Requiem for a lost summer

In less than a week, school will start up again for me.

I had all sorts of ambitious plans for the summer. As it turned out, no thanks to the Webcomic Overlook (and a fairly ambitious Homestuck post I’m trying to write), I couldn’t even get any webcomic reviews in – I couldn’t even catch up on Ctrl+Alt+Del like last summer! – and now I probably won’t be able to get any in for most of the rest of the year. I might sneak in a couple of reviews of Erfworld and VG Cats at some point, and maybe eke out a Girls with Slingshots review at some point down the line, but that might be it for the foreseeable future.

In all likelihood, I’m going to drop the streak sometime soon, and in fact posting on Da Blog could hit an all-time low for the next eight months or so. All the posts on Da Blog are going to involve football, the sports TV wars, OOTS, Gunnerkrigg Court, or Questionable Content for the remainder of the year. I’m still going to try to get a project off the ground, but I had been hoping to be so far along with it that I could say with confidence that the end of The Streak wouldn’t matter. Needless to say, that did not come to pass.

I may have mentioned before that I’m about to hit a series of classes that will involve some hardcore work that needs to get done, more even than I’ve otherwise encountered at school up to this point. Regardless of anything else, I would expect posting on Da Blog to come to a near-complete halt in April through early June, and if nothing else I would hope to high heaven I can at least get this project off the ground by then.

God I’m so pissed off at myself. This was going to be an absolutely critical summer for the future of Da Blog, and it may have actually been less productive than other recent summers. What the hell is wrong with me?

Is Google the cable company of the future?

Amidst a television landscape of authenticated streaming, pointless restrictions on online viewing, inflated sports rights fees, a-la-carte debates, cord-cutting debates, five-dollar ESPNs, and contentious carriage disputes, a technology giant that originally made its money on the technology responsible for all of this is about to give a bunch of ordinary people in America’s heartland a taste of the future.

Google is about to launch its new Google Fiber project in the Kansas City area, and it provides a glimpse into how what we now know as a cable provider might look in the future. At first glance, it’s offering a standard TV/Internet bundle, but Google seems to see it as substantially more than how you might be seeing it, that it’s not clear where the TV ends and the Internet begins, if it does at all. In addition to an HD-ready “TV box” and network connectivity, Google is also offering a “storage box” with two terabytes of DVR storage (including the ability to record eight shows at once) and other functionality, as well as a free Nexus 7 tablet (advertised as “your new remote” while also touting the ability to share your TV viewing with friends), a free 1TB Google Drive account, and the chance to buy a Chromebook on top of everything else. (I’m guessing either the TV or storage boxes will come with Google TV as well; Google is promoting Netflix integration with the service. It’s also possible to just get the network box and Google Drive account without the TV hookup or anything else.) According to Google, its gigabit Internet speeds are 100 times the norm in the industry – enough, it believes, to completely revolutionize the Internet experience – and it claims to be able to deliver HD with zero compression.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the rollout of Google Fiber, though, has to do with the process of getting it. Part of the reason why cable companies tend to have effective monopolies – and why the “last mile” problem in installing fiber-optic networks has been so intractable – has to do with the nature of the technology and the expense of laying down wires across a large urban or suburban area. Google, by contrast, decided to save money by only building its network in areas that wanted it enough to justify the expense. So it divided the two Kansas Cities up into 202 “fiberhoods” and gave each one a threshold for pre-registrations it had to meet for anyone to get Fiber installed. To sweeten the pot for anyone who would normally be uninterested, Google has even offered Internet service at typical broadband speeds for a one-time $300 construction fee (payable in $25 installments for the first year), and completely free thereafter. Google is also providing full service to community buildings in each fiberhood for free as well. As a result, 180 of the 202 fiberhoods met their respective thresholds before Sunday’s deadline, nearly 90 percent of all the fiberhoods Google identified.

There is a massive Achilles heel in Google’s pitch, as right now its TV lineup has some glaring omissions – most notably, the Fox and TimeWarner cable networks (including the Turner networks and HBO) as well as AMC. One wonders if those companies are trying to slow down what could prove to be a massive disruption to their business model, though Google did recently get the Disney networks, including ESPN, on board. By forcing neighborhoods to pay first before Google will connect them, it could also leave poorer neighborhoods out in the cold. Still, if it works (and many in the old guard are skeptical), I wonder if this could prove to be a paradigm shift in the cable industry, one pointing to a future of blurrier lines between TV and Internet, one where the infrastructure needed to bring both technologies into the future becomes cost-affordable by building it only in the places where it’ll be most profitable, and thus one where that future, one that blows the massive potential of the Internet wide open and where TV as we know it today ceases to exist, becomes a reality.

