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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sports Watcher Independence Day 3-day Weekend Special for the Weekend of 7/4-6

From now on, Sports Watcher will put out a 3-day Weekend Special for all Friday and Monday federal holidays. All times PDT.

9-10 or 11 AM: Competitive eating, Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest (ESPN). Let's just move on.

12-5 PM: Tennis, Wimbledon, includes men's semifinals, Roger Federer v. Marat Safin and Rainier Schuettler v. Rafael Nadal (NBC). Same on both coasts, so you lucky East Coasters can skip the hot-dog eating contest. Wait, NBC covers the second week of Wimbledon and CBS doesn't do the same with the US Open... and the US Open is more popular in the States. NBC even covers the last Friday of the French Open and CBS doesn't even do that with the US Open - the closest it comes is Labor Day. It's the same CBS cheapskateness that caused them to leave their studio team in the studio for the Final Four.

6-11 AM: Tennis, Wimbledon, includes women's final, Serena Williams v. Venus Williams, and men's and women's doubles finals (NBC). Wow, it's just like 2003!

12:30-4 PM: MLB Baseball, Boston @ NY Yankees in most markets (FOX). OMG OMG OMG IT'S THE SOX AND THE YANKEES OMG!!!!!!!!!!1!!111111!!!1!!!1!!eleven! There's an Arena League game on ESPN if you're not interested. Speaking of which...

4-6:30 PM: Arena Football, New York @ Philadelphia (ESPN). The weekly look into the Arena League playoffs.

7-10 PM: Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 86 (PPV). I'll just say this: UFC may have popularized MMA, but as monolithic as it may have seemed even six months ago, it may not be the organization that defines it in the mainstream when all is said and done.

6-12 PM: Tennis, Wimbledon, includes men's final and mixed doubles final (NBC). We were predicting a Williams Sisters final when the third round was barely ended. We were predicting a Federer-Nadal when the fourth round was barely ended. The raft of upsets is only making tennis too predictable.

12:30-3 PM: IndyCar Racing, Grand Prix at the Glen (ABC). Because I can't put every Arena League quarterfinal on here. Alternately, AVP volleyball is on NBC starting at 1:30.

5-8 PM: MLB Baseball, Boston @ NY Yankees (ESPN). OMG OMG OMG IT'S THE SOX AND THE YANKEES AGAIN OMG!!!!!!!!!!1!!111111!!!1!!!1!!eleven!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I need a job. You need to fill one, whether you know it or not.

I have a little memo for Fox:

If Joe Buck doesn't want to call baseball games anymore, can I take his spot?

Despite not having any consistent and truly private Internet connection with which to do so, I'm still looking for ways to take one game each week, load it up on, and call the game like I'm a broadcaster. And I'm probably a more excited broadcaster (even on baseball) than the infamously-dull (even on football) Buck. Not to mention I would probably brainfart on the rules less than a good many of the broadcasters out there on baseball and football, despite having no real training at it.

Once I can work up the equipment needed for it, I might put up some samples of me calling games on YouTube and on Da Blog.

Sticks and stones

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized rules. Oh, and spoilers.)

I know I promised to write this "later in the week" on the Irregular Webcomic post. I've been looking for a good time to sit down, with a fairly consistent Internet connection for cross-reference purposes, and make sure I said what I really wanted to say.

Which is this:

The Order of the Stick is the best damn webcomic on the entire Internet, bar none.

Now have a look at the thumbnail to the right, and have a look at the first comic or two. It's a bunch of stick figures (hence the name - admittedly FAR superior to anything I could produce, even in the first strip) making lame and obscure Dungeons and Dragons jokes. How the hell is this the best webcomic on the Internet? Has Mr. Wick lost his bleeping mind?!?

(Or is he just an incredible geek? We can rule that out, at least in the way you're thinking, because as I said before, I'm not a D&D player. Stay with me here.)

