Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Comic Book Report: Therefore, Repent!

Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. Minor spoilers ahead...

The premise of this graphic novel is instantly engaging: some time ago, a significant portion of Earth's human population ascended skyward, apparently fulfilling the Biblical prophecy of Rapture. Some of the Christians left behind believe they're being tested, and are waiting for a second rapture event to join their fellow faithful. For most people, not much has changed, except that there appear to be armed angels roaming around, and magic is now real.

The story revolves around the relationship between Raven and Mummy, a couple who wear masks to make open commentary about the state of the world. They arrive in Chicago, take up residence in an apartment whose former occupants disappeared in the Rapture, and do their best to fit in. Then their dog starts talking, and things just get weirder from there. But in a good way.

The trouble with this book is the ending. The whole story is divided into six chapters, and the first five are pretty much contiguous, time-wise. But then an entire month passes between the end of chapter five and the beginning of chapter six, and some non-trivial plot developments occur during that time. I might have been okay with that if the resolution had been entirely character-focused, but the big finale is a single expository chunk that explains everything about the world. Really. It's a huge letdown after such a great start.

On the bright side, the nuanced black-and-white art is great to look at, and it's definitely worth a read, if only to reinforce the lesson that even the best story idea can be diminished by poor execution. The entire book was released under Creative Commons, and you can read it online. There's also a sequel.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Playing to Lose

I spent a good chunk of tonight at Vendetta, where local radio personalities Cort and Fatboy hosted the bi-weekly Portland Geek Trivia contest. I'm proud to say that I got every single goddamn Star Trek question correct, but I never had any illusions about my chances of winning the grand prize: a trip to San Diego Comic-Con, including passes, airfare, and hotel. (I did, however, sit at the same table as the big winner, Chris Walsh, and his stunned reaction after the announcement was priceless.)

The contest was divided into three rounds of twenty questions each. Teams were allowed, but only solo players could compete for the grand prize, and everyone at my table wanted that trip, so I was on my own. I had fun, but this is not how I prefer to play live trivia events, and here's why:

I'd rather play on a team, not just because more people are likely to know more of the answers among them, but because the discussion over ambiguous answers is a big part of the fun for me. I actually like it more when nobody knows the correct answer to a question, and we all have to make an effort to reason it out using incomplete subject matter knowledge. (This is probably also why I enjoy puzzle hunts.)

As an activity, it's not very interesting if you're just filling in the blanks with things that you pulled out of your brain, and which anyone could have found with a single Google search. It's more of a challenge when the correct answer is the result of some in-depth research, making a web lookup infeasible, and your only option is to deduce a reasonable answer from the given clues. (For example: given four John Williams movie scores, identify the one which did NOT win an Oscar. Unless you have encyclopedic knowledge of Academy Awards history, you'd have to take an educated guess.)

Back in the bay area, I competed for several years running in Project READ's annual Trivia Bee. I was on a team with some fellow Googlers, including a former Jeopardy! champion and a man who was, at one time, banned from comics trivia competition. We never won, but we were raising money for a good cause, and some of my favorite moments involved my teammates arguing about whether "Alaska" was the correct answer to a variety of geography questions.

Of course, from a purely competitive standpoint, it's better to just know the answers outright. I scored 20%, 40%, and 25% in each round tonight, respectively, which wasn't enough to place or win anything. But I was playing for the fun of it--hanging out with friends, enjoying free cake, pirate-people-watching, etc. And when I didn't know an answer, I did my best to supply an entertaining placeholder, so the folks scoring my sheet might at least get a laugh out of it. (Full name of character "Tetsuo" from anime film Akira? No idea... Tetsuo J. Smith, Esq.?)

Thank you and good night!


SnoutCast #22: "Fudge, Food, and Feedback"

We have listener mail! And then, for a change, instead of games, we discuss DeeAnn's fudge and other culinary topics. Vive la différence!

[ Download mp3 - 33 MB ]

00:00 - Extended Teaser™: Listener Mail! (re: "The Trouble with Music Clues")
01:03 - "Player" clue from Google puzzle hunt 2007
04:55 - being WRONG on the Internet
05:47 - "Mix Tape" clue from Microsoft Intern Game 2007
07:42 - "tasteful"
09:12 - Curtis suggests titles for DeeAnn's nonexistent cooking show
10:15 - the fudge report from contest winners Corby & Brett
11:41 - what's in the fudge?
14:21 - insert your own "toasted, buttery, salty nuts" joke here
15:48 - DeeAnn tells you how to make fudge!
21:19 - how to get Gamers to cook? maybe?
22:45 - estimated $4 fudge in approximately 4 minutes
23:26 - segue to the dollar-a-day food dude
24:52 - DeeAnn's contributed recipes:26:48 - how to stack coupons and other grocery shopping tips
28:45 - the trouble with recipes
31:50 - the legend of the Jello Brownies
34:41 - Happy Independence Day!
35:43 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Baby Got Back," "Code Monkey," and "Skullcrusher Mountain" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sponsor me in the Clarion Write-a-Thon

Starting today and continuing through August 7th, I'm shooting for an average of 1,024 words per day on various projects. Read more and donate!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Life Goes On"

My dream cast for the Lifetime movie adaptation of this tale includes Kellie Martin as Fina and a digitized Alan Tudyk as Max. They'd have to find a new title, obviously, to avoid confusion and lawsuits.

