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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let's hope this doesn't turn into Evangelion.

The MySQL database is giving me a "too many connections" error, so hopefully when the error lets up you'll be able to see today's strip (and yesterday's) on the site. Mom tells me she intends to buy a battery on Friday, so I might be able to return to some semblance of normalcy after that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 8/23-24

All times PDT.

11-9 AM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, baseball bronze medal game, women's handball gold medal game, baseball gold medal game, water polo semifinal, table tennis semifinals, men's field hockey gold medal game (USA). Yes, that's TONIGHT, in just one hour on the East Coast. If I were keeping track of any of this I'd give you pithy analysis, but all I can offer is: Can the Americans avenge their softball cousins? (I heard they lost to Japan in the gold medal game, is that right?) Oh, and pretend 6-7:30 AM isn't part of this, that's when the water polo semifinal is on.

9-5 PM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, medal finals in women's basketball, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, boxing, canoe/kayak, and women's volleyball (NBC).

5-8:30 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Bristol race (ESPN). We just don't have NASCAR on here enough.

9-11 PM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, men's basketball bronze medal game (CNBC). Why the hell is Lithuania so good with no players I've heard of?

12:30-2:30 AM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, medal finals in table tennis, mountain biking, boxing, and track and field (NBC). Alternately, there's a women's volleyball match at midnight on Telemundo.

2:30-5 AM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, men's basketball gold medal game (NBC). Warning: West Coast viewers get screwed again, because this is same on both coasts! In fact the semifinal game this morning was delayed even in the Central time zone, at least in Chicago! It seems the Olympics are indeed more popular on the West Coast than on the East, though that may just be because they always HAVE gotten delayed broadcasts. Some commenters on Awful Announcing suggested putting either the live broadcast or the delay on one of NBC's cable networks, to get around the problem of people not being home at the right times. I have a better idea: We've been talking about digital TV and subchannels all week, why not stick the live feed on there? It's likely to take away "Weather Plus" time, but it's better than insulting a wide swath of your audience by telling them New York really is the center of the universe and actually making people beg for ESPN to save them, even people who are normally ESPN haters. I'm watching this, the Closing Ceremony on CBC, and then I'm done with the Olympics. (ESPN is on record as saying they would never think of delaying events for the West Coast.)

5-9 AM: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Closing Ceremony (CBC). I do have to say, NBC seems to treat the Olympics as more of a special event. They play the Olympic Song and CBC just has this weird, almost-offensive, almost-more-appropriate-in-India opener. And CBC uses their own regular sports graphics instead of coming up with something unique.

10-12 PM: Major League Lacrosse, NB ZIP Championship Game (ESPN2). The worst part? This isn't even the only lacrosse league in North America. And you probably haven't heard of the National Lacrosse League either. Apparently it's semi-big in Canada. Who knew? (Just barely interferes with the Olympics on USA on the West Coast.)

12:30-3 PM: Little League Baseball, Little League World Series (ABC). Does it seem a little odd that we pay so much attention to the LLWS for basically no reason? I mean, other than to be reminded about "sportsmanship" that's basically a no-thing anyway? And why do the other three divisions have their World Series on Saturdays while neither Little League WS ends on that day?

Honorable Mention: 12:45-5 PM: National Pro Fastpitch, Championship Series (MLB.TV, second game if needed). It's a league with a grand total of six teams. One look at their website shows how far behind they are. They don't even have TV for their championship series, even, by all appearances, on tape delay. And this coming from one of the more popular non-football-or-basketball NCAA sports. What's going on here?

(Oh, and perfect timing. Aren't all your good players in the Olympics?)

5-8 PM: MLB Baseball, LA Dodgers @ Philadelphia (ESPN). I've banned NBC's Olympic coverage from this space!

Next week, the first weekend of the US Open, and can you feel the football start?

Possible important notice

Well, earlier today I had a lively e-mail conversation with Freehostia support, and determined that Comcast had somehow blocked my normal IP address from accessing Freehostia for some reason.

My hunch was that some computer at Comcast was down, and I wasn't the only one to complain about inability to access Freehostia. Regardless, I can't complain to Comcast because the connection isn't mine to complain about, so unless this turns out to be a one-day problem, until further notice the strip will probably update at somewhat unpredictable times, determined by my ability to get to the library. That will probably mean 10 AM PT Wednesdays-Saturdays, 1 PM PT Mondays and Tuesdays (or even later), and who knows when on Sundays.

