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Not completely unpopular

So Much Time

I can’t honestly point to a specific trigger which convinced me to revisit my site. For some reason, today was the day I felt some compulsion to do the little updates I’ve put off, to clean up some background admin stuff and maybe if I was lucky, shoot off a quick post.

Then I finally logged on and saw the date of my last post.

Christ, had I been offline that long? My son is just days older than my previous post. I truly believed that my last post was maybe a year ago, possibly a touch more. What in the hell happened?

The answer to that question is a hell of a lot. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, but I don’t feel compelled to lay out my the specific reasons why I neglected to write on my blog in last couple of years. Some of the stuff I’ve gone through in that time has been good, really good stuff. There have been moments of rapturous joy and laughter. Some of the stuff has been bad. Really bad. The kind of bad which feels like your lungs are collapsing and some invisible hand squeezes your heart until you think you’re out of tears. Ultimately, the details don’t matter much. Over the last year, I’ve had to take a hard look at myself and everything about my life.

You see, I suffer from depression and anxiety. I probably have all my life, but over the last couple of years, depression has made a home in my heart and anxiety is an unwelcome guest in my head. That’s why I decided recently to rekindle the blog, not so much to commune with my demons, but maybe in my writing there can be some understanding. If not my understanding better, then maybe by someone who might stumble on my blog. There exists this great misunderstanding about mental health issues. It has improved in recent years, but it remains a battle. People don’t like talking about it and depression especially seems to be talked about in hushed tones.

As far as the blog goes, I’ll still write about things that interest me. I’ll definitely write about writing. Some blog entries will surely be on various writers or books, stories and/or articles that have been written. I’ll still relate things that I find amusing. But in addition to these, I want to have some focus on understanding depression and anxiety. For example, let me relate what anxiety can be for me.

Anxiety is that voice in my head shouting at me that I’m worthless. It is a tricky little bastard because it is a part of me. It knows everything about me and every way I’ve messed up in my entire life. Ever. Every bad decision I’ve made, every unintentional mistake, every time I wasn’t good enough, it’s there magnifying those moments. It is relentless. Even when I’m in a good situation, it will wait until I’m exhausted, off guard and alone.

Anxiety is the fun-house mirror which amplifies your every flaw, distorts any good that you’ve done and is not above pure fabrication to help you feel miserable. Friends and family can support you and they’re critical for that all-important help. They remind you that twisted anxiety mirror is not you. Regularly hearing good things from those you love doesn’t solve anxiety, but it’s an essential medicine. It really helps.

So there it is. It’s not a perfect description (you see, there it is nibbling away at my work) but I think it may be useful. Writing about it now has sapped some of its power. If this is all shouting in the dark but it gets me back to the happy person I know I am, then it’s worth it. Let me leave you with one of my favorite  and meaningful quotes.

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self. — John Watson, 1903

The Netflix Kerfuffle

Unless you’ve been under a rock today, two things are being talked about online. First, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so ’tis a fine day to bring out ye ol’ grog and get yer yarrrr on.

Secondly, the Netflix CEO made another blog post about the direction of their company and the internets are on fire…again. The post explains a lot, but let me give you the Cliff Notes version. Strategically, they want to split the streaming business and their DVD delivery business. They want to do this so they can focus their efforts and expand their offerings on each side with more streaming options on one side and adding video games and other items to their DVD side. The CEO apologizes for not communicating enough to his customers the strategy they had to pursue.

Apparently that wasn’t enough for raging internet users. “Screw you”, the users scream. They complain about a company out of touch with its users. They complain about the price increase. They complain that there will be two queues they’ll need to check. They’re also horribly misinformed about why this is happening.

Yup, most people failed to see that this summer, studios decided they were going to squeeze Netflix. God forbid that Netflix had found a profitable avenue the studios hadn’t forecast in some executive back-patting meeting. When they were the only game in town, the studios let them have access to their catalogs for probably less than they were worth, but still not cheap at five to ten million dollars per year. All of those contracts cost Netflix $180 million a year.

Those contracts are expiring and instead of renegotiating for something that makes more sense, in 2012, those contracts are going to increase to $1.98 billion dollars. That’s a ten fold increase. So what did Netflix do? Their hands were forced to impose a 60% increase on the lowest plans, splitting the old $9.99 for one DVD and unlimited streaming. Now if you wanted streaming only or one DVD at a time, it would cost $7.99. If you wanted both, it would cost $15.98. Customers howled that they had to pay an extra six bucks a month. “How dare they!” the customers shouted. A bunch of people cancelled their accounts and the stock plunged.

