When did the comics get all serious?

February 14, 2008

Penny Arcade 02-08-08

One of my favorite webcomics is Penny Arcade, written and illustrated by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. The content material focuses mainly on video games, the gaming industry, and the gamer sub-culture. However, over the past year or two some more serious topics have come up, as the characters have, gasp, grown up a bit…. Click the strip above for a larger, more legible version.

Funky Winkerbean Landmines

Some of my favorite “real” paper comics tackle serious issue too. Funky Winkerbean, a strip I have read for many years, recently “killed off” a character, and reset the entire clock on the comic. All of the characters have been fast-forwarded 15 years or so, and their lives moved further into adulthood accordingly. Throughout however, Batiuk has covered topics like teen pregnancy, adoption, and U.S. servicemen returning home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries.

Doonesbury - Uncle DukeDoonesbury is always high on my list, but we have always expected serious topics from Gary Trudeau. His own characters are now dealing with issues like the massive number of brain trauma injuries to soldiers serving in Iraq, the elections, and the current administration. Trudeau’s characters are iconic, maybe none more so than Uncle Duke, the character based in part on late “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

Trudeau ‘s cast has aged gracefully, at the same time introducing new cast members to introduce us all to the new issues of today. He even has a blog for U. S. Soldiers serving in the middle east called The Sandbox. Here’s a great Washington Post article on Trudeau. I am still mystified as to why his web site is still on Slate. It’s so…. 1999.

Jeremy - ZitsZits features Jeremy Duncan, a now 16 year old aspiring rock musician, and his parents, “who don’t understand anything. The fanciful ways that the strip bends and distorts reality reminds me very much of Calvin and Hobbes. The character often morphs into younger, older, zanier versions of himself, much like Calvin. I cannot express, now that I have my own near-teenage son, how much I can relate to Jeremy’s gigantic feet. Have you priced sneakers lately?

A newer comic with great characters, including an always smoking version of the creator, is Stephan Pastis’ Pearls before Swine. The characters are flawed, but lovable, and if you look closely you will see a lot of subtle gems hidden amongst the simpler humor. Here is today’s strip, for Valentines Day: Pearls - 02-14-08

Charlie Brown - Schultz I have a very soft spot in my heart for Calvin and Hobbes, likely the best strip ever, and I also love Peanuts, but I have left them off of my list for one simple reason – they are not being drawn today. While both are incredible works, but the one thing I like most about the comics is tomorrow’s strip, the promise of a continued relationship. What is goingt to happen to our friends? Will it be a light day, or a grave day? We know these characters, check up on them every day.

Like real life, the comics tug at our heart strings, and invite us along on great and wonderful adventures.

But do they always have to be so darn serious?

Debunking the tin foil hat theorists…

February 11, 2008

There has been so much speculation for the past two weeks about the many fiber optic telecommunications cables being cut in the middle east, including here, that someone wrote a Wikipedia Article about the disruptions and the theories surrounding those breaks.

My own speculation led me to consider the soon to open Iranian Oil Bourse as a motive for these disruptions. In fairness though, I did also mention James Bond like spies, and The Incredible Mr. Limpet as possible suspects in the outage too. But if you must, go ahead and color me a tin foil hat weirdo. I am guilty, I guess.

As a techie, I still find it odd that so many cables in the area went down concurrently. Original reports had Iran 100% down, and that was incorrect. It certainly made me reconsider sources for future links.

I think that this has been an interesting experiment in media studies for me – seeing how much speculation and chaos could come from a bunch of nerds wondering why something broke. The bigger issue is that the speculation itself became a bigger story than the original outages. I am still getting several hundred hits a day on the postings from this story.

Because of all this, I learned a lot about the Iranian Oil Bourse, or commodities market. This is a very big story on it’s own, and is definitely worth learning something about. It of course has had very little mention in the U.S. media, despite how much it may change (or not) our economy, and the oil market globally.

Yours in the brotherhood of weirdness,

the (still) inquisitive techie

It's a Conspiracy!

Is graffiti art?