If I had a job and could thus afford an Internet connection of my own, if I had a better battery, if my computer stood by and hibernated properlyjlav ;amsdbjg.tlkhcnbxcoidsgddv9tew - if ANY of those conditions were in place I could give you a more reliable update schedule. Even if I had some way to time when Freehostia performed certain uploads and updated the MySQL database (so I wouldn't have to worry about strips leaking early). But this pattern will probably hold for the next month until school starts up again, although the instant I get a paying job I will probably sign up for some sort of Internet service.

(You can take care of one of these conditions by buying a battery compatible with the Dell Inspiron B130 for me and e-mailing me for my snail mail address. Offers left in the comments may NOT be accepted.)

No, today's strip isn't on the website yet and will probably go up with tomorrow's strip. It's below for the curious. (Well, assuming you're not on the LJ feed or permalink page, anyway.)

This is why I was considering dumping Freehostia.

Figures. I wake up early enough to post the strip and Freehostia's not working. I'm not resorting to posting it on Da Blog, though. That would smack of cheating just to get the strip back to posting at 11 PM PT, and there would be little reason for me not to just schedule a post.

EDIT: Okay, it's still not working at 9:10 AM, so here's today's strip:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why I may not be as productive today as I would have hoped

Shortly before I was to begin writing a post, some woman came in to the library with two kids and gave one of them some sort of toy, ostensibly to distract him, but it makes too much racket for its effect on me to be lowered and his voice isn't completely quiet anyway. Meanwhile, there are kids near the kids section and I can't move there either, the only other place in the library with a table near a plug. The library in general is a bit more crowded than I'd like, but I'm not moving anywhere where I have to pay money.
I'm just looking longingly at my PW account, which shot up from about 9-10 cents, what, yesterday? to 15 today. I suspect my standard ad more regularly hitting two cents instead of one, and increased activity on the Premier ad, has something to do with it.
Ads should come to the web site on Monday.
Oh, it looks like the woman and her kids have left already...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random Internet Discovery of the Week

Everything you ever wanted to know about Buddhism all in one place.

Because there's a chance this is the only post you'll get from me today. Well, other than the Random Internet Discovery.

After what's seemed like ages off - months, really - Eric Burns(-White) has been surprisingly active recently at Websnark. In fact, one recent post had all the trappings of Websnark's heyday, complete with "click for full sized (insert description relevant to strip under discussion here)" and short, snappy description of the strip in question. (And he's done another one since then!) I don't think he dipped very far into the lexicon, but it was a far cry to the more in-depth analyses of the "State of the Web(cartoonist)" series, and a welcome change of pace from the lengthy exegeses on non-webcomic-related Internet controversies that had marked the last few months of seeming hiatus. Eric Burns' audience was built on webcomics, and I think a goodly number of people reading the RSS feed probably read these exegeses and thought, "That's great, but when are you going to talk about webcomics again, Eric? When are you going to talk about the Ctrl+Alt+Del miscarriage storyline? Or the recent racheting tension at Order of the Stick? Or Girl Genius? Or whatever the hell happened to Penny Arcade? Or or or..."

Well, on the aforementioned harkening back to Websnark's heyday, I had left a comment saying as such. And on a recent strip marking Websnark's fourth anniversary, Burns(-White) referenced that comment and referred to me by name.

Okay, so maybe this is a narcissistic, ego-stroking post. But if he'd bothered to link to Da Blog, it would have been an acknowledgement of a traffic bump! But it points to a reason why I'm doing webcomic posts: Websnark has loosened the slack, Tangents basically doesn't exist right now, and I don't know of another active site that's really a close equivalent to either. (Okay, so Burns(-White) tells me there are "a f***ton of blogs about webcomics", but damned if I know what they are.) But I can't pick up the slack too much because I have other interests as well and I don't have that kind of time.

I do feel this line may be relevant to me:
Well, for one thing, it means we can all stop taking things so fucking seriously all the time. I gave up drama a while back, and I've mostly stuck to that, and I've found I enjoy things a lot more than I used to. It means that the chances that Websnark -- or any largely webcomics related blog -- can claw up to almost six figures of readership again are pretty damn low. There's too much out there, which means there's too little need to congregate at one writer's doorstep. It means that there's no need to do this kind of thing... except of course if you enjoy doing this kind of thing.
Except. It's still worth it to make sure everyone's doing everything right, to keep webcomics honest, to show who deserves a biscuit and who deserves dog s**t, because market forces are the only way comics get forced out on the Web. That's the stated goal of the site I intend to look at in my second webcomics post of the week. Whether it succeeds - and what its unwanted success in terms of readership numbers really means for the future of webcomic blogs, and webcomics - will be among the topics I intend to look at.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Webcomic post update

Today's post on TV is all you're getting from me today. In all likelihood, the second webcomic post will wait for tomorrow. The Random Internet Discovery will be on its normal schedule.

