Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Search This Blog

December 31, 2012

PC Woes

When I rebuilt our computers last year, I did not re-install the OS on my machine as I usually do with a newly built machine. Instead, I re-installed the old hard drive and simply updated the OS as needed so it worked with the new parts. Then, when I decided to get an SSD (solid state drive), I used the OS copying software that came with it to move everything from my then current boot drive to the new drive, rather than installing the OS from scratch and re-installing the additional programs.

Over the last couple of months, the machine has had some quirks. I'd suddenly drop all Ethernet/internet connections for no reason. Some of my games would suddenly eject me and I'd be unceremoniously dumped back to the desktop. Occasionally, my file transfer speeds would dip to incredible lows. Sometimes I would plug USB devices and nothing would happen; the OS wouldn't recognize them, the system wouldn't read them. I'd lose some or all of my headset's abilities. On some rare occasions, my machine would simply freeze and only turning off the power would resolve anything.

I finally had enough two weeks ago, when my system kept shutting off, freezing, and refusing to recognize my Ethernet connection. When I would reboot or restart, it wouldn't even POST. I thought, 'Uh oh, I've somehow ruined yet another BIOS on my motherboard.' However, after some time, the BIOS POSTed and I was able to run again, in fits and starts. I decided it was time to format the SSD, wipe it clean, and re-install the OS from scratch. Before doing so, I decided to use my TrendMicro virus scanner "recovery disk" (via USB drive) to do a full, deep scan of the BIOS and everything on the OS. Sure enough, the virus scan found a couple of deep-seeded programs it marked as viruses and deleted. A couple were masquerading as Steam files, a couple were pretending to be game files, and a couple of others that the virus catcher apparently didn't catch (or I had not correctly set the program to scan) "live." I eliminated those and tested my system for a while before continuing with the re-install  sure enough, my system was running faster and smoother. I still had some of the issues, though, so I proceeded with my plan.

Since re-installing Windows 7 to the SSD and rearranging some of my cabling on the motherboard, I have had none of the previous issues resurface. I am very slowly re-installing my old applications, so that I can keep an eye on how the system works for at least a day or two before moving on to another application. Currently, all of my game apps and Steam are working better, faster, and more consistently than before.

This just goes to show you that you should do what you know is right and not rely on new methods that haven't been tried and tested; I have decades of experience knowing that, when you do a major rebuild, you should install "fresh" and slowly, but I ignored it in favor of the SSD's software. On top of the apparent viruses (or virus-like programs) that were found, my system was doing things it shouldn't and it was systemically worsening. Next time, if there is a next time, you can be assured I'll go back to my roots and do what I know is the right way.

December 21, 2012

Running Out of Excuses

The House Republicans are running out of options and excuses. Their Plan B, which, contrary to what Mr. Boehner and his cronies were saying, would have lowered taxes on those making between $200k and $1 million, raised them for everyone else (with those making less than $30k hit the hardest), and moved a bunch of cuts even deeper into social programs, was soundly defeated last night.

Apparently, when the American people spoke and elected Mr. Obama to a second term, the House Republicans figured that was just a ruse of some sort. They didn't really want to follow the President's plan to get the economy on track and to avoid the so-called Fiscal Cliff. Of course, the defections in the Republican party seem to indicate that even some of the Republicans are seeing the writing on the wall and realize they have to actually debate in good faith and that nothing can be marked as off the table. I think Mr. Boehner's time in office is nearing an end, unless he becomes a lot more cooperative.

I've shown in previous posts that raising taxes is a necessity. I've spoken about cutting where cuts should be made. I'm all in favor of military spending cuts, one of the largest areas of waste, duplication of effort, unused buildings and land, and unneeded expenses -- and I'm a military brat who is gung-ho behind our troops and their efforts.

I am not saying that the President is 100% right or that the Republicans should just capitulate. However, saying that no cuts in military and raising taxes on the richest 20% is off the table is not going to get it done and just gets you in deeper. These two things need and have to happen. Matter of fact, raising taxes on the richest 20% and cutting spending on the military are the two places where we can make up the deficit in the easiest, least painful, and most expedient way. Oh, and cutting into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? Not smart when the largest voting segment is senior citizens, many of whom rely on those three plans. Not smart at all.

My guess is that a silent majority of 80% of the people, regardless of political standing, can see that the Republicans are doing nothing, and trying to keep things at the same status quo that has gotten us into this mess in the first place. Most of their positions on these financial items are unsupportable, both historically and logically.

It is frustrating to see them continue to try everything but bowing to the will of the American people and doing what is best for them and America in general. Just look at the New Deal, look at what Reagan did in the 1980s, and look at what Mr. Obama is trying to do now; it worked the last two times that Republicans initiated these types of plans, there is no reason to believe that it will not work this time, even though a... *shudder*... Democrat is espousing the idea. Get on board, vote for it, and let's get this DONE. NOW.

Oh, and while we're at it, let's put in term limits in both the House and Senate. It is obvious that we need more turn-over and to get rid of career politicians who simply become more and more ingrained in ideology and less and less in tune with America and its people.

December 17, 2012

Lincoln

Lincoln reminded me a lot of There Will Be Blood -- a phenomenal performance in an otherwise average film. Actually, the acting all-around (Sally Field, David Straithairn, James Spader, et al) was all very well-done.

The movie, like, it seems, every movie I see these days, is too long. Every scene with Mary Lincoln involving their dead eldest son or their still living oldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), could have been cut without sacrificing anything. Pretty much every scene with JGL's Robert/"Bob" Lincoln could have been cut without sacrificing the story. There were so many characters who just popped up for brief cameos and were barely seen again (as it involves many one-off conversations with a multitude of congressmen), that I thought many of them could have been cut, as well. I would also cut everything that happens after Lincoln gets dressed for the Ford Theater and walks away down the hallway. We KNOW what happens there, and the scenes of grief that are shown afterward, plus Lincoln's earlier speech, just feel maudlin in comparison with leaving us on the melancholy "high" note of him winning the war, getting his amendment, and heading out to be with his wife, knowing what is to happen there.

Another thing that bothered me, besides too many characters and a lengthy running time, is the glossing over of how important free blacks were to keeping Lincoln on task for this project, as well as for helping him to get the word out and changing congressmen's minds. This movie makes it seem like Lincoln was the entire spearhead and reason for the amendment, and that only the white men in the story were critical to its success, which we know from history simply isn't true. It comes off a bit like a "white man solves the black man's problems" movie -- again. Actually, when will Hollywood stop rewriting history so overtly to make it seem like every other race is absolutely useless and reliant on white men to save them?

Now, none of these quibbles is to say this is not one of the best movies of the year with some of the best performances of the year. I will be shocked if DDL doesn't win another Oscar for this performance (I certainly haven't seen anything that stands up as a contender to it this year). Sally Field will likely be nominated. Tommy Lee Jones may get a support nod. The cinematography and score are both top-notch, and Spielberg will probably get a nod for director (although I don't think the direction is really anything special). But the movie has its flaws, and is not as powerful or as purpose-built as it could be or should be.

In the end, this is a very good film, and one of the best of this year. See it for the performances. But the movie is too long, has too many characters to keep track of, and takes a few too many detours while telling this compelling story. I rate this a B- (it is a C- movie with A performances, so I "averaged" it to a B-).

December 10, 2012

City of Heroes Gone

NCSoft, the owner of Paragon Studios and City of Heroes (and Villains), suddenly decided to close up the studio and the game, with November 30, 2012 being the go-dark date. This came as a great surprise to both Paragon Studios and the fans, as the game was still profitable, although niche, and the studio had a lot of plans, including a full update about to launch. Instead, they started to shutter the business and prepare for the death of the game.

The big problem with playing an MMORPG is that it is online; in other words, the user, once they have "purchased" the game, is at the mercy of the game's owners and developers. When they decide the game is finished, the user cannot keep playing on their own. Once the servers are turned off, that is it. It is over. Kaput.

It has happened to a number of games, although most manage to eek out an existence on small servers with minimal staff (or even with programming-minded non-professionals taking over). What is frustrating about this decision is that the game was only 8 years old (there are many older MMORPGs still going), it was still profitable and had a decent fan-base, and it had developers who truly cared about the project and were actively trying to keep it successful and make it even more successful.

NCSoft bought the IP from Cryptic Studios, who first made City of Heroes. NCSoft is based in South Korea and has made a name for itself in the Asian market for MMORPGs. However, they had little to no footprint in America or Europe, as their games did not resonate with western audiences. City of Heroes allowed them to have a successful franchise in those areas. For the most part, they left Paragon Studios alone to continue developing the game as they saw fit. The game's audience had dwindled down to a fairly robust (for the genre) core of die-hard fans. They got a bit of a boost when they went Free to Play, but that was temporary. Again, though, all signs (including Paragon Studio personnel who should know) pointed to the game continuing to be profitable in its market.

