Underrated mystery of Homestuck: the origin of Trollian itself. Remember, THAT beta’s poster was hanging on the wall of Karkat’s room like the Sburb beta poster on John’s.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized escape plan.)

Once upon a time, Dirk did, in fact, reveal to Jake that he was from the future.

This wasn’t entirely un-foreshadowed, and I can’t say this is ever directly contradicted or supported by any other past pesterlogs, but what I’m more interested in is his explanation for how he’s able to chat with the past. Not only does he appear to have some sort of “alien technology” embedded into Pesterchum… his source for it appears to be the original “thirteenth troll”.

This, of course, means more backward cascading through time of causality, this one even more profound than that raised by the split time-periods of the session in the first place: “uranianUmbra” is, as far as we’ve been led to believe, several sessions removed from the current one, and her most salient trait is her historical interest in the entire multi-mega-session that is at the heart of Homestuck, which she is now revealed to have actively not only altered the course of, but actually made possible in the first place, by giving Roxy and Dirk the technology they needed to communicate with their fellow co-players.

To me, however, the larger issue is why. Back in the Intermission, Rose essentially reduced the entire game to a single sentence: “A universe has a reproductive system that spreads many seeds, as it were, most of which never come to fruition.” Setting aside the implication that a successful session would result in the creation of multiple universes, which we’ve had no evidence for and enough evidence against to make me wonder if I’m reading it right*, this to me suggests that Skaia’s precognition can’t extend beyond its own session. Contrary to pretty much everything we’ve been through in Homestuck, there has to be some element of uncertainty to Paradox Space in order for the metaphor to make sense; a universe would not need to spread “many seeds” if it had some way of knowing whether or not each seed would come to fruition. UU can’t possibly be an agent of the universe itself (unless, as I suspect, we’re wrong about how many sessions into the future she is), yet that’s exactly the role she’s playing. She’s an active agent in kickstarting the session, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s something other than what she seems, if she’s been approached by someone else.

(*There would seem to be no other way, however, for most sessions to be null as claimed by Rose on the same page without breaking the chain of sessions. One possible solution is for each universe to have multiple sessions, but the only evidence for this even being possible appears to be extratextual, and it doesn’t change the fact that there must be some uncertainty to Paradox Space, specifically centering around the creation of the universe itself, for this to make sense. It may have some bearing on UU’s situation, though.)

Dirk then proceeds to tell the story of how he and Roxy became the only two humans on the face of the planet – and given what we know about their origin I can’t help but wonder if humanity went extinct well before that. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Skaia elected to send them to the future as a balancing force against the Condesce somehow, or even to play a role in her defeat. Most of the details aren’t that interesting, but Dirk seems to hint that the lusii populating Jake’s island were brought there by the Condesce upon her arrival, though why they were stashed on Jake’s island is beyond me – unless Jake has been unknowingly used as an experiment by the Condesce. Dirk also claims the Condesce imported a bunch of Carapacians, presumably from the Medium (though which session is anyone’s guess), but that may rely on several assumptions. Regardless, they were the ones who raised Roxy and Dirk comments on their loyalty to the Condesce, and I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with her presence in the game.

Where things really get interesting, though, is the apparent origin of Jake’s “English” last name: a way for Jake’s grandma to remind Betty Crocker/the Condesce of the one force she fears. This is mostly interesting for the doors it seems to shut (namely, that Jake is literally descended from Lord English or might even become him), but it also suggests what I’ve suspected since the intermission: that the Condesce, while confirmed to be serving Lord English, isn’t the most willing servant. Moreover, I wonder if there’s an added dimension to Jake’s grandma’s motivation we’re not getting, that of making the Condesce wonder if Lord English was actively working against her. (Though there may actually be a scarier motivation kept as hidden as possible, even one Jake was merely collateral damage to…)

Also, the process by which the Condesce took over the world is, well, straight-up nightmare fuel. Since Roxy and Dirk are in the future, the forces that attacked them at the end of the end-of-Act-6-2 flash didn’t exist when the Condesce made her presence known, nor are they apparently even organic. In fact, as much as I’ve talked about “the Condesce’s forces” in previous posts, the fact is that the Condesce didn’t have any forces. Instead, she allowed the panic from her revelation to do the conquering for her, with a little help from some well-paid media personalities – and, apparently, holding the powers of all the more familiar trolls combined, allowing her to use Tavros-like powers to control, among others, God Cat. That effectively resolves one of my last lingering concerns from the flash, while also apparently shutting the door on some potential explanations of other things. (Also, is it wrong for me to laugh at some of these descriptions?)

But perhaps the most important thing to come from this sequence may be a cryptic image during its course, showing two green legs in shackles with Ophiuchus and Serpentarius symbols in them. The connection they have to the conversation isn’t obvious; it coincides with Dirk’s discussion of the actions of Roxy’s mom, specifically her book Complacency of the Learned, and thus the legs might be assumed to be those of the book’s “protagonist” Calmasis… until you learn that Complacency was in fact a metaphor for the events to come, which suggests that the image is Hussie’s way of dropping hints about future events. Considering what the legs most resemble, is Hussie hinting that uranianUmbra and undyingUmbrage will be ultimately responsible for the final defeat of Lord English?

Meanwhile, I will say nothing about the ongoing extended reference to Hussie’s original MSPA story, other than that Bard Quest is totally getting the shaft.


Okay. This series has burned me out.

I’m not going to put up more posts about the new playoff system, which looks to be some form of bracketed plus-one, until later, though it’s probably still going to be before any sort of final decision is made. I leave you with what I originally wrote in 2009 about that system:

Plus-One top 4 bracketed: GPA: 2.18. Grade: C+. A top-4 plus-one, had it been adopted in 1998, would have had a longer honeymoon than the BCS, despite arguably ruining the 1999 title picture by introducing controversy where there was none in the BCS, by averting controversy in 2000 and 2001 and not ruining the 2002 title picture. Then in 2003 it might have worsened the BCS controversy of that year regarding Oklahoma still being vaulted to #1 despite losing the Big 12 title game, but tweaks in the system would fix that. But in 2004 it would have increased the importance of a controversy that didn’t need it, repeated the 1999 incident in 2005, and would have been insufficient three straight years from 2007 to 2009, creating an argument that with increased college football parity, we need an 8-team system. Too bad 8-team systems would have been even worse those years…

Of the major formats of 8 teams or less, this was the best one; I graded it a C+ in 2010 and a C- in 2011 (the latter for picking Stanford over Pac-12 champion Oregon). There are a few different formats out there regarding conference champions, and I need to assess them, and that would be part of the point of continuing the series.