February 10, 2008

Banksy - Flowers

If you are familiar with the guerilla artist Banksy, you may be willing to believe that graffiti can be art. Banksy is a London based artist whose canvas is the streets of London, Paris, and the world. His most recent work has shown up on the streets of LA, and he is nothing, if not controversial.

Banksy - DoctorsBanksy‘s topical commentaries on globalism, capitalism, and politics, as twisted by his absolutely wicked sense of sarcasm, make up his extraordinary work. While, most graffiti, by comparison, seems to blot out, or stamp over almost every surface it covers, these paintings almost seem to have been “slipped into” the landscape.

Banksy has had works on display at the British Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitian Museum in NY city, as well as many other top world galleries – as “pranks”, or essentially, as graffiti. Most museums, upon discovering these already displayed works, have simply added them directly into their permanent collections. I am not sure that happened at Disneyland however.

After looking at Banksy’s works, it’s hard not to acknowledge the possibilities of graffiti as art, but can it change the world?

Watch Banksy at work in Palestine, tagging the Israeli West Bank Barrier Wall.

Ten Things that I HATE about Windows Vista

February 9, 2008

Windows Vista Logo

Yesterday’s question of the day over on Gizmodo was What don’t you like about Vista? This question tickled my fancy , since I thought, well, because… I HATE VISTA. I truly do. But I don’t feel badly, even Bill Gates hates Vista!

As a Microsoft consultant, I was an early adopter, first using Vista in beta, figuring I would need to, since it was inevitable, and that soon all PC’s would ship with Vista, like every new Microsoft OS before it had. The increased hardware requirements didn’t effect me, since as a gamer I generally only have a PC for a year or so, and my hardware is relatively current. I was set to go.

So I installed Windows Vista Home Premium, the 64 bit version. I used all new hardware to build the PC, and followed a standard hardware configuration I have used previously. My hardware list is important here as a control group factor, because I’ve built this same basic configuration in easily a dozen PC’s, both for myself, family, and clients, and it works.

Once installed, Vista proclaimed its temperate love for my new configuration by giving me a low, 5.4 out of 6.0 rating on my Windows Vista Experience rating (that sounds like and IMAX ride). My one low score was on my wimpy, dual core 3.3 gig processor. OK, there are quad cores out, so I figure I’m still OK. All my other hardware rated at 5.8 out of 6.0 or higher, with my video card and memory at 5.9. The Total Score rating seems to be based solely on your lowest score of the 5 components rated. It’s definitely NOT an average.

The latest incarnation of my PC includes the following basic hardware:

  • A Gigabyte M61P-AM2 Motherboard,
  • 4 Gigs of Corsair XMS2 – DDR2 800 memory
  • An AMD Athlon 6000+x2 Processor
  • An eVGA 8600GTS 512 MB GDDR3 video card

Wrap that in a $40 Cooler Master case, a $20 DVD burner and $75 SATA hard drive, a $75 power supply of your choice, and you have… The Ultimate $600 Gaming Machine. That’s another article though…

Every hardware fanboy will recognize not only these brands, but likely the specific models of these parts. I picked all of the from the Customer Choice Award Winners list at NewEgg.com. These were ALL best sellers, most with thousands of happy purchasers to their credit, before I bought them. I run the same configuration with Windows XP, and Fedora Core, with no problems. Ever.

At first I chalked it all up to being Beta. Who can bitch about beta software? The release version was worse, and it keeps getting worse. Here are the most obvious things that I can think of that I don’t like. Your own results many vary. These things have all plagued me from the day I got the product, and still plague my installation. Most I have given up fixing, and I am waiting for an open platform version of Mac OS.

Please add your own dislikes and grumblings in the comments at the end: Read the rest of this entry »

The Ultimate $600 Gaming Machine

February 9, 2008

I was writing another article, and I had to make a hardware list of my PC inventory. I realized that I have refined my gaming machines down to a standard set of parts over the years, that I buy the same basic list now, and it all costs less than $700. Actually, about $680.

I buy all my hardware from NewEgg.com, and every part I select is usually from their Customer Choice Award Winners list. This list is rated by the buyers of the hardware,. My logic is that if everyone else likes the parts, they will work for me. This method of picking hardware has served me very well for almost 10 years now, and I now have few hardware issues. I can also choose my price point for each hardware item, and then choose the highest rated parts for that price on the newegg site, which made it easier to write this.