What is disconcerting is that many of the "big names" who enjoyed the game came out of the woodwork and offered to help the company, the studio, and the game when NCSoft made the sudden and unexpected decision to shutter the game. Mercedes Lackey, Neil Gaiman, and John C. Wright, among others, protested and offered their support. Companies were interested in purchasing the IP from NCSoft, but were rebuffed (or NCSoft asked for 4-6 times what the IP was actually worth, which is the same as a complete rebuff).

In the end, NCSoft could not be swayed and the game did, in fact, go dark on the designated day.

I'm sad and a bit angry at this. I can tell you that I will think twice before purchasing or signing on to play any  NCSoft property in the future. Not only are most of their efforts not amenable to western game playing, but the way they handled this game closure tells me they are not to good business people.

But mostly I'm sad for the game, the many dozens (oh, who am I kidding, hundreds) of hours I spent in the game for most of the last 8 years, and the many friendships I nurtured within the world. I went from an MMO newbie to one a grizzled veteran who helped the newbies in the game. I played for the better part of two years with three of my close friends, we created a large super team together (Pax Equitas), and they helped get me most of the way to my first level 50. I continued playing even after each found other life concerns that took them away from the game. I found new people to play with, new heroes to help, and new challenges. I told many stories, helped many people, and was helped and touched by many more.

Red Thorn, Seraphim Angel, Shield Sentinel, Qu'en, All-American Girl, Gilgamesh, Water Wraith, and all the (many, many, many) other heroes, may you Rest in Peace. Your fight is over, but not forgotten.

Red Thorn in the center of one protest toward the end of City of Heroes. Various other heroes stand with him.
ADDENDUM:
A year later, and it still doesn't make much sense.
http://www.pcpowerplay.com.au/2013/11/no-more-heroes-the-fall-of-the-first-superhero-mmo/

December 6, 2012

Fiscal Cliffs

Maybe we should fall off the upcoming Fiscal Cliff, as they are calling it. This would dramatically cut many services (including the military) and would raise taxes on everyone. It would, in many ways, solve many of America's current financial issues. It would also, maybe, finally convince people to demand reform from their career politicians.

From the Great Depression until the 1980s, taxes were much, much higher than they are now, both income and capital gains taxes. The rich, especially, had high taxes. And, during this time of really high taxes, America's economy grew like never before, the middle class grew, and we became the biggest economy in the world. During this time, job growth was phenomenal, the social contract between businesses, the government, and the people was strong. Prosperity ensued.

In the last thirty years of constant tax breaks, career politicians, and a steadily widening gap between the Republicans and Democrats, we have seen our economy falter, we've seen the social contract break down and disappear, and we've seen businesses take their business overseas. We've seen two really bad recessions and multiple depressions in the economy. We have seen an increase in our debt to astronomic proportions.

President Obama is following the Republican playbook for fixing the economy. He has taken a whole lot of the New Deal (yes, my history-minded friends, this was introduced by FDR, a Democrat. However, history shows us that it is made up of almost entirely ideas and plans first espoused by Herbert Hoover, a Republican) and quite a bit from Reagan-omics from the early 1980s. There is very little new in Mr. Obama's plan, actually. Yet today's Republicans say it is "too Democratic," "too Liberal," and "too Socialist." Yes, the Republican plan Mr. Obama is following is too "not-Republican."

In addition, the Republicans have finally put forth a plan -- which is identical in all ways to the plan they put into the Fiscal Cliff only they have removed the "take it from the military" part and moved those cuts entirely to entitlement areas. The numbers and figures stay the same. Or, in other words, the current Republicans have done NOTHING NEW and still think the government can somehow save itself by not bringing in any more money and by cutting more and more, especially in areas outside of the military (the singles biggest spending area of the US Government, by the way, and larger than the next 10 countries spend on military combined). Well, their plan saves about $1.4 trillion a year out of a debt at $14 trillion. Mr. Obama's plan, which includes both cuts and tax increases on the richest folks, would equal a difference of about $4.4 trillion a year.

There are approximately 315 million people in American. Of that, approximately half are workers who pay taxes of some sort. From the Great Depression through to the mid-1990s or so, the greatest amount of wealth in America was in the hands of the middle class. They made up the biggest majority of people, too. So, you had 100 million or so people paying a small percentage of taxes, but it was spread out over so many people that it allowed the US government to bring in a huge sum of money to fund everything. Basically, approximately 80 percent of the wealth was in the hands of 80 percent of people. This had the strange effect of making the rich richer. It also had the strange effect of making the poor less poor, as they had more and more opportunities to rise into the middle class. Win-win-win.

While it is very hard to compare decades, most economists seem to agree that from the late 1970s through to today, the richest percentage of people grew their incomes by close to 300% while the middle class grew theirs by approximately 40%. By all accounts, now approximately 85% of all the wealth in America is in the hands of approximately 20% of the population. Approximately 35% of that wealth is in the hands of only 1% of the population. From what I'm gathering, it looks to be about 4 million people in America make $200,000 or more.

For perspective, the population of America was about 225 million in 1980. That means approximately 110 million people paying taxes (generally speaking, you take approximately 50% of the total population as active workers, with 50% being retired, too young, or out of work). So, the majority of wealth (about 80%) was in 88 million people's hands. Today, there are approximately 315 million people in America. About 158 million people paying taxes. Of those, 85% of the wealth is consolidated in approximately 31.6 million people. That means 15% of the wealth is spread out over 126 million people.

Taxation works by a simple premise: you go where the money is. The middle class, while having more people, now has only 15% of the money. So the bulk of the money is with a smaller percentage of people, who have a much, much higher percentage of the wealth.

Let's put it in perspective with some static examples.

Pre-1990s taxation scheme

1000 people have jobs, make money. The Government needs $10,000 to fund everything.

(Note: Population number based on who has the wealth. Per estimates above, 80% of the wealth was in middle class, approximately 10% in upper class, and approximately 10% (total) in lower class. Wealthiest taxed more, middle class taxed a reasonable amount, and lower class taxed less, or not all. Used as an example only.)

  • 100 (Upper class): Taxed $17.50/each ($1,750)
  • 800 (Middle class): Taxed $10/each ($8,000)
  • 50 (Lower class, but still taxable people): Taxed $5/each ($250)
  • 50 (Lower class, but under the taxable minimum): Taxed $0/each
So, the sum total is that the government needs $10,000 and they easily make it, with no one side being taxed "too much." Everyone is happy and the economy grows/prospers.

Post-1990 taxation scheme

1000 people have jobs, make money. The Government needs $10,000 to fund everything.

(Note: Population based on who has the wealth. Per estimates above, approximately 85% of wealth is in upper class, approximately 15% is in the middle and lower classes. Wealthiest taxed less than middle class, middle class taxed at same "reasonable" rate even though their wealth has stayed the same or declined, lower classes taxed about the the same. Used as an example only.)
  • 850 (Upper class): Taxed $7.50/each ($6,375)
  • 100 (Middle class): Taxed $10/each ($1,000)
  • 25 (Lower class): Taxed $5/each ($125)
  • 25 (Lower class, below minimums): Taxed $0/each ($0)
The government needs $10,000 and is bringing in a total of $7,500. It is no wonder the government is in debt. Every year, the government is short $2,500 for all services rendered. Cutting what you fund may work, but there are certain minimums that the population won't let the government go below and there are certain requirements, like military, where cuts can be hazardous.

One obvious way to get that number up is to find where the money is and make those with the majority of the money pay more. Let's run those number again, only this time we'll break out the Upper Class and give them higher tax rates.

Suggested taxation scheme

1000 people have jobs, make money. The Government needs $10,000 to fund everything.

(Note: Population based on who has the wealth. Per estimates above, approximately 85% of wealth is in upper class, approximately 15% is in the middle and lower classes. Wealthiest taxed more than middle class, middle class taxed at a lower "reasonable" rate because their wealth has stayed the same or declined, lower classes taxed about the the same. Used as an example only.)
  • 350 (Highest Upper class ($1 million or more)): Taxed $17.50/each ($6,125)
  • 500 (Lower Upper class $200,000 to $1 million)): Taxed $15.00/each ($7,500)
  • 100 (Middle class): Taxed 7.50/each ($750)
  • 25 (Lower class): Taxed $5/each ($125)
  • 25 (Lower class, below minimums): Taxed $0/each ($0)
The government needs $10,000 and is bringing in a total of $14,500. They went where the money was. Since there were fewer physical people, they had to raise the tax rates per-person, but not an unreasonable amount compared to the income they have. And the government suddenly has a surplus of money, and all current project, programs, and other spending (like military) need not be cut at all. And, the government could start paying back the loans to other countries it has made, bringing the deficit down quickly.

(Note: I grant that I used static population numbers and static government spending/need numbers, and that is unrealistic for the eras in question. The point is made, however, that taxation needs to go where the money is, and pay a percentage based on the population who has that money. Also, note that I put the taxation amounts for the richest people to at or below the amount they were being taxed in the first example.)