Read on for a SPECIAL OFFER on Television(r)!

In the past couple of days I have come to realize that there is a far deeper problem with the effort to spread awareness about the transition to digital television than anything I hinted at in my mock PSA, and it has to do with its seeming irrelevancy to the vast majority of the general public. So, as a public service and in an effort to inform as well as possible, I'm going to spell out for some people in my target audience/age group who may be confused as to exactly what's going on here:

You know antennas? You know, those things your parents and grandparents used to watch TV on?

(Okay, back in the day your parents had to take a little round base with two metal sticks on it and attach that to the TV instead of a big box or just a cable in the wall, and they would have to jiggle the sticks around in order to get a picture...)

Well, those rabbit-ears are still around, and you can still hook them up to a TV and watch TV on them. Without going through a cable or satellite company. Yes, you can get HD too. There are hundreds of stations across the country, sending out signals for miles around, that you can pick up by sticking an antenna into your TV.

Those ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and so on, channels on your cable lineup? Those "local channels" the cable and satellite companies are always going on about? Not only can you pick them up off of cable or satellite, you can pick them up with an antenna as well.

For free.

Oh, you have to buy the antenna, but you know how the cable and satellite companies whine about how the other keeps jacking up prices? With an antenna, there are no prices to jack up, and there never will unless TV as we know it ceases to exist.

"What about static or screwy pictures?" I hear you ask. "Doesn't getting an antenna mean having to jiggle it around a lot and taking up yoga to get it to work?" Not once we hit the digital transition. Digital signals are generally stronger than analog signals, so they deal with fewer problems. Even barring that, the way digital signals are sent eliminates such problems as static and ghosts. The worst you'll get is pixelization and occasional frozen images. And these days, many if not most antennas - and if you live far enough out you'd need this - aren't of the old-fashioned, indoor kind you set on top of the TV, but instead aren't much different from satellite dishes in the way they're installed.

In fact, with digital television you may well get a better picture with a free antenna than you would paying for cable or satellite. Cable or satellite companies, as I touched on in my mock PSA, like to compress TV signals so they can cram as many of them in as possible. With an antenna, you get the signal as the station sent it out originally. Moreover, as it stands the extra channels opened up by transmitting in digital are not subject to the FCC's "must-carry" rules that mandate cable companies to carry every full-power television signal in the area. But they're only required to carry a single main channel for each station. All those bonus new channels are considered "subchannels" of the station that was able to clear space for them and runs them - and while your cable or satellite company might carry them, they're not required to, and even if they do carry them they might charge you extra for a "digital" package to get them.

So, with an antenna and digital television you get all your local channels, in HD if you like, as clear or even clearer than you'd get with cable or satellite, plus several more channels you might not get at all with cable or satellite. (Not just subchannels, but - assuming you're still able to get analog signals - low power stations.) All for free!


It's been in place at least since digital television was codified in the late 90s, so how on Earth could you never have heard of this great deal before? Why isn't this the message of the DTV transition campaign? The answer is, as it often is in these sort of situations: Who has an interest in telling you?

Well, cable and satellite companies sure as hell won't tell you about it. They're sure as hell not going to lose your business. The FCC is supposed to be completely impartial, not advocating some thing or another, but in practice they tend to stay on the side of their corporate patrons (or groups complaining about seeing a boob for .02 seconds). Antenna makers might have an interest in getting you to buy their product, but it's not likely to make them much money, and most of the largest ones tend to be more general electronics companies, especially electronics retailers who also deal with cable or satellite companies in contracts far more lucrative than they make with antennas. (That sentence is purely speculative, but still, I imagine antenna makers might not have a lot of resources to spread the word.)

