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Friday, March 27, 2009

What I Did On My Spring Vacation

I went into Spring Break intending to get a lot of stuff done. I'd been building a backlog of things I wanted to do and I wanted to clear as much of it out as possible.

And I did get a lot done. Not as much as I intended, but I intended to do a LOT.

But I also left the spring break thinking about maybe trying out xkcd's 28-Hour Day at some point over the summer.

With my tendency to stay up later at night than I ever thought I would, it might turn out to synch up with my internal body clock better than following the earth's rotational cycle.

(For just one week, of course. Not for a long period of time.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tweeting out of a facebook in my space.

When I started Da Blog, I mentioned that "you won't see me get a MySpace or Facebook account" and I lumped in MySpace and Facebook along with blogs as things I didn't think there was anyone left in my age group who didn't have them.

Since then, I've seen a number of blogs shacking up with MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter and reposting the posts that are already on their blogs there. I'm wondering, why? You already have an RSS feed, why do you need to put alerts of new posts on Twitter as well? Why repost your blog entirely on MySpace or Facebook and obviate the need for people to visit your blog and view your advertising? If you really want to be on MySpace or Facebook, why not just put your blog there in the first place

I had the same questions shortly after getting my first webcomic-post-created bump, when someone created a feed for Da Blog on LiveJournal. I never really got a satisfactory answer - seems the creator wanted a one-stop shop to read Da Blog and his other feeds from his LJ friends list. I'm not sure if even that applies to MySpace and Facebook (or, to a lesser extent, Twitter).

Well, I think I've found the reason why people would dive in to that sort of thing voluntarily: to aid in blog promotion.

The friend function on MySpace and Facebook has become a complete misnomer grossly deprecated from its original function. Probably the vast majority of "friends" aren't. Celebrities accept every friend request under the sun, allowing any fan to claim their favorite celeb isn't just someone they really like, they're BFFs! On the flip side, small-time bloggers and other attention whores (and I use that term to describe a lot more bloggers than the community would like to admit, and I'm one of them) beg for friends on the off chance that people will discover them off their "friends"' friend lists. Never mind that when you have 600 friends, they become meaningless. (Some people may not even know who the people are who they apply to be friends with.)

Friends have become trivialized, but their organization hasn't. The problem with using MySpace and Facebook to pimp your blog is the hassle of applying for friends, and even more so, dealing with friend requests. (One or both may allow for en masse friend approval, without looking at the individual requests, but it's not a networking site that wants to fight the trivialization of friends. Or spam, for that matter.)

Twitter is better for such a purpose, since "friendship" isn't reciprocal - there's a distinction between "following" and "follower" - so people can link you just by announcing they're following your tweets, and you don't have to do anything. So between the potential blog-promotion possibilities and my own growing interest in its original purpose (I'm always doing something, ideally), has actually made me seriously consider becoming the latest to follow the crowd and hook up with Twitter.

Oddly, perhaps the major reason why I have some misgivings is the tagline at the top of Da Blog: "The ONLY blog written by Morgan Wick." That reflects, in large measure, the multi-blog nature of Da Blog as I see it, obviating the need for me to take part in any other blogs. It was originally intended as semi-ironic, since it would be pretty unlikely I (or anyone else) would need any other blogs anyway. But not only has a growth of alternate platforms increased the possibility for things that could be considered "second blogs", if I were to join Twitter it could easily be considered, despite its restrictions, a second blog for me - if it didn't even supercede Da Blog.

Besides, I'm better than annoying everyone with what I'm having for dinner.

At least I'm not violating my first-post promise... if only because I'd rather avoid the hassle of coming up with and enforcing a friends policy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

There are no unambiguous happy endings! Every ending has to be bittersweet!

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized corny endings.)

So it's Reboot the Universe Week at Irregular Webcomic! This is now the fourth straight strip with this same last panel.

Presumably we still have three more to go, including the biggest bang ever courtesy of the Mythbusters theme.

Curiously, we don't know yet whether all these diverse elements create one universe or a "multiverse" of sorts. It would seem to make sense that if the universe had to be destroyed multiple times, it needs to be created multiple times, but a lot of these universe-creation efforts seem somewhat inconsistent.

And... that's about it. I just thought the repetition of final panels was interesting. And it is a pretty plot-important week.

Random Internet Discovery of the Week

When you think about it, almost every number is interesting!

I've Found Another Prophet of the Internet Revolution!

After going around and around and around in February about the future of the comics and Scott McCloud, it's perhaps ironic that I may be adding his chief foil in the micropayment wars, Clay Shirky, to my RSS reader.