Well, first, don't judge it by its first few strips. It Gets Better. I promise.

Well, actually, I'll give a few details: First, the titular party was given a backstory, and while it may appear terribly generic - the party is adventuring through a dungeon run by a mad lich, on a quest to kill said lich - it actually contains hints several key elements for later strips. (Including the fact that it is not terribly accurate when it says the dungeon was "created" by said lich.)

Then, far from simply treating the lich Xykon as some abstract enemy sketchily described just enough to provide motivation for the Order's actions, we actually got to see him plot strategy, and have a look at some of his closest minions. Then we got to see him plot again. And again. And we started to see not only Xykon, but also his minions, get a significant amount of character.

Then the Order encountered their own evil counterparts and engaged in a lengthy combined adventure-turned-predictable-betrayal-and-battle with them.

Then the Order defeated Xykon and destroyed his dungeon.

No, really.

Keep in mind, this all occured within the first 120 strips. The panel above is from strip number 572. How on Earth did The Order of the Stick manage to keep going after overturning virtually its entire premise and effectively ending the story?

Well, first, it wasn't the end. Xykon turned out not to be dead after all (he was, after all, undead to start with), and the act of destroying the dungeon caused the Order to run afoul of a feudal-Japan-cariacture nation - apparently the dungeon housed a gate that was holding back a creature of chaos that would destroy the universe if he was unleashed.

But that only hints at the large, complex story to spin from this inauspicious beginning. I haven't read any of the book collections or prequels with accompanying commentary, but my impression and my theory is that Rich Burlew never at any point intended to stick with the strip he started with, but was using it as a backdoor to get an audience for the story he really wanted to tell.

You'll notice I haven't spoilered anything about any of that description (though there is a spoiler for the rest of this post). That's because, with the exception of most of the statement about the Japan-cariacture nation, it's all backstory. There's a concept in literary criticism of the "inciting moment" (I've also seen it called the "trigger event" - that event, either before, during, or after the start of the telling of the story, that sets in motion all the events in the story that follows. If it comes some time into the telling of the story (and it usually does), all that comes before is just exposition. Well, The Order of the Stick's inciting moment is Elan's pressing of the proverbial "do not touch" button - destroying not only the Dungeon of Dorukan (and thus running afoul of said Japan-cariacture nation, from which they learn of - and are tasked to stop - Xykon's bigger plot), but also virtually the entire concept the comic had followed to that point. The entire first 120 strips - an entire book collection unto itself - is nothing more than backstory for the story that follows, and shares little in common with it to boot. Although OOTS would continue with a funny, joking, independent spirit for some time, it was no longer even approaching a gag-a-day strip, and even then the build to its dramatic shift in focus was well underway for most of it.

That story is a big part of its appeal. In a recent strip, one of the peanut-gallery demon-roaches that litter and make asides in the strips featuring Xykon and his minions (dubbed "Team Evil" by the fans - Xykon and company, not the roaches) makes references to (at least!) nine sides in the ongoing conflict. His partner yells "Ssh! They don't know about some of those yet!", which would imply a maximum of seven sides known to whoever he was referring to - but it's hard to limit the number of known-to-us sides to just seven. I can think of four right off the bat (the OOTS, Team Evil, the aforementioned Linear Guild of evil counterparts that only has three permanent members, and an impending split within Team Evil), and that's before considering the remnants of the Japan-counterpart nation, or the noble who wants to usurp the throne of said nation, or the people's resistance to Team Evil's rule of said nation, or or or... and then you consider that the OOTS itself is split up at the moment, that the resistance consisted of three bickering factions until recently, and the gods have their own agendas, and it's been hinted that Sabine's bosses have agendas of their own, and what about whatever surviving members of the OOTS' predecessor group there might be still floating around out there, and there are individuals that have made a smattering of appearances (or even just been referred to once) that might potentially have their say, and and and...