You might think TV stations and networks might have an interest in losing the competition of cable channels and getting a broader audience for their subchannels, but truth is, they profit off your patronage of cable and satellite as well. Though broadcast television keeps whining about having an unfair disadvantage against cable channels that reap the benefits of cable companies' subscriber fees, for years TV stations have managed to wring money out of cable and satellite providers by charging them "retransmission consent fees" to show their signals (depending on where you live, you may have experienced losing a station in a retransmission-consent dispute) - even though the must-carry rules say they're supposed to show them anyway. All that really means, since only the stations can invoke the must-carry rules, is that the cable companies have no real leverage to bring down the price or charge money of their own.

Put up an antenna, give up your subscriber fee, and TV goes back to the pre-retransmission-consent days, where they're back to advertising as their sole means of getting your money.

So getting you to buy an antenna isn't in the cable companies' interest. It's not in the regulator's interest. It's not in the TV stations' interest.

And quite frankly, I'm not sure it's even in the consumers' interest.

On cable, Monday Night Football routinely gets ratings over 10 - meaning over ten percent of all households are watching MNF alone at any given time. It's rare for even the highest-rated non-MNF cable shows to top a five, but cable channels are able to serve a wide variety of audiences. SpongeBob SquarePants is able to approach four percent of all households with an audience that's largely children; with over a hundred channels on almost every cable system, and 24 hours in every day and seven days a week, chances are most people with cable watch some number of cable programs each week somewhere on their lineup. I know I don't know how I'd live without ESPN, C-SPAN, cable news, and on and on and on it goes.

Lose cable or satellite, and you lose all of that. I'd wager that at least a quarter of homes with cable are not willing to give it up without a fight. Yes, you would get a bank of digital subchannels to replace it, but because of the technical limitations involved, you'd only get one, maybe two a station - and they're probably not in HD, which would only support one additional channel at the most and would still push the limits of the technology. Most markets are lucky to have seven general purpose entertainment stations that can be lined up with the Big Six networks plus an independent - nowhere near enough to replace the vast universe of cable. And take a look at the subchannels that are out there. Here in Seattle, according to Wikipedia, we have the following subchannels on our local broadcast stations: NBC's weather channel on the NBC station, "RTN" on the CBS station, and another weather channel on the Fox station. And a whole bunch of junk on the PBS, TBN, and ION stations but no one watches the main incarnations of those channels anyway.

In a catch-22, though, it's possible that if the subchannels had a wider audience they would have programming more worthy of your time and even take something away from cable. But because they don't have the programming, there's little reason for you or me to make the switch compared to the value of cable. Certainly I would never consider ditching my cable to watch everything on an antenna only. But if you don't live so far out in the sticks that you can't get a signal, you're willing to sacrifice what you get on cable, and you can put up an appropriately-sized antenna to get what you do want to watch (the larger antennas aren't terribly appropriate for apartment buildings), then go ahead and stick it to the man. Go for it 1950s-style. You may find you're really going for it 2050s-style.

Monday, August 18, 2008

At some point down the line, I'll go into more detail about this. Not right now though.

Project Wonderful's top 30 highest bidding sites are all webcomics. That's essentially every site that's going for more than 10 dollars a day, and all but one of the over-$9 bidders. This being the exception.

In fact, every one of the top 10 is either a "skyscraper" (like my sidebar ad) or a "leaderboard". (Somehow #11 Menange a 3 manages to get impressive bid results from a banner, when my banner comes nowhere near competing with my skyscraper even though the former is in a far better position.) That's got me thinking about potentially changing my "premier" ad to a leaderboard.

I know the really popular sites can afford their own ad services, and that webcomics often need advertising more than other sites, and such, but... damn.

(A skyscraper ad may be coming to Sandsday by the end of the week, though I still need to figure out how I would go about having both a master site and subsites.)

For some reason I thought I had already posted this when I hadn't even added the images.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full sized Common Sense, or lack thereof.)

Well, it's been over a month since the last time I talked about Order of the Stick at length (and it feels like much longer), and it's high time for me to revisit the territory. As I've stated, OOTS started out as a jokey, funny gag-a-day strip about a bunch of adventurers trawling through a dungeon. It's now a multilayered political drama, soap opera, and high fantasy tale. In other words, it's been turned inside out by Cerebus Syndrome, and been about as successful as you could be in doing so, thanks in part to losing none of the humor and metahumor that characterized its early days, and if anything, increasing it.

OOTS even lightly poked fun at its descent into Cerebus Syndrome in this strip, made at a time when Websnark was still king of the webcomics world and still had many of the tics of its height, including the "submitted without comment" routine. For those of you who weren't here when Sandsday made a blatant push for linkage from the now-mostly-defunct Websnark, I point you to the third panel of this strip. Sure enough, soon there was a comment-filled non-comment from Eric Burns, which contained this doozy: "It was funnier to me since there really isn't a Cerebus Syndrome going on here, of course."