Hey, when you do a comic like this on a day that a webcomic blogger who’s also a sports fan needs to continue The Streak, this is what results.

(From xkcd. Click for full-sized sports calendar.)

I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to call bullcrap on this.

People are talking about basketball deep into April, yet switch to baseball all the way until the Finals roll around? Also, I’m afraid American football is likely to be nearly as if not more prominent than baseball in October.

And what about those countries that aren’t as into soccer? Where’s baseball in Japan, hockey in Canada, or Aussie football in Australia? And is this specific to team sports? Where’s auto racing, golf, or tennis?

Judging by the bonus text, I suspect that what Randall really needs is a cheat sheet for the names of teams in each sport, but I can see how that’d be an unwieldy reference with 30+ teams in each American sport, to say nothing of college sports… and even in soccer most leagues have 20 teams in them…

Update on the state of my laptop

So I finally got my laptop back, and not only was my hard drive either reformatted or replaced, I actually got DOWNGRADED to Windows XP instead of Windows 7, EVEN THOUGH WINDOWS 7 CAME WITH THE COMPUTER. Oh, and the sound is crappy, the power cord is being finicky all of a sudden, and the W key is loose on an allegedly new keyboard, making me wonder if the only reason the hard drive needed reformatting or replacing is because they screwed it up.

Honestly, I’d much rather have gotten a brand new laptop, and I have a feeling that could be the main thing dominating my Christmas list. I might be able to reinstall Windows 7, which might fix a number of those issues, but I’m worried it might cause a host of new ones, given the options staring me in the face.

In the meantime, I’ve brought back the donation button to try to help raise funds for such a computer. If I get Windows 7 back and I’m satisfied with how I do so, I’ll probably take the button off.

Apologies if I don’t get Ysengrin’s species right. It’s damn near impossible keeping everything straight in this comic.

(From Gunnerkrigg Court. Click for full-sized unsettling thoughts.)

I’ve been more than a little puzzled at how both Antimony and Ysengrin have been treating Coyote’s revelations in this chapter as only a “theory”. Certainly the way Coyote explained his secret would be consistent with his attempting to explain something that’s just an idea of his, but I get the sense that Coyote firmly and solidly believes every word he said, and more to the point, that the audience is supposed to as well. Merely by referring to it as “[his] great secret”, Coyote seems to have been trying to give the impression that he’s presenting facts, things that he knows or has learned, not merely things he’s theorized about – and at the very least, he would seem to be in a better position to know such things than either Antimony or Ysengrin.

I can sort of see Antimony’s position, considering she didn’t sign up for a semi-lengthy lecture on Coyote’s worldview. Ysengrin’s reaction, though, is more interesting; there’s some evidence that his disagreement with Coyote is more a result of denial, a refusal of what Coyote’s “theory” would imply about Coyote or himself, not necessarily having an actual reason to dispute it. And that plays into something that seems to be intentionally puzzling: his turning on and attacking Antimony.

On the surface, Ysengrin turned on Antimony as a result of a perceived slight that he took as Antimony taking Coyote’s side, a slight so minor that the only sane interpretation I would have of it would be the complete opposite. But then you start to wonder why this came in the same chapter that the theory itself was given. Now consider how Ysengrin turns on Antimony: he becomes utterly feral, far more animalistic than almost all of the creatures of the forest have heretofore been, going completely dialogueless immediately thereafter. Finally, consider this comic, where Antimony is shaken that Ysengrin just acted in a way totally unlike how he’s acted before, while Eglamore considers it perfectly in character.

Is it possible that it’s not a coincidence that Ysengrin acted this way immediately after Antimony learned Coyote’s secret? Is it possible that, on some subconscious level, she started seeing Ysengrin as just an ordinary wolf, so that’s what he became? Is it possible that Coyote has led Antimony to start seeing the creatures of the forest more like the members of the Court do? While it would certainly meet the challenge Robert A. Howard set for the Court, it would do so in a way that still paints the Court, in a sense, as the bad guys, a way that suggests that the entire conflict may come down to mind over matter. In any case, Antimony’s sudden reminder of Coyote’s homework assignment suggests perhaps she thinks that just might be the case, and perhaps it’s only in that moment that she started to take what she’d just learned seriously, as more than just “Coyote’s funny little theory”.

Acknowledging the Big 12’s new rights agreement

The Big 12 has announced a 13-year rights agreement with ESPN and Fox that will earn the conference about $20 million per year per school, about on par with other BCS conferences.

This agreement was so delayed that it held up the final release of the TV assignments for early-season football games and ultimately was finalized after the first week of football games. As such, it’s been rumored for so long that it’s mostly a formality, aside from the fact that Fox will have no role in broadcasting basketball, and as such I don’t have much to say about it (you can read a bit more about it here), so let’s just go to the scorecard.