So here’s the list, and where necessary a few notes. I have posted this as a Public Wish List at NewEgg. Oh, and I don’t make any money from newegg, but I like their service and return policies. Great pricing too.

Gigbyte M61P AM2 Motherboard – $75 - Gigabyte makes solid motherboards and better AMD motherboards, reasonably priced ones.

4 Gigs of Gskill DDR2 800mhz memory – $90 – GSkill makes great gaming memory – cheap gaming memory too. 4 gigs will be enough for any game you play.

AMD Athlon 6000+x2 Processor – $160 – dual core 3.3 gig processors. low wattage, great series for gamers. Comparable Intel Processor -

eVGA 8600GTS 256 MB GDDR3 video card – $140 – This is a great, low price point, 256 MB Nvidia 8000 series card. It will run almost any game you can buy at the highest settings, runs DirectX 10, and is well under $200. Nice.

Rosewill RP550-2 ATX12V v2.01 550W Power Supply – $70 – This power supply delivers 550 watts, quietly and consistently, with a cool blue lighted fan.

Cooler Master case – $40 – This case has great ventilation, can be set up with almost no tools, and is pretty sharp. It is also roomy and will hold additional drives and equipment if you would like.

$30 SATA – DVD Burner of your choice (I picked a nice Samsung one on my list)

$75 250 Gig SATA 3.0 gig HD. These items are fairly easy to find if you want to add HD space or more drives. required case under $50.

You can mix this up a bit by adding a sound card, for better sound, or a better graphics card. The key here is that you can build a great gaming machine for under $700 – one with a nVidia 8000 series video card, 4 gig of RAM, and a dual core 3.3 gigahertz processor.

Let me know what you think, and if you have any questions drop me a line.

Good Luck.

Follow the the underwater cable story over at Digg.com

February 7, 2008

This is the kind of coincidence that turns tinfoil into hats.

read more | digg story

Cable Cut Mania!

February 7, 2008

Only a bunch of techies could get whipped into a frenzy by the Internet going down – in Iran. As I have mentioned, and many others have mentioned, several undersea cables in the middle east have been cut. While many think this odd, and worthy of interest, and perhaps suspicious, others have gone a bit farther. This person seems to have been researching this since the first cable cut over a week ago, and these guys have lots of charts!

While I for one am skeptical about the likelihood of this many cables going down concurrently, I am however, awaiting judgment on it’s role in any number of nefarious world domination schemes. Here’s a cool chart of the Internet’s Undersea World,, and an old soviet era underground sub base you could use in case you wanted to build your own undersea lair.

Some folks are less than thrilled with the The Internet Traffic Report site that many (including) myself have used to determine Iran’s Internet availability. There are many .ir sites that are still functional.

The one scheme I am holding out for is the disruption of the opening of the Iranian Oil Bourse. Read this bold proclamation by the Iranian Finance Minister about the opening of the long delayed Bourse, complete with predictions of doom for the United States Economy, on a .ir site that is up.

The new oil market will be the first outside of the US or London, and will not trade in dollars, but will base its trades on the Euro, dealing a blow to the dollar. The opening of the Bourse has reportedly been delayed again by the recent outages, one of many in a long series of delays for the Bourse.

One could see many interests in the U.S. not wanting the Bourse to open. couldn’t they? Anyone who has read anything about Peak Oil would be a little suspicious.

… or maybe it was this guy:

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

The Internet is broken for much of Asia and the Middle East. Oh yeah, and ALL of Iran.

February 6, 2008

TV Test PatternI just dugg an article linked from engadget. It seems that all of Iran, and much of Asia, have lost their Internet connection. Look at the real time Internet Traffic Report for Asia. Iran has been at 0% response time, and 100% packet loss for days.

From the engadget article: “For the fourth time in a week, an undersea communications cable has apparently been cut (or “failed due to a power outage,” as some sources suggest), and while no official reports of subversion have surfaced just yet, things are beginning to get suspicious.” The New York Times first reported these outages back on January 31st.