But it’s not like the CEO can come out and say “the studios are screwing us” because it’s bad business to mention that your suppliers are being jerks. That would truly be killing off their business because then the studios take the proverbial high road and not offer contracts to Netflix and effectively killing them anyway.

Splitting the business is the only avenue left to Netflix. The DVD business is fading and is competing with vendor machine businesses like Redbox. The DVD side can still deliver a huge catalog of films, but it can do so with a different contract strategy. This is just a guess, but adding streaming was complicating these contracts. Now, the DVD side named Qwikster (not a great name really, but who cares) can concentrate their efforts in DVD delivery and add things like video games to the mix. Netflix will be the streaming company and can focus it’s efforts in that direction.

The problem is that if Netflix fails, the studios win. Consumers can expect their outsized pricing on everything. It’s truly baffling to me to see on my PS3 that I can “rent” a movie for $2.99 and someone considers that a good deal. But that’s the price point that Sony decided they can best squeeze their customers. If Netflix fails, prepare for two things to happen. Amazon further fills this void and becomes more and more the arbiter of all things internet. Secondly, even if the studios reduce their pricing to something more palatable, you’re not going to get a wide variety of movies, just the stuff they studio can provide. The offerings get more segmented and convoluted. And get ready to see more and more unskippable commercials.

If Netflix fails, it’s partially because the studios put a gun to their head, but mostly because people balk at paying sixteen dollars a month for a DVD and streaming movie service.

SpeakGeek: The Roleplaying Moment

Blog number two for Speak Out With Your Geek Out week will talk about one of my favorite hobbies: roleplaying games. I have other posts about roleplaying on the site (like this one) but I’d like to ask the question what do you think about when someone says roleplaying?

Like most people, you probably think about the venerable Dungeons and Dragons games that have lived for so long. Of course, that’s the entry point for most people, as it was for me. I started with the Red Box, moved to Second Edition, then Advanced D&D (my favorite I think), and from there a host of different systems.

Didn’t know there were other games out there? Oh yes, there are many and most of them are boatloads of fun. Let me talk about two of them.

I loved playing the first Star Wars role playing game. Loved it. With a good game master, you could really capture the feel of a space opera, doing daring rescues and facing off against the evil Empire. The system was pretty easy as well. Instead of a d20 system, it was all six sided dice and your actions were determined with a simple skill determination. For each skill, you can roll a certain number of six sided dice and the GM determines what number you need to roll to succeed. It keeps the game moving quickly and not bogged down with too many rules. The current iteration is close to this system.

Another game I loved playing was Paranoia. The rules are bit more complicated and you are instructed not to get too attached to your character or your clones as they will die. It’s a dark comedy game and you are encouraged to screw your other players who are trying to screw you. You have to be a bit underhanded about it and you have to basically mistrust anyone else playing including the GM. A successful game completes when pretty much everyone’s characters (and their clones) have perished in amusing ways and everyone at the table is laughing. There’s not a lot of characterization, but it’s not needed.

Those are just two game systems out there. There’s a lot more, something for everyone and every taste. Role playing is making something of a resurgence and finding a good game is easier than ever.

The best thing about role playing is the memories it creates. Not only of some really amazing game moments, the kind of things you quote with your friends years later and laugh about those game situations, but the friends you create and creative people who are drawn to it.

What do you think about role playing games?

SpeakGeek: Video Gamer at Heart

It’s Speak Out With Your Geek Out week, encouraging bloggers to get out and talk about those hobbies that people might find a bit geeky, and I have oh so many little things that qualify.

The most obvious to anyone following this site is that I love to play video games. I talk about them, give quick reviews and impressions, and laud those few games I find tremendous.

My history with video games goes back to the seventies when my parents purchased both a TRS-80 system as well as an Atari 2600. The TRS-80 had a magnetic tape drive so we could load and write to a tape. Many of the little programs my brother and I wrote were more along the lines of:

10 PRINT LOOK AT ME!

20 GOTO 10

We got a bit more advanced and added IF/THEN and FOR/NEXT commands, but we enjoyed playing games like Oregon Trail, a Pong clone and others lost to memory. It was our first dip into computing.