I AM NOT ADVOCATED THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD ONLY RAISE TAXES WITHOUT ALSO CUTTING PROGRAMS. There is a lot of waste in the American government and we should cut military spending by at least 25%, we should cut all duplicated programs and jobs, we should eliminate all excess buildings, we should put in place requirements that the government not pay on any contracts that are overdue or over-budget. There are a lot of places left where cuts can go.

Now, is taxation this simple? Of course not. But simple logic can be used to figure out that the Republican's plan by itself simply cannot work. As long as the wealth is in the hands of a few, those few have to pay more in taxes or we will always run at a deficit. Look to your own house: you have a finite amount of money coming in and you have certain things you must pay for (rent/mortgage, car, gas, utilities) in order to keep that job and stay alive. You can cut everything else but it will not change the amount coming in or the amount you need to spend on the bare minimums. At some point, if you want to get out of debt, you have to get a second job, a pay raise, or a bonus of some sort. In other words, you have to bring more money in. When people are making the choices between medications or food, or food and rent, there are serious issues. You've cut all you can cut.

If you want the economy to turn around, you need to give the majority of people money to spend, you need to tax where the money is, and you need to cut out all frivolous and unnecessary spending. I think I have shown that the middle class has the majority of people but they simply do not have the wealth to spend any more. I think I have shown that the minority who has the wealth are where taxes should be increased. The only thing left, really, is deciding what should be cut and what cannot be cut. And there are plenty of places for the Republicans and Democrats to fight over in this area.

But, to make this long story only slightly longer, we can and should vote out of office those politicians, like Mr. Boehner and his cronies, who are adamantly obfuscating and obstructing this process. We need to hear from the silent majority of people who can see the simple logic of the facts as I've presented them, and insist our politicians do what we want them to do. Now.

(End Note: All of the percentages and figures I used, except for my simple examples, were taking from a variety of places both right- and left-wing on the internet. The data is easy to find and corroborate/correlate. Because of this, I did not link to the specific sites or locations.)

December 3, 2012

Blue October

I recently came across a band that has turned around my thinking, at least for today, called Blue October. I am not sure what genre most people would classify Blue October, as they have a lot of pop, many rock or even light metal, a couple of near rap, a couple of dance, and more than one slower songs. I guess a generic "pop/rock" will suffice for my needs.

Blue October first came to my notice with the songs released off of Foiled, their 2006 album, but I didn't learn about them until 2007. Somehow I was completely oblivious to this release or the videos from it (probably due in large part to the fact that music video channels never play music videos any more, but that is a different blog). I was listening to some videos via YouTube.com and Blue October came up on the side panel. It was the video for Into The Ocean. I watched it and was just blown away. I then watched the video for Hate Me and was similarly blown away. Knowing there were two songs I enjoyed so much, my wife purchased that album for my birthday that year.

In general, I think most people like music that they identify with. You connect with the pain, joy, honesty, or some other expression that the person or band emotes. Blue October performs songs that I pretty much have no connection to. The lead singer, Justin Furstenfeld, sings about his drug use/abuse, his toxic relationships with both family and lovers, his child, and his mental issues, none of which I have experienced. He sings with raw passion and great emotion, and I am more of a closed-off, introverted person.

What I connect to, I think, is twofold: First, the emotional and raw way Mr. Furstenfeld sings about anything in his life, and puts it out there for all to hear and see. I have a hard time with that, constantly thinking that it is always better to keep your pain and disappointments to yourself or those closest to you. Secondly, I am impressed with how he can write such bitter, angry, depressed, emotional songs and make them sound so upbeat and positive. It is sort of like the "Every Breath You Take" syndrome in that a lot of people just hear the music and the sound of Justin's voice and think many of the songs are positive when the lyrics are talking about him watching his wife have graphic infidelities, his hatred of himself and his drug problems, his murderous intent toward those who have wronged him, and other situations.

I have written poetry off and on since I was in High School. My poetry, while it has been praised on more than one occasion, tends to sound cold and clinic, because that is who I am. My strong inability to pour my emotions out on my sleeve for all to see makes my poems come across a bit technical. Mr. Furstenfeld's lyrics, however, are the opposite; they don't always work as "poetry," the rhyme and meter may be slightly off or forced in a song or in a chorus, but the raw, powerful, emotion with which he sings overcomes that. The honesty and feeling overwhelm me and I am entranced. In my Windows Media Player, there are two songs on Foiled that get 3 stars, Overweight and Everlasting Friend. Every other song gets either four or five stars, with three five-stars (Hate Me, Into the Ocean, and Congratulations).

Since Foiled I lost track of the band, content to bask in the admiration for that album. I was once again listening to some new music on YouTube.com when I noticed a Blue October song I didn't recognize in the right pane. I clicked and was blown away yet again. I soon discovered that they have released a couple more studio albums since Foiled, so I went to Amazon and listened to snippets of each album. Confident that I liked enough, I bought Approaching Normal and Any Man In America. After two listens each, I have two albums with no song receiving less than three stars and most of the songs getting four. As of right now, I only have two songs (one from each album) listed at five stars, but that may change as I listen some more. Frankly, it is unheard of for me to find three albums with no songs rated below a three and a total of five songs rated at five stars.

Blue October is not a band for everyone. I can completely understand why someone may not like them or not connect with their style of music. I am quite happy that I have found a band that I can enjoy so much, as the music industry has not produced much I've enjoyed the last ten years. Even tried and true favorites have been disappointments. The fact that I have purchased (or had purchased for me) three albums by one band is pretty significant.

Now to see if I like the songs on their other albums. Who knows, maybe a few more purchases are in my future?

November 25, 2012

More Cat Trauma

In addition to my previous post on this issue, I want to add that giving the owner a pain pill to give to their pet for three days in a row is also a trauma, both to the cat and to the owner.

Most owners do not have a "tried and true" method of giving their pet a pill. Some pets will eat anything their owner gives them, including medication. Some pets are so adept they can eat a pill pocket (makeshift or formal) without touching or consuming the pill. Many animals fall somewhere in between, and the owners have to try multiple methods with a limited supply of medication to find what works or discover everything that doesn't work.

We have learned that Sapphire is one of those pets who can manage to eat everything around the pill and not touch the pill. We got her to take about 1/3 of the pill the first two days, but once she tasted the medication (that first 1/3), she ate around it, spit it out, or otherwise refused to consume the other 2/3. We tried putting it in cheese, completely wrapped up... she ate the cheese and managed to spit out the untouched pill. We tried dissolving the pill in her water dish (being careful that the other cat didn't drink from it too), but she stopped drinking the water the moment we added the pill to it.

I know how and I am capable of opening my pet's mouth and putting a pill in such that they have to swallow it. However, that is additional trauma on top of the surgery, being away from home, being surrounded by people she didn't know, etc. I didn't want to make her upset with me, feel betrayed by me, on top of all of that. Especially when she was spending the majority of her time in the downstairs bedroom, which is her "safe zone."

As I said previously, there has to be some way to minimize the trauma to the pet and to the owner. I think it involves having the pet taken to the vet for spaying/neutering and then either staying there or returning to the shelter for the follow up (possibly with a new collar that shows by color that the pet has been taken and with the new owner's last name on it, or something similar, to denote the pet is no longer available). Only once the pet is fully ready to come home are the new owners called and asked to come get their pet. At that point, the pet only has to survive the trauma of riding in a car to their new "furever" home. Once there, they have nothing to do but integrate, be loved, and learn the rules of the new household.

November 21, 2012

Spayed and Neutered

NOTE: This post is about the process involved in getting an adopted pet spayed or neutered in our town. It is not about the effect of the surgery on an animal.

We dropped our new handful off at the vet today to get spayed. Getting her into her carrier was traumatic, getting her out of the carrier at the vet office was traumatic, and being left to have a major surgery all alone is traumatic.

Here's my issue: in this town, the SPCA does not have a mandatory spay/neuter rule. So, when you pick up a pet from their facilities, or a satellite facility (like we did), you do not know if the pet is spayed or neutered. Basically, the pet has the trauma of living in a shelter's small cages, rooms, or whatever for days, weeks, months, then gets the trauma of being taken to a brand new home with new people it needs to learn about and get along with (and possibly children), and then it has to have the trauma of shots, surgery, and recovery shortly thereafter.

In the end, I think this is too much trauma for the animal to bear repeatedly over a short period of time. If, however, the SPCA had a rule that any pet brought into its facility was spayed/neutered and given its first round of shots (and they recuperated the costs when the pet was adopted), then the major traumas would all be out of the way all at once. Yes, it means that the SPCA would be constantly running a deficit in this area, as not every pet will get adopted or will be adopted quickly, but you KNOW that EVERY cat that has been to the SPCA is a) relatively healthy (due to shots being given) and b) spayed or neutered.

Alternately, when you want to adopt a pet, the adoption location arranges the pet to be sent to a vet for its shots and spay/neuter via the SPCA. This is performed by one of the in-network vets, they keep the animal overnight to make sure everything is okay, and then the facility (whether SPCA or satellite) keeps the pet for a couple of days to ensure it is eating and drinking. When you come to pick the pet up and take it to its "furever" home, you are seen only as the white knight and your and its only job from that point forward for the next year (until booster shots are needed) is to bond and love one another.

