day approach that.

The One Wordle I’ll Ever Create

Wordle: I Want To Be Sedated

I’m familiar with cloud type graphics. I have a tag cloud in the sidebar of this blog and I even implemented a tag cloud for AmigoFish. It’s not like the basic idea is unfamiliar to me, but I hadn’t previously used Wordle for doing it with arbitrary chunks of text. Recently it captured the attention of both my friends Nicola and Kelley, which they both turned to their own works. Literally, after 2 seconds of thought there was only one thing that I wanted put into it, and so I did. Nothing against it, but I think this one says it all so I’m probably done now. Here it is, so enjoy!

Three Word Review of the Watchmen Movie

I just saw the Watchmen tonight. I’ll be taking it in and writing about it more later. Whatever my expectations were of the best case scenario for pulling off this adaptation, it was waaay better than even that. Suffice it to say, here is my initial review of it:

Oh.

My.

God.

Tenure for the Doctor

We try to keep it cool around the house in terms of the blog. My wife frequently opts out of being mentioned because not everyone likes to live their life on the internet like I do. However, I’ve been given clearance to blog this bit of news. As of last week, my wife is no longer a tenure track professor because she is tenured! That’s a big thing for an academic, so let’s have a hand for the doctor. I’m very proud of her.

Comedy is a Unit Test

I’m a fan of comedy, but I hate dumb guy comedy. I’ve always preferred smart guy analytical routines. There’s a reason why George Carlin and Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and any comedian pushing the boundaries are important. You can think about their pointed explorations of taboos and the edges of what makes us uncomfortable as unit tests for a society. These are the things the challenge the atomic beliefs and the intrinsic operations that make us tick. If we don’t know how to deal the questions they pose in this isolated, entertainment framework then how the hell will we deal with them when they matter?

I found it very distressing in the days and weeks following the death of George Carlin that no one seems to actually know the name of his most famous routine. It’s not “The Seven Dirty Words”. There are way more than seven of those and Carlin knew that. He did a routine where he named hundreds. It was “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” and it was a very specific examination of hypocrisy of the time, pointing out that you couldn’t use the word “fuck” on network television but most television shows insinuate the act constantly. Three’s Company was about nothing else. That is a unit test, and listening to it is running the test. (As an aside, in the 35 years since the routine came out I’ve never heard anyone but myself notice that the list is in iambic hexameter.)

Dumb guy comedy does nothing for you. At its best, it makes you chuckle and then you forget it. Larry the Cable guy and Jeff Foxworthy and Gallagher come and then are gone. The best of smart guy comedy makes you sharper, it hones your edge and teaches you how to think. I credit some of whatever analytical, skeptical thinking ability I have to guys like Carlin and Bruce. A while back I pointed out that its insulting to talk about “colored people” but perfectly fine to refer to “people of color”, noting that apparently “of’ is the magic preposition that makes everything all right. That line of thinking is pure Carlin. Now that we don’t have him anymore we better grow some more quickly. Our society needs all the unit testing we can muster.

Watch Me Live with Comic Boxes

Just to make this even weirder I’m going to try embedding the Ustream widget right here on the blog as I unbox and try to assemble some comic drawer boxes. What could be more fascinating?

Update: The experiment seems to have gone fine. The people watching the stream got to see lots of shots of my dog trying to be helpful and licking the boxes as I was trying to assemble them. I’m going to redo this again tonight for the vlog since I’m pretty sure my footage from the camcorder was useless.

Thanks to Derek Coward for actually providing me the information the directions lacked on how to assemble the second end of the shell. I ended up getting a little stuck and Derek bailed me out from the chat. As a side benefit, a guy whose been my friend for pushing 25 years joined in the chat and we talked afterwards. Good times!

Streaming live video by Ustream

Ustreaming Tonight, March 2nd at 8:30 PM Eastern

Tonight and for the near future, I’ll be live on Ustream Monday nights at 8:30 PM Eastern time. Most nights I will be recording episodes of the podcast in that time slot but tonight I’ll be shooting a video of me unboxing and setting up my comic book drawer boxes that just arrived today. If I can figure out how to stream the camcorder video as I shoot it, I’ll do that. Otherwise, I’ll just set a laptop nearby and let it ride. We’ll see how this works out. Tonight might be interesting or it might be a disaster. Anything is possible but drop in and check it out.

A Decade of Ebook Arguments

In 1998, I left my job at Intel for a job with an ebook startup called JStream. It was in many ways my dream job, and of every one I’ve held it was the one I’d get excited on Sunday night because I got to go back in on Monday morning. It was a good fit for me because I’m a software developer and also a very avid bibliophile. At the time I took that job, I was in the final few months of producing the original Reality Break radio show. It was also at the point where a number of science fiction publishers were sending me every book they published every month, which sounds fantastic at first until you have to find a place to put them all. Ultimately, I realized there was no way to possibly keep them all, so a number of them were sold back to the Powells Books in Beaverton OR. It was around this time that I noticed that the arguments were confused by conflating two points – the love of reading and the fetishization of physical books. I split the difference in that I loved the reading but I also really love having and touching and owning physical books. Remember that point, we’ll come back to it.

