Archive for November, 2008

Recent Comic Reads

2008 Nov 30

Inspired by Judd, I want to talk about the comics I’ve read recently.

Three Shadows is a book by Cyril Pedrosa recently translated and published in English by First Second, a relatively new company that’s been releasing some neat stuff. There’s a nice excerpt of it right here, if you’d like a taste. Honestly, the art and story remind me of Jeff Smith’s Bone more than anything else, but it’s more of an allegory or fairy tale. More than any of these, reading it had a strong emotional impact on me which is hard to explain without spoiling the story, but I highly recommend it.

The Best American Comics 2008 is the third volume in a new series of anthologies that tries to show mainstream audiences the diversity of what’s currently happening in alternative comics. I say alternative because, despite an attempt by the guest editor of this volume to get a superhero story in — Paul Pope’s very “alternative” Batman Year 100 — there is not a cape in sight. In fact, nothing by Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, or any other traditional single-issue publisher; all excerpts from graphic novels or, in a couple cases, booklets. However, if you ignore the overly arrogant title of the book, it’s great. In fact, perhaps due to criticism of past editions of this series by my brother and others, there is a passionate defense of the anthology format by both the series editors and the guest editor, one that is convincing enough, perhaps, to ignore any prominent omissions one might want in this book. Besides, I wouldn’t have bought this if it was filled with stuff I’ve already read. The only thing not new to me was Gene Yang’s terrific American Born Chinese. If you like comics (as a medium, not just specific titles), you’ll like this.

Northlanders Vol 1: Sven the Returned is Brian Wood’s new pulp viking saga from Vertigo. If Wood’s doing what I think he’s doing — telling the story of the generations of Norsemen in the north of Britain, leading up to their ultimate defeat / assimilation in 1066 — then that’s pretty damn cool. The first volume gets off to a nice start, so I’m definitely planning on picking up the next one. There are some thorny issues with some of the Conan pulp vibe he brings that bother me, however. The misogyny demonstrated by the male characters would be easier to accept, I think, if the female characters seemed competent instead of being — as in “women in refrigerators” superhero stories — disposable tools by which the male characters demonstrate their emotions. For example, after the leading character breaks the bow of the Hunter’s Daughter, a wild Scottish outcast living alone, she is apparently incapable of making a new one, without his help. She can make arrows but not a new bow? How has she managed to survive on her own for so long? I really hope the child at the end of this volume, the one whom presumably the next volume will be about, is female. That would complicate things nicely. But, in any case, more good than bad here right now, so I’ll follow Wood a bit further.

Invincible Vol 9: Out of This World is the latest installment in Robert Kirkman’s new school superhero story, which used to be the best superhero comic being published. I say “used” because this volume is decidedly less awesome than previous volumes, which is a big disappointment for me. This is usually where I go to remind me how awesome superhero stories can be. The fact that it begins with an issue that is entirely filled with awkward exposition about everything that’s happened so far was a big buzz-kill. There are much better ways to do that. I’ll be around for the next volume, but this title is on probation, I guess. Read the first 8 volumes, though. They’re great.

Societies in Motion

2008 Nov 18

Another one of my crazier ideas.


Emergent Properties

2008 Nov 17

Archived from a discussion on Cultures of Play.

There are at least three ways that unexpected things can occur in play:

1) mechanically mandated emergent events, which occur from the interaction of [player input + mechanical resolution] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (failed Compassion check!) I just couldn’t bring myself to do it”;

2) unexpected interactions of multiple player inputs, emerging from [player1 input + player2 input] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (another player gives input) then he suddenly apologized”;

3) outcomes negotiated through structural procedures, emerging from [player input + process] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (engage structure) in order to do that I had to sacrifice a piece of myself.”

Ritual negotiations methods (Polaris, Mist-Robed Gate, etc.) generally work by combining #2 and #3. It’s also interesting to note that #1 is basically a much more specific version of #3.

Mechaton Experiments 2

2008 Nov 13

I discovered that one of the cool things about building mechs from the 3-in-one Creator mini-pods is that the free Lego Digital Designer software (downloadable from Lego) comes with bit filters for these sets. As such, I selected the “Mini Flyers” filter for the pod I’m building my mech army from and, boom, it just shows me those pieces. I easily built a digital version of my alpha mech and even tricked it out to be even cooler. During the process of building it digitally, I also was more deliberate and found a couple of subtle bit shifts that made the model sturdier.