As it is, our little Sapphire is now associating us with going to the vet, getting shots, and now major, traumatic surgery. She is scared of her carrier case and, when we try to put her in it, she freaks out and becomes violent. All of this coming just one month after entering our home and the trauma of learning the rules here, leaving its previous environment, and learning to get along with our existing pet.

I think I've proposed at least two better, less traumatic ways to deal with this.

November 12, 2012

Skyfall Review

Skyfall is a very good film, and likely one of the best in the Bond franchise overall. Yet I still found myself feeling the nearly 2.5 hour run-time. In discussing with my wife afterward, we couldn't think of any scenes or areas that should be cut out, yet we still wanted a shorter run-time.

The actors all do a great job and the action scenes are very well done. The opening sequence obviously uses CGI of the actor's faces on the stunt-people's bodies during the motorcycle scene and fight on the train. I expect a better editing job than that on a Bond film. I had the feeling that each sequence was a bit too long, however, and could have been cut down a bit and could have moved on to the plot faster. For example, they could have cut some time out of the motorcycle chase on the rooftops and some of the fight on the train... just a few snips and a minute or two here and there would have made it tighter and more concise (and the action more breathtaking and immediate).

The story is pretty good, overall, and Javier Bardem is great as the villain (being a quirky villain is becoming something he may get type-cast as). One scene I guess that could be cut entirely is the one introducing and providing exposition by Severine. Berenice Marlohe, while beautiful, is there really only to convey what a monster Silva is. Any time you are TELLING an audience something, you are missing an opportunity to SHOW them the same thing. Bardem is convincing enough to make the audience realize just how crazy he is without the need for Severine telling them. Just to be specific: there is nothing wrong with those scenes or the actors in them. They do a very good job. But the entire point of the scene is for Severine to tell Bond that her employer is crazy/evil and to include another fight scene. Cut it and get someone, preferably Bond or Q, to realize where Silva is hiding (since Silva wants to be caught, maybe have Q find the information in Silva's program or something), and then head to the island. This is much more action-oriented and involving than being told, even by a beautiful woman.
Matter of fact, the entire scene, plus fight scene and sex scene, could have been axed in favor of this: Bond enters bar, has witty repartee with Eve. Goes to cashier and cashes in chip. She is seen telling someone about it (maybe Severine), and Bond walks out of bar. As he exits, he is surrounded by five armed men, one of whom says, "Our boss wants to speak with you." He is taken to Silva's island. Much shorter, to the point, and it gets you to the action of SEEING how crazy Silva is that much sooner.
The movie has many homages to the older Bond films, mostly Connery's, but they are worked in in such a way as to be pretty funny but soas not to take you out of the story. My wife didn't care for the many references to age versus youth and the potential for obsolescence as you get older. I didn't mind it so much, but they did make three very obvious references... they could have been more subtle in the writing in these instances.

SPOILER ALERT (Highlight to read text)
My one complaint is that M could have been killed in a much more dramatic way when Silva storms the ministry building. After giving her impassioned speech about security and feeling safe, it would have been nice if Silva had actually shot her there and then, making Bond angry and heading after the bad guy. Having her survive and having Bond take her into hiding to use as bait for Silva didn't feel as "right" for the characters or the scene. Having her shot dead right there, and Bond being too late to save his adopted mother figure, would explain Bond's cold demeanor even better than how the movie ended.
END SPOILER

All in all, this is a very good action film and a very good entry in the Bond series. I enjoy Craig as Bond and like the cast around him. I look forward to the next movie. On my usual grading scale, I'd give it a B+, the main negative being running time and over-done action sequences (which aren't very negative, so only drop it half a grade).

Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace

November 7, 2012

Not Out of the Woods Yet

America voted and America chose. They re-elected President Obama to a second term. He even has the popular vote, so a (small) majority of Americans prefer his policies and visions to the policies and vision of his election rival. However, this does not mean that we are 'out of the woods' by any means. The President has a vision, sure, but he so far during the campaign has not given specifics. Neither has his opposition. This election cycle was incredibly devoid of specifics, of plans, of details that the public can use to keep the President-elect on topic and judge his overall course and value as president.

When Mr. Obama was elected to his first term, he spoke much more specifically about what he would do and how he would do it. Few people realize this, but he got more of his bills passed through Congress than any previous President during his first two years. Were they all winners? No, of course not. But he was trying to overcome the mess left to him (and the American people) and he was trying to follow the plans and specifics he provided during his campaign and during his first speech as President.

The American public, disenfranchised with how long the recovery was taking and some of the antics of the Democrat-controlled Congress, rebelled in 2010 and gave the House to the Republicans. Shortly thereafter, John Boehner famously said that the House of Representatives would not pass any bill that the Republicans thought would help Mr. Obama get re-elected. And they were good to their word. They filibustered and stopped every bill designed to get the American public back to work, even if it hurt their own constituents and the American public in general. They refused to help every single time Mr. Obama asked for bipartisanship, and then blamed the style and content of the bills for not being bipartisan. They designed bills using terms and conditions that were abhorrent to the Democrats and without asking for Democratic buy-in or assistance simply so that the Democrats or the President would stop or veto them, and then complained that everything they did was stymied by the President (even if the Senate was what stopped the bill).

In the end, however, their plan failed and Mr. Obama has been re-elected. This failure is, ironically, mostly on them for what they said (anti-woman, anti-GLBT, racist campaigns and comments) and what they did not do (all the filibustering and bill denials). What I wonder now is, will they take the President up on his desire to work with them to make bills and laws that are bipartisan and compromise, or will they continue the tactic of hurting all of America? Will the Democrats work harder and smarter to try to get Republican assistance and buy-in on the vision that Mr. Obama will, hopefully, be sharing with us soon? We do not know if any of the President's bills would have been successful, but we know for certain that having nothing continues to hurt America. Will they step to the plate and help out?

American politics have become so fractured, so partisan, so divisive that I am not sure that any president can get much done unless his party has a majority in Congress. And this, simply put, is not American. America is all about compromise. I am certain that I could sit in a room with people on the far right and far left and moderate nearly any topic to a compromise. Will either be totally happy with the results? No. But will we have a work-able solution that gives a little to both sides while minimizing the negatives to both sides? Yes. If I can do that, why can't our elected officials?

As I said, we are not out of the woods yet. The public has spoken and the President was re-elected. But he still has a Republican House to contend with and the antipathy of the Republican party to overcome. But, here's the thing: We control both. If we educate ourselves on the policies and bills, if we contact and hold accountable our elected officials, they WILL do what we want, or we can throw them out of office and get people who will. WE HAVE THE POWER. Let's use it to make the Republicans and Democrats work together, compromise, and right this ship. Let's find a way out of these woods and back to a place where America is great and its people are powerful.

We CAN do it.

October 30, 2012

Separate Truths

It used to be that the major networks provided news regardless of whether it provided profit for the network. News brought in viewers, who would stay for the shows after it. It was also true that the news divisions usually were held to a different standard and followed different rules than anything else that the network produced. The integrity of the newscasters and reporters was paramount because, if it was ever found out that news personnel were biased or lying, that news program would be sunk and all those viewing eyes would go to a different network.

In today's world, there are "news" sources everywhere. The rules for news agencies have changed, and networks no longer want to produce a show at a loss. This has led to news having to get, and keep, viewers in order to maintain high advertising rates for the half-hour or hour of that news program. This leads directly to sensationalizing the news, the stories, and, in particular, the Op/Ed portions of news programs to pander to audiences.

This audience pandering has led to a slow and steady polarization of the news media. If someone like a Rush Limbaugh gets more viewers/listeners because of his willingness to be outlandish, then media outlets will give him the chance. At first, maybe, they might have said, "Well, someone is going to put him on the air. We might as well. And maybe the audience will stay for our other, less biased and sensationalized programs." But, as the audience grows, the money starts talking and the media outlets slowly transform by adding more and more sensational programming and on-air talent.

Today, in order to get a truly "fair and balanced" perspective, you have to watch at least two news channels -- one for each side of the political spectrum. If you only watch one, the skewing of the presentation by the host and the editing of the source material is such that you will never even come close to the truth. If you watch both sides (say, CNN and Fox News) for the same stories, you can figure that both are lying to you and neither is right. But you can also figure that the facts in common are probably true and realize that somewhere in between is where the truth probably is.

Most viewers do not want to take this approach to watching or getting their news. It is too much effort. And, like most people, they take the path of least resistance. If the viewers lean right, they watch right-skewing news programs so that they agree with what is being said. If the viewer leans left, they watch left-skewing news programs so they can agree with what is being said. It is so much easier to get wrong news you agree with than to get challenging news that is actually true, factual, and requires a person to think for themselves.

I am lucky in that I live somewhere that I can get easy access to foreign news programs. These programs often present a much less biased view of the American news, as they have little to no investment in the situation. They can simply present it with as many facts as they can glean. Most news here is also still provided as a service and at a loss for the network, rather than as a ratings magnet and a viewer draw, which eliminates some bias and dishonesty.