With the Atari 2600, we had  a few cartridges we enjoyed playing. Combat came with the system, notable for being the first joystick game anyone played at home in the late 70′s. Our family didn’t have a lot of money so the cartridge purchases were few, but the occasional cartridge swap with friends helped round out the game library. Among the games played were Circus Atari, Yars Revenge, Pitfall, Pole Position, Pac Man, Asteroids, Defender, Jungle Hunt, Moon Patrol, Pele’s Soccer, and about a dozen I’m forgetting.

Two notable games: my brother and I played Space Invaders to an obsessive degree. We once played the game with the intention of rolling the score over back to zero. Hours of playing, switching at points between levels to give each other rest, we finally accomplished our goal…well after our bedtimes, but dammit, we succeeded!

Secondly, I think we were one of the few families that bought E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, infamous now as one of the worst video games ever created and the game that bankrupted the once mighty Atari. It was an awful game, really bizarre, but for some reason I played it with some regularity. Once you knew how to avoid the Feds, the game became maddeningly simple.

When not at home, the arcade was my favorite hangout. A five dollar bill would get me twenty quarters (or twenty four tokens if we were someplace special) and my chance to play games like Spy Hunter, Elevator Action and Gauntlet. My brother became a very good Galaga player. Five dollars was also easy babysitting for my mom and dad when we’d go shopping as a family.

As arcades lost ground to better and better gaming on PCs, I followed along with my 386 SX, then a number of custom built PC rigs. I may have justified the construction of those PCs with helping me do homework and the like, but I always tried to make sure I could play good games. I was never in the financial position to get a top end rig, but I wouldn’t be far off of the recommended build.

Online gaming became more and more popular, LAN parties were occasionally attended and my love of video games continued. I got involved in competitive WAN gaming with Tribes, a first person shooter which used jet packs to really create a more nuanced strategic FPS when you have to consider death from the sky.

I was a bit late to the MMO party, completely passing on Everquest, but hoping on for Dark Age of Camelot, where I learned that not playing six hours a day, seven days a week would quickly get me behind the rest of the group, unable to play with others in much higher zones. Then came a stint with WoW, which I eventually gave up on because of leveling issues and no longer able to play with friends again. I picked up EVE Online and after four years, I still play.

But I don’t limit myself. I’ve found that I pick up some games that are more casual in nature (The Sims series), funny (Deathspank), classics (Half Life and it’s sequels), puzzle games (Portal, Portal 2), and a wealth of indy games like Magicka, World of Goo, and Kerbal Space Program.

Okay, so I’ve done the background, but why should you enjoy a video game today? There are video games for every taste. From the hard core to the casual, video games are there to entertain. Looking for a good zombie game? Left 4 Dead 2 is excellent (and plus there are a ton of zombie games on the market, L4D2 just happens to be the best). A puzzle game to stretch those mind muscles? Space Chem will make you think about fake chemistry and inventive pathing. Want a fun, amusing click adventure? Machinarium is a brilliant little game with an expressive hero who doesn’t say a word. Perhaps you are in the mood for an 8-bit looking adventure? Minecraft will give you a bit of this as well as tweak those creative muscles when building. And as I’ve said here before, you’d be hard to go wrong with Portal or Portal 2 (just wonderful games). Most board games have gone online as well, including ports of games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassone.

What games do you like?

Whose Joke Is It?

Two days ago, I saw a couple of interesting tweets over Twitter (oh hi, I’m back–hope you didn’t miss me too much–story about that later). Actually, they were retweets from people I follow. One has already been deleted (unimportant because I’m going to essentially recreate the point of it here). The remaining tweet is here:

Twitter-@hijinxensue

Posted July 12

Naturally, this caught my eye and I ask questions. Retweeted by both Wil Wheaton and the other by John Kovalic (creator of Dork Tower, artwork for the Munchkin games), it seemed to gain a fair amount of traction early. At first glance, it appeared that an artist had his work ripped off by someone else and trying to profit off of it. It’s a cause I can get behind.

The now deleted text was simply asking to compare the two pieces of work. So, let me present them to you here.

That’s Joel Watson’s original. Pretty good and clever. It’s a good mashup. And here’s the one he got a bit bent out of shape about.

Okay, there it is. One right next to the other. Same concept really. I actually like the second one better (I’ll get to this later), but to make Mr. Watson’s point, his was out first.