Read "Life Goes On" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Comic Book Report: Blue Beetle: Boundaries

I got this book from the library because I'd liked writer Matthew Sturges' work on Jack of Fables and Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!. I'd seen a few issues of the new Blue Beetle reboot (now cancelled; sorry, Rogers) and hadn't been terribly impressed, but figured I'd give it another try.

Yeah. Still not impressed. There's nothing actually wrong with this book, and it's got some interesting elements built into the teenaged-superhero premise, but the pieces just didn't jell for me. Too much Spider-Man, not enough Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But props for name-checking some real science, even if there's a lot of hand-waving in the implementation.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Comic Book Report: Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 3: World's Most Wanted, Book 2

This is one hell of a good book. Now, I'm not actually a big Iron Man fan, so perhaps I was more predisposed than some "true believers" to enjoy this story arc, which focuses on some strong female supporting characters and a very atypical portrayal of Tony Stark. It also ends on a big cliffhanger, and while there's no real question as to what will eventually happen, I'm almost curious enough to start subscribing to the monthly title. Almost.

Side note: I was fortunate enough to see Matt Fraction at w00tstock 2.1, where he gave a great presentation about creating comics and his personal history with the medium. He might be giving a repeat performance at w00tstock 2.4 (San Diego Comic-Con) next month. If you're in the neighborhood, you'd be a fool not to check it out.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SnoutCast #21: "The Trouble with Music Clues"

Because we can't stop trying new things: this week's episode was recorded more or less live, with minimal editing, and we limited our topic discussion to twenty-three minutes.

[ Download mp3 - 26 MB ]

00:00 - promo teaser: GC Summit 2010 videos now online!
01:05 - "audible"
02:49 - live(ish) from Portland
04:15 - the Shinteki Decathlon 6 music clue, generally
06:47 - burying the lede, QED
08:36 - the garden-variety music clue: identify song, use meta-data
10:14 - a clever variation from Wonka(?) which required close listening
12:46 - "the internal clue"
13:55 - the limitations of musical meta-data
14:28 - we'll just call this "the pants premise"
17:42 - the two-part music CD clue from Paparazzi(?)
20:10 - the DASH 1 music puzzle
21:31 - DeeAnn's European Television Adventure
22:15 - #w00tstock
23:32 - it's all about the music, man
26:00 - upcoming events: Shinteki SF Scramble, Puzzle Pursuit San Diego, Can't Stop The Serenity (nationwide)
27:27 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "A Talk with George" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity"

The title of this week's story was my single favorite line of dialogue from the animated series TaleSpin. It was completely out of context even in the original episode, and that is why I love it.

Read "It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity" at 512 Words or Fewer


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Report: WWW:Wake

I have issues with Robert J. Sawyer.

He's a good writer, and he tells a good story, but sometimes his prose becomes a patchwork of pop-culture references bordering on fanfic-wink-wink: if you don't get what he's talking about from the quotation or oblique description, you're not in the club. And all too often, said references seem to be piled on gratuitously, simply to remind the reader that she should feel good about being in the club.

There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not my favorite style. Also, some of the expository chunks are blatantly look-at-my-research didactic; to Sawyer's credit, though, he always manages to stay below my OMG-teh-LameZors threshold, and I did learn quite a few things from this book.

A few final nitpicks: I'm pretty sure there's no way to actually visualize the whole Internet all at once, even theoretically; his Chinese dialogue is a heartbreakingly loose translation written by someone who clearly doesn't speak the language; and geez, could you make the last line any more of a cliffhanger?

All that said, it's a good read, and I'm curious how he's going to tie his disparate story threads together in the remainder of the trilogy. Here's what the man had to say for himself, last year at Google Waterloo:

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


SnoutCast #20: "Toys vs. Games"

In which we come to absolutely no useful conclusions whatsoever. But hey, if you wanted something informative, you'd be scouring the web for that article on puzzles which DeeAnn still can't find. Just sayin'.

[ Download mp3 - 23 MB ]

00:00 - feline teaser: introducing Tye!
01:26 - "thoughtful"
02:25 - DeeAnn still can't find that article
03:26 - Curtis attempts to define "toy" and "game"
04:29 - the Megaminx
05:39 - The Sims: toy or game?
07:03 - which Jeff starves a Sim (on purpose)
07:30 - ...and DeeAnn starves a Sim (by accident)
08:46 - using board game pieces as toys, in theory
09:45 - and what about playing cards?
11:14 - Celebrities: a "pure" game, arguably
12:44 - DeeAnn's definitions of "toy" and "game" are much more concise
13:50 - is there a "game threshold" for structured activities?
14:19 - ...not for DeeAnn, the living counter-example!
14:53 - referencing Jesse Schell's DICE talk
15:34 - ...and Chore Wars
16:50 - we have cat toys... are there cat games?
18:22 - what about D&D?
19:43 - re: our current campaign...
21:35 - misanthropy FTW
23:20 - we'll talk more about D&D later
23:50 - is this a festival of lame? You tell us!
24:58 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Shop Vac" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Dickly Departed"

It's in the Urban Dictionary, and that's good enough for me. But, um, just for the record: this usage is the first definition. The FIRST one!