A strip makes a joke about its own descent into Cerebus Syndrome when there isn't one? How does that even make sense? But the first commenter to Burns' non-comment comment agrees about the lack of Cerebus Syndrome. A later commenter claims "you can't really start invoking Cerebus when the comic remains consistently and deeply funny" (I'll have more on this in a sec, but for now I'll say this seems to imply OOTS still hasn't fallen into Cerebus Syndrome even now) and compares it to Goats (considering that strip's descent into fate-of-the-planet-at-stake randomness, probably not the best example, but I'll check the strips that were out at the time and get bac to you). Even now, if you ask people on the OOTS board when that strip went into Cerebus Syndrome, they'll probably cite the sequence revealing the Snarl's existence (a few may alternately cite the introduction of Miko), and the OOTS being tasked to stop Xykon from freeing it, even though if anything that sequence comes at the end of a long transition to a more plot-based model for the strip.

Let's take another look at the definition of Cerebus Syndrome:
The effort to create character development by adding layer upon layer of depth to their characters, taking a character of limited dimension (or meant to be a joke character) and making them fuller and richer. The idea is to take what was fun on one level and showing the reality beneath it. 'Cerebus Syndrome' refers to Dave Sim's epic, sometimes tragically flawed magnum opus, Cerebus the Aardvark. Cerebus started life as a parody of Conan the Barbarian starring an Earth-Pig born. Over time, it grew extremely complex, philosophical, and in many ways much much funnier. Then, Dave Sim went batshit crazy and Cerebus went straight to Hell, but that's for another day. People saw how Cerebus's humble roots could lead to glorious heights, and as cartoonists get bored with what they're doing, they decided to pull a Cerebus of their own. [...]
It is extremely hard to take a light, joke a day strip and push it through a successful Cerebus Syndrome. Dave Sim did it in stages, and at least in the early days of the transformation brought massive amounts of Funny to cover it over. Done perfectly, one only realizes in hindsight that the strip has turned out to be quite different than it used to be. Done sloppily, the Cerebus Syndrome fails, and the webcomic enters First and Ten Syndrome. Unfortunately, a failed Cerebus Syndrome is an excruciating process for the webcomic's fans to endure. Please note that one can continue to bring the Funny while going for Cerebus Syndrome -- and in fact, probably should. It is far more common to drop the Funny, which increases geometrically the chance to fall into First and Ten.
In the second paragraph quoted above, you could easily substitute out "Dave Sim" for "Rich Burlew", because that's exactly what Burlew did with Order of the Stick. There's a long list of milestones in the march to Cerebus Syndrome taken by OOTS dating at least back to the revelation of the underlying plot in #13, and arguably continuing well after this sequence. Similarly, I suspect part of the reason most people cite the last of these major milestones as the tipping point is that that is the point where these people realized just how far the strip had come from its origins (especially if they weren't there for those origins and didn't realize how different they were).

It's true that the revelation of the Snarl's existence gave the strip an overarching plot driving all the action and ended about 75 strips of what amounted to aimless wandering, but it's important to remember that the definition of Cerebus Syndrome says nothing about myth arcs or anything of the sort. It refers only to greater character development or, more colloquially, a general increase in drama and an arc-based model. The former starts appearing at least as early as the opening sequence of the second book, the middle at least as early as Miko's introduction, and the latter far earlier than either. (And it's important to remember that Burns specifically notes that a strip need not abandon humor to undergo Cerebus Syndrome.)

Besides, the quest to keep the Snarl imprisoned only really replaced the "hunt down Xykon and kill him" plot of the first book, and by the time it happened it didn't really mark that seismic a shift. At least as early as Miko's introduction the specter of Shojo and Azure City was already forming some sort of plot that was promising to carry the OOTS for quite some distance. The first hints of that were laid down at the end of the first book - where, remember, the strip had overturned its entire premise. And by the time the OOTS was brought before the court, Haley was speaking gibberish, the sort of thing that isn't just a sign of Cerebus Syndrome but a hallmark of the nonstop angst that heralds full-blown First and Ten. And then there's the little niggling matter of strip #242, where Haley remarks "we were a lot safer when we just made fairly obvious jokes about the rules!" By that point, The Order of the Stick hadn't "just made fairly obvious jokes about the rules" for some time. A long time.