For too long now the extremes on either side have had the microphone and have been yelling at whomever will listen to them. I firmly believe that the bulk of Americans are fairly moderate overall and could come to consensus if they simply had unbiased facts to work with. Until networks allow this to happen once more, we will continue to polarize and the nation will not heal and become the great place it can be again.

October 29, 2012

Pictures of the Cats

As promised, pictures of the new cat. Romy is the large cat (24 lbs, only slightly overweight for his size/frame) and Sapphire is just over 6 lbs (and slightly underweight, although she's working on rectifying that!). Our integration has been pretty successful, with little hissing or fighting and, as you can see, them getting along without too much difficulty now.
Sapphire mugging for the camera, Romy shielding his eyes from the inevitable flash.

They wouldn't lie still.

"Enough of this, I'm grooming," says Romy.

October 26, 2012

Windows Aint

I have always been an early adopter of Windows OS changes. I have paid attention to the Windows suggestions on preparing for a new OS, always checked my hard- and software versus the expected usability charts (and, later, used their widgets to do the same), and have even used Release Clients and Beta Clients for OS changes I was really looking forward to. I was one of the few that had good things to say about Vista when it was released, as I paid attention to the changes, knew what to expect, and upgraded my system in the areas I knew I might have issues.

Windows 8 released this week and I couldn't care less. I understand that the company has to change its tactics and its focus in order to stay relevant in a world that is rapidly switching over to hand-held devices, but I am a PC gamer and those changes appear to make my use of the new OS more difficult. I do not want and I do not own a touch screen for my main, gaming PC. My system is built to allow gaming as fast as I can afford to and to provide me with a means of working on documentation using Office and FrameMaker (and other) tools. These are applications that, for the most part, don't run or don't run well on a tablet or phone and, as for the kind of gaming I do, cannot be done on most tablets or mobile phones.

I have yet to read about the size of the Windows 8 OS once installed. XP, Vista, and 7 all are monstrously huge to a degree I do not think is warranted, and I would love to see Windows actually make a leaner OS with a much smaller footprint on my hard drive.

I have yet to read an article on how Windows 8 fairs for games and gamers. In Vista, we lost some of our hardware support and had to upgrade. Many of our older games had issues or wouldn't run at all. Windows 7 fixed some of those issues and we could game with most anything again (I did still have a sound card and a gaming headset that wouldn't be recognized in 7, but they were pretty old so it was worth upgrading even though they were both solid and functional devices). Windows Vista (if properly set up) and 7 were both remarkably stable; I have run each for years at a time without the need to rebuild or reinstall from scratch.

Windows 8 runs primarily using Apps. However, most articles admit that PC users don't need the lions-share of these Apps, as they are mostly designed and built for the tablet or mobile phone user. Windows 8 doesn't come, for example, with the clock showing in the lower, right-hand corner of the OS any more. Instead, you have to click the "Charms" to display the clock. If you want to see a clock by default, you have to install an App to see it -- on any interface. This seems short-sighted to me, as one of the primary functions of mobile phones and tablets these days is as a time-keeper and organizer. You shouldn't have to install an App to see something as basic as the time/date.

Most of the reviews I've read have been, overall, positive of the new OS. However, they all admit that Windows 8 is best used with a touch device; most PCs are not touch devices. Most of those reviews admit that the way the OS switches between the touch-enabled, new start up screen and the legacy-style desktop is jarring. Most gamers and hard-core users will likely have this jarring effect happen often. Many of the neatest new features are, strangely, not enabled in the desktop mode.

All in all, this just doesn't seem like an OS for one of the biggest groups of PC users on the planet: gamers. Gaming is one of the biggest deals in any type of computing, and to have Microsoft appear to ignore that segment strikes me as strange. Until and unless I can find some reviews of Windows 8 that talk about it as a gaming platform, talks about its compatibility with newer and older games and hardware, and discusses how solid it is for video and networks, I will be sticking with Windows 7 for the foreseeable future.

ADDENDUM
I did find this site with a review for gamers, and it shows that Windows 8 has some "quirks" that may mean fewer of my games may function. It also shows a lack of support for Steam (quickly becoming a platform of choice for many gamers) and no significant improvements for gamers in terms of connectivity, speed, or performance. This does not make me want to go out and get the new OS.

October 18, 2012

Little Miss Can't be Wrong

We got a new cat this past weekend. Sapphire is female and tiny. Our existing male cat is approximately 21 lbs and with a large frame (he's slightly overweight, but only by about 1-2 pounds). This new cat is barely 6 lbs, with a tiny frame. She's mostly gray with some white highlights and exceptionally short hair. She is very, very loving. She also really likes my wife, which is exactly what we were looking for in a second cat (Romy is "my" cat; he doesn't actively dislike my wife, but he doesn't go out of his way to cuddle with her either).

We have started the association and integration process. We did the tricks of petting each with a sock and then providing them with the sock with the scent of the other cat on it. We did the crated visits. Last night was the first uncrated visit and it went fairly well.

This morning, when my wife went to workout downstairs, she suddenly noticed a small gray cat watching her. Apparently there are holes big enough for Sapphire to get through, now that she wants to explore, in our unfinished rooms in the basement. Now that she's out, I figured let's just leave the door open to "her" room, where she feels safest, and see what happens. Since I work from home, I can listen for any growling, hissing, or fighting and step in.

So far, it has gone fairly well. Sapphire is walking around like she owns the place. She's not used to the squeeks and sounds of the house, though, so she runs downstairs whenever something surprises or startles her.

I just took a break and went out to the front room. Romy and Sapphire were within a few feet of each other. Sapphire was the one doing any hissing and growling, as if to say, "Back off, buddy! I'm not prey!" Romy did back off a couple of feet, and I petted and praised him. I then walked over to where Sapphire was sitting primly and properly and pet her and praised her.

I left them both in the kitchen/living room area. Romy had staked out his spot on the back of the loveseat and was simply watching her move around again. She was continuing to explore and sniff. All in all, it looks like a mostly successful pairing of the two.

If there are any fights, and I still expect at least a couple of tiffs as Romy finds her using "his" water and food dish, or they meet near their litter boxes, or similar, I do not expect them to be too bad now. While he could seriously hurt her with his size, he doesn't seem all that interested in fighting. And she is small and quick, so there are many places she could go and hide that Romy simply cannot follow. However, there initial reactions indicate a level of tolerance that I think we can foster and turn into something positive.

I'll post some pictures once she is still enough to get some.

October 11, 2012

Diablo 3 - Devil in the Details

I played Diablo and Diablo 2, plus expansions, for years. It was fun to run through the various levels and try new things with characters (for example, doing all levels on a Druid set to cast, as were-creature, and as summoner). The way most of the dungeons were fairly random, and the way the bosses leveled up with each play level, and the random nature of the drops all made for an enjoyable time. And, don't forget the cow level! What a blast that was to do, getting surrounded and mooed at by copious quantities of cows, and then taking on the king cow.

My expectations for Diablo 3 were high. They had 10 years of graphics and computing advances. This one was going to be as fun as the previous two, but with better graphics, better combat animations and fight coding, and, of course, it was going to build on the detailed story from the first two.

The first two chapters of D3 were decent-sized and had some good story elements, but the last two chapters were tiny, with poor story elements, and incredibly railroading to the player. The inclusion of a marketplace where real-world money could be spent to buy in-game benefits really took something away from the game. The graphics were good, but the fight engine had the exact same hiccups and issues that the 10 year old D2 engine had. The feeling of immersion and surprise simply wasn't there.

All through the Beta (did I mention that I was a public beta tester for the game?) we kept complaining about how easy everything was. Some of us would run through it without any gear and would be able to defeat it. It became a challenge (you can find videos on YouTube.com) for us to speed through the beta with no gear in the least amount of time, solo and in groups. We argued that having both potions and the health globes was too much-- pick one or the other, but don't have both. We argued that drops seemed to be skewed. What we heard back was always, "Don't worry, this is only a beta."

I played through the entire game on standard and then the next highest level using a Monk. At standard level it was insanely easy. I had no deaths and never used a single potion. At Nightmare level, I had a couple of deaths but mostly because of me being an idiot or overconfident, not because of anything the game did. Drops seemed to have the same issues as in beta. The fact that the last two chapters were so short/small and railroaded me to the one conclusion possible made those chapters, well, boring to play.

I started a Barbarian and a Witch Doctor, my other two favorites from the beta. I have the Barbarian close to finishing the game at standard and the WD is in chapter 2 and ... I have no desire to continue playing at all. I have no wish to go to Hell or Nightmare difficulty, to continue playing the identical game with the two new characters, and absolutely no desire to play with the other classes. The repetitious nature of the earlier Diablos, where I wanted to play it again and again and try new things simply isn't there. The magic, put simply, was gone. I wandered back to Skyrim, and continued playing my weekly LotRO game, and found excuses to do other things than play D3.

