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What I Read: 2011

December 31st, 2011 | Et Cetera

Unfortunately I didn’t keep track of books as I read them, so I had to assemble this list in retrospect. As such, it may be revised as I remember other things. Unreserved recommendations are in bold, but should not be interpreted as slights against other books. As you’ll see, if I’d followed through on my illustration project, I’d have a lot of illustrations now. Maybe next year?

FICTION
Alexie, Sherman. Indian Killer.
Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman.
Banks, Russel. Lost Memory of Skin.
Carver, Raymond. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (part)
Davidson, Lionel. Under Plum Lake.
Coupland, Douglas. Player One.
Eggers, Dave. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Evans, Nicholas. The Brave.
Franzen, Jonathan. Freedom.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Handler, Daniel. Adverbs. (part)
Jin, Ha. Waiting.
Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth.
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace.
Mamet, David. Oleanna.
Mamet, David. The Old Religion.
Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore.
Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Powers, Richard. Galatea 2.2
Russo, Richard. Empire Falls.
Russo, Richard. That Old Cape Magic.
Scott, Joanna. Make Believe.
Shakespeare, William “The Bard.” King Lear.
Snicket, Lemony. The Bad Beginning.
Wolff, Tobias. Our Story Begins. (part)
Yu, Charles. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

Favorite fiction book this year: Empire Falls. This book will keep influencing my work for a long time, I think. Strong sense of place and good character interaction.

Least favorite fiction book this year: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I can’t begin listing the myriad problems with this book. I still can’t believe I read the whole thing. Read Victor Lodato’s Mathilda Savitch instead.

NON-FICTION
Atwood, Margaret. In Other Worlds. (part)
Brunetti, Ivan. Cartooning.
Berlioz, Hector. Evenings with the Orchestra. (part)
Decker, Kevin S. et al. Star Trek and Philosophy. (part)
Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus.
Mauro, James. Twilight at the World of Tomorrow.
Ross, Alex. Listen to This. (part)
Schumacher, Michael. Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics.
Steinberg, Avi. Running the Books.

Favorite non-fiction this year: Twilight at the World of Tomorrow is full of entertaining characters and enthusiasm drawn from the historic 1939 World’s Fair. I really enjoyed it.

Least favorite non-fiction this year: Hector Berlioz’s diatribes against Chinese music in Evenings with the Orchestra. Debussy, a few years later, would find much inspiration in the same stuff Berlioz dismissed out-of-hand. (The book isn’t bad overall though.)

COMICS
Brunetti, Ivan (ed.). Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories v. 2.
Clowes, Daniel. Ice Haven.
Clowes, Daniel. Wilson.
Cotter, Joshua W. Skyscrapers of the Midwest.
Eisner, Will. The Contract With God Trilogy.
Herge. Tintin and the Picaros. (read before)
Herge. Tintin: Castafiore Emerald, The. (read before)
Herge. Tintin: Flight 714. (read before)
Herge. Tintin in Tibet. (read before)
Hines, Adam. Duncan the Wonder Dog v. 1.
Karasik, Paul et al. City of Glass.
Mazzuchelli, David. Asterios Polyp. (read before)
Novgorodoff, Danica. Slow Storm.
Ottaviani, Jim et al. Feynman.
Powell, Nate. Any Empire.
Powell, Nate. Swallow Me Whole.
Shaw, Dash. Bottomless Belly Button.

Sikoryak, R. Masterpiece Comics.
Tardi, Jacques. Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec v. 1.
Thompson, Craig. Blankets.
Thompson, Craig. Habibi.
Thompson, Richard. Cul de Sac Treasury.
Ward, Lynd. Six Novels in Woodcuts v. 1
Ware, Chris. Acme Novelty Library #20 (“Lint”).

Favorite comics this year: Swallow Me Whole. Beautiful art and a haunting story of two children with schizophrenia.

Least favorite comics this year: Slow Storm. Not bad exactly, but the art’s a little muddy and the story kind of disjointed. It’s a debut, though, and Ms. Novgorodoff certainly has potential. Also frustrating: Craig Thompson’s ill-advised epic Habibi.

Sunrise Covers Breakdown

November 13th, 2011 | Comics, Et Cetera, Sunrise

Sunrise covers

Size of dot reflects character’s proximity to camera. Orange line indicates the character’s duration within the series. Characters who never appeared on a cover: Stephenson and Ritchie.

Color swatches show basic palette of cover art. Apparently the best way to imitate a Sunrise cover would be to use a lot of gray, a little sky blue, and desaturated colors.