Blargh. And before I found out about the BCS meetings, I had other plans for this week that were so much better…

The real reason I wanted to post this? The site layout is back to normal! Also, apparently Randall went so far as to create special comics for browsers with Javascript not working right for the Umwelt comic.

(From xkcd. Click for full-sized emotion chart.)

Randall Munroe is somewhat of a recluse. Oh, he has a “blag” that he posts on from time to time, but he almost never posts on specific strips there. It can be downright maddening to come across a comic and see it just sitting there, with nothing from the author beyond what’s there on the page, leaving it up to his sizeable fanbase to interpret the comic. Randall definitely belongs to the school that “my work speaks for itself”.

A year and a half ago, Randall’s fiance/wife was diagnosed with cancer. In the time since then, many an xkcd comic has reflected their ongoing struggles with the disease, especially since Randall posted some of the details in June of last year. Although the fanbase has been largely and rightly supportive, it’s been, well… interesting seeing Randall’s somewhat random, contemplative comic become affected by Randall’s having other things on his mind.

I think a large part of the fanbase’s support owes itself to the cancer comics not being any inferior in quality (or informativeness) to any other xkcd comic, and not completely taking over the comic at the expense of everything else they came for either. It’s not like xkcd has been turned into this. On the flip side, in fact, an interesting side effect of the whole ordeal has been to humanize Randall in the eyes of the comic’s fanbase, someone with actual feelings that actual things happen to, rather than some sort of comic-generating machine from outer space like the rest of the comic can seem like (even more so than David Morgan-Mar).

(Hey, I started writing this half an hour before the end of the day when it became apparent I’d have to wait another day to put up the next part of the College Football Playoff Systems series. Cut me some slack.)

Change of plans for College Football Playoff System series

I really wish I’d known about the BCS meetings being this week, last week. Admittedly I kind of dozed off for several hours Wednesday, but as I write this I’m going so slowly I’m not sure I’ll even be able to hold myself to what I’m about to set.

For the first time since last year, I’ll be putting out two posts in a day on Thursday, covering both halves of the BCS era and examining how each and every one of the playoff systems in yesterday’s post would deal with them. That’ll set up Friday’s post giving a final verdict to all the systems. There’s an off chance I won’t give the final verdict until Monday, but I’m trying not to.

For the past four months, my main concern has been The Streak, but the BCS meetings are kind of imposing a bigger constraint on when I can post these things…

The Last Word on a College Football Playoff System, Part I: Potential Systems Explained

Our long national nightmare is almost over. The annual BCS meetings are this week, and the assembled commissioners are almost certain to institute some sort of playoff system. By the end of this week, we may be saying goodbye to the debate over a college football playoff, or at least a particular stage of it.

Everybody knows one thing: they hate the BCS. What people can’t seem to agree on is how to fix it. One thing the BCS has brought us is a system that seemingly every year finds a new way to screw things up, and that means part of the problem with settling on a playoff format is that each year seems to support a different system, which often wouldn’t work so well in another year. Fortunately, that also means it’s also given us a lot of scenarios to examine and test the equally numerous playoff proposals. In honor of the end of this era, that’s what we’ll be doing this week, determining how they would have gotten rid of controversy (or not) and on the other hand, still maintained the sanctity of the regular season. Are BCS proponents correct that no system is perfect and so none can sufficiently improve on the BCS? (Note that I originally wrote much of this in 2009 as part of my “Evolving Take on the Debate on a College Football Playoff”, and as such most of the proposed systems are from before then with some having broken links, and you should probably read
yourself for many of my rulings to make sense.) Here are the various playoff systems supported in various places around the Internet and their backers:

The Big 5

  • Actual BCS system. The system we all know and loathe.
  • Plus-One with traditional bowls. What the BCS honchos are calling the “original ‘plus-one'”. Effectively, goes back to the old bowl system, but adds an additional postseason “week” after the bowls, selecting the two best teams in the country. Plus-ones are embraced primarily by people who don’t really support a playoff but aren’t satisfied with the result the BCS provides (or, reportedly, the BCS honchos when they’re not worrying about public opinion). This one is proposed by Brian Sakowski and… that’s it (although Frank the Tank flirted with it once). No one else needs to be told what a disaster this one would be, and not just because it would reduce the bowls to play-in games. It’s almost untestable because there are almost as many “traditional bowl lineups” as people proposing them (the Big 12 is almost as young as the BCS itself) and the ripple effects on the rest of the bowl system are almost unknowable. But plus-one after the current bowl system, as supported by no one and tested in place of this by Ed Gunther, is even worse, because it creates the most skewed bracket ever, pitting 1 vs. 2 in the first round, rendering anticlimactic at best and utterly ruining at worst classic BCS outcomes like Texas-USC in 2005. People who have proposed variants of this – including Jon Miller of HawkeyeNation.com – often have specific years in mind, like 2003, when they wanted LSU to take on USC for the national championship.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed. Also known as the “four-team event” considered by the BCS honchos. A simple four-team playoff. Basically further mangles the bowl lineup by plucking two more teams into semifinal bowls, and turns out to produce first-round rematches often if left unchecked – often enough Gunther considers it inferior to plus-one after the current bowl system, obvious nonsense. As tested below, if 1/4 and 2/3 matchups would produce rematches, they are switched to 1/3 and 2/4. This system and variants of it (often giving home-field advantage in the first round) are backed by Richard Cirminiello of CFN, Tim Layden in SI in 2001, Frank the Tank, and Ben Prather, proprietor of SBNation’s former “BCS Evolution” blog. Jerry Hinnen has the semifinals the week before students’ finals week instead of being part of the bowls, allowing semifinal losers to join a pool with the teams at 5-10 in the other BCS bowls, and seems to be confused because he wants to include “the teams that need to be in” and includes the mid-majors that won BCS bowls, but those teams placed 8th at best in the BCS before the bowls, so the only thing I can think of is he intended to give auto bids to teams that go undefeated, but that includes some teams that didn’t “need” to be in like 2007 Hawaii and 2008 Boise State… Mark Schlabach and (if they were to firmly support a playoff) EDSBS want a plus-one but don’t give details, so I classify them here.
  • 8-team playoff, BCS champion auto bids. The two eight-team systems are often backed by people who want to use the BCS bowls as quarterfinals, ignoring how that would reduce the bowls to play-in games, or people who aren’t satisfied with a plus-one but aren’t ready to embrace 11/5. This playoff allocates six spots to the champions of BCS conferences, leaving two at larges. I could call it a “6/2” system, mirroring my “11/5” terminology. Fundamentally the system proposed by the Mountain West in 2009, and originally backed by Matt Hinton (now Yahoo’s “Dr. Saturday”) to the extent he supports any specific proposal, Pat Forde, this AP simulated system, BCS Watch to the extent he supports any playoff, James Irvine, Vincent Ellerby, and Frank the Tank‘s earliest proposal (the last two attempting to maintain traditional bowl assignments in the quarterfinals). Many proposals of this system replace one of the at-larges with an auto bid for a single non-BCS team, as in the system used in College Football News’ simulated playoff and backed by their Pete Fiutak, and also proposed by bceaglesfootball.com (which also takes away the Big East’s BCS auto bid). (CFN teamed up with WhatIfSports for December Madness after the 2007 season.)
  • 8-team playoff, no auto bid. Just the best eight teams in the country. Supported by Gene Wojcechowski, Matt Starnes, and Stephen Carradini. President Obama famously proposed an 8-team playoff during the campaign but didn’t specify how teams would be selected (though his original comments to Chris Berman suggested the no-auto-bid approach), putting him in the company of CFN’s Matthew Zemek, Paola Boivin, and USA Today‘s editorial board.
  • 11/5 system. Also known as “16-team playoff, auto bids to all conference champions.” Supported by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, Sloppy Joe of College Football Cafeteria, CBS’ J. Darin Darst, Fox’s Peter Schrager, SupportAPlayoff.com, Eric B. Shaw, Mark Blankenbaker, TrueNationalChampion.com, and yours truly, as well as all right-thinking people who pondered the college football playoff debate, at least before realignment set in (Wetzel, the most prominent voice for this model, explains his newfound misgivings about it and conversion to a BCS-auto-bid 8-teamer towards the end of this article) – yet seemingly treated as a strawman and untested by Gunther (on the grounds that one of the above four will happen before we get this). For the past few seasons, WhatIfSports.com has held its “December Madness” tournament under 11/5 rules and simulating the results with its game simulation technology; I did the same with my own bracket for several years, using the same site.

Proposals That Don’t Fit In the Big 5

  • “Flex” playoff system, Zane version. Basically, a system that tries to always be the best system, sometimes being a single national championship game, sometimes being Plus-One top 4 bracketed. Here’s the simplest I can explain Billy Zane’s idea: If there are two undefeated teams ranked 1 and 2 and no one else above a certain threshold, or two or fewer teams with one or fewer losses in the top four, they play a single national championship game. (If an undefeated team plays a 2-loss team in this manner, the national championship game is not necessarily for the national championship.) If there is one undefeated team at #1 and two 1-loss teams (or a 1-loss team and an unbeaten that’s not #2) in the top four, the undefeated team gets a bye into the national championship game and the two one-loss teams play each other. Otherwise, it is Plus-One top 4 bracketed, except any unbeaten over said threshold automatically gets in (top 5 as proposed in the demonstration, but top 6 as I analyze it below, for reasons that will become clear), bumping out teams with losses if needed.
  • “Flex” playoff system, Prather version. Link is the same as Prather’s support for Plus-One top 4 bracketed, which seems to be more recently supported, an admission of the complexity of this plan. Similar to the Zane version, except the size of the gaps in the BCS standings (equivalent to a 1.5-spot average difference in the polls) is used to select the qualifying teams, and the result could be as large as an eight-team playoff, larger if there are more undefeated teams than that.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed, preserve Rose Bowl. This is a compromise between “Plus-One with traditional bowls” and “Plus-One top 4 bracketed” by preserving the only traditional bowl matchup worth preserving, similar to Frank the Tank‘s “semi-seeded plus-one”, and a reformation of the Big Ten’s “Four-Team Plus” model under consideration (essentially a bracketed plus-one that ignores the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions for the semifinals only, considered by Frank the Tank here). Under this model, even if the Pac-10 or Big 10 champion is in the top four, and even if the other one isn’t, they will play each other in the Rose Bowl no matter what. Curiously, this often duplicates the results of plus-one after the current bowl system. For example, in 2003, USC would have been force-seeded to the Rose Bowl, leaving LSU to play Oklahoma. Under this system, non-Rose bowls are listed as the higher-seed’s tie-in bowl, unless the higher seed is the Big East champion or (somehow) an at-large.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed, conference champions only. An attempt to avert situations where a normal bracketed plus-one renders conference championships meaningless. Apparently this one was considered by the suits in the room but ultimately rejected.
  • 6-team playoff.
    Brian of MGOBlog wants no autobid, home field, 3 seed picks whether they face 5 or 6, 1 seed picks which first-round winner they face. Ryan Murphy gives auto bids to the BCS conferences that aren’t the Big East; that version will only be assessed for years after the ACC raided the Big East.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions qualify based on ranking.
    Frank Xei (at least I’m assuming that’s his name) proposes putting all conference champions in the top 12 of the BCS standings in the tournament, then the remaining spots go to the top non-conference champions. As you’ll see, this will sometimes exclude BCS conference champions, which is “some” times too many for the BCS gatekeepers. Ditto for Sloppy Joe‘s more mature playoff proposal, which takes all conference champions in the top 14 and Notre Dame if they crack the top 8. After originally proposing the original BCS conference champion auto bid system, Ty Duffy subsequently suggested a system with the top six highest-ranked conference champions, regardless of conference, selected.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions qualify based on number of wins. As suggested here, conference champions would be required to have nine wins over FBS teams, but would go in automatically regardless of ranking if they had that many.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions only. Proposed by Arizona State president Michael Crow. Chris Suellentrop‘s system would also include BCS auto bids, as would Jason Nafziger.
  • 10-team playoff. Used by ESPN c. 2009 (no auto bid) and by College Football Campus (BCS champion auto bids) for their simulated playoffs, and suggested by Playitoff.org (current BCS automatic qualification requirements for auto bids), Dr. Saturday (BCS champion auto bids, two-team-per-conference rule remains in effect), and Brandon E. Kennedy (BCS champion auto bids), mostly because it’s a nice round number we’re all familiar with, despite the fact it’s arbitrary (our counting system would make more sense if we had six fingers on each hand) and produces an ugly bracket. One advantage of the format is that it’s possible to give automatic byes to the BCS conference champions, no more, no less.
  • 12-team playoff.
    Ryan West backs giving the BCS conference champions auto bids. (West also proposes holding each round at a BCS bowl site, which’ll never happen.) CollegePlayoffs.com does not, and includes a 16-team NIT-like tournament, while thinking “Bowl Tournament” isn’t an oxymoron from the bowls’ perspective. Jonathan West (who I don’t believe is related to Ryan) also backs an auto-bid-free format. The Enhanced Bowl Season gives auto bids to the BCS conference champions and one non-BCS champion, plus any other non-BCS champion in the top 12 of the rankings.
  • 16-team playoff, only BCS conferences get auto bids. As proposed by ESPN blogger Ghostsof1948, Russ Thorson, and Jeb Puryear.
  • 16-team playoff, auto bids for champions of top 8 conferences and BCS conference runner ups. This is what Bill Hahn‘s bizarre proposal amounts to. Even more bizarre, seeding is random, with the conference champions randomly seeded 1-8 and the runner ups randomly seeded on the opposite side of the draw as their respective champions.
  • 16-team playoff, auto bids for qualifying conference champions. This is the Mountain West’s 2011 proposal, with the qualification being that the team must be in the top 30 teams in the country.
  • 16-team playoff, no auto bid. The basis for SI’s simulated playoff, and also proposed by Sam Matta, Chad Crabtree, and “Tommy” on The Right Sphere. John (?) Houlgate would pick the 16th team randomly from the teams ranked 16-25, obviously untestable.
  • 20-team playoff. Tyler West essentially adds four play-in games to the 11/5 system. He also suggests making every conference get a championship game, but the system is testable without it. He also has an odd rule that teams in position to get an at-large before playing the conference championship can’t be left out in favor of a team from the same conference, which seems to have the effect of reducing the incentive to win the conference championship.
  • 24-team playoff. Simple: there are over 100 teams in college football, and over 300 teams in college basketball. There are 11 conferences in college football, and 31 conferences in college basketball. There are 12 games in a college football season, and 30-some games in a college basketball season. Therefore a college football season should have roughly a third of the teams in March Madness, and that adds up to 22-23. 20-team proposals aside, 24 is the nearest number that produces the neatest-looking bracket. Whether it preserves the sanctity of the regular season is another matter… I want to keep my level of work sane, the BCS standings a useful baseline, and the regular season with a modicum of meaning, so this is the largest playoff I’m willing to consider.

Proposals Too Radically Different To Be Tested (Or Ever Pass)

  • 16-team playoff, only winners of conference championship games get auto bids. As proposed by Bruce Leban. Why is it untestable? Because conferences would race to adopt championship games somehow, someway, forcing realignment and turning this into a variant of one of the below.
  • 4-team playoff in place of conference championships. This is essentially what Mark Cuban has proposed, and it’s untestable for the opposite reason: it effectively forces conferences with championships to get rid of them.
  • Gunther Modified Season. Teams play only 8-9 regular season games, most of them conference games. Then a selection committee divides teams into two groups, with the top 32 teams in Group A and everyone else in Group B. Group B teams play each other the first week of November, ideally teams within 10 ranking spots of them with home field based on attendance rankings, Group A teams the second week with home field to higher seed. Then everyone is reseeded and Group A is condensed to the top 16 and everyone plays the third week, and then Group A is condensed to the top 8 and everyone plays the fourth week, and then Group A is condensed one more time to the top 4 and intra-conference matches are allowed there, though not rematches. Finally bowl bids are divvied out and #1 and #2 play in the championship game. The “playoff” in Group A is not a traditional single-elimination tournament, as teams can lose early on and remain in Group A, but conversely a team can win and still not stay alive; one commenter proposed fixing this by first having the field cut from 28 to 18, with 14 winners and 4 losers, then to 12 similarly, then 8, then cut in half each subsequent round; I would go 24 to 16 to 12 to 8. Gunther claims the basic framework is “workable and realistic” as opposed to some other plans both above and below, but no one will accept such a major change in a million years – it changes too much tradition, like November rivalry games, and it’s too complicated for Americans – even though it’s more conservative than its cousin…
  • Johnson Swiss System/32-cum-8-team playoff. The Swiss system is the system used in chess tournaments, and it basically boils down to always facing someone with the same record as you. If you win your first game, you face someone else who won their first game. If you lose that game, you face someone who’s also 1-1, and so on. Ben Johnson’s postseason (leaving his conspiratorial thinking aside) would work like that. It would realign all the BCS conferences, as well as a conference taking the best teams from the Mountain West and WAC, so that each conference had a uniform number of teams, and would have the first eight games all be conference games. The top four teams from each conference would play a mini-bracket leading to a conference championship, with the losers of the conference semifinals playing in a conference third-place game (if they haven’t played already in Johnson’s current proposal). The conference champions, as well as the winner of a game between the MAC and C-USA champions, would form an eight-team bracket, but as originally proposed, losers of each game would face losers of a comparable game, so quarterfinal losers would face other quarterfinal losers, semifinal losers would meet in a third-place bowl, and the winners of quarterfinal loser games would meet in a third bowl, the losers in a fourth. As originally proposed, a similar process would be followed for the losers of the conference championship game and conference third-place game participants. The conference 5-8 teams (3-4 for MAC and C-USA) would enter a similar “Holiday” bracket, the conference 9-12 teams (5-6 for MAC and C-USA) would enter another similar “NIT” bracket, and the remaining 24 teams (would these all be MAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt teams?) would enter some sort of “Sportsman’s” bracket. As presently proposed, at least last I checked, Johnson seems to have taken a cue from Gunther’s system, as teams that weren’t in the main championship bracket would play primarily regional games, an attempt to mollify people who would protest that people couldn’t possibly move from game to game, although the Swiss system seems to still be in effect. In any case no one will agree to the major restructuring of college football conferences required by the Johnson system, or the loss of control over non-conference schedules, or the destruction of interconference rivalries, or the movement of “rivalry week” to week 8 at the latest, or how, comments that this system gives every team a shot at the championship notwithstanding, Sun Belt teams are supposed to ever have a shot at the championship (or in the case of the original proposal, even the non-Sportsman brackets)…
  • Realignment. Hunter Ansley of DraftZoo.com proposes realigning FBS into eight 12-team conferences, divided into two leagues, which would play a 16-team playoff, with conference championship games, two league championship rounds, and a game between the champions of each league, with bowls serving as rounds of the tournament. Two words: Pipe dream. The proprietor of the Get the Picture blog seems to want a playoff comprised solely of all the conference champions but would rejigger the conferences to create a competitive balance, or the appearance of one. At the height of the first round of conference realignment in 2010, several people entertained dreams of the power teams forming four 16-team superconferences that could then set up a de facto four-team playoff. Yours truly proposed blowing up the current conference system in favor of instituting a system of promotion and relegation last year, and weaker forms of pro/rel have also been proposed. Most realignment plans just shuffle teams around into new alignments without regard for whether the conferences or teams would agree or even the impact on other sports. The way realignment has actually played out, especially the first round in 2010 when the Pac-10 very nearly became the Pac-16, underscores the inherent unpredictability of the enterprise.

Tune in next time, when we take a look at how each of these systems would have done each year of the BCS era.

For this review, I think I’m going to try to put on my best Robert A. “Tangents” Howard impression and overanalyze everything.

(From Gunnerkrigg Court. Click for full-sized scrounging.)

Longtime readers of Da Blog know that I am an enormous fan of The Order of the Stick, to the point that I will defend it to the death as one of the classics of literature, especially within the fantasy genre. Of course, I can see how people might be skeptical that a humor comic about stick figures could be the best webcomic on the entire Internet. So back in 2009, when I was still regularly doing webcomic reviews, and shortly after one particular defense of OOTS as a piece of classic literature, I decided that if I was really going to call OOTS the best webcomic on the Internet, I had to qualify such a claim by familiarizing myself, once and for all, with the other comic commonly listed alongside OOTS, even by the likes of John Solomon, as one of the two best webcomics on the Internet. I had to do a review of Gunnerkrigg Court.

I’d read the first chapter of the Court before, but I didn’t really find it anything special, or leaving me wanting more (it’s a fairly self-contained story on its own), and at the time I didn’t want to get myself too involved in what was already a considerable archive. Due to the circumstances of my life at the time, I was finding it impossible to keep to the weekly schedule for webcomic reviews I was aiming for, and eventually stopped entirely, but before I did I was determined to push through, finish the archive, and determine once and for all whether or not the Court was really all it was cracked up to be, and whether or not it could go toe-to-toe with OOTS, or even find a place in my RSS feeds.

Is it? Well… let me tell you a story.

Even though I have a 100 Greatest Movies Project I’ve been trying and failing to get off the ground for some time (which you can contribute to!), I’ve never really been much of a movies guy. I went to two movies when I was very little, like less than five years old; I think they were Muppet Treasure Island and The Lion King. Both of those are kids’ movies, yet I could not handle the emotional torque in each one, not even Muppet Treasure Island. I ended up having to leave the theater to avoid what was going on on-screen. Those experiences turned me off of movies pretty much for life, to the extent that I can probably count the number of movies I’ve seen in a theater since then on one hand.

Now, being much older these days, I could probably handle those movies just fine if I went to see them today, or really most any other movie. But there’s still a part of me that worries about that emotional torque, that excess of drama. I’m anything but the kind of person who would go to a horror movie precisely to go through that torque. A while back I mentioned that I seemed to have a bit of an anti-gag-a-day bias in my reviews, that I tended to favor comics with a plot over ones without, but it’s really the reverse. All the comics that I’ve continued reading for some time after reviewing them – OOTS, Homestuck, Sluggy Freelance, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Irregular Webcomic, Darths and Droids, even 8-Bit Theater – for all that they had some plot or went some distance into Cerebus Syndrome, all of them had some humor to leaven the situation or lighten the mood, and OOTS is probably best at that than any other.

Gunnerkrigg Court doesn’t have that. It is strictly a dramatic story comic and nothing else. For as much as the situations can be silly or the comic downright weird, it is still a wholly dramatic comic, with any humor being purely incidential. Reading the first few chapters, I was simultaneously on the edge of my seat wanting the questions the comic raised to be answered, and wanting to just stop and get away from reading this comic. Part of it was my embarrassment at the level of bizarreness I was being confronted with; part of it was the level of suspense involved in the story, which got my heart racing and put me on the edge of my seat, portrayed in a far more dynamic fashion than would be possible in the stick figure style of OOTS. For many people, that’s high praise. For me, it was too much for me to take.

However, after the first five or six chapters, that feeling eventually faded, though I never was completely able to stop needing a break every few chapters and dreaded finishing it, and I think either I got used to the drama or Tom Siddell made it not quite so intense. If I were to recommend whether or not the comic is for you, I would advise you to read the first 11 or 12 chapters before coming to a decision. That’s nearly a third of the comic by number of chapters and almost the entire first book, but really the entire first book is kind of setup. I’m actually a bit stunned at how quickly the Court reached the point where the likes of Solomon and El Santo could praise it the way they have; I never would have thought it would have attracted that kind of praise before the end of the first book. For me, the comic doesn’t really get going until the third chapter of the second book – and for all the mysteries this comic has, it’s the partial resolution of one that got me most interested, when we begin to learn of the origins of the titular Court.

At this point, a major theme of the comic begins to come into focus, one that’s a bit overused in modern “urban fantasy” but nonetheless one worthy of study here: the conflict between magic and technology. A group of humans were offered refuge by creatures of the forest, but began looking for explanations for the strange phenomena all around them, which led to a conflict that ended when the trickster god Coyote divided the world of magic from the world of technology. While the Court was introduced as a school, it becomes apparent early on that it is much more than that, that it is a place that seeks to re-unify the two worlds… or perhaps more appropriately, to continue to attempt to understand magic using science, to apply the strictures of man to a world that stubbornly refuses to fit them.

The character of Kat quickly comes to represent this attitude. A budding scientist, hers is a strictly scientific worldview, one which refuses to believe anything that doesn’t fit her worldview until she’s confronted face-to-face with it, one which refuses to believe there is anything that does not have a rational, scientific explanation. Unlike the rest of the Court, she doesn’t need an explanation to accept what she’s dealing with, but she is quite insistent that there is one. As time progresses and she grows more used to everything, she does start to reshape her worldview and gets some new ideas about how a machine might be able to work.

A stark contrast with Kat is her best friend and the comic’s protagonist, Antimony Carver. Antimony is not entirely on the side of magic – merely being human is enough to assure of that – but she definitely seems to be more attuned to, and on the side of, magic than the rest of the Court (though many other human characters clearly have misgivings about the Court’s position). Antimony grew up in a hospital, isolated from the outside world, her mother bedridden from the day she was born. While there, she had the ability to see the numerous spirit guides whose job it was to escort the dead to the great beyond, and would accompany them and comfort the dead as they were taken away. It’s apparent, though not obvious to Antimony when the comic begins, that her mother arranged for her to go to Gunnerkrigg shortly after her death to further develop these talents and take up her own mantle as the Court’s “mediator” to the world of magic.

If I had to describe this comic in a single sentence, it might be: “if Daria went to Hogwarts”. Even at the height of activity in the early chapters it never reaches the sort of world-shattering confrontations that characterize the later Harry Potter books, and Antimony is not quite as snarky or disdainful as Daria could get, but she does hold a certain ambivalence toward everything going on around her and isn’t terribly affected at the presence of “ethereal” things (much like I’d like to pretend I could be, as though this comic didn’t put the lie to that). Her reaction, in the first chapter, to having a “second shadow” follow her around is to confront it, ask it what it wants, and build a robot to transport it across the bridge back into the forest; her reaction to encountering a ghost is to give it tips in how to be more scary; when she encounters a huge demon… dragon… thing, she strikes up a conversation with it, eventually comes to see it again when it’s re-imprisoned, and when the demon accidentially enters into her wolf doll, befriends it.

(That demon, Reynardine, may be my favorite character in the entire comic. His snarky ways were quite invaluable in getting me through some of those early chapters, adding some needed levity to the proceedings. He’s developed quite a bit since then, though those early days aren’t gone entirely, and Coyote may have passed him as the most fun character to be around. He’s… well… pretty much everything you’d expect a trickster god, accurately portrayed, to be.)

Although that first chapter (and the following one, really) read like a self-contained story when I first read it, not only do both the shadow and robot make return appearances, but it also serves to set the stage for the comic as a whole, and possibly serve as a microcosm of it. Antimony is confronted by a magical phenomenon – the shadow creature. She doesn’t shun it as some sort of abomination against science, as some sort of foe encroaching on the world of technology, but instead talks to it and learns that it just wants to go home. But her solution to that problem is technological: to build the robot. It is an alliance of magic and technology, indeed of the latter assisting the former, where once the former felt the need to shun the latter. There may be a bridge between the Court and the forest, but the real bridge is Antimony, and her ability to represent the best of both worlds.

That was once her mother’s job; now Antimony is in training to make it her own, in a way her mother never seems to have embraced. Her mother once romanced Reynardine in his normal fox form, but if I may be permitted a minor spoiler, it turns out to have been all a ruse to get him captured by the Court. Antimony, by contrast, has a more genuine (if somewhat slow to develop) friendship with Reynardine, and seems to have been accepted by Coyote and the creatures of the forest in a way that doesn’t really apply to anyone else in the Court. If Harry Potter is a game of Dungeons and Dragons, the Court is more of a chess game, with the pieces warily moving around each other, slowly setting up for a final showdown, with Antimony in the middle, potentially the deciding factor in the outcome, and perhaps the one best hope for bringing the two worlds back together.

Gunnerkrigg Court isn’t perfect. It’s certainly nowhere near challenging OOTS for my personal “Best Webcomic Evar” title, and I’m not even sure whether or not it’s better than Homestuck; certainly Homestuck was easier to get through despite taking longer. A big part of my problem with it is the one that I’ve hinted at when I’ve referred to the Court in the past: the effect of always releasing the comic a page at a time. While it makes for a breezy archive binge (it should take you no more than two days, maybe not even that if you reserve the whole day for it and can handle the emotional torque), some pages can be confusing and the pace of the story moves agonizingly slowly when read as it comes out, with some pages not feeling like full updates. Also, Siddell is so committed to making a mystery out of everything that sometimes the fact that something would be a mystery ends up making one or more parties look rather stupid.

It’s also not the most original comic in the world; the most obvious and notorious influence is probably Harry Potter, but Siddell has also borrowed heavily from mythologies and symbolism the world over, and I can also see reciprocal influences with other webcomics, as the art style sometimes reminds me of the later Scary Go Round (especially Parley), there’s a bit of Kim Ross of Dresden Codak (in)fame in both Antimony and Kat, and I can definitely see the Court‘s influence on Fey Winds.

And perhaps most of all, it can still be quite dark and depressing – and upon reread I realize it actually got darker as it went along, to the point one actually could say it went through Cerebus Syndrome. I’m interested enough in where it goes that I’m going to put it in my RSS feeds, but on a provisional basis. I’ve done this before – Irregular Webcomic! during the Irregular Crisis, Sluggy Freelance during the extended “bROKEN”/”4U City” storyline, Homestuck – but this is the first time where the reason for the provisionality isn’t because I’m just staying for the end of a storyline. Rather, the reason for the provisionality is because I want the freedom to bail on the Court if I find I can’t handle it. I may have only just gotten back to webcomic reviews, but I have never gotten closer to abandoning them entirely than when I was reading those first five or six chapters. The Court isn’t going to be the last webcomic of this type that I review, and regardless of what my personal inclinations are, if I want to have any credibility as a reviewer I need to at least be able to get through comics that may be quite good, but that deal with themes and subjects that put me through that much emotional torque.

Although, if page-at-a-time webcomics can be archive-binged as breezily as the Court, maybe I should try a full archive binge of Girl Genius sometime soon…

How should we recognize and award the best webcomics?

It’s comics awards season again, which means the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth over how webcomics don’t get no respect from the stodgy old comic book/strip establishment. Even those awards that give at least one token category to webcomics get accused of simply paying lip service to the medium, or of judging the new medium by the standards of the old. And so it is that we get Lauren Davis complaining about how ridiculous it is that webcomics only get one measly category at the Eisner awards, echoing Xaviar Xerexes’ sentiment that this year’s Best Digital Comic field is so wildly divergent it’s hard to fairly judge them all. (My hunch is, if they’re really right about that, the Eisners actually will add at least one new digital category within the next two years, just because whoever’s picking the winner will want it.)

Then you have El Santo over at the Webcomic Overlook, who’s more in favor of webcomics having their own awards:

I’m kinda partial to the notion of webcomics having their own awards — a little like the Webcomic List Awards I helped judge some time back. Something to separate the new wave of cartooning from the stodginess of the Reubens and the more entrenched traditions of the Eisners, but those never seem to take off. They probably won’t unless there’s a physical ceremony (as opposed to purely online) where you get an excuse to be all dolled up and stuff.

My problem with the “online ceremonies” of the Webcomic List Awards and some of the WCCAs (the last couple WCCAs actually had physical ceremonies at MegaCon) wasn’t so much the being online in and of itself, so much as how goofy they were. For some reason both awards decided that, to match the medium they honored, they needed to hold ceremonies in webcomic form, complete with “presenters” and, in the case of at least one WCCA ceremony, actual webcomic characters “accepting” the awards. It made both awards feel less like actual awards and more like parodies of actual awards shows; if you won’t take yourselves seriously, why should we? I actually would have had less of a problem if all the awards were simply posted on a Web page. (My personal inclination is that webcomics should be focusing less of their attention on acceptance by the comics part of their name and find a place in awards for the best of the web, but most of those either have specific focuses (thus justifying the existence of webcomic-specific awards) or are otherwise complete messes and/or semi-hostile to independent creators.)

The bigger problem, to me, is how past webcomics awards have been conducted. The Webcomic List Awards that El Santo refers to seems to have had nominations determined by a poll of the users of the eponymous website, with the winner chosen by the judging panel. Throwing the doors open to anyone to participate in the nominating process seems to me to turn it into a popularity contest. If anything, this almost seems backward to me: let the judging panel narrow the vast universe of webcomics down to a small number for the people to sift through. In a way, the recent Webcomic March Madness tournament played out about as well as any awards might have. Every phase of the process was controlled by the people, but putting webcomics against one another one-on-one made it easier to compare webcomics on their own merits. In the end, it was still a popularity contest to some extent, but would Gunnerkrigg Court and Goblins both have been nominated in a typical people-controlled awards contest? Maybe. Would the Court have won? Possibly. Would Goblins have come close to winning? Pretty sure the answer is no.

The WCCAs were better, with near as I can tell, both nominations and awards handled by “webcartoonists” themselves, making it a peer award. The problem there was probably not so much the concept as the execution and how much anyone cared about it; Eric Burns(-White) didn’t even know about it until the executive committee caused a huge controversy by throwing out one of the nominations one year, and the running of the awards generally comes off in its Wikipedia page as a comedy of errors. Still, Bengo has left me with a deep distrust of webcomic artists’ ability to overcome various personal biases, and there’s no guarantee that webcomic artists won’t be too busy making their own webcomics to read any others beyond the ones they already read. More to the point, the WCCAs ended up being almost every bit as much the popularity contest; would any of the Eisner nominees have picked up a single WCCA nomination?

The nominating process is the part that needs to be treated with the most care. Nominations need to be handled by people who read as many webcomics as possible and can discern the good webcomics from the bad, and the best webcomics from that group. Thus, my preference would be that the nominations be made by webcomic reviewers and journalists. (And no, I don’t just say that because I happen to belong to that category.) The problem with that, though, is that there aren’t that many webcomic reviewers and pretty much none of them hold the title as a job. Most webcomic reviewers got their start by reading a few webcomics and then deciding to set up a blog to talk about them, so it’s questionable how qualified some of them might be. Still, if we brought in me, Eric Burns(-White), Robert A. Howard, El Santo, Xaviar Xerexes, Gary Tyrell, Heidi MacDonald, and Davis, that’d be a pretty nice eight-person nominating panel, in my opinion, though I accept any alternate names you might want to suggest (and in any case it might need some occasional shakeups in the long term).

Rather than simply submitting lists of nominees and the five most-picked comics get nominated, I imagine the panel would submit some lists – taking requests from people throughout the year to help inform those lists – and then would get together, online or otherwise, to debate the selections and try to get a vague consensus to put together a list of five nominees in each category. The actual winners could be chosen by a larger group – webcomic creators, everyone, or some sort of mix – once the nominees have been narrowed down for them. Any physical ceremonies would need to be held at a con that most of the nominees in question would be likely to attend, which likely means a very webcomic-friendly con.

Now, if you think all this is just an excersize in egotism, I can’t blame you, or definitively say you’re wrong. You could probably say that about all awards. But for a medium still insecure about broader acceptance as webcomics still is in, it’s still important to recognize some sort of definition of “best”, preferably one that will provide motivation to those looking to create works of the highest artistic merit. Besides, it’s fun to debate which comics would be most deserving of which honor, and I suspect those two things, more than straight-up egotism, are greater contributing factors to the proliferation of awards out there.

Reinventing Webcomics and Comic Syndicates

And now it’s time to pull together pretty much everything I’ve said about the state of webcomics over the course of the past three or four months. (All of what, two or three posts?)

In a recent interview with Fleen, Brad Guigar let slip a hint as to some of the advice he and Scott Kurtz would have given comic strip syndicates if any of them had taken their consulting offer:

This whole conversation is about an innovation that I’m introducing that’s — to the best of my knowledge — unseen in webcomics at large. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s also a completely new way to envision a webcomic.

Take a look at how Scott has re-purposed his Web site. If you look closely, you’ll see some very important changes in how he’s positioning himself to his readers. He’s not just a webcartoonist. He’s pushing towards something greater than that. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking that we were offering the syndicates.

He’s referring to the recent Penny Arcade-ization of PVP, hiding the comic behind the front page and pushing the news post to the front. At first glance, that seems to be all that’s changed; all the navigation elements relevant to having a webcomic are still there, including a presumably-updated “new readers” page. There’s considerable advertising and store shilling, but it’s hard to tell how Scott Kurtz is “pushing towards something greater than” being a mere “webcartoonist”.

But the plan clicks together into place when you scroll down to the very bottom of the page. There, you see a list of “projects” beyond PVP that Kurtz has his fingers in. Similarly, the top of the front page flashes three “featured projects”, none of which are the comic itself. It’s clear that what Kurtz (and I suppose, by extention, Guigar) have in mind isn’t quite the sort of webcomic-as-community I hinted at a while back, something that is very much seen in the single most popular webcomic on the Internet that Kurtz knows very intimately. Rather, Kurtz seems to be more in the business of building himself as a brand. If anything, it’s less Penny Arcade and more Morganwick.com.

I couldn’t begin to tease out what exactly these mad geniuses have in mind that would change webcomics forever. But I certainly have to wonder how exactly this would apply to newspaper comic strips and their syndicates. Would Kurtz and Guigar want syndicates as a whole to ape the new PVP, or individual comics? If the former, I’d imagine it would involve creating the idea less of a soulless corporate syndicate and more of a club of comic creators sitting around and shooting the breeze, perhaps working on other projects with one another.

The latter approach, which is probably more likely, would involve giving individual comics more of an identity than all but the most popular comics currently have on the syndicates’ web sites (and suggests a very different approach than the one I laid out), which even if any syndicate had taken the Kurtz-Guigar offer, they might be loath to do. It would involve encouraging comic creators to start blogging, to build a connection between themselves, the fans, and the comic that helps to tie them all together, to humanize the creators and make the comic just one aspect of the relationship between themselves and their readers – the most important aspect, maybe, but only one nonetheless.

To help understand what’s going on here, let’s consider one of the most successful newspaper comics still running, Dilbert. Scott Adams was always one of the more web-savvy of creators (printing his e-mail address in his comic before anyone else) and his comic’s site in many ways reflects his ability to nimbly shift into the modern digital age. There’s a lot going on here: the comic is in the center of the page, but there are also elements at the top linking to “mashups”, “animation”, Adams’ personal blog, and the store. Below the comic are three links to three different parts of the site: the blog, the “featured strip” in the archive, and a plug for the most recent book collection. Below that, then, are a couple other links.

It’s a very well-designed site that clearly reflects a lot of wisdom taken from webcomics and even some of what Kurtz is doing. But how might we make it better? One thing that jumps to mind is to push the blog to the front page. If the comic is then pushed to another page like Penny Arcade and PVP, everything on the site is tied closer together with the creator and the fandom, with Adams becoming the main personality and the comic forming one part of it, with perhaps the first panel of the current comic appearing in a little space alongside the blog. “The Dilbert Filter” should probably be moved to a more prominent location, perhaps a sidebar alongside the blog; note that all three elements are roughly analogous to elements on PVP‘s site. The comic, blog, and store are the three most important elements and the ones most emphasized on every page.

Dilbert is an example of a comic that could adopt the community approach, namely built around the workplace and all the idiots who inhabit it. Reader submissions have always been a big source of material for Adams. A message board would be an excellent addition here, for people to trade stories and the like. The comic could remain the main attraction, but the rest of the site could be set up to facilitate interaction among the fans and with the author. Dilbert could take some cues from User Friendly in this.

Thinking over this, I’m beginning to realize that as much as the news posts may be the real attraction of Penny Arcade, as much of a reason to put it on the front page as anything is to make Gabe and Tycho seem less like webcomickers and more like guys who make webcomics. It makes the creators look less like webcomic-producing machines and more like real people. Gabe and Tycho have taken this to an extreme, where the comic is really just an illustration to go along with the news post, but the same principle applies to a lesser extent to what PVP is doing (and for that matter, Ctrl+Alt+Del and The Order of the Stick as well), and to an even lesser extent to all webcomic news posts. Pushing the comic off the main page helps the site feel like more than a holding place for the comic. Good web design says visitors should be able to get to the content they want with as few clicks as possible, but if the syndicates want to try to make their creators feel less like soulless corporate hacks, good web design may go out the window, in favor of giving the comic a genuine “home page”. (And not one like what Garfield has; that one makes it seem more like a soulless corporate enterprise, while also proving the point that putting the comic on the front page doesn’t have to be the default.)

So yeah, as much of a lapdog for Bengo as I can seem sometimes, I have to praise Kurtz and Guigar here. They may very well have hit upon a rather fruitful approach to reinventing webcomics, and while it may seem like an odd blueprint to use comic-strip syndicates as the guinea pigs for, that may say more about the syndicates and their clients than about the blueprint, Kurtz, or Guigar. Still, I can’t help but wonder if what I said back in February might be more useful to the syndicates, given their culture and overall business model and the entirety of the landscape facing them.

UPDATE: Guigar himself clarifies his remarks in the comments. Also, I am left in complete awe at seeing him comment on my site.

Fun fact: The code for an overdose of sopor slime on Alternia is 418.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized Tavrisprite.)

Okay Hussie, now I know you’re just screwing with us.

There are no words I can come up with that can add anything to this. The only explanation I can imagine is that this is some sort of practical joke at the expense of the fanbase.

I mean… just… where do you even go with this? What can you do with this beyond the sheer lunacy of the very idea of throwing Vriska AND Tavros into Jane’s Kernelsprite? What’s next, will Roxy’s sprite be prototyped by Eridan and Feferi?

Either the in-comic death of the author is having effects that are spreading into the comic itself, or Hussie is high enough right now to put jelly on a hot god.

I hate my life right now.

3:45 PM: I enter class hoping to find some sort of idea I can use as a jumping-off point for a post today.

4:15 PM: I find said idea and also realize I intended to write a post taking off on another idea I had. I begin writing the latter.

4:45 PM: Break time. People move positions such that I find myself in a place where I can’t get anything done for the rest of class.

5:50 PM: Half an hour of struggling to read a comic for a future review in the library.

6:25 PM: Leave campus.

7:25 PM: Get home, realize the school across the street is going to be making it impossible to get serious work done for the next two hours, and my mom and company aren’t helping.

9:40 PM: Mom and company start watching TV, which means I have more time where I’m not going to get stuff done other than having dinner.

10:30 PM: Mom and company stop watching TV. Naturally, I goof off a little in front of the TV myself.

11:30 PM: I finally get back to starting to write the post again, FIVE HOURS after I last attempted to work on it, intending not to allow me to rush myself… only to find I’m in no state to think coherently about it.

And you wonder why I wouldn’t be a fan of my current living and work situation.

(No lecturing me about working on my blog during class, please. Thank you.)