Arizona Strong Beer Fest, 2008

Hi, I'm Thad.
I'm a thirty-year-old computer scientist who's spent the last few years bouncing from one temp IT job to another.
I just got married.

This blog's been up in one form or another since 1999. These days I post daily, about topics ranging from comic books to video games to copyright law to creators' rights to Frank Zappa.

I also narrate audiobooks. You can buy them at Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Edna

There's no new Simpsons tonight, so, in honor of the late, great Marcia Wallace, might I recommend breaking out your DVD collection and watching one of these classic Edna Krabappel episodes:

Bart the Lover, Season 3

If there's a better Mrs. K episode, I can't think of one. This shows Edna at her most complex and human — and Bart too, for that matter. Wallace won an Emmy for this one.

Bart Gets an F, Season 2

And speaking of emotions we don't often see from Bart, the climax of this one — where he breaks down in tears on finding that he failed his test despite really trying his hardest this time — shows us a seldom-seen side of both characters, without giving in too much to sentimentality. I love Mrs. K's attempt to comfort Bart — "I would have thought you'd be used to it by now!" could so easily have come across as sarcastic, but Wallace chooses to read it as a gentle, tender statement. Now that's comedy.

The PTA Disbands, Season 6

So many classic moments in this episode purple monkey dishwasher. It's Simpsons at its satirical finest, highlighting the conflict between teachers and administration, the public's simultaneous desire for better schools and lower taxes, and the terrifying reality that if you pick up some random person off the street, they'll be a worse teacher than Miss Hoover or Mrs. Krabappel. And the resolution is so ludicrous that it can only serve to hang a lampshade on how intractable these issues really are.

Grade School Confidential, Season 8

Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me.

The Ned-Liest Catch, Season 22

Say what you will about modern-era Simpsons, pairing off Ned with Edna was a rare and legitimately pleasant surprise. It's not the sort of thing I would ever have seen coming, but it makes its own unexpected kind of sense — two characters who have seemingly nothing in common but their loneliness, but who complement each other so thoroughly and who can each stand to learn so much from the other. This episode highlights how difficult those differences can be, and they almost don't make it as a couple — but, thanks to an Internet vote, they stay together.


Handholding

I was in Target earlier this evening. The display 3DS had the new Mario and Luigi in it and I decided to give it a spin.

I got as far as the first screen, which displays a message that says "Use the circle pad to move Mario and Luigi."

Fuck you. I'm not going to play a game that starts out by immediately insulting my intelligence.


Excellent Games with Lazy, Halfassed Interface Design

So Arkham City was on sale on Steam last weekend. Between that and the recent removal of GFWL and SecuROM, and my Xbox (and my copy of the game) being recently stolen, I went ahead and bought it.

Compared to the Xbox version of the game, well, it's got all the same benefits and drawbacks as every PC game does compared to the console version.

Including controller support.

It recognized my outdated Cordless Rumblepad 2 just fine — I'm not sure if that's internal to the game itself or due to the compatibility layer Steam's added in Big Picture — but either way, well, it recognized the controller but didn't actually work right with it.

All the button pairs were switched. A and B, X and Y, the bumpers and the triggers.

All of which I suppose I could have eventually reprogrammed my muscle memory to work around (hell, the Xbox's button layout is already backwards for a kid who grew up with a SNES). But the fact that the Y-axis was backwards on the left stick? Not so much. Try playing a game where up is literally down and see how far it gets you.

And here's my gripe:

There's no menu to reconfigure your controller in the game.

There could have been. There's a menu option to look at the controls. You just can't modify them in any way. (Well, you can invert the axes on camera and flight, I suppose. But not on regular movement, the thing where I actually needed to invert an axis. And no button remapping whatsoever.)

There's a configuration utility — outside the game — which lets you remap controls…for keyboard and mouse. If there's a way to change the button layout on a gamepad, I sure didn't see it.

Now, the good news about this being 2013 is I could type "arkham city" inverted controls into a search engine and find a trivial fix — as it turns out, there's a config file in BmGame\Config\DefaultInput.ini that has straightforward, cleartext entries with names like XboxTypeS_LeftY and XboxTypeS_A. Simply swap the names of the axes and buttons, and that's all it takes.

Which is great!