Monitor-Switching Hotkeys for GNOME

October 25th, 2011 | Et Cetera, Tutorial

I just set up something really convenient for myself and I have to share it, though it’s somewhat outside of the normal scope of this blog. I use a laptop that’s normally connected to a full-size monitor, so I often have to switch between two different monitor configurations–kind of a hassle. But not anymore, because now I can switch using hotkeys. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Get the monitor config tool “ArandR” ($ sudo apt-get install arandr)
  2. Use it to create and save two monitor configurations, one for the laptop and one for the main screen. These configuration files are actually shell scripts.
  3. Run gconf-editor and navigate to apps/metacity/keybinding_commands. Set the values of two commands to the paths to your shell scripts. (i.e., /path/to/script.sh)
  4. In apps/metacity/global_keybindings, set the hotkey combination for the commands you just set.
  5. Enjoy easy monitor configuration!

Thanks to this tutorial for showing how to set the hotkeys. Note that this uses Metacity, so it will not work if running other window managers, such as Compiz.

The Stupidest Person in the World

October 13th, 2011 | Et Cetera

the one and only

Speed: 65 MPH.  Following Distance: 3 ft. Observed October 13, 2011, CT-95 N.

Free Indy!

July 6th, 2011 | Et Cetera

Free Indy!

The character of Indiana Jones has become ingrained in our culture to the point of becoming an archetype in and of himself. His very name has become a part of our lexicon, representing far-flung and wild adventure of the highest degree. He is a cultural touchstone; a symbol so familiar that even those who have not seen his movies have at least a vague idea of what he represents.

With all that he’s come to mean, it seems incongruous to realize how small his repertoire actually is: while there are innumerable tie-ins, there are only four actual films in the Indy canon. With Harrison Ford aging and the intellectual property rights tightly in the clutches of Spielberg and Lucas, it seems unlikely that there will be any more. Given the dismal quality of the most recent installment, that is arguably a good thing. Perhaps it is for the best if the franchise is allowed to quietly die rather than to allow George Lucas to continue blundering along and ruining things.

Or perhaps it is time to turn the character over to someone who might know what to do with him. Here’s the thing: Spielberg and Lucas have created a character who’s bigger than they are. While both are seminal directors who’ve created many influential franchises, Indy has uniquely captured our society’s imagination in a way that few fictional characters ever do. Others enjoying this degree of recognition include Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, both of whom have been featured in many works of art produced by many different people. In terms of their potential for reinterpretation, these characters are so unfettered they make Indy look downright quaint.

Sherlock Holmes has been around for a relatively long time, and as such he has passed out of copyright. No one owns the character, and thus he has taken on a life of complete freedom. Anyone can write a new Holmes story. Anyone with the resources to do so can create a Holmes movie. The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as “the most portrayed movie character,” having appeared in over 211 films and played by 75 different actors. Holmes, like Indy, is part of our collective consciousness, but more importantly, the character himself belongs to anyone who wants him. He is free.

James Bond, by comparison, seems like small beans, having been portrayed by six actors in 23 films, but his case is still worth examination. While Bond is still under copyright (meaning his usage is still controlled by various interested parties), his canon of movies is vast and varied. It is, in fact, so inconsistent that fans are obliged to come up with original theories to improve its coherence.  As the franchise has been open to new influences, Bond, while not technically free, is free enough to allow extensive reinterpretation. And, yes, some of the Bond films are considered inferior to others and dismissed even by some of his fans. Any large series is going to have a few stinkers.

Which brings me back to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy’s newest movie. We won’t try to sugarcoat this: it’s terrible. There was some classic Indy action, yes, but also all kinds of Erich von Daniken silliness, bad CGI, annoying characters, bombproof refrigerators, and that scene with the monkeys. With only four Indy movies, it stands out as a weak link in an otherwise strong series. Some people would also nominate Temple of Doom for this position. That makes an overall success rate of only 50%–not very impressive.

Now here’s the thought experiment: what if, instead of restricting Indy to being played by one actor and managed by the same two jokers, he was opened to a wider audience of creators? Imagine if, instead of four movies, there were many, all produced by different people, with little or no oversight from the original creators. Some would be as bad as Kingdom. Some would even be worse than Kingdom, no sense in denying that. Some, however, would be fresh and enjoyable additions to the body of work. And some, dare I say it, might be so novel and daring that they would overshadow the originals.

We will call this “the democratization of Indiana Jones.” (People take ideas more seriously if they have pretentious names.) Indy is so ubiquitous that it seems only fitting that the opportunity to write his stories should be extended to others. At the very least he should be partially freed like James Bond. Ideally he would be completely freed like Sherlock Holmes. Indiana Jones is alive in our hearts, corny as that sounds, and it’s high time that he was liberated from his dusty tomb. He does not belong in a museum.

Disclaimer: I have not seen Temple of Doom, nor any Bond movies, so opinions on those topics are based on original research. Post any and all complaints to the comments section and I will do my best to address them.

Help prevent fan abuse

June 16th, 2011 | Et Cetera

All publicity is good publicity. – P.T. Barnum

Poor, dumb Harry

I’m a bit late to the game on this, but I still feel the need to say something, because this is important. The issue is this: fans are being abused. The history is long and familiar: fans create derivative works, and copyright holders force a takedown. Granted, much fan-produced work is of little interest to others, but occasionally fans produce strong, original content that seizes the attention of the rest of the fanbase. These works present the source material in arresting and creative ways, building on the original while not detracting from it. As many have pointed out, these “derivative works” should be protected under the “fair use” exception, and yet copyright holders persist in ordering takedowns of fan-produced works, claiming infringement.

