Random Internet Discovery of the Week:

Never let it be said that I don’t give you what you want. Since posting my most recent poll, I have gotten a unanimous consensus (okay, it’s only three votes, but still) that among the things I should add to Da Blog is a series of random Internet discoveries.

So we start with TED.com. Such a valuable address was snapped up by an

annual conference [that] brings together the world’s most fascinating
thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18
minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to
the public, for free. More than 200 talks from our archive are now available,
with more added each week.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

The TED Conference, held annually in Long Beach, is still the heart of TED. More than a thousand people now attend — indeed, the event sells out a year in advance — and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected. Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

Mm. Interesting. And in no small way connected to my non-random discovery last week.

The conference is actually only moving to Long Beach in February of next year, after spending 20 years in Monterey, and is being simulcast to an audience in Palm Springs. Don’t expect to be able to attend it live – “attendance at TED is by invitation only,” consists significantly of people more famous than you and me, and sells out fast – and the Palm Springs conference is probably equally crowded. But you can still watch the videos on the site.

I was originally planning to make this feature daily, but I don’t think that’s feasible, for the same reasons as Sports Watcher…

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 6/28-29

All times PDT.

9-12 PM: Tennis, Wimbledon, 3rd round action (NBC). The reason why the 3rd round gets this spot and the 4th round doesn’t is because I actually have something to fill this spot tomorrow.

1-3:30 PM: Arena Football, Colorado @ Utah (ESPN). The playoffs are in full swing so the Arena League appears every week through ArenaBowl.

5-7 PM: IndyCar Racing, IndyCar 300 at Richmond (ESPN). Hey, NASCAR causes interference too often and this is the one sport I watch every time it’s on. If you think NASCAR is just a bunch of cars going around in circles, maybe the real problem is it’s too slow.

8-9 PM: US Olympic Trials, Track and Field (NBC). Same on both coasts so it interferes with the IndyCar on the East Coast.

9-2 AM: Boxing, Manny Pacquito v. David Diaz (PPV). Same on both coasts again, so it interferes with the IndyCar – just barely – on the East Coast.
9-11 AM: MLS Soccer, Los Angeles @ DC United (ABC). “Soccer is so boring, it’s just a bunch of passing a ball back and — OMG IT’S BECKHAM OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!11!!11!111!1!!!!eleven!”

12-3 PM: LPGA Golf, US Women’s Open, final round (NBC). It’s the Annika Sorenstam farewell tour! Those other golfers expected to pick up the slack? Who cares about them? No one cares about the male golfers not named Tiger.

Honorable Mention: 11:30-1:30 PM: UEFA Soccer, Euro 2008, final (ABC). Because Dad will kill me if I don’t mention this at least once. You could watch the soccer and switch to golf at 1:30, but then you only catch an hour and a half of golf. Wasn’t Euro 2004 mostly on pay-per-view? Now the final is airing on broadcast television and the US doesn’t even have a horse in the race anywhere! And last month the Champions League final was made into a fairly big deal on ESPN2!

(The really odd part? The only other game in the tournament on ABC was a quarterfinal last week. And ESPN2 showed one of the semifinals Thursday because of the US Women’s Open, whereas all the non-ABC quarterfinals are on regular ESPN. Huh?)

5-8 PM: MLB Baseball, Chicago Cubs @ Chicago White Sox (ESPN). This is “ESPN Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell Part of AL/NL Showdown presented by State Farm”. No further comment needed.

8-9 PM: US Olympic Trials, Swimming (NBC). Same on both coasts again, but ironically, that means the Track and Field trials the previous hour interferes with baseball on the West Coast but not on the East Coast!

One last thing… Sports Watcher just might continue past August. I’m starting to get into a bit more of a groove. Stay tuned.

More quick hits

Last call. Here‘s Ctrl+Alt+Del, and here‘s User Friendly.

And the opinions expressed in this comic are not necessarily those of the author. I’m not familiar enough with CAD, and all I know about UF is I started reading it from the beginning in 2006, and had to pry myself away from it when I got to 2004 because it was taking up so much of my time that I should have been using studying.

And both strips work now. Honest. ‘zojdf  ,.zdM/jivzk.lngdipioads

Keith Olbermann: Worst Person in the World!

Fast forward to 3:03:

“Obviously, those would have to be the kind of arms in use in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was passed; the musket, the wheelock, the flintlock, the 13th century Chinese hand cannon. Stuff like that!”

Yes, “stuff like that” all right. And when the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”, it’s talking strictly about things like speaking, whispering, shouting, yelling, printing pamphlets and newspapers, and other things in use in 1791. The Internet, television, radio, motion pictures, even the telegraph? Fair game!

I’d like to think Keith doesn’t really mean this, although it’s doubtful since it seems to be making a case that it’s okay to restrict guns today because today’s guns are so much more advanced. It would be insane to interpret the Second Amendment as saying we can’t keep people from obtaining nuclear weapons. But regardless of whether he means it, rest assured the Right will hammer him for it.

The question is, did the Founding Fathers intend the Second Amendment to prohibit restrictions on common ownership of guns, regardless of whether that was for the purpose of raising a militia? I hope to answer that question in Truth Court, if not this weekend, at some point in the future.