But the bad news about this being 2013 is I can't help asking why the fuck I had to look this up on the Internet and edit a fucking text file instead of just configuring my controls from a menu.

The last time I had a problem like this, with The Walking Dead, I found a forum post by a Telltale staffer who had this to say:

Unfortunately we do not have access to all the various versions of controllers that logitech and other companies make.

Which sounds perfectly sensible, and also completely misses the fucking point.

Now, in Batman's case, there are a couple simple reasons that's a bad argument: first, this issue occurs with the authentic Xbox controllers that the game is specifically designed for. Second, this is not a new bug — see the link to the fix a few paragraphs up? Take a closer look at the URL — it's for Arkham Asylum, not City. This is a bug from the original game that was not fixed in the sequel.

But even leaving aside those two points (which is only fair, of course, given that I'm quoting a guy from a different company talking about a completely different game), the central issue remains: this is the twenty-first goddamn century and people are making games — PC games! — where they don't give you the option to remap your buttons.

Yes, I know that hardware inconsistency is the single most difficult thing about PC development. No, I don't expect you to design your game to work with every single controller ever made.

But I do goddamn-well expect you to let me map my fucking buttons however I want.

Mega Man X did that shit twenty years ago. What the fuck is your excuse?


September

Yeah, I haven't exactly been keeping up my post-a-day habit.

I've been busy — yes, busier than when I was planning my wedding — and, well, it's been that kind of month. If I were to pick a single photo to sum up the kind of month I have been having, it would be this one:

Cone of Shame

So I've been busy. And I've also been a little wary of divulging too much about certain comings and goings and details of my life since last month's burglary. I don't think it's likely that the thieves are monitoring my blog, but it's not impossible.

Anyhow, I'm okay. It's been a tough month, but I'm hanging in there.

I turn 31 in a couple days. I admit that the future of this site isn't the biggest thing I'm considering, but it's on my mind.

Don't know if I'll get back to posting daily. But I liked doing it.

Don't know if I'll get back to daily Zappa posts, either — I liked doing that, too, and I'm confident I could continue to do it for a long damn time, even if I continued to try not to use the same song twice — but the bastard about looking for things on YouTube is you tend to find the same dozen or so videos repeated over and over again, with stuff you haven't seen buried somewhere around page 30. It kept taking me longer and longer to find something I hadn't posted before.

The site's probably due for a fresh coat of paint, too. I've spent enough hours of my day job fucking around with CSS that I've actually managed to develop an appreciation for rounded rectangles and box shadows. (But not gradients. Never gradients.) Of course, if I were to sell out my minimalist, oldschool street-cred with such eyecandy, I could make some back by getting rid of the red links and going with good old-fashioned blue. Possibly even straight-up #0000FF.

Or not. I'm hoping October's a better month, but so far it's not showing any indication of being less busy.


Try Them and You May, I Say

Dear Senator Cruz,

I enjoyed your courageous Senate speech on the importance of Senator Ted Cruz. I was particularly interested in the part where you read Green Eggs and Ham, and stated that it was analogous to the healthcare debate, saying Americans "did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse."

Senator, I have two questions.

The first is, is your copy of Green Eggs and Ham missing the last few pages, or did you legitimately miss the point of a book that is easily understood by a typical four-year-old?

And, as a followup: do you next intend to quote 1984 in support of the NSA's domestic surveillance program, or are you more interested in citing Soylent Green as a great agribusiness innovation that will create jobs and feed the hungry?


Important Comics

Today's the anniversary of a couple of things.

It would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday.

And, more importantly — as the King himself would surely have acknowledged –, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.

I was at a loss for precisely how I was going to tie these two events together in the same post — and then I remembered Congressman John Lewis has a comic book out.

Stephen Colbert interviewed him a couple of weeks back:

Lewis discusses not only his new comic trilogy, March, but a comic that inspired him in 1957: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. An excellent summary by Andrew Aydin at Creative Loafing Atlanta says:

Richard Deats, [the Fellowship of Reconciliation]'s Director of Communications in the 1990s, laid out FOR's motivation and purpose behind the comic in a 1997 letter, saying, "The comic book was originally intended to convey to semiliterate persons the story of nonviolence and its effectiveness as seen in the Montgomery movement. The medium of the highly popular comic book was believed to be the best way to reach masses of exploited African-Americans."