Two things at work here. Mr. Watson through his tweets was upset about two things. First, he seems to believe he was the victim of a “joke swipe”, that he made the funny first and wasn’t given proper attribution. Well, that’s understandable if it’s true. But how true is it? Both of these images were produced in 2011, so let me lay this image out for you.

The Doctor Is In

This image was posted in not just in March, but March of 2008, three full years before either of the two above images. There seem to be more than casual similarities between this image and the one that Joel Watson drew. Both use the Tenth Doctor, both eschew the traditional look of Peanuts and try to create it to look more like David Tennant, both Doctors lean on their right elbow and hold the sonic screwdriver in their right hand.

And I’m not sure that Joel Watson can’t say that he was not aware of this. Take a look at this screenshot from his comment thread of his image.

Hijinks Ensue Comments

I’m not sure if the image is clear enough, but the first comment basically says that someone else did indeed come up with the same idea as his. It’s interesting and important to note that the commentor says that that it is not a detraction and that he prefers Mr. Watson’s version.

The second comment leads to my second point I alluded to earlier. Mr. Watson believed that the Teefury shirt would leech sales from his t-shirt sales, thus impacting his bottom line, using a very similar idea that he based his own t-shirt off of. This is possibly true, but maybe not as much as he thinks.

Here’s the thing with the two images. Although I like Mr. Watson’s take on it, I like the Teefury one considerably more. Why? One, instead of the Tenth Doctor, Teefury’s design has the Eleventh Doctor. Although I very much enjoyed Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor, I really like the Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith who is very possibly becoming my very favorite and may take my top Doctor crown from the beloved Tom Baker. Also, the Teefury image is more traditionally in the style of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts which ties it very closely to my childhood. I was a big Peanuts fan growing up. They manage to capture that slight melancholy that is missing from Mr. Watson’s portrayal.

Like I said, Mr. Watson does a good job, but I just like the other one better. But the part I struggle with is that for all his protestations about having a “joke swipe” or taking away t-shirt sales, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t check out that link, or give some recognition to the fact that his work now seems imitative. It’s the same argument he’s trying to make with Teefury.

I’d like you to also consider this. Peanuts ran for fifty years and has been in reruns for another eleven. Doctor Who has been around for forty eight years (1963 to present), either in production or in reruns. To me it seems inconceivable that this particular mashup doesn’t exist in someone’s notebook that never made it to the Internet.

Further compounding this issue is the fact that there seem to be a variety of Peanuts/Doctor Who mashups. Here’s just a few I found from a simple search.

This next one from 2008.

\

This one from last year.

Also from last year.

Believe me when I say there’s more out there than just these few images. Some really good work as well.

The point of all this is that when you take two venerable, beloved series that have been around for decades, I don’t know if you can actually come along and say “I thought of that first” and claim it was your joke. A lot of this reminds me of the movie The Aristocrats. It’s an old joke, not a very funny one at that but the magic in the joke is in the telling, where the comic takes a very familiar joke and makes it their own, puts their own spin on it. It’s a classic take on “it’s not the song, but the singer”.

And this is where I think Mr. Watson is not just wrong, but painfully wrong. If this was a direct ripoff, I can see his point. But it does happen to be just different enough to have it’s own life. Two different doctors portrayed. Different wording on the booth. Different portrayals of the booth, Mr. Watson’s being closer to the TARDIS and Teefury’s being closer to Lucy’s booth. Different styles, Mr. Watson using his own and Teefury sticking closer to Schultz’s style.

Mr. Watson asking for the removal of the t-shirt is a disservice. Speaking for myself, I like his drawing, but not enough to buy the shirt. I just don’t have that much of a connection to it. Teefury’s though, I think I would buy it. The Eleventh Doctor looks a bit like Linus (my favorite), is wearing the lovely Fez and really evokes my childhood with both Peanuts and Doctor Who.

Sadly though, it looks like I won’t buy any t-shirt as Mr. Watson took to Twitter to make his complaint and it appears have cudgeled them into submission.

As a final thought, I can’t say that I know exactly what Mr. Watson is going through. He seems a decent enough fellow and like I’ve said before, I like his work. I just don’t like this episode or the handling of it. I’m not sure how I would react to it myself and I may never know, at least in terms of graphic arts. Still, something doesn’t pass the smell test with this and I fear it went the wrong way.

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