March 2008

  • The Secret Lair - Overlord KrisThere’s plenty of activity over at The Secret Lair these days. We’ve posted our discussion on Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces in the latest episode of The Secret Library, the donations from our loyal minions have completely covered the cost of our new Samson Zoom H2 mobile recorder, our promo has been played on some great podcasts (including J.C. Hutchins‘ UltraCreatives and Geek Radio Daily) and the comic strips just keep coming!

    P.G. Holyfield, who apparently isn’t busy enough recording his own audionovel, has published some comics over at Bitstrips suggesting that things aren’t exactly rosy over at The Secret Lair. I couldn’t let that kind of impudence go unanswered, so I fired a shot across his bow. Unfortunately for Mr. Holyfiend, he couldn’t take the hint, and his continued poking and prodding has awakened the dragon. I am assured by a very reliable and trustworthy source that his uppance will soon come.

    Rivalries aside (and Mr. Holyfiend has more than one), I’ve ventured into morally and bioethically challenging territory with a strip that addresses cloning. “Evil Kris” introduces a new character to The Secret Lair and brings up a very interesting question from my co-overlord, Mr. Miller.

    Bitstrips: Evil Kris

    Meanwhile, the Secretary of Artistic Propaganda has been busy creating comic strips the old fashioned way. The overlords and their rivals must leverage emerging technologies to bring the illustrated funny, but Natalie Metzger has something better than a drag-and-drop interface: loads and loads of talent. Episode 0002 of our web comic finds yours truly participating in a very dubious blood drive. Click the preview panel below to see the full comic (and yummy cookies!).

    Blood Drive

    I’ve seen the scripts for the next few episodes of the webcomic and I must admit that I’m very pleased with our Secretary of Artistic Propaganda. Ms. Metzger has quickly risen through the ranks of the various minions, pursuivants, lickspittles, lieutenants, lackeys, lobbyists, goons and thugs we employ at The Secret Lair and proven herself to be quite valuable. I have informed the Disposal Squad that they can stand down…for now.

  • Bookstuff: Podiobooks in Print


    Jack Wakes Up by Seth HarwoodI arrived home this evening to find a soggy package from on the front stoop. Fortunately, the cardboard box had not allowed any of the damnable rain to seep through and damage my copy of Seth Harwood‘s novel, Jack Wakes Up.

    Harwood is the latest author to land a book deal and see his novel—which is still available for free in audio form at Podiobooks— in print. When the novel was released, March 16th was declared PALMS SUNDAY; Harwood’s fans (myself included) mobbed and pushed Jack Wakes Up to the top of the Mystery charts there.

    From the back cover of Jack Wakes Up:

    What does an action movie one-hit-wonder and ex-drug-addict do when he’s cleaned up, down on his luck, and running out of money?

    In the three years since Jack Palms went clean—no drugs, no drinking, no life—he’s added fourteen pounds of muscle, read 83 books, and played it as straight as anyone can ask him. Now, when an old friend from L.A.calls, he hits the streets of San Francisco to help a group of Czech drug buyers make one big score, a single drug deal that he hopes will set him up for life.

    But, when people start turning up dead, and an old nemesis on the police force calls, Jack finds himself with just 24 hours to track down San Francisco’s biggest drug supplier or face charges that will put him behind bars.

    Only an Oscar-caliber performance will get him through this alive.

    Infected by Scott SiglerThe next Podiobook to see print is Scott Sigler‘s Infected (originally titled Infection when released as a podcast novel, but changed in the print version for legal reasons). Sigler is the author of several other podcast novels, including EarthCore, Ancestor, The Rookie and Nocturnal. The last of these is—as of this writing—in progress, with Sigler releasing a new episode like clockwork every week even as he pimps the hell out of the April 1st release of Infected on To quote a certain wizened old Jedi Master, “he’s more machine now than man; twisted and evil“.

    How twisted is this guy? Well, he’s been putting audio versions of his novels out on the Interwebs for a couple of years now, and he’s somehow bamboozled his publisher into giving away the PDF version of Infected for free until Monday, March 31st! That’s right, if you’re not reading this from the far-flung future, you, too, can get the entire text of Infected at absolutely no cost. Nooooo! It’s the future! You’ve missed it! Go back! Go back!