Da Blog’s not moving in the near future, and other odds and ends

Blogger’s Draft feature recently unleashed a deluge of new features for bloggers to try out. There’s things like a star rating system, Google search info, that sort of thing. There’s new functionality to put a comment form right there on the permalink page instead of in a popup or a separate page, which is probably going to be popular.

There is also a new editing window that promises to fix so many of the issues I had with Blogger that it could very well prevent me from deciding to move Da Blog to WordPress at some point down the line.

Of course, I won’t stop thinking tables are an afterthought around here unless there’s a table button in the toolbar, but if that’s my biggest issue it’s a tremendous improvement. Expect to see some changes in the coming months, including the possibility of changing layouts to accomodate wider screens like mine.

Oh, and for the first time ever, I have an actual job interview scheduled for tomorrow.

Could you remind me in the future to mark down June 26, 2008 as a critical day in my life?

An expansion on Da Blog as a collection of sub-blogs

I mentioned yesterday that I had conceived of Da Blog as a series of sub-blogs that could also be read as one big blog. Well, if you’re only interested in my thoughts on specific topics, you can subscribe to specific RSS/Atom feeds for each label, not just the whole-blog feed available at the bottom of the page.

The address is morganwick.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default/-/(label name). Don’t ask me why Blogger sticks that hyphen in there.

Here are some examples for some of my most common, or useful, labels:
web site news
blog news
about me
webcomic news
my comments on the news
snf flex scheduling watch
sports watcher

If a label you want to follow is not on that list, click on one and replace the label name with the label of your choice.

Quick hits

Here‘s the strip. Here‘s the xkcd. Here‘s the Dinosaur Comics.

It used to be that xkcd was full of obscure math jokes, though that seems to have transitioned, in some respects, to something called “human relationships”. Either way, I can’t get into it. Meanwhile, DC has shown that it’s hard to really shake out of a routine with a gimmick like that DC has. That, and I don’t think DC‘s sort of humor really appeals to me.

Post frequency is going to go down significantly at the end of the week and I don’t know when it’ll return. I’ll make an effort to get the currently-suspended storyline some approximation of finished over the weekend, so I’ll have a steady stream of strips for a while. My mom is REALLY on my case about finding a job and I need to get a real Internet connection anyway.


Duh… duh… duh…

David Morgan-Mar actually responded to my blog post on Irregular Webcomic!

I… I’m completely star-struck right now.

(And intensely frustrated with Microsoft at the same time. Would it have killed you to include some mechanism to either kick-start or terminate the stand by or hibernate process in case it got held up at any stage of the process, so I could have some recourse other than just holding the power button until the computer hard-turns off? The reason people stand by and hibernate as opposed to shutting down is because they have work open they don’t want to lose or save just yet, you know.)

Is it sad that I actually waited until 3 in the morning so I could include today’s strip in the write-up?

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized cryptids! Man, I really am taking after Websnark, aren’t I?)

I’d like to expand on the points made in today’s strip on Irregular Webcomic!, but before I do, I want to talk about someone else.

Scott McCloud.

McCloud was a creator of comic books, mostly deconstructionist superhero stuff, but he was mostly concerned about the legitimization of comics as an art form. So in 1993, he wrote a book called Understanding Comics, in which he talked about the medium seriously, deconstructing its methods, exploring what is and isn’t comics, and the like. And because he wanted to practice what he preached, he published it as a comic book.

In 2000, he wrote a follow-up, Reinventing Comics. Whereas before he was talking to people outside the comics industry, this time he talked to people inside it, outlining twelve “revolutions” that could help comics survive and thrive as an art form. He especially talked about the then-nascent medium of webcomics and how the Web had a number of advantages that allowed it to thrive as an art form on its own. The most famous of these is probably the idea of the “infinite canvas” – that, similar to the idea that, since Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia, it can talk about a lot more topics than Brittanica (and for the love of God please do not make this a battleground regarding whether it really takes full advantage of this), so too can webcomics extend over a much larger space than would ever be practical on a sheet of paper.

In practice, though, creating larger, more expansive comics taking up lengthy stretches of the page is rather impractical. It takes a lot of work to create a big comic, and as a result the infinite canvas is really only utilized as occasional novelty acts in more standard webcomics, or as one shots. It doesn’t help that there really is a sort of limit on the amount of space you can devote to a comic, the size of the screen (people don’t like scrolling, and they REALLY don’t like LOTS of scrolling, especially horizontal scrolling which is harder to do with a mouse wheel), or that a lot of webcomic artists would rather prefer to be able to publish print publications of their work. After all, for most people, webcomicking is really more of a hobby.

The same goes for the other much-ballyhooed benefits of the Web for the comics medium, such as interactive or multimedia webcomics. (Especially when you consider that “multimedia webcomics” in particular can blur the lines in regards to exactly what is and isn’t a webcomic. For example, is Homestar Runner a webcomic? If not, on what grounds?) There have been occasional experiments in all of them, but generally there haven’t really been many, if any, ongoing webcomics that actually take full advantage of their medium in ways they can’t do in print.

