A belated not-so-happy blog-day.

I am pissed off at myself.

I had planned to use the winter break to catch up on things that have been haunting me since July. I’d get to work on a number of my planned projects, including my planned book on the impact of the Internet, or at least catch up on feeds I’ve been falling behind on and fast, or at least a number of long-planned posts.

What have I been doing instead? Getting ensnared by TV Tropes. Again. In a similar manner to something that happened over the summer, except this time, combined with all the other crap I’ve loaded down my browser with in the interim, it’s enough to start causing Firefox to crash regularly. If it weren’t for that I could stave off temptation long enough to at least take care of some of the long-planned posts, or at least the timeliest ones, but instead I feel I have to spend all my computer time on TV Tropes just to get it over with. It does not help that I’ve made a habit of staying up well into the night, as in until 2 AM and sometimes as late as 5 AM.

That said, this was actually a somewhat productive year for me, and for what used to be Da Blog, even if I’ve been making pretty much exclusively football posts since the end of my flashy debut month in September. In fact, this could go down as perhaps the most pivotal year in the history of the Morgan Wick Online Universe, mostly because this was the year a foundation was laid for the future with the move of Da Blog and – at least nominally – the rest of the web site to MorganWick.com (and the associated re-posting of posts to Comixtalk and Bleacher Report). This site is very much still under construction – several features aren’t properly set up yet, I haven’t bothered to figure out how to make Sandsday accessible on the new site, and I haven’t launched the forum yet. The forum isn’t entirely my fault, as I’m not sure I’d be able to right now even if I got around to trying, as bbPress is in a pretty sorry state, especially compared to the more mature (and more paid-attention-to) WordPress. I promised a December forum launch last time I checked, but that’s probably not happening, because from what I hear I may still be running up against many of the same problems that haunted my first attempt.

And that’s not all. I launched Da Tweeter, which could become the new core of the Morgan Wick Online Universe. And as I prepared to write the aforementioned Internet book, I started writing more and more introspective and insightful things, including the “Webcomics’ Identity Crisis” series in February and Ideas Every Day month in September.

But my life, if anything, has entered a tailspin. Last year I reflected on all the job-searching I’d done, which wasn’t much because Da Blog had become my job. This year I did basically no job-searching at all. And my schoolwork has been suffering even without other online distractions, to the point I’ve been skating close to skipping out on multiple courses. The Morgan Wick Online Universe itself took a step back when I attempted to use Sandsday to hold a debate on global warming, only for first, no one to join the debate, and second, the resulting one-man debate driving me insane and leading to the end of Sandsday. I still intend to finish the debate some day, but there haven’t been any new Sandsday strips since July or August… maybe I’m still feeling the after-effects of the global warming series.

But beyond that, a lot of my problems seem to stem from a few sources, things I’ve been complaining about for a long time. Complaints about my workload are as old as the first time Da Blog picked up a sliver of popularity, but in 2009 they became acute. My RSS reader got so bloated I eventually had to take a temporary vacation from it when my school workload interfered too much, and as the above indicates, it has never recovered. Between my RSS feeds, personal projects, and schoolwork, I try to do more than there’s time in the day to do, or at least than there’s time in the day for me to do. It would help if I had Internet access from home, but that’s not likely to happen unless and until I get a job, and I can’t get a job if I’m already too busy for one…

Perhaps the solution is strict regimentation of my day, something I’ve long had in mind and the formation of Da Tweeter was partly intended to facilitate, but I’ve never been very good at holding myself to a schedule. Or perhaps the solution is focusing more on webcomic posts. More people I’ve heard of have noticed my webcomic posts than my sports posts, and even with no webcomic posts for months I’ve received more traffic to the webcomic section of the site than the sports section. Of my football projects, the SNF Flex Schedule Watch is the only one that’s produced significant traffic, and the College Football Rankings take up so much of my time I’m considering outsourcing them somehow or reverting to the 2007 approach of posting just the RTFs of the full rankings and not separate posts. (Of course it hasn’t helped that for most of the season I had to hop around various school computers to put the ranking posts together, but football projects were curtailing my ability to do schoolwork even before that.)

Or maybe the problem is not so much that I don’t have the time, but that I don’t have the brainpower. But then I need to get more brainpower somehow…

At any rate, even if it only added up to nine months, Year Three of Da Blog did a lot to set the course for Da Blog’s future. Now it’s time to find out how Year Four continues that course. And in honor of Da Blog’s third blog-day, I’m taking one of the posts I made this year, a list of books I’m looking for (and which might enlighten you too), and turning it into a constantly-updated page.

My Birthday (And Continuing) Book Wish List

Last summer, I made a list of books I was interested in with an eye towards pseudo-reviewing them and discussing them and their interesting ideas, or at least exposing myself to them. As it would be unlikely that I could buy them all (books are expensive, especially non-fiction ones, often running $20 a pop!), even after getting more gift cards from Barnes and Noble every gift-giving season than I had heretofore known what to do with, I would run the list on Da Blog as a “Christmas list” during a run of political posts in October and hope the mass of new readers I was hoping to attract would get them for me.


Then my USB drive stopped working and the planned run of political posts was a big bust anyway. Now that my drive has been recovered, a month out from my birthday on April 22, I’m posting the list – with some additions – as a birthday list, even though many of the books may be less topical and less interesting than they were before (especially before the election). It may seem odd that I would ask you to buy stuff to give to me (as opposed to buying stuff from me), but it’s with an eye to future posts on Da Blog (I hope), as well as other projects such as my idea of writing a book on the impact of the Internet. (Even though in most cases I don’t have much time to read any of them.) Besides, many of them should be eye-opening even if I never get them. I may institute a direct donation system of some sort at some point down the line. (If it weren’t for my distrust of PayPal, I’d have one already.)


If you want to get me anything, e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com for a mailing address. I’ve organized the list by some broad topics:

You may recall I started my abortive attempt at a series of political posts with a brief digression into global warming, which led to a brief discussion of mass transit’s role in correcting it. Originally that was going to turn into a larger project that would last until the start of the platform examinations, and I still want to revive that project in some form at some point. (The brief comeback of the platform examinations may have contained what was originally intended to be a hook into that revival.) I have three books on this sort of thing already I was thinking of reviewing, but there are still more I’m interested in:
  • Who’s Your City? by Richard Florida
  • Suburban Transformations by Paul Lukez
  • Cities by John Reader
  • Cities in Full by Steve Belmont
  • Any book about urban planning


The first book on this list isn’t strictly “political”, but it still ties in to related interests. Many of these relate to the battles in the Media Bias Wars.

  • 10 Books that Screwed Up the World (and 5 Others that Didn’t Help) by Benjamin Wiker
  • Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
  • The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff (and any other books by the same author)
  • Right is Wrong by Arianna Huffington
  • Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It) by William Poundstone
  • Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting Systems by Douglas J. Amy
  • Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System by Douglas Schoen
  • Going Green: A Wise Consumer’s Guide to a Shrinking Planet by Sally and Sadie Kniedel


These books are interesting in some way in terms of research for my book on the Internet, and so they’re somewhat higher priority than the others. Some have the Internet as their topic, while others are interesting filters to look at Internet culture through, or unavoidably touch on the impact of the Internet. There are a couple of books I didn’t list, and if I included any that aren’t impact-making or at least critically acclaimed, forget about them.

  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott
  • Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet by Kathryn C. Montgomery
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (and any other books by the same author)
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson


Hey, trying to think all the time is a good way to burn my brain out. As you can tell by the fact I don’t have as many thought-provoking posts as I probably should.

  • Any installments of The Complete Peanuts after 1970
  • Garfield Gets His Just Desserts
  • Any Order of the Stick book (this is somewhat difficult; the online shop is the most reliable place to find them, and even that’s not 100% reliable; certain comic book stores may have them, but not all; gaming stores – specializing in D&D and their ilk – are more likely, but in the latter two cases availability may be based on whether or not they’re in print)

Also, I’d really like to be able to play The Sims 3 when it comes out in June (unless it’s widely panned), but although the “Franken-computer” I have for a desktop was built in 2004 and was state-of-the-art then, and has been pretty close to it for five years, it only barely has enough processor power to play it and definitely not enough RAM, and I’m not sure if it has enough video RAM. I’d prefer not to have to get an entirely new computer just to play one game, but…

Webcomics’ Identity Crisis, Part I: Understanding Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics is incredibly addictive. I bought it on a gift card on Saturday despite having already read it cover-to-cover, mostly as a reference for my own ideas, and proceeded to read it cover-to-cover all over again. Oddly, I’ve been to two different Barnes and Nobles three different times, and the latter two times both Barnes and Nobles had Understanding Comics and its second sequel, Making Comics, but not the first, Reinventing Comics. As Reinventing is the book I’m most interested in for this weeklong series, as it’s the book with Scott McCloud’s thoughts on the then-burgeoning form of webcomics, I’m going to see if I can still procure it or at least read it. (Oddly, Reinventing is not even the first hit for its own name on barnesandnoble.com, Making is and Reinventing is third and has no cover image. So basically B&N treats it like the bastard stepchild of the series. But I did see it the first time I peeked into a Barnes and Noble to peek at Understanding, and even read a bit of the beginning…) At some point as well, I want to read other dissections of comics, such as Will Eisner’s McCloud-recommended Comics and Sequential Art and anyone following in McCloud’s footsteps, just to get more perspectives.

The funny thing about Understanding Comics is that it’s not just about comic books, but to some extent or another, about all art forms. And I’m not just talking about Chapter 7, which focuses on McCloud’s vision of the creative process for any work of art. As if to prove McCloud’s point (and then-novel idea) that comics were just as much an art form as anything else, McCloud discusses comics and other art forms side by side throughout the book. To take one example, part of Chapter 4, mostly a discussion of time in comics, casts the idea of the “motion line” in comics (and later refinements on it) as the answer to the question of motion on a static image some in the “high” visual arts had struggled with early in the twentieth century. But even that is a fairly weak example (and really, McCloud returns to the visual arts in particular throughout the book, as static painting/drawing and comics are cognate art forms (or cognate media), for a reason I’ll get to later).

Chapter 2 deconstructs the appeal of the cartoon (distinguished as an artistic style from the medium of comics) as an extention of the reader/viewer, by deconstructing the way we see ourselves, going so far as to completely ignore its ease of drawing, to explain its popularity not only in comics but in any form of animation. Chapter 3 compares the extrapolation of events between panels to the portrayal of events “off-screen” in those same media. In addition to the discussion of motion, Chapter 4 also compares and contrasts the concept of the present “now” with film and television and brings up the specter of “viewer participation” in media of all stripes. Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the very origins of language, and the latter effectively sees comics as a means of returning to the ideal union of words and pictures, and discusses the obstacles facing the genesis of any medium.

If I have an issue with it on first read, it’s mostly the clunkiness of the end of each chapter (except the first) and the end of the book. The “recaps”, perhaps inspired by the “hourglass” model of long-form argument taught in English class, are clunky and come off as unnecessary. This is why I have problems properly wrapping up my posts sometimes, because the main, predominant form of ending posts of the lengths I sometimes write is one that doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t think I’ve found anything better. (If anything, McCloud gets worse at this as he goes along; other than Chapter One, Chapter Two is the least clunky chapter ending.)

There are also some problems with the content, though I think I would have fewer of them than some others would. McCloud distinguishes between six different types of panel transitions but comes close to throwing out two of them: “moment-to-moment” is really a slow “action-to-action”, and the “non-sequitur” may not even exist, since either multiple non-sequiturs in a row become scene-to-scene, subject-to-subject, or even aspect-to-aspect, or a single non-sequitur that’s continued from is really a form of scene-to-scene. I might add that aspect-to-aspect is arguably a form of subject-to-subject that’s somewhat arbitrarily distinguished from it mostly in order to distinguish Japanese comics from their Western counterparts.

Also, I have some trouble with McCloud’s six-step creative process, especially the specifics of the third part, the “idiom”, which is never quite clarified as well as it could be. The way I see it, what McCloud means by “idiom” is all the stuff that can be used to describe the work other than the singular, basic “point” of it. To say that something “has a kissing scene” is different than to say it’s “about kissing”. But I wouldn’t be surprised if others have different interpretations, and especially, the distinction between that, “structure”, “craft”, and “surface” can be somewhat unclear, especially for non-comics media – and if you do distinguish “idiom” from the other three, you then have to distinguish it from “idea/purpose” and “form”! And I would suggest that “idiom” sometimes (especially in other media) goes hand-in-hand with “craft”. I often write stuff with no attention paid at all to “structure”, and let the ideas flow onto the page as they may. I decide the “surface” aspects will come out naturally as I write (and so I rarely edit) as well, so “structure” and “surface” come out naturally following “craft”.

Oh, and the “backwards” development of most comics artists may no longer be 100% true simply because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of Understanding Comics: since the book was released, people have gotten more self-conscious about the process. And despite its nature as a dissertation on all art, I don’t really see it as doubling as a manual for designing for the computer the way some people do…

But again, I came for McCloud’s thinking in Reinventing Comics which oddly, made him a god in webcomics but – by his own reckoning – tarnished his Understanding-built reputation and made him a pariah in the print field. And there is, from what I hear, plenty to deconstruct in Reinventing Comics. But first, I want to point out the irony in that Reinventing is de facto an attempt at doing for webcomics within the broader comics field what Understanding did for comics within the broader domain of all the arts: defend the former as a legitimate part of the latter.

In Part II, I’ll start examining the similarities and differences between webcomics and their print counterparts and begin examining the state of webcomics at the present time. As the series goes along, I hope to examine what McCloud got right that may not have been recognized yet – and what he got wrong and why.

Announcement of Truth Court Part I

Yes, this long-awaited post is going to be split into two parts, and in Part I I’m going to tell you that I’m not actually going to do what I’m announcing, when it’s something I’ve already demonstrated. More on that later.

Lo, many months ago I was in a Barnes and Noble thinking about burning off a ridiculous collection of gift cards I had built up, mostly so I could enlighten myself on an issue I’ll be talking about later in the fall. I was struck by several books in the store not directly related to the topic I was looking for. In particular, I was intrigued by Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough, and impulse-bought it, and it turned out that I didn’t have as much on my gift cards (and I didn’t have as many gift cards) as I thought and I ended up actually having to spend some money that I wouldn’t have needed to spend if I’d just picked up the other three books. Oh well.

I brought up True Enough earlier in the summer in a different context, but now I want to go a little more in depth. True Enough‘s thesis is that new technologies, which are supposed (by their supporters) to make it easier to find out what the truth really is, also allow falsehoods to propagate more easily, allowing our very notion of what “the truth” is to splinter into mutually exclusive segments. If you’re a conservative blog, for example, you can link to all manner of sources (no matter how specious) that prove your points, and conveniently censor all those that prove those durn libruls’ points.

Much of what True Enough says seems rather obvious, and just restating a lot of conventional wisdom in a concise form. And it’s easy to dismiss much of what Manjoo says once you discover his background, and decide “oh, he’s just covering for the mainstream media”, especially since his longest chapter is on the media and accusations from both sides that it’s somehow biased towards the other side. (As I explain in Part II, though, having someone try to defend the mainstream media is not a bad thing.) But it’s also accompanied by the results of studies in sociology and psychology that put a lot of the American political debate in a new light and does much to explain why we are where we are.