Check out my fearful asymmetry (this is the same model):


Soon, I want to try making a series of digital mechs using the “Mini Construction” filter, to see if it’s worth it buying some of those pods to build an alternative army.

Mechaton Experiments

2008 Nov 12

I’ve been trying to seduce some local folks into creating Mechaton armies. In an effort to see how cheap it would be, I purchased one of the $5-6 Creator packs that give you a bunch of pieces and then instructions for making 3 different vehicle models out of those pieces. Having built a couple of the enclosed model designs, I took my hand at customizing one into a battle machine. The results are below:


I took the basic helicopter design, which was nicely asymmetrical, shorted its length to about a third of the original model, and then started moving bits around. Originally, I was thinking of keeping the rotor and just having the blades be slightly off, not perpendicular and “corrupted” looking. The result is what you see off to the side, but I ended up deciding I liked the model better without the blades (I may save those for something else).

I admit to being largely inspired by John Harper’s very cool corrupted excavation bots, so now I’m thinking about maybe buying a few more of this same set and building some related battle machines in the same white, red, grey, black color scheme. Perhaps a group of rescue vehicles encountered a Cthuloid menace or ancient Himalayan curse.

Certainly nice to know you can get a mech-and-a-half (or a mech and some terrain or mcguffin bits) out of those $5 Creator sets. And then you can even use the plastic pod thingee to carry your mech in. Nice.

Why This Matters

2008 Nov 5

I want to be able to tell my children what it felt like when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Here goes:

Kids, back when I was 26, I had lost faith in America’s ability to live up to its own ideals. While I fully believed in the values of personal freedom, political agency, human dignity, social justice, and global leadership, the America I had grown up in seemed to only rarely embody those characteristics.

President Clinton was likable enough, but he did little to solve any of the long-term problems facing America and the world, despite a few efforts that ultimately came to naught. George W. Bush, who I was never able to truly call “my president,” trampled all over American values in multiple misguided attempts at confronting the challenges he and his advisers felt were more important. But there is nothing — nothing at all — more important than the things you believe in.

When I look at the monumental problems that America and the world will face in the coming decades (much less in your lifetimes, kids), my greatest desire is for America to be led by someone who has a deep, penetrating vision of what our country should be about, our spirit, our ideals, our sense of national identity — and that they be able to convincingly articulate that vision both domestically and abroad. I want a leader who can tell us why times are hard, why we have to sacrifice for the greater good, and what we are ultimately working towards.

Spending so much time abroad, most of it in China but meeting folks from all over the world there, I always felt that I had to apologize for America. People would ask me, “Why is American doing crazy thing Y?” and I would feel inadequately prepared to answer them. I didn’t know why we were doing it. I didn’t agree with it, plus, even worse, the explanation I had been given just didn’t hold up. It wasn’t even a reasonable decision that I could explain to others. And that is one of the key responsibilities of a leader: giving people a convincing reason for supporting — or at least, not opposing — something they don’t agree with.

But what happened during the Bush administration was America’s core values were being shoved aside for no good reason. By the end of their eight years in office, they couldn’t convince most Americans, much less people in any other part of the world, that their actions were for the greater good. The net result was that America’s so-called “victory” in the Cold War — a window in which our values had the opportunity to shine — was squandered as our country’s good name was dragged through the muck.

All that said, there were two parts of Barack Obama’s speech last night, the speech that marked his victory in the 2008 presidential elections, that indicate why I am so optimistic today, more optimistic about the future of America and the world that I have been in my entire life up until this point:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

And the second part (though I don’t think you “defeat” enemies so much as overcome them):

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

I don’t think I can say it any better than that, kids. This is a critical opportunity to make things better, not just for America but for the world. And I truly hope that President Obama will be able to seize this opportunity and exert the kind of leadership that America is in dire need of at this time. Like the people of China and many other nations in this period of great transition, we have lost a clear sense of who we are as a nation. We need to find that before we are lost for good.

Barack Obama presents himself as someone whose personal vision of our national identity, our mission, and our future is very clear. For now, he has convinced me to share it, despite all the cynicism and hypocrisy that I grew up observing and participating in. Let’s hope, for your sake, kids, as well as the sake of all those currently living, that we’re able to realize some of this vision, that we can actually turn this world away from the path it is heading down.

I’ll Just Let Sam Sing It

2008 Nov 5

“It’s been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, change has come to America.” – Barack Obama