What I found was, once you got the first multi-enemy attack option for whatever class you were playing, you locked that in and increased its ability at every chance and never used anything else. Why would you? It does excellent damage against single-target and multiple-target enemies, it usually has some nice perks you can add to make the range bigger and the power do more damage or have more effects attached, and you can plow through whatever number of enemies the game throws at you. Then you simply need a panic heal or defense option and you are set. You can take on the entire game and never worry about any other powers. On my monk and barbarian, I rarely used more than two or three powers and I could beat everything in the game. Why change that philosophy?

D3 is a success. Blizzard sold enough units in the first month to make their money back and a hugely healthy profit to boot. However, you don't see the sales continuing strong months later. I don't hear my friends talking about the game and we're not excitedly looking to multiplayer the game like we did with D2 and D1. I don't see the same level of involvement with the game and the community that existed with (especially) D2. While it is true that the original audience is 10 years older, Blizzard should have been able to capitalize on all of us and get us to convince younger audiences (our children even) to get into the game too. Instead, I think it is quietly and steadily going into its own game niche and going to die away slowly, rather than have the long-term success of D2.

October 9, 2012

DC Comics: A Year Later

I have already documented my pros and cons of the overall DC Comics relaunch in previous posts (here and here). In those posts, I mention the things I felt worked and what I felt did not work in a general sense. Here, I'm taking a different tact: how I would have done it or spearheaded the project had I been working for DC Comics.

Once the decision was made to relaunch, I would have started slowly. Instead of forcing the issue with 52 new titles, I would have started with one: Action Comics #1. This would have been an over-sized issue that would set the groundwork for everything to come. Namely, it would introduce Superman as a fully-functioning hero. It would show this as the first time the world at large has seen a person with fantastic powers doing heroic things. Costume changes would have been minimal, and probably consist mostly of a redesign of the S-shield and removal of the red trunks (no armor here!).

In this story, which would take place today, I would NOT have had an origin story. Instead, I would simply show him as a fully realized hero and present, through his actions and words, the philosophical difference between this version and my previous version (I like that the New 52 made him less of a boy scout and more of a bruiser, but he still needs to have the inspirational aspects that would make others want to follow him/follow in his footsteps).

Throughout the story, I would weave in aspects of other characters. For example, I would show a 'not wearing a costume yet' Bruce Wayne, in the cave, and out fighting crime already, and maybe having him start his first dossier on the super-powered community. I'd probably add in a young Dick Grayson helping him out, also without a costume. I'd show a woman named Diana Prince working somewhere and wondering how she can learn more and help more, and then seeing Superman's affect on the media and the world and realizing how she can do it.

The next month I would release the following comics the first week, Action (#2), Batman, Detective, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Action and Detective would show fully-formed heroes, in costume, having adventures. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman comics would be origin issues.
  • Action #2 (and ongoing). This comic would be about showing primarily one off or short stories primarily in the action genre (a lot of fights). The Superman title would be used to show more the man behind the myth, origins, and longer-running plots.
  • Superman #1. Superman's escape from Krypton, his landing in Kansas, being raised by the Kents, coming to the idea of becoming Superman, and would end with what we saw in Action #1 beginning. This would include any of the changes we saw fit to make to his history.
    • I would include Krypton being a larger planet with higher gravity and the Kryptonians being photo-voltaic beings. In this way, they have a natural amount of strength above a normal human being due to the stronger gravity AND can be super-charged by solar radiation. I would show them being conquerors at first, from a planet with a high solar radiation source (like a blue star), and then becoming more scientifically-oriented and peaceful, and then choosing to live on Krypton and "depower" by living under the effects of a red sun (lower solar radiation amounts). In this way, Superman is set up as being above normal even without solar radiation, but gets all of the energy effects from being solar-charged. It sets up better how to hurt him and what happens if he is without solar energy for long periods. Show that Kryptonians helped/fought some of the other alien races, including the Czarnians (Lobo), Martians (Jonn Jonnz), Tamaranians (Starfire), Oans (maybe the fight with the Kryptonians is why they created the Manhunters and then the Lanterns), etc.
    • Take away Superman's super-speed (have him be above-average in speed, but not Flash-fast) and super hearing. Instead, he is (without solar energy) simply super strong and resistant to harm. With solar energy, his strength and resistance go through the roof and he gains the power of flight, enhanced vision (including heat vision). This slight depowering makes him a) more relatable, b) less god-like, c) easier to write stories about, and d) more able to be fooled.
  • Detective #1. Would simply show a current adventure for the Batman character. No origin story. This title would serve primarily for the less super-heroic stories and instead be about the guy who solves crimes and takes on the shadier side of life in Gotham.
  • Batman #1. Bruce Wayne wouldn't need to change much of his history for this new world, simply modernize it. His origin would take place well before the events in Action #1.
    • His parents are gunned down in his youth, he pledges to fight crime, he gets a top-notch education, then travels the world learning things he can't learn in academia, and then returns to Gotham City ready to enact his plans. The story would show him doing what he can wearing a ski mask and body armor for a couple of years; being successful, but not overly much. He then adopts Dick Grayson and trains him as his first accomplice. Upon seeing Superman's public debut, he rethinks his strategy and Batman and Robin debut in Gotham. They, however, keep a low profile, trying to be more myth than legend. Batman's costume should be more armored and Robin's should undergo a serious overhaul to make it work in the "city ninja and myth" category (bright red, yellow, and green -- not so much). Show him setting up a network of similarly driven, non-super-powered individuals, like Vic Sage, Oliver Queen, Ted Kord, etc.
    • NOTE: You do not need to start with four active Robins (Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, and Jason Todd). By doing so, the company limits their growth and ability to create new and different stories for them. Start with one. Maybe leave the others for future stories or make them into new, different heroes with ties to the Batman family instead.
  • Wonder Woman #1. I like what they did with the update to WW in the New 52, as already mentioned in previous blogs. Making her the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus accounts better for her skill-set and power level (roughly akin to Superman's). So keep that idea and change how she becomes the actual persona of "Wonder Woman."
    • Show that her mother, and all Amazons, are expected to spend a year on walk-about, learning about the world outside of their mystic shores. Show them having diplomatic relations with Atlantis/Aquaman's people. Show her mother donning a colorful outfit and helping the Allies during World War 1/2 (which can help set up a JSA title or that there were previous "heroes"). Show Diana seeing all the poverty, war, strife, etc. of the world outside her island and, upon seeing Superman's debut, opting to don a costume similar to her mother's and using her powers to help. In the background, always keep in mind her Greek Mythology roots and show her siblings and relatives (the gods and other demi-gods) working with and against her. Show some connection to Dr. Fate, Hawkman (now a mystical Avatar character), Shazam/Black Adam, etc.
The following week I would release Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Green Arrow/Black Canary, Animal Man, Swamp Thing.
  • Flash #1. Show Barry Allen be an actual scientist, working specifically in an area that can translate into speed somehow, gaining the power of super-speed (maybe Higgs-Boson? or the use of laser beams as propulsion methods for space missions?). No more "Speed Force," instead make the character have to overcome friction and other issues (or travel more slowly). Make sure each (future) speedster in the DC Universe has a unique way in which they become super fast. Have them all run at different speeds for different reasons.
    • Barry Allen - scientifically created, can travel "as fast as a molecule shot in the Higgs-Boson."
    • Wally West - struck by lightning and now travel "as fast as electricity" (and creates those classic bolts around his body as seen often when he gets going fast).
    • Jay Garrick - created an exo-suit that allowed him to run "as fast as a plane can fly."
    • Etc.
  • Green Lantern #1. Get rid of all the colors (at least initially) and go back to only Green. Have an alien give his ring to Hal Jordan and Hal is immediately whisked away to Oa, where he learns of the Green Lantern Corp (much smaller). Change them from "intergalactic police force" to more of a "galaxy protectors." Define more simply what the ring can do: the rings are tapped into the universe's quantum field (no longer loses charges). The item, a scientific device with a computer in it, then provides the wearer with a force bubble for protection and the ability to tap into and use the quantum field's energy to create constructs, which happen to be green in color. These constructs are as strong as the will power and imagination of the creator and can be made to do incredible things.
  • Aquaman #1. The New 52 version has brought this character to prominence and popularity, finally. So do that, but within the confines of what I have mentioned above. Show his people and him having interaction with the Amazons and other mystical/mythological peoples.
  • Green Arrow/Black Canary #1. Do this as a team-up comic. Show them as a (strong) couple who lives and fights together. I think there is a lot of mileage from showing a couple struggling with and overcoming all of the issues of being a couple AND being super-heroes. People need positive couple role models, as the media often forgets that, while 50% of marriages end in divorce, that means 50% also succeed and overcome and work. Show that.
  • Animal Man #1 and Swamp Thing #1. The current runs are also successful and praised. Do that, but within the confines of what has been said above. Maybe show the Red and the Green as underlying powers for other super heroes and show that the Red and the Green have been around since the beginning of the planet, and avatars of each have existed prior to this current age of super heroes.
Week three would start to show the lesser-known characters. I'd introduce Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Firestorm, Catwoman, Hawkman/woman, etc.
  • Blue Beetle - I'd still use the Jaime Reyes version (it's a good character and adds to diversity), but make him a protege, apprentice, or science-experiment of Ted Kord.
  • Captain Atom - Use the silver-skinned (most popular) form. Keep his military connections and make him more of the "boy scout" than Superman.
  • Firestorm - Do NOT have multiple Firestorms! Just have Ron Raymond and Jason Rusch form the duo that can become Firestorm. Maybe update the always too-busy costume with a modern appeal.
    • UPDATE: Since I stopped reading Firestorm regularly, they have apparently been whittling down the other Firestorms and have made it so that Ron and Jason are both needed to make Firestorm, so they are heading in the right direction. They should have done this from the start.
  • Hawkman - This can be either the male or the female version. Make the character a bridge between the mythological aspects of his history and the Red/Green from Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Make the character more of a magical character with ties to Atlantis and the Amazons through the Egyptian motif.
In the final week of the month, I would then release the group titles. These would include Justice League, Teen Titans, Birds of Prey, World's Finest, etc.
  • Using the current Earth 2 title as a model, show how the characters team up in an organic way. Introduce new characters slowly and integrate them. Show the differences and WHY these people would team together and HOW they can work together.
  • Consider changing up the norms by having one or more new/different characters in some groups. The inclusion of Cyborg in the new 52 Justice League is a good example.
    • What if Superman is not a member of the Justice League, but that role is replaced by Shazam?
  • In this way, you have introduced where (most of) the characters come from and what their motivations are, so you can better show how and why they would team up.
Final thoughts on this relaunch.
  • Superman is called the "last son of Krypton." Make that so. Others come along, like Power Girl, Supergirl, Superboy but make them people with powers similar to, but not the same as, and wanting to pay homage or honor Superman by taking his name and image. For example:
    • Supergirl - Daxamite who is helped/saved by Superman and asks to be his protege.
    • Superboy - Clone with tactile telekinesis works for me; physically weaker than Superman in every way, but his power is on par with (and maybe stronger than) Superman's due to its mental nature.
    • Power Girl - The inheritor of the Atlantean version of the Shazam power (giving Shazam/Captain Marvel an opposite number and pulling a small token of one of her many incarnations)?
  • Wonder Woman is the result of Zeus' infidelity with Hippolyta. Any of her proteges should have a unique creation, too.
I think, in this way, you better map out your universe, the hierarchy of characters in it, tease some (who will show up later) and develop them in a more organic way. From this launch, you can then move into the more esoteric stuff, like Legion of Super-Heroes, New Gods, expanding the Bat-family, expanding the Green Lantern universe, etc. But you have a solid foundation to start with.