If I had to isolate one part of it, though, that I would consider a weak spot, I would point to its ending. After six chapters of exposing how easily falsehoods can propagate in culture, and how our very perceptions of reality can splinter, after showing time and time again that there really is an objective truth that people continually ignore because it doesn’t fit their preconceptions, and showing how this creeping “truthiness” can have results ranging from insidious to disasterous, Manjoo doesn’t really offer any way to solve anything. Rather, he seems to take this as the norm, the status quo, the way things are. His epilogue says little other than “we’ve got a choice about which reality to believe” and telling us to be careful about who we trust. The book’s last words, in the context of all that has come before, are rather chilling: “Choosing means trusting some people and distrusting the rest. Choose wisely.” Nothing about how to actually solve these problems and get technology to work for us instead of against us? Nothing to streamline the path through which truth can beat out all the falsehoods running around? We just have to pick and choose who we trust, when any of them could be spreading inaccuracies at any time?

I don’t believe we have to settle. Even before I actually started reading it, True Enough had me thinking about the issues it raised, and I started thinking I would start a truth court, which would sort through all the evidence on all sides and come to a conclusion as to what the real truth was. It wouldn’t attempt to solve matters of opinion, only matters of fact. If anything, Manjoo’s book actually dissuaded me from this project by showing me just how much work it would involve. I think, however, that such a project would be important for democracy, especially if it addressed Manjoo’s issues in (among others) the following ways:

  • Manjoo identifies the idea of selective exposure, the idea that we only expose ourselves to news sources that we agree with. If you’re a liberal, you’re likely to tune out when Fox News comes on, but you might be listening with rapt attention when Keith Olbermann’s show is on. Truth Court would make sure it’s part of the solution, not part of the problem, by being even-handed and authoritative enough with its verdicts, at least early on, to attract an audience on both sides of the political divide. Also, it would accept all evidence presented to it, would not hesitate to reopen a case, and generally would lay down the law hard enough and convincingly enough that you would have to be a complete fool not to accept its verdicts.
  • Also on Manjoo’s list is the idea of selective perception, that we only see what we want to see even when looking at the same piece of evidence. All audio and visual evidence will be presented directly to all interested parties and will also be presented to experts who are particularly well positioned to explain any anomalies one way or the other.
  • Manjoo notes that “experts” may come from questionably relevant fields, or their expertise may simply be questionable (more on this in a bit). Truth Court makes sure it will bring in as many experts from as many relevant fields as possible to analyze the evidence, and will also identify where their expertise comes from and any potential biases.
  • As part of showing that some people may credibly claim to be experts with no relevant knowledge whatsoever, Manjoo shows how presenting a warm demeanor and a jokey style is better than a dry, boring professor. To ensure maximum audience appeal, Truth Court would attempt a similar fun-loving style. We don’t want you to fall asleep while you’re reading.
  • Manjoo presents results supporting the idea of biased assimilation, the idea that we look more critically at findings that say something we disagree with, and are more likely to take at face value the findings we agree with. Truth Court will scrutinize all evidence for potential biases or shortcomings and will take seriously all subsequent requests to review the evidence, but we’ll also scrutinize the requests themselves for fallacies.
  • Attached to biased assimiliation is naive realism, the idea that you take your worldview as objective truth, which helps explain why left and right attack the media for being biased, seizing on any example of supporting their enemies and attacking themselves while ignoring evidence sympathetic to their side as simply unbiased reporting. (In a variant and possible admission of this, Arianna Huffington has a book of her own, Right is Wrong, which claims that the media should be liberally biased because the left is so right.) Manjoo documents how this leaves the smart play for media to actually become biased, as in the Fox News model; if you’re going to be attacked anyway, you might as well go all the way and appease one side by making the other side’s attacks actually true. Truth Court will end every case by opening things up for feedback where you can point out any biases you see, and we can respond to your charges by getting better one way or the other, or by pointing out for all to see how we were unbiased after all.

If you’re reading all this, you’re probably thinking this is a lot of work, and you can understand why I’m probably not going to do much in Truth Court. While I leave it open for anyone to take up and I consider it an important project, I also recognize that it might be a bit much for some people.

Which is why this announcement is in two parts, because I also have a lighter-duty idea for anyone willing to take up the charge, one more focused on the ongoing battles over which way, if any, the media is biased. That second part may be coming as soon as tomorrow. Stay tuned.