Sport-Specific Networks
9.5 11.5 5 4.5 0 1.5

The Legacy of Homestuck and the Future of “Webcomics”

In the Year of the Kickstarter, where The Order of the Stick and Penny Arcade have seen runaway success on the crowdfunding site (and you have no idea how pleased I was to find out PA didn’t end up passing OOTS and in fact barely even cracked half a million, or only double its goal), it shouldn’t be too surprising to find Homestuck jumping on the bandwagon as well, and it should surprise exactly no one to find out that it stands to blow them both out of the water. Consider that it’s a video game Kickstarter, and it’s a mortal lock. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it challenging the most-funded projects in Kickstarter history, even considering how crowded that category has gotten this year; OOTS is still in ninth place, though there’s an active drive that stands to knock it down to tenth. I really don’t think becoming the fifth project to crack $3 million is out of the question.

Really, the idea behind the project makes a ton of sense. Not only is Homestuck, like the rest of MSPA, structured like an old text-based adventure game, but Hussie’s original plan was to do it entirely in Flash, only switching back to images with only the occasional Flash when the all-Flash approach proved to be too much work. One thing I was struck by, going through this original “beta”, is that Homestuck was originally going to be much more like a video game. Icons appear signalling things that can be clicked, to the effect that upon reaching the command “Remove CAKE from MAGIC CHEST”, you are actually invited to click on the cake and move it to the bed. I was so intrigued by this that I actually started going through and trying to figure out how Homestuck might have played out if it was a video game of this sort, even with some breathing room for player choice, and got through Act 2 before burning out.

On the other hand, that is not what this project is. Rather, it’s an effort to create a sequel to Homestuck in video game form, set within the same universe but probably not using any of the same characters. As such, my interest is considerably weaker than it might have otherwise been (I finally got around to reading Problem Sleuth, and while it started out pretty funny, it just started dragging on and on and on), though I certainly see why Hussie says he couldn’t possibly go that route.

However, what I’m really here to talk about is something I was struck by in Gary “Fleen” Tyrell’s initial writeup of the Kickstarter. You can read it here, but I’ve copy-and-pasted the relevant bit because it’s so important, and pay special attention to the second paragraph:

Let me tell you a little bit about Andrew Hussie and Homestuck: I have been struggling to read it, because it’s damn voluminous, dense, stuffed silly with music and interaction and games and self- and forward- and back-references and completely, utterly not for me.

It is the opening shot of the native culture of the second generation of internet users — the ones that have always lived there, not those of us that immigrated from the Old (nondigital) Country within our living memory. And here’s a hint for everybody that still remembers the Old (nondigital) Country: there’s more of them and fewer of us every day, so maybe if your livelihood depends on putting content in front of eyeballs in some fashion, you ought to be paying all the attention you can muster to Mr Hussie and the fans whose brains he lives in.

There’s been a lot of question over what medium to call Homestuck; while it’s usually called a webcomic, it ultimately blends elements of webcomics and video games with something completely original. I mentioned in my original review that Scott McCloud would not only refuse to call it a webcomic but would question whether it even took the medium in a good direction to go in. As with “About Digital Comics” (and the very occasional imitators thereof that have appeared since, which I call “digital stage comics” for reasons that post should make clear, and which MSPA might be seen as a variant of), though, I believe it most definitely is a productive direction to go in, maybe even more so.

In Understanding Comics, McCloud mentioned the tendency for new media to be seen through the lens of the old, often borrowing tropes from their parent media before developing some tropes of their own. I had serious issues with the story of Homestuck when I initially archive-binged it (my reaction might be similar to Tyrell’s, right down to the use of the Penny Arcade Defense), but perhaps its real legacy is in its utter redefinition of what we think of as webcomics. It is quite possible that the entirety of what we have been calling “webcomics” for the last decade and a half is little more than the “seeing new media through the lens of the old” stage of a medium we might call “visual online entertainment” for lack of a better term, and in this perhaps Homestuck is its Citizen Kane. And if that’s the case, surely it represents the ultimate realization of McCloud’s infinite-canvas vision, even if McCloud himself might disdain it.

When I questioned how many members of a “greatest webcomics” list would still be on it within ten years if webcomics fully explored their potential as a medium, I had no idea where that potential might lead – which is why I called that series “Webcomics’ Identity Crisis“. And when I suggested that a potential “greatest webcomics” list “would include at least some comics we can’t even imagine today”, Homestuck was precisely what I was referring to, even if I didn’t know it.

I think comic 2261 pretty much lays out Dora’s feelings for Tai before this whole thing started pretty clearly.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized coaches needing coaching.)