You want to point out the most important tipping point in Order of the Stick's march towards Cerebus Syndrome? The one strip that could best be used to separate the early, happy-go-lucky, almost continuity-free days of the early strips from the more plot-based OOTS we know and love today? The one point that you can point to and say, "This is where The Order of the Stick as we know it truly begins"?

You have to go all the way back to the first book, way before there was even any hint of the Snarl or even of any "gate". You have to go all the way back to strip number 43.

And I'm not just saying that because I've had a fascination with the number 42 since even before I learned of its importance in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It doesn't look like much, especially if you're someone used to the sort of strips that characterized the first 42 of OOTS' existence. But trust me, Elan doesn't just open the door to the Linear Guild at the end of this strip; he opens the door to plot, to story arcs, to gates and paladins and pseudo-Asian cultures. And Vaarsuvius' monologue in the middle of the strip proves to be far more prescient, and far broader in scope, than most fans could have ever envisioned.

How pivotal is this strip? By the time all the loose ends are tied up from the ensuing story arc - by the time Durkon, left behind in the inevitable battle with the Linear Guild, finally returns to the group - it is strip number 85. Which means, when dated back to strip number 43, the entire sequence has gone 43 strips. Or just over half of all the strips published to this point. The Linear Guild sequence has lasted longer than the strip's entire existence prior to it.

There's a lot in the Linear Guild arc that hints at the strip to come in ways the Original 42 does not, starting with the slower pace of the plot compared to the limited arcs done in the Original 42. Not to mention the existence of some sort of long-form plot. We get some of the early hints of deep characterization (the OOTS were basically two-dimensional characters before the Linear Guild arc gave us such things as Elan's backstory) and relationships between characters (at least nominally, virtually all of Nale's actions after the arc concludes derive from a single panel in this strip). We see long-term planning starting to bear fruit, including the realization of a prophecy dating to #15 (which Haley even points out!).

We get the start of multiple ongoing running gags. We get the introduction of not only the group of villains secondary only to Xykon and his minions (at least through the end of the third book), but also Celia, who subsequently reappears to defend the OOTS in front of Shojo in the sequence that introduces us to the Snarl, becomes at least a brief fling for Roy, and is currently adventuring with Haley's half of the OOTS. Although the art continues to evolve until at least Miko's introduction, it's during the Linear Guild arc that the dialogue reaches its current font size. And it's before those last loose ends are tied up that we learn the deeper motivation for Roy's hunt for Xykon.

The very next arc involves bypassing the entire rest of the dungeon and cutting straight to Xykon's lair. That's V's plan from the start and, although that attempt doesn't end well, that's essentially what ultimately happens. If I was wrong in my initial post - if Rich's descent into Cerebus Syndrome, as Eric Burns describes in part of his description I didn't quote, was a result of boredom, not planned from the start (and remember, I own none of the OOTS books with accompanying commentary) - it came either after the original 42, or during or immediately after the Linear Guild episode, through the "bathroom break" of #86-87. The sheer number of subsequent subplots set up in the Linear Guild storyline suggests to me that, if Burlew didn't decide from the start what he was going to do with his strip, he sure did before completing 43 strips. (And he probably had some idea before completing 15, judging by the long-term nature of Eugene Greenhilt's prophecy. Even Elan's recovery of a Belt of Gender-Changing in strip 9 winds up having importance over 200 strips down the road.)

From Rich Burlew's perspective, I would think that strip 43 is where the transition - in retrospect, shorter and quicker than I let on earlier - from the gag-a-day OOTS of the Original 42 to the arc-based, plot-based strip we know and love really occurs. And from the perspective of someone who was around for those Original 42 strips (which again, I am not) it would have seemed impossible before #43 that in just 80 more strips, the Dungeon of Dorukan would be blown to smithereens and Xykon presumed dead (well, deader than before). And that such an event would not herald the end of the strip.

Even at the time, it would take until the revelation that Xykon still stands to really convince anyone that the end of the strip was not imminent, and until Miko shows up there's not really much in-story reason for the OOTS to stick together at all. Take a look at this strip, fairly deep into the second book (deep enough that not only is it a wonder the OOTS stuck together long enough to reach the town (remember, I'm not a D&D player), it's a wonder they're still together even after reaching there) - Roy's hunt for the starmetal is the only reason why the Order sticks together after destroying the Dungeon, and Roy's swift-talking of Belkar and Haley is the only reason they stay in the group. Had it not been for that, the Order may well have never been tasked to stop Xykon from freeing the Snarl.

(Hmm. And Roy's hunting of the starmetal was caused by Sabine shifted into a blacksmith. The Linear Guild are responsible for keeping the Order of the Stick together! I smell a fourth post brewing...)

Even in the Order's subsequent relatively aimless wandering, no one would mistake it for being a gag-a-day strip, and in fact there are next to no "fairly obvious jokes about the rules" at all. The strip is fairly tightly organized into arcs, with a good part of the strip between the Order's departure and Miko's arrival taken up by the Order's encounter with a group of bandits. There are also two semi-lengthy interludes involving Team Evil that help to establish their plot, one before the bandit arc and one, as previously mentioned, between the recovery of the starmetal and Miko's arrival.

I mentioned some of the points in this post the last time I wrote a lengthy post on Order of the Stick. I mentioned how OOTS managed to overthrow its entire premise by the time the first book was over, and how it managed to keep going thanks to a strong balance of a compelling story and funny jokes. This, then, is something of an expansion of that post, showing just how early Order of the Stick started its metamorphosis into the rich, multilayered strip it is today, and both how much more sudden and more gradual that transformation was. And it ends, as I tend to, with a whimper because I always have trouble wrapping these posts up.

So I'll see you in another month with an analysis of another aspect of OOTS.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'll admit it's probably not the best ad I could have come up with. But it's close. Suggest improvements in the comments.

Editor's Note: On the day this post goes up, we are exactly six months away from the transition to digital television in the United States, and the outreach effort has been, to put it simply, a fiasco. Even its successes have been failures because it has ended up spreading some inaccuracies. As such, I have taken it upon myself to create a DTV PSA designed to alleviate the misconceptions and spread as much information, good and bad, as possible, in a short, simple, concise form. I timed myself reading it and came out to about three minutes.

(An image appears of a grandfather clock.)

Voiceover: Remember when you went from having to memorize a bunch of rules to figure out what the time was...

(An image appears of a modern digital alarm clock.)

Voiceover: simply being able to read the numbers off the clock?

(An image appears of someone surrounded by paper doing a lot of writing.)

Voiceover: Remember when you went from having to do your finances by hand...

(An image appears of someone working on an Excel spreadsheet.)

Voiceover: having a computer doing all the calculations for you?

(An image appears of a newspaper hitting a doorstep.)

Voiceover: Remember when your parents only had a few choices for learning about what was going on in the outside world?

(A screenshot of Wikipedia slides in on top of the last image. Other screenshots from blogs, informational web sites, and the like slide in on top of it.)

Voiceover: Now there are literally dozens of options and more coming every day.

(A generic landscape appears.)

Voiceover: On February 17, 2009, TV will make that move, and it will change forever.

(An image fades in of a television broadcasting tower.)

Voiceover: On that day, all full-power television stations in the United States are required to broadcast exclusively in digital television.

(The image now fades to a television set showing one of those stock images used to show how bright, crisp and clear the image is. As the voiceover continues, it shows a NASCAR race and a mosaic of a wide variety of programming.)

Voiceover: It will bring (usually) better picture quality, better sound, and even entire channels added to the current landscape.

(Fade to a diagram of two broadcast towers, highly lit up, with rings radiating from them. The television set continues to flash images in the lower right.)

Voiceover: And it's actually a very simple switch. Most TV stations are already broadcasting in digital at full strength alongside their existing analog signals; some have already stopped broadcasting in analog.

(A calendar showing the date February 17 appears. One of the towers stops radiating rings and its lights go out. The television set continues flashing images.)

Voiceover: On February 17, the remaining stations will simply shut off their analog signals and will broadcast exclusively in digital from then on. That's it. Most viewers probably won't notice the difference, assuming everything goes as planned, and won't have to do anything.

(An HDTV appears with a NO symbol over it, fading into a chart showing HD -> DTV, and DTV with two arrows leading to HD and SD.)

Voiceover: You don't need an HD set. HDTV implies DTV, but DTV does not imply HDTV.

(A new diagram appears. On the left side, the words "CABLE OR SATELLITE" and below it, "DON'T WORRY!" On the right side, on the same line as "CABLE OR SATELLITE", read the words "ANTENNA TV".)

Voiceover: If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you won't need to do anything, even if you don't have a converter box; you'll get exactly what you get now and might not even notice that anything changed.