Early on in my JStream days, I had to have the argument over and over and over about how impossible ebooks were to read. If you think back to the state of the art then in handheld devices, were were in the first few years of Palm dominance. The primary argument was screen size and resolution. Back then, I argued against that even when we were talking about 160X160 pixel 2.5″ screens. I read a number of full novels on my Handspring Visor and I found the experience completely pleasant. That was a full decade ago.

Now, I’m in the market for a Kindle in the near future. I’ve been reading up on reviews and criticisms of the device and it’s amusing to me how much of the pushback on the device is basically a retread on all the arguments that weren’t correct 10 years ago and are far less compelling today. “The screen is too small”, for a device with a viewable window that is about the size of a paperback book. “I can’t read it in the bathtub”, which was perhaps the single most common counter argument I heard in the 90s while also being the most nonsensical. You’d think from the fervor this came up that there was no dry reading happening in America. I can’t understand the bathtub use case that would ruin an electronic device but not ruin a paper book. Do people regularly dunk their paperbacks in the bath water?

I ran across this article with the advertising manager of DC Comics warning dire consequences for comcis if mindshare shifts to reading on the Kindle. What amuses me about that is that it’s cast in a “threat or menace” style fear-mongering way with zero mention of getting out in front of this parade. I see no downside in any comics company offering black and white versions of their comics to the Kindle for a reduced price. For any comic that is already in black and white (these tend to be indie books) there is no problem whatsoever. DC could easily take every book they currently publish, create an electronic copy from the inked pages before they are colored and just publish them. Of course they will not be as good an experience as buying the paper copies, but for some audience that is enough. You’d make money from a market that currently does not exist and which you already fear will eat away at sales. Modern day comic sales are already off 50% from mid 90’s. Did it occur to anyone that this might actually be a mechanism for rebuilding the audience that has mostly drifted away? Consider the electronic versions loss leaders in getting kids reading comics once again, and maybe they’ll come back again. Either way, it would cost a few hours of some staffers time per published issue to create an electronic version. The costs of this gamble are so freakishly low, I see no reason why any sensible business wouldn’t just go for it.

As I said up top, I’m a reading lover and I’m a book lover. I have far more books in my house than anyone needs and I’m willing to admit that I’ll probably go to my grave with some of these unread. And yet, I still want a Kindle. I have no problem reconciling the notion of “reading copies” with “collecting copies”, and realizing this Venn diagram is of two non-identical sets. I have hardback copies of all of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” novels. No way am I buying the final volume in the series in Kindle only. This is clearly a book that I want to own going forward.

However, any book that I would read and then consider releasing via BookCrossing or giving away to my local library sale, that’s a book I could have easily read via the Kindle without a paper copy to deal with later. I enjoy reading Max Allan Collins’ mystery novels and I own many but in general I’m not a collector of them. I’d buy them for the Kindle. I picked up a copy of Mike Grell’s novelization of his Jon Sable character at a dollar store and read it as my beach reading last year. That could have been a Kindle book. At last year’s Dragon*Con, I had interviews for Reality Break scheduled with Mur Lafferty and Tobias Buckell and electronic copies of both of their books. That meant either carrying the laptop or printing them out, which is what I opted to do and was a very large pain in the butt. I’d much rather have had both on a Kindle.

I have over 150 different stories, novels and magazines that I’ve already purchased via Fictionwise, including several years where that’s how I subscribed to both Asimov’s and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Again, I found that an entirely pleasant experience. When I get my Kindle, one of my first actions will be to redownload that entire library of books I’ve bought in Mobipocket format, which can be read by the Kindle natively. Right out of the gate, I’ll have that library to draw on. Between those, the books I am going to download from Project Gutenberg and the electronic review copies people send me, I’ll have a lot of reading on there before I pay the first cent to Amazon to buy a book. I will not cease to buy paper copies of books, I’ll just refine the choices to the ones I know I want to keep continuing to own for a long time.

I love books and I always will. I love reading and I always will. I don’t understand why more people can’t understand the difference between the two and discuss the pros and cons of electronic books more sensibly. The Kindle is a reading device, not a collecting device, and if your counterarguments against it are from the book fetishization perspective, they are not applicable and will be ignored by me. Yes, I wish the Kindle was in color. Yes, I wish it was cheaper. I’m going to buy one as my vote of confidence in this direction. One day in the future I’d love to have the color e-ink device that can read comics and books comfortably. For now, I’m going with what we have and helping to underwrite the future I want.