Which brings us to Irregular Webcomic!

IWC, despite the name, is anything but irregular. David Morgan-Mar has faithfully produced a strip a day for virtually the whole history of the strip. He likes to joke about how his strip has been “more regular than many webcomics that actually claim to be updated regularly”.

The “irregular” part comes in the specifics. You see, Irregular Webcomic! is actually seventeen different webcomics, known as “themes”, and those are updated semi-irregularly with each nightly update of IWC itself. There isn’t always one a night, as the themes cross over rather often, often in combinations you would never think possible. Some (Fantasy, Cliffhangers, Steve and Terry) are updated more often than others (Supers, Imperial Rome), and a few (Martians, Nigerian Finance Minister) seem to be abandoned entirely. Some are also more like unifying elements than full-on webcomics, despite occasionally having non-crossovers (Me [yes, Morgan-Mar himself appears as a character], Death, Miscellaneous).

The original conceit was that all these different “themes” reflected different role-playing games (pseudo-board-game kind, not video game kind) Morgan-Mar (as “Me”) was playing (if there’s a third tradition in most webcomics, RPGs are it), although that seems to have fallen mostly by the wayside, especially in the newer themes. (Only Fantasy and Space really show any signs of being role-playing games anymore.) The older themes (Fantasy and Space again) were and continue to be played out by semi-realistic looking figures (well, as realistic-looking as figures of hobbits and aliens can be) but by and large, the vast majority of themes, which is to say the vast majority of strips, have been played out by LEGOs, which have become the strip’s trademark. (Exceptions are Martians, although even that has key LEGO figures; Supers, which is hand-drawn by another artist; and Miscellaneous.)

It’s important to note that, hand-in-hand with this structure, Morgan-Mar has a rather robust navigational engine that facilitates all of this. You could, conceivably, just read IWC right straight through, like a conventional webcomic, although, especially at this point, IWC shuttles between themes every day. (For example, yesterday’s comic was in the Espionage theme. The day before that was Mythbusters (yes, based on the Discovery Channel show, and done with LEGOs too – and they’re not alone; Jane Goodall, appearing above, is a character in Steve and Terry, which is itself a not-really-them-honest version of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin from Morgan-Mar’s native Australia; Shakespeare has a theme where he’s transplanted in the modern day; Espionage is a takeoff on James Bond; Cliffhangers is a takeoff on Indiana Jones; there are actual themes named Harry Potter and Star Wars…), and the one before that was Space, and the one before that was Cliffhangers…) But you can also read each theme as an individual webcomic, following the strip as it follows one plot and completely ignoring any others. IWC has gone on for almost 2000 strips, but you don’t need to read all of them to understand just one or two themes. And the ability to read it five days at a time is just gravy.

You can’t do that in print. Well, at the least, you can’t do that in print and expect much of a following. I’ve actually conceived of a similar structure for Da Blog, where each tag could conceivably be read as its own individual blog, so that, for example, you could decide to read just my “nba” or “my comments on the news” posts, and ignore my “webcomic” or “about me” posts, except where I tag an “about me” post as “my comments on the news”. In webcomics, it actually opens up brave new worlds of storytelling possibilities. I envision a large, expansive world with several different webcomics weaving in and out of one another, perhaps even with different writers, which could be read individually but which forms a complete picture when read in total. Wait, that sounds like modern comic books. But one important difference would be the ability for strips to exist in multiple comics at once. There are other possibilities for the format as well that I probably have never even heard of. Scott McCloud, I would hope, would be proud.

The really funny part is, Irregular Webcomic! is one of those things that’s a pioneer but doesn’t really define its field; it sort of falls by the wayside, but what it pioneers is ripe to be overtaken by other, sharper minds. For example, IBM pioneered the germ of what became personal computing, including operating system writing, before Apple and Microsoft came along; now they barely even exist in the computer industry, now serving as mostly a consulting firm, near as I can tell. There are some themes I’m interested in – Mythbusters, Death and Shakespeare come to mind – but after certain current plot lines wrap up, or at least come to a stopping point, I’m probably going to stop following IWC every single day. (Of course, given the irregularity of the strip, I’ve been waiting six months for them to wrap up…) I would continue to follow just the ones I’m interested in, but Morgan-Mar doesn’t offer individual RSS feeds for each theme; instead, his one RSS theme lists the strip number and any themes it’s in. That makes it harder to follow individual themes instead of the whole comic. I kind of have to agree with Eric Burns that I actually find Morgan-Mar’s side project, the group-produced Darths and Droids, a re-enactment of Star Wars as played by RPG players (thus taking off on ground previously trod, for Lord of the Rings, by the now-ended DM of the Rings), more consistently entertaining, even if it’s hit a slow spell for the moment. In fact, D&D is one of only two webcomics that holds a place in Internet Explorer 7’s built-in RSS reader.

Which is odd, because the other one of those two is also set in that role-playing game milieu, and it wasn’t that long ago that I was barely even aware of RPGs’ existence, certainly beyond the venerable Dungeons and Dragons.

But we’ll talk more about Order of the Stick later in the week.