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm astounded at the changes the Internet is wreaking on society - and has wreaked on it, in the span of one or two decades. I believe computers and the Internet may combine to become an invention with more impact on society than television or just about any other major invention of the 20th century. The Agricultural Revolution led to the birth of civilization; the Industrial Revolution led to a rapid expansion of civilization and its capacity to make lives better; now the Digital Revolution could result in another transformation of civilization and an expansion of the human mind. It's an invention on par with fire, the wheel, the assembly line, for its potential to revolutionize humanity - I'm not even kidding.

In a recent blog post on the future of newspapers, Shirky focuses on one such comparison in particular: the printing press.

(Before I go on, scroll down to the bottom to the comments section. It may not seem that surprising that the post has over 600 comments - after all, Shirky is reasonably popular, certainly more so than I am, for his musings on the Internet... until you realize that Shirky doesn't even allow comments, which means that every single one of those "comments" is a trackback from another site. Over 600 different sites linking to one post.)

There's been a lot of going back and forth on how to Save Newspapers in the face of recession and the Internet, whether it's by imposing a paywall like Newsday's doing, shutting down the presses and going all-digital like the Seattle P-I, or moving to micropayments like Walter Isaacson proposed semi-recently, and in the process preserving the valuable journalistic functions the newspaper provides. Shirky's thesis is that the newspaper is out of date, an artifact of the economic paradigm created by print, and its functions need to be adapted to the new paradigm of the web.

Shirky takes us back to when print was just getting started and chaos was erupting and questions were being asked over such things as vernacular Bibles, popular versions of ancient thinkers, and other such things. He identifies a trend of experiments turning out in retrospect to be big turning points, be it the birth of small, portable books or Craigslist. For Shirky, old paradigms getting disrupted without anything to take its place for a while is a natural part of any revolution like the Internet. McCloud painted the newspaper comic strip as a marriage of convenience between the medium of comics and the industry of newspapers; Shirky paints the newspaper itself as a marriage of convenience between advertisers, publishers, and journalists. Advertisers have more outlets now, and the publishing industry itself is out of date. That means a rather dim near future for journalism: the answer to the question "what happens to journalism when newspapers die?" is,
I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
To Shirky, newspapers are about to die, and it may take a few decades of experiments to arrive on a new model for journalism going forward, and it probably won't end up being one patch to fill every function once filled by the newspaper, but several.

Shirky, it appears, shares my vision of the Internet as a revolutionary technology that will serve as the major differentiating force and theme of the third millenium AD. He realizes that we live in an important transitional age, one that will irrevocably change American and world culture for years, even centuries, to come. Things we do now will have impact many, many years down the road. He's definitely someone I'll want to refer to while I write my book on the internet revolution.

Actually, screw that. Writing a book on the magnitude I want to write is a pretty massive undertaking, and I don't know if publishers or agents would be willing to take a chance with someone of my age and lack of experience. If I need a co-writer, or if I'm unable to write the book at all, Shirky would seem to be an ideal choice to write it instead (or as well).

I'm not bringing back the Angst-O-Meter, because this is the good kind of drama.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized deleted system file.)

While Ethan has been getting a bit of a rude awakening in the ins and outs of business, he's mostly been dealing with it in his own Ethan way, so the biggest evidence Buckley has been on a reformation path is the most recent strip.

Doesn't Lucas sound like one of the CAD haters in the first two panels? Especially the second panel.

Yes, CAD haters, Tim Buckley is very aware that "Ethan and Lilah have issues, and they just work them out and move on" and "shit just comes so easy to Ethan. He never has to work for anything."

In fact, this strip suggests something that CAD haters have long been longing for - or at least found more logical than what's actually been happening - may in fact be coming. If Lucas is becoming jealous of - for lack of a better term - Ethan's Mary Sue-ness, it could serve as a prelude to a possible falling out between the two characters who have been friends since at least the beginning of the strip.

If you hate Ctrl+Alt+Del, I have a feeling you're going to love the current storyline. Tim Buckley may actually be responding to your complaints.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

After Friday's strip, my theory is that Oasis is a robot or cyborg of some kind. If that's ridiculously blatantly contradicted by the strip itself, well, that proves my point.

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click for full-sized lots of missiles.)

I have a big beef with Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance fame.

I mean seriously. A big beef. Sluggy is one of the oldest webcomics on the Internet; it and User Friendly are the elder statesmen of webcomics, dating back to 1997. When I mentioned Sluggy as a representative of the sort of "wacky stuff happens" comic that makes up one of the two major branches of webcomics, counterpointing Penny Arcade's role for video game comics, back in my initial round of webcomics posts, I mostly mentioned Sluggy because it was the best representative I could think of and I couldn't really think of whether there even was an equivalent to Penny Arcade. It turns out I may have been closer to the truth than I realized. Sluggy was perhaps the pioneer for Cerebus Syndrome in webcomics, and it got an early enough start to be a big influence on the "wacky hijinx" webcomics to follow. It's not as nearly-mainstream as PA, but it'd be hard to find a webcomic more influential on more top webcomics.

But it's as old as User Friendly, and if reading UF in 2006 monopolized my time and caused me to fall behind on things that actually matter, well, Sluggy has over two years' worth more of strips now. And it's more important to know what happens in them, because this is a far more continuity-laden strip than UF. Chances are that a given strip will contain at least one reference to a previous strip in a pink bar beneath the strip, showing just how interconnected Sluggy's mythology is. So it's really critical that Sluggy eases the transition for new readers who want to join the Sluggy phenomenon but don't have the time to read 12 years' worth of strips.

Sure enough, look at the front page of the Sluggy site and it entreats you "New viewers, click here to view the Sluggy viewer's guide!" And how does this "viewer's guide" get people acclimated to the comic? By providing some sort of summary of the story so far, like Girl Genius or The Wotch? No, silly! By suggesting three potential jumping-in points to start reading: the beginning, "the sci-fi adventure" (a Star Trek/Aliens parody that wound up introducing Aylee to the strip) and Torg's frolic into "The Dimension of Pain"... and both of these latter storylines take place within the first year. (Or you could just read the Torg Potter parodies separately, but where's the fun in that?) Welcome to Sluggy Freelance, newbies! You want to skip some strips in your archive binge? Here, we'll let you skip less than a year of a twelve-year run! Read at your own pace; we're willing to wait a year or more for you to catch up to the current strips if you need it! Have fun!

Does Abrams provide anything else to get new readers acclimated to the strip other than an insultingly small head start? No! There's not even so much as a cast page - Eric Burns(-White) won't like that (2004-5 vintage Eric Burns, at least)! You're pretty much stuck reading most of over 4000 strips! Have fun, kids, you're on your own!

I get the feeling that at this point, Abrams is perfectly content writing for the audience he already has, especially since, as he's been focusing on the "megatomes" there haven't been any books collecting any strips after 2002 (only five years into the strip's run), so his Defenders of the Nifty program has become an increasingly important source of income. Abrams has one of the larger fanbases of any continuity strip, so it's very tempting to coast and not make things easier for it to grow, and be content with what he has.

This strategy may be doomed to failure. A recurring topic over the last month at The Floating Lightbulb has been looking at Google Trends data for various webcomics and webcomic sites, and a noted trend of various diverse comics declining - and Sluggy has been no exception. One of the many proposed theories has been massive archives scaring off potential newcomers to continuity strips, and there's no archive scarier than Sluggy. I compared Sluggy to four other leading continuity comics, and the only one declining faster than Sluggy is Megatokyo, which is infamously anti-new-reader in its own way. (Order of the Stick and the rest of Rich Burlew's site has lost half its audience since the start of the tracking period, but it's so much further ahead of the rest of the field, only now falling to Megatokyo's audience at the start of the tracking period, that it's hard to make a fair comparison.)

Perhaps the forumites could get together and create a short "cheat sheet" of a thread for new readers, or the Defenders could get together and create an officially sanctioned Sluggy wiki, or something. They can still read through the archives "at their own pace" but at least it's easier to understand the current strips at the same time (which will help in getting them through the past strips). But no. Instead new readers are probably going through the current storyline wondering "who - or what - is Oasis and why should I care?" And they're going to go back through the links in the pink bars, and those are going to lead them to strips that pose more questions, and they're going to want to go back to more strips that provide background for these strips... only they won't be able to because beyond the current storyline, those bars are (presumably) hidden behind "Defenders InfoShields" - they're For Defenders' Eyes Only.

Quick tip, Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere: putting extraneous yet useful or at least appealing stuff behind a paywall? Good. Putting stuff that makes things easier for new readers behind a paywall, especially when it's one of the very, very few bones you throw to new readers? Bad.

Meanwhile, your existing readers aren't much better - it's hard to remember twelve years' and 4,000 comics' worth of material, certainly hard to sort through it, so every bone you throw to new readers is also a bone you throw to your existing readers. (Which may help explain putting context links behind a paywall, but doesn't justify it. Not that I'm asking Abrams to change that if he doesn't want to.) Existing readers have the additional burden that Sluggy doesn't have an RSS feed, a trend which, by the way, I actually understand a little bit: RSS is newer than its actual age would suggest, if that nade sense. In 2006, freshly moved into the dorms, I hunted around for a newsticker that would best emulate a TV news ticker and could be used long-term to keep me posted on the news, and settled on this. On its creator's most recent post on his own blog (dating to... 2006!) he wonders what it might take for RSS to go "mainstream", and suggests that some sort of RSS "killer app" (he suggests so much so that it would become synonymous with RSS and become a genericized trademark, so only geeks would know the technical name) might be the solution. I would propose that the release of IE7 (later that same year) and its internal RSS reader may have at least in part served as just such a "killer app". Until then, I suspect a significant number of webcomics creators, certainly much of the general public, had barely even heard of RSS.

Sluggy deserves every ounce of praise it gets; I sometimes found myself looking at various points in the archive and reading significant stretches with interest. (Granted, they were mostly fairly early when the strip wasn't as laden down with mythology, and a lot of the time it was to look at or for Aylee in one of her humanoid forms, but still. Yes, I really need a girlfriend.) And I'm intrigued enough by the current story arc, which promises to be a milestone one, that I'm planning on keeping on reading Sluggy until this arc's conclusion. But I don't have much of a reason to keep reading Sluggy beyond that. With my overcrowded schedule, I just don't have time for another strip that demands an Order of the Stick level of attention, certainly one with so massive an archive, so much of a need to comprehend all of it, and so little help in doing so.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Birthday (And Continuing) Book Wish List

Last summer, I made a list of books I was interested in with an eye towards pseudo-reviewing them and discussing them and their interesting ideas, or at least exposing myself to them. As it would be unlikely that I could buy them all (books are expensive, especially non-fiction ones, often running $20 a pop!), even after getting more gift cards from Barnes and Noble every gift-giving season than I had heretofore known what to do with, I would run the list on Da Blog as a "Christmas list" during a run of political posts in October and hope the mass of new readers I was hoping to attract would get them for me.

Then my USB drive stopped working and the planned run of political posts was a big bust anyway. Now that my drive has been recovered, a month out from my birthday on April 22, I'm posting the list - with some additions - as a birthday list, even though many of the books may be less topical and less interesting than they were before (especially before the election). It may seem odd that I would ask you to buy stuff to give to me (as opposed to buying stuff from me), but it's with an eye to future posts on Da Blog (I hope), as well as other projects such as my idea of writing a book on the impact of the Internet. (Even though in most cases I don't have much time to read any of them.) Besides, many of them should be eye-opening even if I never get them. I may institute a direct donation system of some sort at some point down the line. (If it weren't for my distrust of PayPal, I'd have one already.)

If you want to get me anything, e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com for a mailing address. I've organized the list by some broad topics:

You may recall I started my abortive attempt at a series of political posts with a brief digression into global warming, which led to a brief discussion of mass transit's role in correcting it. Originally that was going to turn into a larger project that would last until the start of the platform examinations, and I still want to revive that project in some form at some point. (The brief comeback of the platform examinations may have contained what was originally intended to be a hook into that revival.) I have three books on this sort of thing already I was thinking of reviewing, but there are still more I'm interested in:
  • Who's Your City? by Richard Florida
  • Suburban Transformations by Paul Lukez
  • Cities by John Reader
  • Cities in Full by Steve Belmont
  • Any book about urban planning

The first book on this list isn't strictly "political", but it still ties in to related interests. Many of these relate to the battles in the Media Bias Wars.
  • 10 Books that Screwed Up the World (and 5 Others that Didn't Help) by Benjamin Wiker
  • Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
  • The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff (and any other books by the same author)
  • Right is Wrong by Arianna Huffington
  • Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It) by William Poundstone
  • Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen's Guide to Voting Systems by Douglas J. Amy
  • Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System by Douglas Schoen
  • Going Green: A Wise Consumer's Guide to a Shrinking Planet by Sally and Sadie Kniedel

These books are interesting in some way in terms of research for my book on the Internet, and so they're somewhat higher priority than the others. Some have the Internet as their topic, while others are interesting filters to look at Internet culture through, or unavoidably touch on the impact of the Internet. There are a couple of books I didn't list, and if I included any that aren't impact-making or at least critically acclaimed, forget about them.
  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott
  • Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet by Kathryn C. Montgomery
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (and any other books by the same author)
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson

Hey, trying to think all the time is a good way to burn my brain out. As you can tell by the fact I don't have as many thought-provoking posts as I probably should.
  • Any installments of The Complete Peanuts after 1970
  • Garfield Gets His Just Desserts
  • Any Order of the Stick book (this is somewhat difficult; the online shop is the most reliable place to find them, and even that's not 100% reliable; certain comic book stores may have them, but not all; gaming stores - specializing in D&D and their ilk - are more likely, but in the latter two cases availability may be based on whether or not they're in print)
Also, I'd really like to be able to play The Sims 3 when it comes out in June (unless it's widely panned), but although the "Franken-computer" I have for a desktop was built in 2004 and was state-of-the-art then, and has been pretty close to it for five years, it only barely has enough processor power to play it and definitely not enough RAM, and I'm not sure if it has enough video RAM. I'd prefer not to have to get an entirely new computer just to play one game, but...