This hurts everyone–including the copyright holder. I will elaborate.

What led me to write about this was the expulsion of SF Debris from YouTube. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Chuck “SF Debris” Sonnenburg is an amateur reviewer of Star Trek episodes (among other things) and has for several years been creating video reviews using his trademark combination of silly jokes and insightful analysis. Prior to the takedown, he had posted reviews of over a hundred episodes of Trek on YouTube, including multi-part reviews of all the films through First Contact. Unfortunately, as Sonnenburg uses clips from the shows to illustrate his points, CBS views him as being no better than a pirate, and effectively forced him to remove his entire archive–the product of years of work–from YouTube.

While Sonnenburg is in the process of transferring to blip.tv, which attempts to protect its users from these kinds of claims, this nonetheless is a setback for him, as he now has to reprocess all these clips before he can bring them online again. This is also unfortunate from the standpoint of his fans, because we no longer have access to most of his archive. And, finally, this is bad for CBS, too. Here is what the studio fails to realize: fans are providing free advertising. I first found Sonnenburg’s work while looking for information regarding Voyager‘s most notorious episode, the infamous “Threshold.” (In which Tom violates the laws of physics, turns into a salamander, and has salamander babies with the  captain.) Sonnenburg had already posted a three-part review of the stinker at that point, and I was delighted by it. Naturally I began watching more of his reviews, and as I did so I was reminded of the fact that, flawed though it is, I actually kind of like Voyager. Suffice it to say I have since bought three seasons of the show (3, 4, and 6, which my research leads me to believe to have the best good/bad episode ratio). I likely would not have done so if not for these reviews.

When fans produce derivative works, they are not violating a copyright. They are celebrating the source material, and this can only lead to good things for the copyright holder. Fans are a precious, precious commodity, and persecuting them is perhaps the stupidest thing a creator can do. By eliminating sources of discussion within the fan base, they risk destroying the fan base altogether, and the fan base is, of course, where the money comes from. Honestly, who else is going to buy old episodes of Voyager anymore?

I will continue tuning into blip.tv every Saturday to see the new SF Debris reviews. I have faith that they will continue to be funny and insightful even as the Star Trek franchise continues its forty-year nosedive. And if CBS has a change of heart and allows him back onto YouTube, and they make more money thereby… too good for ‘em, I say.

about.me Profile

May 10th, 2011 | Et Cetera

It’s unusual for me to sign up for these kinds of things, so I thought I might as well note that I’ve set up an about.me profile. I dunno. It seemed like it might be a good way to improve the search ranking of my website, and it does seem like an interesting way to unify disparate internet accounts, although I have accounts at precious few of the sites they support. (I do have accounts at YouTube and Vimeo, but it seems silly to attach those to the profile since the only thing at them is Barnacle Bert.)

Anyway, the link, if anyone is curious: http://about.me/john.allie

I’ll add more nonsense to it later.

The End of an Era

April 1st, 2011 | Changelog, Et Cetera

Old Avatar

Well, after using the above image as my online avatar for years, I’ve decided it’s finally time to change. It’s nothing against you personally, Rustosaurus the Mondrian Fan… I still think you’re quite charming, actually. I just don’t feel that you really represent me all that well anymore, especially since redesigns to the website have made it more and more distant from your example. So, with a heavy heart and a sense of tradition violated, I now begin the transition to the following:

New avatar

The Rustosaurus is dead! Long live the Rustosaurus!

New studio arrangements

March 20th, 2011 | Artwork, Et Cetera

New drafting table

I’ve finally taken it upon myself to upgrade my workspace in some fashion, and yesterday I assembled and set up my new drafting table. It’s bigger than the old one, and has a glass surface instead of cardboard (it originally had a wooden surface, but it was too scratched-up to use). The lamp underneath the table allows it to double as a light box, which is something I rarely use, but it will be nice to have the ability now. I also bit the bullet and ordered some more bristol board, which I will now use for Sunrise as well as Realm. That’s a new page of Sunrise you can see on the table. In summation, good improvements all around… hopefully they’ll have a positive effect on the work!

I do believe it's Pi Day!

March 14th, 2011 | Comics, Et Cetera, Realm, Sunrise

That means three things:

  1. Realm chapter 1 is now available to be read online.
  2. The Zarks, which I invented while drawing on a half-hour car trip, are now nine years old.
  3. The area of a circle is equal to the radius squared times 3.14159265358979323846264 . That is the extent to which I memorized it when I was in my teens. Yes, I know what Toothpaste for Dinner says. I make no apologies for the actions of my teenage self.

Tomorrow a new issue of Sunrise will begin, in honor of the ides of March I guess.