(A TV fades in over the diagram, showing the same mosaic of images shown earlier, just barely slower and not as clear.)

Voiceover: Your cable operator or satellite provider will handle everything for you, although you should keep in mind that your cable operator or satellite provider is not required to bring you all the new channels opened up by digital, and may condense the digital signal so you won't get the clearest possible picture and sound.

(The diagram fades back into focus. On the "ANTENNA TV" side of the diagram, it is cut in half lengthwise. On the top half fades in an image of an HD set; on the bottom half, an old-fashioned SD set. Below the HD set fade in the words "DON'T WORRY!" The SD set zooms into focus when the voiceover starts "even if it's still SD...")

Voiceover: If you get your TV through an antenna, you still don't need to do anything if your TV is an HDTV, and even if it's still SD you may not need to do anything.

(Image of someone flipping through a TV manual and finding the SPECIFICATIONS page.)

Voiceover: Check the specifications of your TV; they should be in your TV's manual or on the box it came in.

(A line from the SPECIFICATIONS page zooms in, with "TV standard" in the left column and "NTSC" or "ATSC" in the right column.)

Voiceover: If it says it uses the "ATSC" standard, you're all set.

(The letters "NTSC" fade in in big white type as the rest of the screen goes dark.)

Voiceover: If it doesn't, and it only uses the "NTSC" standard, you won't need to get a new TV or antenna or anything.

(Image of someone setting a digital converter on top of his TV.)

Voiceover: All you need is a digital converter, which you can get at a discount with a coupon from the federal government.

(Diagram of a broadcasting tower slowly moving away from a television set. As it moves away, the image on the TV becomes pixelated and eventually goes dark. The antenna starts to grow in size, and as it does the image comes back pixelated and then clear.)

Voiceover: Note that although any antenna will work with both digital and analog signals, signals further away from where you live will require a more robust antenna, even if you receive the analog signal fine now.

(A camera, a broadcasting tower next to the camera, and a TV appear. The camera shows a bunch of images, and the number 2 is on top of the tower. The TV is off. The 2 slowly changes to 19. The TV turns on, clearly showing the number 2, and shows the same images as the camera.)

Voiceover: Also, although you won't notice any changes in the channel numbers on your TV, many stations will be broadcasting from a different channel from their analog signals.

("14-51" appears in white letters on a mostly black background. With each conjunction, the screen changes, first displaying a UHF-only antenna near "14-51", then to "2-13" near a VHF-compatible antenna.)

Voiceover: Most of these will be in the UHF band and you can get them using a UHF-only antenna, but some stations will broadcast in VHF.

(Appropriate screenshots from the website appear.)

Voiceover: To find out if you need a more robust antenna and if you can get away with making it UHF-only, log on to (or whatever the site of the organization producing the PSA is). There, you can also find out if there are any low-power stations near you that will not be transitioning to digital.

This probably won't be the last I have to say about the Olympics. Probably. Maybe.

Couple of notes from last night at the Olympics.

First, showing events live on both coasts isn't the only thing the CBC beats NBC over the head with. I watched both networks' coverage of the 1500 meter freestyle, and even though CBC was a complete homer for Ryan Cochrane, they still ran circles around NBC, who took until five minutes into the race (after a commercial break) to mention him. Were it not for the occasional check-ins on the status of Larsen Jensen, I might have thought I was hearing the Australian broadcasters, so focused were they on Grant Hackett. In the process, as they called Hackett's doomed-to-failure chase of ???, they missed a pretty good chase for the bronze.

Second, I was probably the worst track athlete in the world in high school for two years, stumbling to Charlie Brown-like finishes in the most junky heats of the 100 and 200 (the latter of which I only raced in because I needed a second event), but I still consider that enough experience to put my TV analyst cap on regarding the 100. Usain Bolt may have cost himself more than a more unbeatable world record by celebrating several meters short of the finish. He may have made himself some enemies as well.

If other sports like basketball, but especially sports with a lot of tradition (and at over 2500 years, there's no sport with more tradition than track and field), are any indication, there is probably an "old guard" who stands for doing things "the right way", which at least in the eyes of some, usually means "don't have fun". I don't know this for certain, but I'd be shocked if there weren't some people who will say of Bolt, "he's too cocky" - regardless of whether he is or not - "he's too showboating, he let up with 15 meters to go in the 100, he's too Hollywood" - you're nodding your head, Tom, you know what I'm talking about!