It all adds up to a rich, complex maze of political intrigue that keeps people waiting with baited breath for each update to find out what wacky turn the strip will take this time. Throw in all sorts of hints, prophecies, potential plot turns, and subplot upon subplot upon subplot and you have a story with as much depth and intrigue as any soap opera. It's like Lost without the confusing bits and red herrings.

Or the dead seriousness, because as great as all of that is, it could, by itself, be as much of a turn-off as a feature. But despite being laden with mounds of plot and seriousness, The Order of the Stick remains as funny and vibrant as it was in its earliest days; it's incredibly self-aware and full of metahumor, not only about Dungeons and Dragons but of the very core conventions of story, as everyone knows they're in what essentially amounts to a D&D campaign (especially Elan, who, being a bard and thus an experienced storyteller, can see all the tropes coming a mile off). References to and jokes about D&D rules abound, not to mention a few running gags, cultural references, and off-color jokes. The parts that aren't funny work well as well: Burlew's dialogue isn't exactly a weak point.

Not to mention, Burlew isn't afraid to shake up the status quo (skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers): out of 572 strips, 148 (or 25.9%) were spent with Haley unable to speak in anything but cryptograms, 274 (or 48%, nearly half) were spent with Belkar unable to do any killing within a city lest he activate his "mark of justice" (and Belkar lives on killing), 129 (or 22.6%) have been spent with Roy, the ostensible main character, dead, and 104 (or 18.2%) have been spent with the rest of the group split in twain. There hasn't been a moment with the entire group whole and unrestricted since #245, or 42.8% of the strip's entire existence - less than half! And nearly half of that was in its original, "dungeon crawling" stage!

And all that just scratches the surface of the strip's appeal. It's funny, it's well-written, the story is compelling, and you never really know what to expect but you sure have enough bones to try. That all plays a part in explaining why Order of the Stick is one of a very small group of webcomics that have become, essentially, their creator's job - without any advertisements on the site (other than for OOTS books), any newspaper presence (okay, out-of-continuity OOTS strips used to appear in Dragon magazine, but still) or any subscription required.

And isn't that any artist's dream?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to check and find out if there's a new strip up yet, because the RSS feed is only automatically checked once a day...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Important notice

For the moment, and for the forseeable future (possibly for all of July), the strip's update time is "whenever I can get it up".

If you want to hasten the day when it returns to 11 PM PT, you can get me a laptop battery for my laptop.

Or you can pay for the first month of Clearwire wireless or Comcast cable Internet.

Or you can move in next to or above or below me and set up an unsecured wireless connection strong enough for me to easily use it. (In the latter case, you'll have my dual gratitude for pushing out my loud, nocturnal, party-hearty neighbors.)

Or you can get me a job.

In the first two cases, I'll pay you back when I no longer need the fourth. Contact me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com if you're interested.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Random Internet Discovery of the Week:

Never let it be said that I don't give you what you want. Since posting my most recent poll, I have gotten a unanimous consensus (okay, it's only three votes, but still) that among the things I should add to Da Blog is a series of random Internet discoveries.

So we start with Such a valuable address was snapped up by an

annual conference [that] brings together the world's most fascinating
thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18
minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to
the public, for free. More than 200 talks from our archive are now available,
with more added each week.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

The TED Conference, held annually in Long Beach, is still the heart of TED. More than a thousand people now attend -- indeed, the event sells out a year in advance -- and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn't work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected. Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

Mm. Interesting. And in no small way connected to my non-random discovery last week.

The conference is actually only moving to Long Beach in February of next year, after spending 20 years in Monterey, and is being simulcast to an audience in Palm Springs. Don't expect to be able to attend it live - "attendance at TED is by invitation only," consists significantly of people more famous than you and me, and sells out fast - and the Palm Springs conference is probably equally crowded. But you can still watch the videos on the site.

I was originally planning to make this feature daily, but I don't think that's feasible, for the same reasons as Sports Watcher...