    Why in the name of sweet, money-lovin’, capitalism would Scott do such a thing? Because he’s not right in the head. Or maybe, just maybe, he thinks that if you like his stuff you’ll think it’s worth dropping a few bucks to get a shiny and oh-so-tangible print copy. He’s either a flaming lunatic or a freaking genius. Either way, download the PDF. What have you got to lose? Oh, and tell your friends to download the thing, too. Don’t just send them the PDF; that’s cheating, you bastard. Besides why should you make it that easy for your buddies? What have they done for you lately? They can click on the link just like you did. But tell them to do it by Monday, or they’ll be left with nothing but regrets and an empty feeling inside. Oops! Too late! The hour has passed, and that hollow feeling in your gut? Yeah, I tried to warn you about it. Now you’ll have to buy the book.

    Are you still reading this? What’s that? You want a synopsis of the book before you download it for free? Fine, here you go:

    Across America, a mysterious disease is turning ordinary people into raving, paranoid murderers who inflict brutal horrors on strangers, themselves, and even their own families.

    Working under the government’s shroud of secrecy, CIA operative Dew Phillips crisscrosses the country trying in vain to capture a live victim. With only decomposing corpses for clues, CDC Epidemiologist Margaret Montoya races to analyze the science behind this deadly contagion. She discovers that these killers all have one thing in common — they’ve been contaminated by a bio-engineered parasite, shaped with a complexity far beyond the limits of known science.

    Meanwhile Perry Dawsey — a hulking former football star now resigned to life as a cubicle-bound desk jockey — awakes one morning to find several mysterious welts growing on his body. Soon Perry finds himself acting and thinking strangely, hearing voices—he is infected.

    The fate of the human race may well depend on the bloody war Perry must now wage with his own body, because the parasites want something from him, something that goes beyond mere murder.

  • Bitstrips: Remixing


    One of the interesting things Bitstrips allows users to do is remix other users’ strips (provided the original creator grants the appropriate permission). The function is “Edit a new strip based on this one” and invoking it loads the original strip, complete with all of the characters, furniture, dialog, props and backgrounds into the strip editor. Once in the editor, you are free to manipulate the strip as you see fit: add a new character, delete a prop, change the colors, move the furniture, etc.

    When blob published “To Each His Own” earlier this week, I was informed that I had appeared in a new strip.

    Bitstrips: To Each His Own (by blob)

    Sure enough, there I am, sitting at the bar in the background. And seated next to me (though completely blocked from view by blob’s character) is our mutual friend, 5thHorseman. If you look closely, you can also see the back of codeshaman‘s head, almost entirely blocked by the fellow who yells “Go Team!” in the final panel. I thought it would be cool to remix the strip from another point of view, so I hit the “Edit a new strip based on this one” button and started moving characters, furniture and props around to essentially put the camera on the opposite side of the room.

    The result is “Meanwhile…“, and it takes place in the same bar and, in fact, at the same time as blob’s original strip.

    Bitstrips: Meanwhile

    If you look at the characters in the background, they go through the same motions from panel to panel as they do in the original. Now, however, 5thHorseman is completely visible and we’re having our own conversation in that comicspace, while the dialog in the background is “inaudible”. Oh, and codeshaman is there, too. See, each panel in a Bitstrip comic is actually much larger than what is displayed in the frame, which allows the author to set up a large scene in one panel, duplicate it in the next, then simply pan the camera or resize the panel to include only those elements that are important to each single panel. So, codeshaman is there, out of frame. As in the original, he’s seated to my right. However, he’s only actually in the final panel, as I deleted him from the first two.

  • HOW-TO: Provide Poor Customer Service


    Motorola W385Laura got a new cell phone for her birthday and I, gadget geek that I am, was browsing through the various menus and options when I noticed that the phone was in roaming mode. In fact, the phone seemed to always be in roaming mode, regardless of where we were: at home, at Laura’s mother’s house, or 50 feet from the Verizon store where we picked up the phone a week ago. Concerned that Laura might be racking up a mountain of roaming charges, I suggested we return to the Verizon store and inquire about the matter. Laura hadn’t gotten a stunning impression of the Verizon representative in the Willoughby store, so we decided to go to the Mentor store this morning.

    The store was, much to our surprise, at least three times bigger than the one nearest our house, and at least 20 times busier. On our way to the Customer Service counter, we were advised that we would have to check in at the kiosk near the door and wait to be served. I explained the issue to the greeter and she advised me to select “Technical Support” as my service request, though I was fairly certain there was nothing wrong with the phone itself. The technician we talked to a few minutes later seemed to confirm my suspicions, but she ushered us to the technicians’ counter nonetheless.