September 24, 2012

NFL Replacement Refs

I don't think the NFL actually cares about player safety. Exhibit A is the ongoing stalemate with the "real" NFL refs; what I have seen through the first three weeks of the NFL this season is a game that the replacement refs have little control over and games in which the players are hitting on many borderline to illegal shots to see if they can get away with it.

These replacement officials are doing, at best, and adequate job of officiating the game. However, they do not have the respect or control over the more abstract aspects of the game that the NFL referees have; you see them changing their mind after talking to coaches, you see them unsure about calls and being swayed by player emotion, you see them not making calls and assuming a replay will save their indecision, and, the worst, you see them unable to cope or deal with it when players get into a scrum on the field.

If the NFL truly cared about the player safety and putting the best product out there, they would get the NFL refs back on the field as quickly as possible. This would cause the players going for the borderline and illegal hits to step back, it would tell the players they cannot push the limits as far as they are trying to, and would increase player safety accordingly. All this for the sum total cost of approximately 1% of revenue being given to the refs. Seems like a win-win to me.

ADDENDUM
The replacement refs wound up affecting the outcome in a few different football games. The two most notable are the Detroit/Tennessee game and the Green Bay/Seattle game.

In the Lions/Titans game, the refs made the mistake of giving Tennessee a 27 yard penalty mark-off on what should have been a 15 yard penalty. This moved Tennessee well into easy field goal range and allowed Tennessee to make an easy chip shot for what became the game winner.

Even more directly, the refs missed an obvious offensive pass interference call on Golden Tate, and then ruled "simultaneous possession" on the final play of the game, giving Seattle the victory. Both the non-call of pass interference and the dubious call of simultaneous possession (sure looked like Green Bay caught the ball  and Tate barely had a hand on it) directly affected the outcome of the game, as that was the very last play of the game with no time left on the clock.

In addition, there should have been a replay at least of the final play in the Patriots/Ravens game, as that field goal looked awfully wide right to a lot of people (and also directly affected the final score in the game).

Along with mistakenly giving the 49ers not one but two extra replays, the horrible calls in the Washington game, the multiple game-impacting hits to the head (to the point of knocking the helmets off of some players, but still not called fouls), and the multitude of scrums that the refs didn't stop or call fouls on, and the NFL has a serious problem on their hands.

Have people stopped watching? No, or course not. It is like a car accident on the side of the road -- no matter how much you don't want to see what's there, people still slow down and rubberneck. We're all tuning in not only for the #1 sport in America but now also to see what new screw up the refs can get into.

September 7, 2012

Much Better

The reviews are in and most fact-checking sites I'm seeing are giving Obama's speech pretty good reviews.

Obama

I've linked to only one because it seemed representative of the ones I looked at. So, at least, Obama did a pretty good job of telling truths, especially when you compare them to the outright untruths his opponents used. This right here will sway me, as an independent, non-party affiliated voter toward Obama at this state of the campaign, because I feel strongly that campaigners should not be allowed to lie in speeches. So far, that is all I've received from the Republican side.

This is NOT to say I'm thrilled with my choices. I would vote for a strong third-party candidate today if one came up with an actual PLAN for how to do all of the (very similar) things that both Romney and Obama are claiming they will do to turn America around. Neither of these two candidates have actually stated a plan nor the steps they will take to actual enact those plans. Instead, they have simply stated (fairly ephemeral) goals for what they hope to accomplish. A blogger I read often has summarized it nicely, using her past employment as an example.

I am also swayed toward Obama by my health issues, which are covered and cannot be taken away from me by Obama's health care mandates (some of the most important aspects for me come into play in 2013 and 2014). Voting for Romney would (most likely) repeal "Obamacare" and he would create... what exactly? I've been to Mitt's website and listened to his speeches and he has not mentioned what he would replace it with. Which is par for the course, as Obama repeatedly asked for Republican input in creating Obamacare and they refused but never offered an alternative plan or put their ideas out for the American people to review. It may not be great, and there are tweaks and changes that need to be made, but I'll take the bird in the hand over the (so far) non-existent birds in the bush on this one, as it directly affects me.

Lastly, I can't help but think if we had kept the Constitution's original way of electing a President and Vice-President we wouldn't be in this bi-partisan mess we are today. As I have commented before in detail, originally everyone ran for one office: President. The person with the most votes was elected and the person with the second-most votes became vice-president. I believe this was an inherent check and balance as it forced people with differing opinions to work together for the good of the country. It also allowed there to be more parties and diversity in Congress. Looking at it today, there would almost have to be less partisanship if the President and Vice-President were of different parties but working toward the same agendas. And it would also allow the two to go to Congress with a more united front on what needed to be done and why. Congress (and America in general) would likely have more parties and campaigners would have to convince individuals of their plans and goals rather than swaying enough of the other party to vote them into office.

I am, so far, both less than thrilled and less hopeful about this election. At least one party decided not to lie, so I'm not totally without hope at this early stage. Now, let the mud start slinging.

August 31, 2012

Slinging the Mud

I said before that I thought this election would get bad. I didn't realize the lies would start so soon or be so big this early!

Both Romney's and Ryan's speeches at the RNC are more factually incorrect than correct. When even Fox News people are admitting the fallacies of a Republican candidate, you know they must be pretty bad. I urge everyone to take what is said on both sides of the aisle with a large grain of salt and read the fact checkers thoroughly from around the web before agreeing or disagreeing with anything either side says.

Romney

Ryan (note that I linked to the Fox News site for the list of fallacies used)

If the Republicans are starting this up at their convention, and are heating up the false rhetoric this soon, I can't wait (*sarcasm) to see what the Democrats respond with. I thought it might be ugly, but this could get downright nasty.

I linked to just two (one each) fact checkers; there are at least a half dozen from both biased and independent fact checking groups that all say pretty much the same thing; the Republicans are lying about Medicare, lying about job creation, lying about Social Security, and making statements that needlessly associate the need for welfare changes with blacks (to anger and get the white voters involved and engaged).

With this precedent set, I fear what direction Obama will go in to respond. I hope, as I always do that one side and/or the other will try to remain accurate, truthful, and minimize the spin. I hope it is Obama, since both of the Republican candidates have proven incapable of that, but history suggests I will be disappointed yet again.

