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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.

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 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.