    When we arrived at the counter, two other customers were engaged with technicians. On our right, a customer was questioning a 15-cent text message charge on his phone, a phone that—to his knowledge—did not have text messaging capabilities. After a lengthy call with the Customer Care center, the technician informed the customer that the text message did not originate from Verizon. The customer agreed to pay the charge, but asked that text messaging be disabled on his account to prevent further unwanted charges, something the technician—had she been paying attention to his original request—could likely have accomplished in five minutes and without needing to involve Customer Care.

    The customer ultimately left the store satisfied, but I was utterly floored to hear the technician immediately begin bad-mouthing him once he was gone, completely unmindful that Laura and I and two other customers could hear everything she said. Yes, the amount of the charge in question was small, but the customer’s primary concern was that he was seeing unexpected charges and wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen in the future. Nonetheless, the technician openly mocked his concern over what she clearly felt was an insignificant charge to anyone who might care to listen, and several who might not. Laura and I have both worked in customer service and we were equally appalled by this attitude. While those comments may be acceptable in a break room surrounded by co-workers and well away from customers, they certainly have no place at the service counter.

    Speaking of the break room, that’s where the cookies that the technicians were only too happy to munch on while at the counter belonged, too. As Laura commented, “I can’t imagine there’s anything in the Verizon customer service manual that says it’s okay for employees to eat cookies at the counter.” Yet the package was there, and passing employees as well as those serving customers seemed to have no compunctions whatsoever when it came to popping one into their mouth while customers watched from across the counter.

    Meanwhile, on our left, another customer was seeking technical assistance because the screen on his phone had stopped functioning. He could still make and receive calls, so it was clear that the only issue was the non-functional screen. The tech informed him that because his phone was “so thin”, it could only store about 40 text messages; he had clearly overloaded the phone’s memory and the screen had “crashed out”. Never mind that the customer had recently checked the memory of the phone and found that he had plenty of free space, or that he had deleted all of his text messages prior to the screen failure; the thin phone had very obviously crashed out and would have to be replaced—at cost to the customer.

    Let’s be realistic: we live in an age where even the most simplistic of phones takes photos, plays MP3 files, and can download games, ringtones and other whizbangery over the air. Even Laura’s Motorola W385—the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel cell phone Verizon would sell us—has all of those functions and more. To assert that there is a 40-message cap on storing text message is not just patently absurd, it insults the customer’s intelligence. To his credit, the fellow did make a half-hearted attempt to call bullshit, but the technician again insisted that this incredibly thin phone simply couldn’t handle the sheer volume of text messages he was attempting to store. Even if this were a real capacity limit, to suggest that the display would simply stop working as opposed to, say, prompting the user to delete some old messages is ludicrous.

    Alas, we weren’t faring much better ourselves. Rather than attempt to check the details of Laura’s service plan or in any way determine why the phone was constantly in roaming mode, our technician immediately declared that the phone would need to be replaced. Disappearing into the back room, she returned a moment later with a brand new Motorola W385 and proceeded to transfer Laura’s account and contact list. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when, 10 minutes later, a frown creased the technician’s forehead. After fiddling with the phone for a few more minutes, the technician announced that the new phone was displaying the same oddity as the “old” one: the icon indicating roaming mode appeared in the status bar.

    Having clearly reached the limitations of her technical prowess, the technician enlisted the aid of a customer service representative at another counter. This representative accomplished in two short minutes what the technician could not in fifteen: she checked the status of Laura’s account and verified that no roaming charges had been incurred. She assured us that Laura would incur no actual roaming charges while in the state of Ohio and also advised us to monitor the monthly statements; any roaming charges could be credited after a call to customer service. While it wasn’t the resolution we were hoping for, it was nice to encounter a competent, professional customer service representative after having been surrounded by the exact opposite ever since we first set foot in the store.

  • The Secret Lair…Illustrated!


    The Secret Lair has gone two-dimensional! Thanks to the efforts of some very talented (and funny) folks, the evil overlords have recently been featured in not one but two comic strips.

    The first strip comes from the Lair’s own Secretary of Propaganda, Natalie Metzger. Natalie is the very talented artist who created our official site banner, community site banner and evil overlord avatars. Click the thumbnail below to view at 750 x 500 pixels. The full size image, a whopping 1500 x 1000 pixels, can be seen at The Secret Lair. This is the first of what we hope will be many, many Secret Lair strips from the Secretary of Propaganda.