Read "Dickly Departed" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Report: Drive

This made for an interesting companion book to Free, which I also read recently. Where Free looks at how businesses can make money off zero- or low-cost offerings, Drive investigates the other side of the coin: asking what motivates people to do things--often for free--which can be good for life as well as business.

The oft-repeated theme of Drive is the gap between "what science knows and what business does." And Pink puts his money where his mouth is--there are plenty of studies and research to back up his conclusions about "Motivation 3.0" and the things which can help any organization get the most out of its members; to wit, recognizing that people will work harder when they have autonomy and purpose, and in pursuit of mastery of a skill, than when they're just in it for the money.

At its core, Drive advocates dismantling traditional management structures in favor of more "bottom-up" team building. Open source software projects and Wikipedia are cited, as they were in Free, and Pink also discusses several of my former employer's initiatives, like 20% time, peer rewards, and 360-degree performance reviews. (Not all of those were as successful as they could have been, but that's another post.)

Read this book. If you're lacking in time or money, you can get many of the salient points from this excellent 11-minute video:

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Book Report: FREE

Anyone who spends any amount of time on the Internet already knows about many of the topics Wired editor Chris Anderson discusses in this book, and probably knows more about some of them. At less than 300 pages (including a sizable index and the business-book-obligatory "executive summary"), there's not much space to get very deep into any specific business model or case study.

One odd thing: the "free books" section mentions Neil Gaiman's American Gods giveaway experiment, but says nothing about Cory Doctorow's career-long habit of giving away all his books under Creative Commons, even though Anderson quotes directly from Doctorow later on and talks about the fictitious Whuffie economy depicted in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Maybe Cory's too much of an edge case?

Anyway, the publisher also offers a free, abridged audio book version--in exchange for your e-mail address. Which is ironic, since Anderson spends much of the book talking about removing roadblocks to the Internet's highly efficient, "near-zero marginal cost" of distribution. Maybe they've abridged that part out of the audio version.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

SnoutCast #19: "Shinteki Decathlon 6"

DeeAnn interviews Curtis about his SD6 experience.

[ Download mp3 - 27 MB ]

00:00 - Last-Part-First Teaser™: inconsequential entrapment
01:23 - "supportive"
01:46 - solution to SnoutCast #17 "Codes" puzzle
02:19 - (re-using sounds from Justice Unlimited)
03:17 - contest entry #1: "Don't get even—stay odd." (Brett)
03:55 - contest entry #2: "That's unusual; let's ignore it!" (Corby)
05:09 - "They're both winners!" Congratulations!
06:14 - let's talk about Shinteki Decathlon 6
06:50 - no spoilers!
08:43 - re-run? watch for info Sign up for Shinteki SF Scramble - July 17, 2010!
09:38 - rule #1: Don't be a dick.
10:12 - scoring with points, not timing
11:42 - have the palmpilots always been called LEON?
13:01 - starting activity: non-duck konundrum
17:04 - walking portion: mini-puzzle clusters
19:55 - different folks make different types of puzzles
21:45 - "does that code sheet have the right semaphore letters?"
22:21 - bonus puzzles
23:45 - the enduring pizza analogy
24:25 - let's do it again!
25:36 - maintaining a >1 fun-to-travel ratio
27:28 - Next Week: Toys vs. Games
27:57 - Upcoming: Puzzle Pursuit, June 26th, San Diego
28:11 - want to help with DASH 3 next spring? e-mail
29:27 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "I Feel Fantastic" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Friday, June 04, 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

SnoutCast #18: "Win, Lose, or Fun"

In which we reveal the dirty little secret of SnoutCast, i.e., that we record on alternate weeks and simply release episodes weekly. Quelle horreur!

You'll be able to hear our Shinteki Decathlon 6 review next week, on June 8th. If you can't wait that long, try Puzzalot's Puzzle Hunt Forums for spoiler-free discussion.

[ Download mp3 - 22 MB ]

00:00 - teaser: name that noise
01:56 - was DeeAnn smiling?
02:19 - playing not to win
03:24 - "We always play games for fun!"
03:35 - "That's another podcast."
04:42 - games you have to play for fun, e.g., Fluxx
05:41 - games kids think are stupid
06:31 - even the pre-literate enjoy Apples to Apples
09:00 - playing for fun can still include strategizing
09:48 - most players will not win any given game
10:30 - but people, esp. gamblers, are irrational
11:00 - DeeAnn's winning roulette strategy
12:41 - DeeAnn's orthogonal Monopoly strategy
13:44 - why you should not play poker with DeeAnn's mother
16:01 - Curtis sometimes cares if he wins
16:35 - players helping players
19:23 - I can hear you smile
20:15 - shout like a news anchor!
20:50 - you, too, can look up "Dragon Age sex" on YouTube
22:10 - Next week: Curtis' Shinteki Decathlon 6 review
23:18 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "You Ruined Everything" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn