Don’t ruin your graphics, ESPN!

I didn’t like ESPN’s new strip for college football last year, thinking the little timeout indicators were too jarring and thrown on at the last minute. They grew on me as the season went on, but I doubt THIS will grow on me quite so much.

(Image taken from ESPN Video.) There’s now a thick red line at the top of the strip, and the space above it is shaded. Statistics that last year were shown on a small translucent trapezoid on top of the strip, in fairly light type, are now shown in this area. I saw this sort of thing, sans thick red line, on lesser NCAA championships last school year, such as in lacrosse, but I can’t help but think it’s distracting, unnecessary, and could obscure the action. It almost makes ESPN look bush league.

Do any of you have any suggestions for improving ESPN’s score strip? I don’t really have much of a problem with their overall graphics package.

This is going to become very meta very fast.

I didn’t intend for this to be YWIB week here on Da Blog. My YWIB post was originally going to be one part to be released last week, with a followup on Powerup Comics this week, but the post on YWIB itself got split into two parts and delayed to this week. Nonetheless, I really thought I was done when I finished my post on Powerup Comics, but – probably unaware of what I was doing – Eric Burns(-White) has a rather interesting and relevant post on Websnark that aims to answer the question: Is it possible to criticize the critic? Hey, that’s exactly what I did on Monday and Tuesday!

Burns(-White) also believes it’s obvious the answer is yes, and starts by identifying three definitions of criticism that, to varying extents, we’re probably all familiar with. The first is your English teacher’s definition, what Burns(-White) calls the “analyst” or “scholarly” definition, deconstructing a work to figure out what it’s saying and how it’s saying it. The second is the “reviewer”, which basically says whether a work is good or bad. The third is “critic” as in being “critical”, essentially bashing whatever you’re, well, criticizing. To broadly oversimplify, Websnark generally tries to be definition 1, while Tangents tends to fall more under definition 2, especially as it’s tried to drift away from definition 1. (We all know what definition YWIB falls under.)

We’ve probably all seen all three of these definitions, and seen them get conflated and confused (especially if we’re aware of and looking for them), but what this post, pretty much unintentionally, put into focus for me was how interrelated these three definitions are, and how these interrelations contribute to the conflation (hey, I lost this post earlier today to a Blogger/IE7 bug and I’m retyping this post from memory while something else is on trying to at least continue to claim I posted it on Friday, and failing, so give me a break – I watch TV pretty much nonstop on Fridays from 2 PM to midnight). It can be hard to review something without giving reasons why you think it’s good or bad, which often means dipping into definition 1, and similarly, it can be hard to focus on what a work does, and certainly how it does it, without slipping into value judgments on whether or not it does it right. As for definition 3, that’s basically a modification of definition 2, and it can be hard to determine whether a disapproving review is definition 3, or a negative version of definition 2. If, as Burns(-White) does, you include “constructive criticism” under definition 3, it essentially becomes a conflation of definitions 1 and 2. YWIB has a lot more to do with definition 1 than definition 2.

Burns(-White) then demonstrates how all three definitions are themselves subject to all three forms of criticism, which I won’t get into except to say that Part I of my YWIB review was more definition 2, and Part II was more definition 1. He then finishes by stating that, to some extent or another, he’s written all three forms of criticism on Websnark, prompting the first commenter to respond:

And, if you’ll forgive me a moment of critique, you fall squarely in the first definition of critic. You’re too polite to go far in the third definition, the snark. And you focus too much on things you personally enjoy (or which are created by your personal friends) to be an effective reviewer for new or unheard of comics. And that’s fine — this is your blog, first and foremost, and people should be aware that they’re getting only what you want to write.

The webcomic world really could *use* a popular, unbiased, and wide-focus reviewer. But you ain’t it, and you should push back against people who want you to be.

This prompted a later commenter to respond: “When there are so many “reviewers/bloggers/news site owners” looking to do little more than get in the good graces of their favorite creators so they can hang out at cons together? Might as well ask for all of Bill Gates’ money while you’re at it.”

First off, I’d have to disagree with both Burns(-White) and that first commenter; if anything, Websnark fairly consistently falls under definition 2, even when it tries not to. It makes a point in the FAQ that the name is somewhat misleading, as it doesn’t really snark so much (other than “You Had Me And You Lost Me” I’d be hard pressed to find a single example of definition 3), and even when attempting to simply do analysis and deconstruction can often incorporate how whatever he’s examining made him laugh or how much he’s enjoying what the strip is doing. On occasion, Burns(-White) has even mentioned times when a strip just isn’t doing it for him, so he doesn’t praise every strip.

The major issue with being a “popular, unbiased, wide-focus reviewer” mostly has to do with the wide-focus part. There are a lot of strips that aim for specific niches. It’s hard to truly appreciate a strip like Penny Arcade or Ctrl+Alt+Del or even User Friendly if you’re not a part of the gaming subculture. On those occasions when xkcd refers to some obscure bit of math, if you’re not a math major you may find it hard to assess properly.

I’m not a definition 1 critic; I’m just too detached from all the esoterica of scholarly analysis to examine comics as closely as Burns(-White) is known to do sometimes. I’m just not that much of an English major. Yet much of what I’ve done so far has been, in fact, best categorized under definition 1, in part because of the areas where definitions 1 and 2 overlap and in part because I’ve seen myself as something of a successor to the once-dormant Websnark. Now that Websnark has started to come back to life again, and with the start of school coming up in less than a month now, I’ve been starting to think about possibly dropping my webcomic reviews.

I think, especially if Part I of my YWIB review is any indication, I’ve started to see myself as a definition 2 critic and even potentially the answer to the commenter’s call. But it’s very hard to be wide-focus enough to properly assess all the webcomics out there, and it’s always very tempting to slip into definition 1. Those are the main reasons there isn’t a truly unbiased popular webcomics reviewer out there, why “the Roger Ebert of Webcomics Criticism” (definition 2) is someone who fancies himself a definition 1.

(And now one of the commenters says another reason is that you’d need to either pay someone or have enough money not to need a job, rendering any other considerations irrelevant. Them’s fighting words.)

Sports Watcher Labor Day 3-day Weekend Special for the Weekend of 8/30-9/1

All times PDT.

8-11 AM: College Football, Appalachian State @ defending 2008 BCS title holder LSU (ESPN Classic). Yes, it’s college football season again! Can lightning strike twice for App State?

12:30-3:30 PM: College Football, defending 2007 Boise State title holder USC v. Virginia (ABC/ESPN2). The move of the App State/LSU game could have opened things up for baseball, but this isn’t change, this is more of the same!

5:30-8:30 PM: College Football, Illinois v. defending Princeton-Yale title holder Missouri (ESPN). Once my C Ratings come out, everything is based on relative rating. Until then, you get this.

10-12:30 PM: WNBA Basketball, Seattle @ Connecticut (ABC). I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know whether this is a regular season game or an early-round postseason game.

12:30-3 PM: IndyCar Racing, IndyCar Grand Prix at Detroit (ABC). Normally road course races are a bit of a slog, but I was glued to my TV last weekend rooting for Helio Castroneves to break a lengthy winless streak at Infineon. Too bad it was relegated to ESPN2.

5-8 PM: MLB Baseball, LA Dodgers @ Arizona (ESPN2). Bumped to the Deuce by NASCAR.

11-3 PM: PGA Tour Golf, Deutsche Bank Championship (NBC). I didn’t realize until this week that the PGA Tour “playoffs” no one cares about had started. I had been thinking this was an important weekend for Sports Watcher with no real big events…

4-6 PM (potentially 4-9 PM on the West Coast): US Open Tennis, octofinal-round action (USA). The Labor Day college football game is mediocre v. mediocre in Tennessee v. UCLA, only of interest to masturbating “my c0nf3rence is teh rulz” spewers, and otherwise I couldn’t get tennis on here.

5-8 PM: College Football, Tennessee v. UCLA (ESPN). Mediocre v. mediocre. How exciting.

This always happens. I start writing a post for a position, and I start coming towards the other position as I write it.

I recently had a lively e-mail conversation with support at Project Wonderful regarding what I should do to advertise on the web site. Well, not in so many words; I spoke of a hypothetical web site with a number of different sub-sites that were all approved, but with a main page that wasn’t. Their response was to simply take the ad box from one page and put that on the main page, and I wrote them back saying this didn’t solve the problem of which page to take an ad box from. Their response to that was:

You can do the following in this case. You can put different ad boxes on each page if you wish. That way advertisers in different industries can bid on pages that apply to them.

However, I wouldn’t advise doing this due to the following reasons

1) advertisers have to start selecting specific pages which may be a problem for them

2) By dividing your ad boxes into specific pages means that potential advertisers are
now dividing their possible exposure against all the other advertisers. Their piece of the pie will become dramatically smaller.

Theoretically, you want as many advertisers bidding for ad boxes across your whole site, not specific pages.

They make this point elsewhere, and I certainly see it. But they only pay lip service to the idea that “advertisers in different industries can bid on pages that apply to them”.

I’ve been approved for ads on Sandsday, a video game webcomic. Yesterday I applied for ads here, a sports site with an emphasis on American football. Specificly, nerdy esoterica relating to American football. Those are two very different constituencies, and an ad that appeals to one may not appeal to the other. Check that: almost certainly will have little appeal to anyone reading the other except me.

(Okay, I know that doesn’t sound like it’s that incompatible, but I imagine a future where I also have a site pertaining to politics, and another pertaining to history. I already have the 100 Greatest Movies Project and the Street Sign Gallery, where the only reason I’m not applying for those sites is because they don’t fit the design of the rest of the site.)

Isn’t Project Wonderful supposed to contain tools to make it easy to bid across several ad boxes at once? Instead of appealing to a+b and only getting some of a and some of b (or alternately, all of a and none of b), shouldn’t there be some people appealing to a and getting all of a, and appealing to b and getting all of b? So they can take advantage of the full value of a+b, and not just a some of the time and b the rest of the time? Doesn’t this negate some of the advantage PW has over, say, Google Adsense, and even give it potentially a disadvantage, because Adsense’s context-sensitive ads can present only the most relevant ads while PW’s preferred model requires you to appeal to however broad an audience is served by the whole site, even if it’s ridiculously broad?

Food for thought. Leave your responses in the comments.

I actually had to type this really short review three times for different reasons.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized pizza guy!)

What… the… hell?

After Wednesday’s suggestion that Kate may have found a new boyfriend, and now the tired old cliche of “selling the store”, I think I really am pushing back the Penny Arcade review back another week.

And wait… is that Scott, or someone else? Or is it… Heaven forbid… Tim Buckley himself?!? The hair is similar to that of Buckley’s avatar, the goatee doesn’t really match Scott’s…

Random Internet Discovery of the Week (a day late but we don’t care)

I had every intention of doing the Random Internet Discovery yesterday, honest, but my schedule has been monopolized this week by the Democratic National Convention, and it ended up slipping. I technically hit the StumbleUpon button last night, but my laptop somehow got unplugged overnight and I have to rewrite the RID.

The discovery itself (I have no use for a gas price list, as I take the bus everywhere – more on that later in the fall) isn’t as important as the fact that before I happened upon it, StumbleUpon prompted me to add 17 more interests for my viewing pleasure, so expect at least a little more variety in the future. I think.

Still tweaking my ad model

I’m strongly considering changing the dimensions of the Premier ad box, increasing its size and thus its value. Even though some non-webcomic-related ads are starting to show up, Standard is now occasionally topping 20 cents while Premier remains mired at one or two. I’ve changed the description of Standard to let people know that Premier is better, and will reassess on Monday.

Ads should be coming to the Web site by Monday as well.

College Football Schedule: Week 1

A new feature on Da Blog this year will be the weekly posting of the Division I-A college football schedule for the week, with information on how to catch games on TV from here. Starting Week 5, the list will be sorted by C Rating of the higher-rated team for all teams in positive B Points. Before then, of course, there will be no ratings to go off of, but I’ll still spotlight the lineal title holders (Princeton-Yale always goes first) and any games available in HD. Starting next week, it should go up on Tuesdays, at least that’s what I’m feeling right now. All times Eastern.

Lineal Titles (all games on Saturday)
Illinois v. *Missouri 8:30 ESPN
Georgia Southern @ *Georgia 12:30 ESPN360
*USC @ Virginia 3:30 ABC/ESPN2
Appalachian State @ *LSU 5 PM ESPN
Thursday (today)
UTEP @ Buffalo 7 PM CSD.TV
Northeastern @ Ball State 7 PM CSD.TV
Eastern Illinois @ Central Michigan 7 PM CSD.TV
Indiana State @ Eastern Michigan 7 PM CSD.TV
Vanderbilt @ Miami (OH) 7:30 ESPNU
Troy @ Middle Tenn. St. 7:30 ESPN+
Eastern Kentucky @ Cincinnati 7:30 CBSCS XXL
Hofstra @ Connecticut 7:30 ESPN+
Jacksonville State @ Georgia Tech 7:30 ESPN360
Charleston Southern @ Miami (FL) 7:30 ESPN360
NC State @ South Carolina 8 PM ESPN
Wake Forest @ Baylor 8 PM FSN
South Dakota State @ Iowa State 8 PM FCS
Oregon State @ Stanford 9 PM ESPN2
Temple @ Army 7 PM ESPN Classic
SMU @ Rice 8 PM ESPN
Saturday’s HD Games
Virginia Tech v. East Carolina Noon ESPN
Bowling Green @ Pittsburgh Noon ESPNU
Syracuse @ Northwestern Noon ESPN2
Youngstown State @ Ohio State Noon BTN
Coastal Carolina @ Penn State Noon BTN
Maine @ Iowa Noon BTN
Hawaii @ Florida 12:30 R’Com/Yahoo
Utah @ Michigan 3:30 ABC/ESPN2
Oklahoma State v. Washington State 3:30 FSN
Towson @ Navy 3:30 CBS CS
Delaware @ Maryland 3:45 ESPNU
Mississippi State @ Louisiana Tech 6:45 ESPN2
Northern Illinois @ Minnesota 7 PM BTN
Boston College v. Kent State 7:30 ESPNU
Alabama v. Clemson 8 PM ABC
Michigan State @ California 8 PM ABC
Washington @ Oregon 7 PT FSN
Other Saturday Games
Western Kentucky @ Indiana Noon BTN
Akron @ Wisconsin Noon BTN
Ohio @ Wyoming 2 PM mtn.
Southern Utah @ Air Force 2 PM
Villanova @ West Virginia 3:30 ESPN+
Tulsa @ UAB 4 PM
Illinois State @ Marshall 4:30
TCU @ New Mexico 6 PM VS.
McNeese State @ North Carolina 6 PM
South Carolina State @ Central Florida 6 PM
Northern Iowa @ BYU 6 PM mtn.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Auburn 7 PM ESPN360
Florida International @ Kansas 7 PM
Memphis @ Mississippi 7 PM
Western Michigan @ Nebraska 7 PM PPV
Louisiana-Lafayette @ Southern Miss 7 PM CBSCS XXL
Florida Atlantic @ Texas 7 PM PPV
Arkansas State @ Texas A&M 7 PM
James Madison @ Duke 7 PM ACC Select
Western Illinois @ Arkansas 7 PM
Southern @ Houston 7 PM
Chattanooga @ Oklahoma 7 PM PPV
Eastern Washington @ Texas Tech 7 PM
North Texas @ Kansas State 7 PM
Tennessee-Martin @ South Florida 7:30 ESPN+
Idaho State @ Boise State 8 PM ESPN360
UC Davis @ San Jose State 8 PM CSD.TV
Grambling @ Nevada 9 PM CSD.TV
Cal Poly @ San Diego State 9:30
Idaho @ Arizona 7 PT
Utah State @ UNLV 7 PT
Northern Arizona @ Arizona State 7 PT FCS
Kentucky @ Louisville 3:30 ESPN
Colorado State v. Colorado 7:30 FSN
Labor Day
Fresno State @ Rutgers 4 PM ESPN
Tennessee @ UCLA 8 PM ESPN

Speaking of gamer comics with a reputation for crappiness, after reading today’s Ctrl+Alt+Del, I may have to push back the Penny Arcade review a week or two.

(From Powerup Comics. Click for full-sized blissful ignorance.)

As much as I’ve criticized YWIB over the past couple of days, I do sympathize with their frustration, and to tell you why I need to tell a little story.

Once upon a time, some people at the Truth and Beauty Bombs forums (the forums for Dinosaur Comics and some others, and the place that gave us the “Garfield without Garfield’s lines” meme, which eventually became “Garfield without Garfield” himself) decided to take a bunch of cut-and-pasted elements, throw them in MS Paint, and create the crappiest gaming comic they could. The result was Powerup Comics, and once it started picking up steam among the members, they started a DrunkDuck account and started storing their comics there.

But here’s the real punchline: Powerup Comics – intended to be a parody and the worst gaming comic ever – attracted people who treated it completely seriously. And liked it.

A comic intended to be the worst gaming comic ever, attracted actual fans.

When the people at YWIB reviewed Powerup Comics as an April Fool’s joke (which actually attracted some defenses of the comic from people not in on the joke), and ended the review by claiming that there was no point in continuing and so they were ending YWIB, I would not have blamed them for quitting for real. Heck, it’s enough to make me wonder if it’s a lost cause.

It’s hard to see what the strip’s fans see in it, unless they’re actually T&BB members furthering the parody. The art definitely falls on the “distraction” side of the line of badness, for lack of a better term; it’s blatantly an MS Paint copy-paste job, more so than others of the type, but instead of looking computer generated like sprite comics and Dinosaur Comics, it just looks like a 12-year-old drew it (or younger). My artistic abilities must be the crappiest in the universe, yet I actually could ape the Powerup Comics style. There’s the same propensity towards violence as Ctrl+Alt+Del, only so much more unnecessary as to seem completely random. Some strips have no punchline whatsoever (which is itself supposed to be the punchline), some have been done a gazillion times before.

I could go on, but I’ve made my point already. I’ll just point out that the YWIB folks may have inadvertantly hit on something without realizing it, and that’s the real reason for CAD‘s popularity, the distinction between Ctrl+Alt+Del and the mounds of crappy gaming comics they’ve reviewed. Say what you will about CAD‘s art, it’s positively Rembrandt compared to Powerup Comics or even Cartridge Comics. I could go on, but I’m on a bit of a clock here. Gotta go!