    The Secret Lair: New Pet

    The second strip, “Problems at the Lair?” by P.G. Holyfied, relates an unfortunate early communications problem; one long since resolved, I can assure you.

    Bitstrips: Problems at the Lair?

  • Bitstrips: Perspective


    Bitstrips allows you to assign a genre to each of your strips, the default genre being Comedy. For “Perspective“, I thought it best to go with the Experimental genre.

    Bitstrips: Perspective

  • I was beginning to think my first Bistrip was going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that I’d never have an idea for a second strip. Then I started messing around with the editor and trying to figure out what I could do with my avatar. Messing around with the poses let me to my second strip, “Pumped Up” (click image to enlarge).

    Bitstrips: Pumped Up

    My third strip, “On Originality“, was born from the fear that I would subconsciously steal a gag I’d seen in someone else’s webcomic. The mini-strip (or “meta-strip” or “recursistrip”) was a bit of a pain to create, as there aren’t really any drawing tools or primitives on Bitstrips yet. I had to use the “speed line” effect over and over again for all the lines, and getting them aligned was a chore. I wanted to put some background color into this one, but there would have been no (easy) way to make the margins on the mini-comic white if I had.

    Bitstrips: On Originality

    The script for my fourth strip, “Bigger on the Inside“, wasn’t written until after I had the entire layout finished. I wanted to see if I could effectively create a gaming table that was longer than the one included in the Bitstrips furniture library. Once I had Chris Miller and Miscellaneous G™ (AKA GoonStar) seated at the table, I decided they should be having an argument, much to the dismay of the other gamers at the table. Special guest star: Jason Penney.
    Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside

    In retrospect, I really wish I’d kept the background color the same in all three panels to promote the idea that everyone is sitting at the same table. EDIT: I published a new version with a consistent background color across all three panels. Yes, it bothered me that much.

    EDIT (again): I just published the final version of this strip. I found a bigger table that allows me to put together a proper-sized gaming group (four players plus a Game Master). This allowed me to do the strip in two panels instead of three and add a new guest star, SambearPoet. I also tweaked the expression on my face a bit; I figured two adjacent characters with closed eyes wasn’t a good idea. I’m leaving the second version here for posterity and comparison.

    Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside (Ver. 3)

  • TV Stuff: What’s on the DVR (March 2008)


    Greg Howley wanted to know what shows are filling up my DVR, so I thought I’d spill my digital, MPEG-encoded guts.