An article in the Khaleej Times reports that there have actually been FIVE major undersea cable outages since January 23rd, all which can likely be attributed to ships dragging anchors while fighting rough weather.

So here’s one small thing that bugs me – the reality is that undersea cables don’t break that often, they do break often I guess – see below. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for undersea cable, there have been a few accidental breaks in the past few years, but only a few over many years, or at least as noted in this article.

Therefore, it seems a logical conclusion is that no huge multinational conglomerate telco, like Flag Telecom, would spend hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, over 17 years, to install a massive global communications network to the Middle East, and install cable in a manner that would easily break, or be snagged. Undersea cable is simply too expensive to install, and even more expensive to repair. The likelihood of five ships dragging anchors into five cables in five days seems slim, doesn’t it? Here’s a link on Alacatel’s site that shows how they BURY undersea cable when they install it.

Cable piracy is a new phenomenon, according to the International Cablemakers Federation. There have been reports of undersea cables being “un-installed” in the South China Sea. In Vietnam young thieves have caused millions of dollars in damage to communications networks while stealing telecom cable for scrap.

On a creepier note, Ziff Davis reported way back in 2001 that spy agencies had shifted their intelligence gathering efforts to these underseas networks. One person at ilovebonnie.net points out that there are interesting disparities in the geography in reports regarding the cable outages.

Whatever happens here, it just reminds me that the Internet that we all take for granted now could be removed from our lives very quickly, and succinctly, with must a few snips, and a few power switches thrown. The pirates in Asia simply took cable, and caused weeks long outages. No technical experience required for this position.

Half a continent and a few countries were just bounced off the Internet altogether, for reasons yet to be determined, in just a few days time. I am certain that the estimated 10,000,000 internet users in Iran, and the governing powers of all nations determining their fate, are now fully aware of the suddenness of this outage, and its potentially larger long term consequences.

Update: ABC NEWS has come out with their theory on this, and it seems to make the most sense. Outages in undersea cables are fairly common it seems. The reason that we don’t hear about them more often is that there is a large amount of redundancy in data networks, and the breaks don’t usually cause any delay in traffic, let alone outages here in the U.S.

Internet traffic in the middle east is routed through several single cables, each susceptible to total failure, unlike most of the remainder of the Internet. Could this whole problem be poor network design, and a weaker Internet in a developing area of the world? Time will tell.

Improv Everywhere Rocks

February 2, 2008

Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. they have executed over 70 missions involving thousands of undercover “agents”. The performance art group is based in New York City, and despite their grumblings, has shown to be one of the best examples of/inspirations for the flash mob scene. Here is a New York Times article on the group.

Their “missions” just keep getting funnier and more creative. Check out the No Shirts mission to Abercrombie and Fitch, or the Slo-Mo Home Depot mission. One of my favorites was the Best Buy mission, since I shop there a lot.

It’s fascinating to see a group of people tweak the establishment in such creative ways. Note the reaction shots of the crowds lured into being part of the stunts as some people discover the prank, some join in, and some never get it. Getting a crowd in New York to stop, call their friends, and say “you will never believe what I am seeing” is a feat in itself.

Oh, and when I said that Improv Everywhere rocks, I meant it.

Have computer games become an alternate reality?

February 1, 2008

Second Skin is a movie about people who play MMORPG‘s, or Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (whew.)

They suffer addictions, fall in love, make money, and form communities complete with leaders and laws. Many spend more time in their alternate identities than they do in real life.

Did you know that there are people who were making a living by farming in the virtual world in 2005. Huh?

People spending 24 hours online playing a game is not unheard of. You can still see hundreds of characters and World of Warcraft Gold for sale on ebay for $9.99.

Heres 10 Ways that online gaming will change the world. This is a great article on the subject, and how quickly this phenomenon has grown, and will continue to grow.

If you know anyone that plays one of these games – talk to them about it. Ask them how much they play. Find out if they have any friends online, and how close these friends are, and how often they communicate.

Find out if your friends spend a lot of money playing games online. Most importantly, ask them why they like to play, and what they like about the game or games that they play. Soon you may be asking them to walk your avatar to the mall to go shopping at Armani.


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