Somewhat cleverly, Jeph Jacques had the first date between Dora and Tai result in the two of them hitting it off but with no shortage of awkward moments to confuse anyone looking for signs as to the direction of the relationship. That said, it’s by now apparent that most of those awkward moments were the result of Tai’s uneasiness about the entire notion of the relationship; she revealed in the previous strip that, even as she was asking her out, she was worried that Dora would say no. (By the way, I felt it was somewhat abrupt the way we cut to Tai and Dora starting their date from the day they decided to start a relationship, and when combined with this revelation I can’t help but wonder whether we skipped a week of strips somehow. I certainly would have loved being able to break down exactly what happened when Tai asked Dora out.)

I get the sense that Tai almost doesn’t feel worthy of a relationship with Dora. She’s constantly worried, looking for every potential portent of bad tidings, worrying that this might be too good to be true. As much as Dora’s own dating history (and the circumstances of the start of the relationship) may be hanging over her head in this relationship, just as likely to bring it down, if it does, is Tai’s own neuroses about the relationship and whether or not it’s actually real – a sort of turnabout of what ended Dora and Marten’s relationship, which would make a nice bookend to their respective starts.

It makes her decision to run to the coffee shop and wring an answer out of Dora all the more head-scratching; she was strong enough to take control of the situation and get Dora to agree to the relationship in the first place, yet doesn’t have the confidence that Dora would accept an invitation for a date when she’d already accepted the notion of a relationship? Tai’s character is turning into an interesting case study; she’s clearly a take-charge kind of person who’s enough of a leader to be Marten’s boss to begin with, and those qualities have remained at the forefront with Dora multiple times in recent memory, yet she’s a complete bundle of neuroses in terms of navigating the actual relationship. Part of that, as she reminds Marten in this strip, is her own experience, or lack thereof, of meaningful relationships, but still, I can’t help but wonder whether her pep talk to Dora might as well have been directed at herself.

My picks for every NFL game this season

That’s right: I may not be doing the NFL schedule this season, but I am picking all 256 games, plus all 11 playoff games, before the season even starts. Winning teams are listed in bold. Lineal title holders are in italics.

Week 1:
Cowboys @ Giants
Colts @ Bears
Eagles @ Browns
Rams @ Lions
Dolphins @ Texans
Falcons @ Chiefs
Jaguars @ Vikings
Redskins @ Saints
Bills @ Jets
Patriots @ Titans
Seahawks @ Cardinals
49ers @ Packers
Panthers @ Bucs
Steelers @ Broncos
Bengals @ Ravens
Chargers @ Raiders

Read moreMy picks for every NFL game this season

Hopefully the last word on the baseball contract until it’s announced

How might Fox use baseball to set up a Fox Sports network when ESPN has locked up all three of its previous packages? Apparently, by taking a page from Turner’s playbook.

As it turns out, it’s being reported that the situation in the room is pretty much as I suggested previously: Turner wants to get out from the utter disaster that is the Sunday afternoon package and wants to take over Fox’s Saturday package. What I hadn’t anticipated was that Fox would be more than willing to do so. Apparently, the offer they made Major League Baseball would have moved most of Fox’s regular season package to a Fox Sports network in addition to the Division Series, with the broadcast network keeping its share of LCS games. (Although both packages would still include the dreaded Sunday afternoon package.)

In other words, it’s basically the same as the CBS/Turner offer, but with the added benefit of being a single entity… and more importantly, leaving some regular season games on broadcast. Apparently MLB is rather leery of giving the World Series to CBS without a commitment to at least some regular season games. As a result, Fox should now be considered the favorite to win the contract again with CBS/Turner lagging behind – bad news for those who want to be rid of Tim McCarver, great news for those who want a competitor to ESPN.

NBC is considered to be lagging behind considerably, but this development makes me think that maybe they don’t necessarily have to be. NBC could put together a similar package as Fox, with most regular season games on NBC Sports Network with the World Series and some regular season games on the broadcast network – which also helps solve potential conflicts with hockey, horse racing, and golf. Apparently conflicts between the World Series and Sunday Night Football are an obstacle, but I can’t imagine it’s really that much of a problem. I imagine the NFL would be perfectly willing to go back to not competing against the World Series if NBC asked them to.

MLB also apparently wants to unify the postseason under a single rights holder, meaning ESPN might not end up with more than it already has after all. It’s possible MLB informed ESPN that if it wanted more than a single wild-card game and any tiebreakers, it would have to take the whole shebang, including the World Series and some regular-season games on ABC. Considering how crowded ESPN’s schedule can be, especially in fall with college football, ESPN may have balked and decided to stick with what they could get. In that light, I’m a little surprised MLB even gave ESPN that much, which makes me think ESPN may still get a few Division Series games.