    My Shows

    • Stephen Colbert
      The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) It’s probably not fair to lump these two together, but thanks to the technical foibles of DirecTV and/or Comedy Central, that’s the way I record them. Both are consistently funny, but the big laughs recently have come from The Colbert Report. When a guest remarked that Stephen clearly knew his Sunday school, Colbert quickly shot back, “I teach Sunday school, motherf***er.” The absolute wrongness of the statement had Laura and me nearly doubled over with laughter.
    • Top Gear (BBC America) This is a show I wish I’d been watching for the past four (five? nine?) seasons. It’s a car show that you don’t have to be a car guy to like. Part Motor Trend, part Monty Python, part Junkyard Wars, all awesome. The most recent episode I watched featured one of the hosts, Richard Hammond, pitting a Bugatti Veyron against a Eurofighter Typhoon in a two-mile race. While Hammond drove the Bugatti from one end of a runway to the other and back, the fighter pilot took off, climbed a mile vertically, turned around and raced back to the finish line. Hammond described it as “the best race ever”, and it certainly made for entertaining television.
    • Electro (Old School)
      The Spectacular Spider-Man (Kids’ WB) This just premiered last week, and I like what I see so far. As a Spider-Man fan, it’s good to see old villains like The Enforcers, The Vulture and Electro re-imagined. Some might call it an assault on their precious childhood memories, but The Vulture’s original costume was a cross between Cruella de Ville and Kermit the Frog, Electro had a giant electric starfish on his face, and The Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan and Ox) were rodeo hands. 1Okay, they still are, but The Vulture and Electro have both gotten a much-needed makeover The first two episodes were very satisfying, and viewers familiar with the wall-crawler will quickly pick up on the fact that nearly everyone Peter Parker knows will ultimately become a villain. Apart from the overtly villainous characters in the hour-long premiere—plus The Kingpin, operating in the shadows and voiced by Keith David, if I’m not mistaken—Pete encounters Norman Osborn (who will eventually become The Green Goblin), Harry Osborn (ditto), Eddie Brock (destined to merge with an alien symbiote and become Venom) and Dr. Curt Connors (who, injecting himself with experimental reptilian goo, is already well on his way to becoming The Lizard).
    • Transformers Animated (Cartoon Network) Here’s where I turn hypocrite, because this new version of the Transformers is an assault on my childhood. Optimus Prime is (sometimes) a fire engine! And he has a mouth! Optimus Prime and Sari from Transformers AnimatedYou should know how I feel about Optimus Prime having a mouth. 2To paraphrase B.A. Baracus: Prime don’t have no mouth, Hannibal! Ratchet, the Autobots’ medic, has had a personality overhaul from the old comic book days, and in a recent episode, Soundwave, the coolest of the evil Decepticons 3I should point out that classic Soundwave is cool in robot mode. Alas, he transforms into a boombox from which a number of transforming cassette tapes—including Ravage, Laserbeak and Ratbat, who … Continue reading was reduced to a bass-thumping, head-spinning, laser light-show, the kind used by wedding DJs or low rent discothéques. The Autobots hang around with Sari Sumdac, a young girl who has a key imbued with the essence of the Allspark. Sari uses the key to fix the Autobots after they scrap with the Decepticons, or to animate her father’s robotic creations (such as the Dinobots 4Okay, a word about the Dinobots: who are these guys supposed to be fooling? They transform from giant robots to giant dinosaurs! Dinosaurs that look like giant robots! Props to Transformers Animated … Continue reading and the aforementioned Soundwave, who was built to Megatron’s specifications. Megatron, by the way, exists (for the nonce) only as a severed head, hidden away in Dr. Isaac Sumdac’s laboratory until he can gather his Decepticon minions and build himself a new body. Performed by Corey Burton, the Decepticon leader has the best non-guest star voice in the series.

    Laura’s Shows

    • Law and OrderLaw & Order (NBC) Voted “Most Likely to Put Laura to Sleep”, the original Law & Order is actually quite entertaining (though I do miss Jerry Orbach). Alas, my poor wife can’t seem to make it all the way through an episode of the police/courtroom drama without drifting off into dreamland, 5Sam Waterston’s voice is like warm milk to her, I guess. To me, he sounds forever on the hormonal rollercoaster that is the onset of puberty. which usually means that I see at least parts of each episode twice or more. Semi-interesting tidbit/filler: When Fred Thompson announced that he would consider exploring whether or not to announce his intention to possibly make a decision regarding a potential bid for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, his character, Arthur Branch, disappeared from the show and Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) became the District Attorney. Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) stepped in as Executive Assistant District Attorney (thank you, Wikipedia) and it took me a half dozen episodes to realize that Roache played Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne, in Batman Begins.
    • Without A Trace (CBS) One of the most depressing shows I’ve ever watched, Without A Trace chronicles an FBI missing persons unit as they attempt to locate, yes, a missing person. They succeed more often than they fail, but when they fail, it’s usually because the missing person is also a dead person.
    • CSI (CBS) Oh, dear. I don’t know that this is actually set to record. Excuse me while I correct that so we can get our weekly dose of forensic science and an entirely unrealistic expectation as to what can be done with a computer and some grainy black-and-white surveillance camera footage.
    • Monk (USA) The second best detective show on USA (the best is the next bullet item, so just hold your horses) has the absolute worst theme song of any show currently produced for television. 6 Worst theme song ever? Firefly. Oh yeah, I went there. Bring it, browncoats! After eleven and a half years of marriage, Laura’s hatred for Randy Newman songs has leached into me like so much hexavelent chromium into groundwater. Theme song aside, the obsessive-compulsive detective portrayed by Tony Shalhoub is very amusing to watch, but I can’t look at Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) without thinking about the lotion, the basket, and getting the hose again.
    • Psych (USA) I probably enjoy this show more than Laura does, but I’m still putting it on her list. The non-stop barrage of (sometimes rather obscure) pop culture references from my childhood is almost as entertaining as the concept of the show: über-observant slacker makes a living as a psychic, helping the police solve all sorts of strange homicides.
    • MI-5 (BBC America) While watching Top Gear last week, we saw several advertisements for the new season of MI-5 ( Spooks) on BBC America. Laura thought it looked interesting, so I added it to the list. The season premiere was last night, but we have yet to watch it.