August 24, 2012

Tripping the Light Fantastic

I love books. I like the look and the feel of them. As long as they aren't moldy, I like the smell of them. I like the sound the paper makes as it crinkles and the page turns. I have a lot of books.

I have had a Kindle* e-Reader for closing on two years now. While I do miss the aspects mentioned above, the change to electronic books is a vast improvement to my reading enjoyment.

My eyesight is not what it once was. I'm at that point where sight starts slowly degrading. In addition, I take medications that are potentially hastening that degradation. My Kindle has the ability to make the text of any book I read larger or smaller so that I can always find a comfortable size to view.

I read a lot in bed while having trouble sleeping. As I don't want to keep my wife up with either the overhead light or my table lamp, I need light to read by. We found the LightWedge to be a great compromise; I have light to read by, and the LW keeps that light primarily focused on the book I'm reading. However, this and similar solutions have issues as well. They require extra weight for you to hold. The LW has to be removed from the book and replaced each time you turn the page, which slows down your reading enjoyment and necessitates more movement than maybe you wish to do. Some clip-lights don't direct light onto the page in a uniform or pleasing way, so you get glare points and dark areas.

I have a clip-on light that works great when using my Kindle to read at night. I can read in low-light situations much more readily than with the standard type in the standard hard or softback book. The e-Ink screen is designed to be anti-glare, so there are fewer hot spots and any darker spots from a clip-on are less problematic when you can simply increase the font size. There are rumors that Amazon is working on an eReader that has, basically, a built in LightWedge, so you would not even need a clip on. Also, many Kindle covers have LED lights that use the Kindle's battery for power, so you basically have one unit that provides all the options you need.

When reading in bed, or in a reclined situation, most people rest the book on their belly. When reading at a table or on a plane, many people rest the book on the table, especially if they are reading War and Peace or anything by Stephen R. Donaldson. Books get heavy quickly. In addition, when the book is resting and you turn a page, the page scrapes across whatever you are resting it against. And you often have to use two hands to hold it and turn the pages. With my Kindle, I typically hold the book with one hand and keep my thumb on the page turn button. I can read either right handed or left handed by rotating the Kindle (and many Kindle models have the page-turn button on both sides of the case, so no rotation is needed). The fact that the average Kindle is much lighter than the average book (even lighter than most softbacks) means you can hold it one hand very easily and for longer periods than you can hold a standard book.
Note: The LightWedge actually works pretty well with the Kindle as well. However, it turns into a bit of a flashlight because the LW needs the spine of the book to stop the light from streaming out the far side of the clear plastic lighted area, so it is not optimal. The makers of LW really should put a thin opaque edge all the way around the clear area so that less light "spills out" of the viewing area.
Another nice thing about an eReader is that you have so many more options at your fingertips. I often get to bed and think, 'I don't feel like reading that tonight; maybe I'll read this other thing.' Well, when you are dealing with actual books, that necessitates a lot of space used for both books, comparatively speaking. I currently have approximately 75 novels of various lengths on my Kindle, yet they do not take up any more space, or additional weight, than the Kindle itself. I can add up to another approximately 3425 books to my Kindle without increasing the weight I carry or needing any additional nightstand or bookshelf space. When you are traveling, it is nice to "pack" as many books as you want to but only have to carry the weight of one Kindle, especially if you have an unexpected layover somewhere.

Lastly, my Kindle can read to me. It has a voice and the ability to read anything I put into it. So if I'm in a situation where I won't bother others, but don't want to read for myself, I can ask Kindle to do it for me and still make progress in the latest book. When I ask my wife to read to me, she usually just gives me a look like she's about to call the men in white coats to take me away.

My Kindle does not look or smell or feel like a "real" book. However, the advantages of increasing the font size, storing dozens of favorite or new books, low weight, one-handed reading, and the ability to be read to make the Kindle a replacement that can do far more than an actual book can. It makes some situations, like reading in bed, much easier. Overall, reading a Kindle is actually better than reading a book.

* = I have and use a Kindle eReader. Many of the pros I list are true of other brands of eReaders. However, I caution against using one that uses a back-lit LCD/LED display, as the eyestrain, especially reading at night/in the dark, can add up and make you use the product less. Also, back-lit LCD/LED readers use a lot more power (average of a couple of hours to up to around 10 hours use before a needed recharge. eInk displays only use power when you do something, so my Kindle stays charged for around a month of pretty heavy use (with the Wi-Fi turned off). Your mileage may vary.

Armstrong Again

I think Lance Armstrong is right to give up his fight. Regardless of whether he did or did not use PEDs, the USADA is bound and determined to hound him until they get some level of satisfaction. In my mind it is pretty simple: he has dozens if not hundreds of clean tests (scientific, factual evidence in his favor) versus the testimony of a few people who rode both with him and against him and many of whom are on record as hating Armstrong (circumstantial evidence from biased sources).

Even the judge in the case thinks there is bias. "USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives," such as politics or publicity, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote.

I've mentioned my stance on this before, a couple of times (here and here). I'll simply sum up here:

  1. Either Armstrong did not use PEDs and he was the superior rider over his rivals of the day, many of whom have been found to have used PEDs OR,
  2. Armstrong did use PEDs and was the superior rider versus his rivals of the time, many of whom have been found also to have used PEDs.
Either way, Armstrong is the superior rider of his generation and deserves his wins and accolades.

This certainly feels like a witch hunt and I respect Armstrong more for stepping away from it after years and years of fighting. He is still an inspiration to Cancer survivors everywhere and hopefully he can focus more on raising money for that worthy endeavor.

And, hopefully, one of the groups like the UCI will continue to challenge this on the merits of the case. Hearsay should not overwhelm the tests. Now, if they were able to test his blood and urine again and this time, with today's technology, they found PEDs, I would be singing a slightly different tune (but, actually, not much). But unless or until that happens, I'm taking the dozens and hundreds of tests over the word of people who hate and envy Armstrong every day.

August 20, 2012

I Just Don't Get Suicide

I simply do not understand suicide. While I have been fairly low at certain times in my life, especially dealing with chronic health conditions for years, I have never once even contemplated taking my own life. For as cynical as I am, for as world-weary as I act, I am basically a fairly hopeful person, and I'm sure that helps.

What I do not understand about suicide is simple: as long as there is life, there is hope. As long as you are alive, there is the chance for something to change, to evolve, and new opportunities to come your way. If you are dead, those chances are gone. Zilch.

Suicide, to me, seems like an awfully selfish act. You are, in my eyes, telling your friends and family, your coworkers and acquaintances, that they are have nothing to offer you, they have no hope of understanding you or your state, and that they cannot help you in any way whatsoever. Actually, you are actively taking away their chance to help you, and leaving them with nothing but regrets, questions, and anger. I guess I have an incredible set of friends and family, coworkers and acquaintances, because I simply know that they can help me with anything that comes along. And they have, repeatedly. And I have helped them whenever I could.

Suicide seems like an awfully lonely act, too. You do not often hear of a suicide committing the act in front of another person or a group of people in an intimate setting. I guess, on occasion, some people commit "suicide by cop," or drive the wrong way down a highway until they hit someone, but those seem rare to me. Most suicides go somewhere lonely, away from others, and do it quietly. I would even argue that those who go into public to commit suicide are the closest to being stopped, or the least convinced (subconsciously) that the act is the right thing to do, because they are surrounding themselves with people who might talk them out of it or physically stop them. Why else go into public where any number of people can stop you?

The vast majority of the world holds Judeo-Christian/Abrahamic beliefs, being predominantly Christian or Muslim. Throw in Jews and the various "Unitarian" style religions (that predominately follow Judeo-Christian belief structures) and you have approximately 55-60% of the entire world's population covered. And in every case, suicide is considered one of the most dire of sins. (Yes, even in Islam. Look it up.) Hinduism is also negative toward suicide, feeling that it is without purpose, and it makes up approximately another 13% of the world's population.  How is it that so many people still commit suicide when their belief system tells them not to? How could people in these low points of their life not seek out their religious leaders and ask for help, when they know that their religion frowns on these acts (at best) or considers it something that will cost them their eternal reward (at worst)?

No one who knows me well would accuse me of empathy. There are certain emotional reactions and situations that I simply do not understand and have trouble "getting." Yet I've had a couple of friends who have said that I "saved" them from their lowest points. Neither said the word suicide, but it was strongly implied. Apparently my strong conviction in life, in change, in opportunity swayed them to hold on a while longer and something positive happened. I once had a teacher tell me that an off-hand comment I made to him caused him to rethink his direction, lose over 100 lbs, get into better shape, and get a much better attitude.

I guess my point here is that you never know where that life-changing, mind-altering affirmation of YOU is going to come from. It might even come from that totally-lacking-in-empathy friend/acquaintance you have who has totally missed any and all clues that you are low and sinking lower. It might come from a close loved one, a bumper sticker, a religious intervention, or from a strange, unexpected other source. But, if you aren't there to receive it, it will be wasted. Why not hold on and see what's around the bend?