    Kyle’s Shows

    • Sesame Street (PBS) Children’s television simply doesn’t get more old school than Sesame Street. The show has certainly changed since I last watched it with any regularity, but I think I miss Kermit the Frog’s fast-breaking news stories from fairy tales and fables the most. The story of why Kermit no longer appears on the show (except in the occasional older bit, such as “Do the Rubber Duck”) is a bit convoluted, but I’m sure if Jim Henson were still around “green frog” (as Elmo used to call him) would still have his Sesame Street press credentials.
    • Max and Ruby (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Ruby is a seven-year-old bunny. Max is her younger brother. Where are their parents? Who can say? Grandma shows up from time to time (often for her own birthday party; bunnies must age fast) and there are plenty of Bunny Scouts around, but mostly it’s Max getting in Ruby’s way somehow. This show annoyed me at first, but has really grown on me.
    • Blue’s Clues PawprintBlue’s Clues (Nickelodeon/Noggin) We prefer Steve to Joe, thank you very much. Steve actually drew in his handy, dandy notebook, whereas Joe’s notebook is entirely animated. Sometimes, after I’ve found all three paw prints, I sit down in my Thinking Chair and think, think, thiiii-ink…about where to hide Joe’s body. We will not discuss the travesty that is Blue’s Room.
    • The Backyardigans (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Quite possibly my favorite of the bunch, The Backyardigans features the adventures of Tyrone, Uniqua, Pablo, Tasha and Austin as they create imaginary worlds in their backyards. Each episode features several songs (showcasing a particular musical style), many of which are very clever and catchy, some of which are earworms, getting into my head for hours (or even days) at a time. “Racing Day” and “Mystery Lifeguard” both fall into this latter category.
    • Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!
      Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Another of my favorites has become one of Kyle’s favorites, too, much to Laura’s dismay. Wubbzy is a frenetic, furry, fun-loving critter (voiced by Grey DeLisle, who also voiced The Wasp in the recent Ultimate Avengers animated movies) who loves his kickety-kickball. Widget (Lara Jill Miller, who played Sam on Gimme A Break!) is Wubbzy’s bunny(like) industrious inventor friend, always building some fantastic machine (“The Sun-Blocker 3000!“) that doesn’t quite work as she expected. Walden (voiced by the incredible Carlos Alazraqui, who plays Deputy Garcia on Reno 911! and was the voice of the Taco Bell chihuahua as well as Rocko on Rocko’s Modern Life) “is their friend, he’s really smart; he knows about science and books and art”. He’s also the most level-headed of the three, though he has been known to cut loose from time to time. The show is Flash-animated and has an artistic style that appeals to me for some reason. I also like the music.
    • Wonder Pets! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) If there’s a show I wish Kyle would just suddenly decide to stop liking, it’s Wonder Pets! I’ve already discussed my feelings about the show in some detail, so there’s really no need to get into it now.
    • Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) These two get lumped together because they’re cousins and—like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report—the latter is a spin-off of the former. I’m not sure which Latin American country these two precocious youths live in, but they both have an unusual rapport with animals and an amazing satchel: Dora’s backpack is actually a Bag of Holding, while Diego’s Rescue Pack (“¡Al rescate!“) has some sort of polymorph spell cast upon it.


    Most of these were recorded during our free Showtime/The Movie Channel weekend. That I stooped to recording Cyborg 2 should give you an idea about the quality of fare offered on Showtime and The Movie Channel. Suicide Kings and The Prophecy were played back-to-back on IFC during a recent Christopher Walken mini-marathon.

    • Suicide Kings
    • The Prophecy
    • The Man Who Cried
    • Employee of the Month
    • Cyborg 2
    • The Man Who Fell to Earth
    • The Descent
    • Capote
    • The World’s Fastest Indian

    More Movies

    Fresh from the free Showtime weekend, DirecTV is dishing up another four days of premium channel goodness starting on Thursday, 20 March. This time it’s HBO and CineMAX, and a quick glance at the schedule for Thursday and early Friday reveals several movies that I’d like to see:

    • John Adams
    • Notes on a Scandal
    • The Last King of Scotland
    • Fracture
    • The Good Shepherd

    1 Okay, they still are, but The Vulture and Electro have both gotten a much-needed makeover
    2 To paraphrase B.A. Baracus: Prime don’t have no mouth, Hannibal!
    3 I should point out that classic Soundwave is cool in robot mode. Alas, he transforms into a boombox from which a number of transforming cassette tapes—including Ravage, Laserbeak and Ratbat, who turn into a panther, a condor and a bat, respectively—are launched. This is decidedly not cool.
    4 Okay, a word about the Dinobots: who are these guys supposed to be fooling? They transform from giant robots to giant dinosaurs! Dinosaurs that look like giant robots! Props to Transformers Animated for actually creating a semi-feasible plot around their introduction (as animatronic dino-beasties in a theme park).
    5 Sam Waterston’s voice is like warm milk to her, I guess. To me, he sounds forever on the hormonal rollercoaster that is the onset of puberty.
    6 Worst theme song ever? Firefly. Oh yeah, I went there. Bring it, browncoats!
  • TV Stuff: Missing my TiVo.


    Okay, so my DirecTiVo could only store 35 hours worth of programming and my new DirecTV DVR will hold about 100 hours. You know what? It was still a better DVR.


    Oh, I’ll tell you.

    1. I could skip to the end of a recorded program with the press of a button, and to the beginning with another button press. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve got a handful of episodes of your kid’s favorite shows, it would be nice not to have to fast-forward or rewind 10 or 20 minutes to start watching them from the beginning the next time. It’s a DVR, not a VCR; I shouldn’t have to rewind to get to the beginning, regardless of where I stopped watching. Oh, and if I accidentally fast-forward too far at the end of Top Gear and miss that last little bit of the show, I’ve got to start over at the beginning and fast-forward through 58 minutes I’ve already watched just to catch the last two minutes. Once the “Do you want to delete this program?” message appears on-screen, I can’t rewind anymore, and that’s just plain frustrating.
    2. The DirecTiVo was more responsive in general. The delay between when I push a button on the remote and when I see the desired result on the DirecTV DVR is sometimes measurable in seconds. Ridiculous.
    3. Speaking of the remote, the one that came with the DirecTiVo was a thing of beauty. It properly handled my television (including switching inputs) and surround sound system, all without having to switch back and forth between “DirecTV”, “AV1”, “AV2” and “TV” modes. Yes, I can control my DVD player in AV2 mode, something I couldn’t do with the old remote, but it’s a feature I’d gladly sacrifice for the ability to turn off the television and the surround sound with a single button.
    4. Still speaking of the remote, Laura hates the new one. Period. I can see why: the layout just isn’t as simple as the old one, even the DVR controls are counter-intuitive.
    5. Anytime I was dealing with a list of channels on the DirecTiVo, I could always jump to the channel I wanted by simply entering it on the number pad. Not so on the DirecTV DVR. When I’m setting up a manual recording and the list of channels pops up, if I press 2-4-9 for Comedy Central, I first get channel 25, then channel 43, then channel 9 thousand-something. Ludicrous! And speaking of manual recording…
    6. Daylight Saving Time. I’ve got a one-hour manual record set up for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report Monday through Thursday at 11:00pm. The fact that I have to do this if I don’t want the DVR to record both shows three times in a single day is a testament to the crappiness of the online guide for Comedy Central, but the fact that the DVR decided to start recording at 12:00am instead of 11:00pm after the time change on Sunday (despite the fact that the clock on the damn thing changed and the manual recording entries still show an 11:00pm start time) is just plain stupid. I just had to delete and recreate all four manual entries and I’m still not confident that it’s going to work properly.

    Extra recording space be damned. I miss my DirecTiVo.

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  • Bitstrips: Boundless Creativity


    The latest big thing among my circle of Interfriends is Bitstrips, a site that lets you create your own comic strips. The concept is simple: create an account, build your avatar and start making comic strips starring your avatar, (or better, your friends’ avatars) and a library of characters props, scenes and furniture.

    The drag-and-drop interface is pretty simple; it took me all of 10 minutes to write and lay out my first strip (after about an hour and a half of agonizing over my avatar, which still needs a proper goatee). Don’t expect me to be churning out Penny Arcade or PvP Online anytime soon, but the basics are there and I’ve already seen some fairly clever (if a bit niche) comics in the past 24 hours or so.

    And so, without further ado, I present (assuming the embed code works properly) my very first comic strip, starring none other than me.

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