And that's what comic books were: they were a way of reaching the masses. They were literature for the illiterate.

And as with all mass-media means of distributing information to the poor, this upset the elites.

When comics first appeared in American newspapers around the turn of the twentieth century, they were seen as gutter trash. In the decades that followed, they were scapegoated for society's ills, culminating in Senate hearings, the Comics Code Authority, and the devastation of an entire American art form.

In a way, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was exactly what the elites feared: it upset the social structure. It gave teenagers like John Lewis ideas.

It's ironic that the comics medium's greatest foe, Fredric Wertham, was also an ardent progressive in the Civil Rights Movement — if he had never written Seduction of the Innocent, he would instead be best remembered for the doll study used in Brown v Board. Wertham was right, in a way, about comics' potential as a disruptive force, as a powerful tool for influencing young people — but he chose to fear the imagined impact of fictional crime and horror stories, rather than see the true potential of comics as a force for good, for education, for organization, for social justice.

Kirby, of course, saw boundless potential in comics, in a way few people ever have. He used comics to advocate for social change, too, though he preferred fiction and metaphor, and is best remembered as a superhero artist (though his work crossed all genres and invented some). He saw superheroes as modern mythological figures — as New Gods — as aspirational avatars.

In the 1940's, Kirby co-created Captain America, advocating for US intervention in WWII when that was still a controversial position. In the 1970's, his Forever People were technologically-advanced, alien hippies. In the 1960's, The Fantastic Four gave us The Hate-Monger, a supervillain in a Klan hood who turned out to be Adolf Hitler himself. It also gave us this guy:

The Black Panther

That image is courtesy of Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed, which notes that the Black Panther didn't look like that in the final published comic — his half-mask was replaced with a full mask, making it less immediately obvious that the Black Panther was, in fact, a black man — indeed, possibly the first black superhero. (Inevitably when you refer to a comic book character as "the first" of anything, that's going to lead to debate — sometimes that debate can miss the point entirely and turn into mere nitpicking over comic book trivia, though other times, as in Who Was the First Black Superhero? by JV Halliburton II, it can explore the richness of comic history and highlight all the important characters who have helped to build and shape it and make it more diverse.)

Today Mark Evanier wrote a lovely remembrance of his friend and mentor, and among many other things he had this to say:

Jack was all about something new, something exciting and something that took whatever he was doing to the next level. [...] Jack was first and foremost interested in producing something that would take comics to some new plateau, creating new opportunities and new possibilities.

Kirby believed in comics. So did Martin Luther King and Alfred Hassler. So does John Lewis.

And so does Jillian Kirby. I've written before about her Kirby4Heroes fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps struggling comic creators. As we celebrate her grandfather's birthday, don't forget about the less fortunate who have helped shape the comics medium over the years and decades.


Still Headachin'

Left work early yesterday, and didn't make it in at all today. Rough week. Starting to feel better; hope that holds.

Not much else to add, I guess. Puttering around the house a bit, continuing to take inventory. Got my broken Wii to work with my broken CRT TV. It would appear that we literally can't have nice things.


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Burgled

So the main reason the blog's been kinda quiet this week is that my house was broken into on Monday. I don't really want to say anything more about it publicly at this point. Stuff was stolen, it sucks, we're okay but shaken-up and stressed-out, we'll get through this and things will be back to normal eventually.

It's been a pretty lousy week — mainly due to the burglary but also because there's been some turnover on my team at work, and today I came home early with a headache. I've been getting headaches all my life, but they didn't used to happen every single fucking time it started to get cloudy out. If this is what happens when you turn 30, I can't wait for all the myriad health issues that will crop up at 40, 50, …

Anyway. I'm bound to get back to more regular blogging and Zappa posts somewhere down the line, but I'm not quite there yet. Still got a lot else to do.

But for now, I think I'm going to take a break and play some DuckTales.


Password Restrictions are Stupid

There are few things more infuriating than submitting a randomly-generated password and seeing it rejected based on some stupid asshole's stupid asshole idea of what constitutes a strong password.

Yesterday I encountered a site that rejected K"Nb\:uO`) as weak but accepted P@55w0rd as strong.

And my first day at my current job, we had to take mandatory security tutorials that, among other helpful hints, suggested that we satisfy the requirement for a capital letter and a symbol by putting the capital letter at the beginning of the password and an exclamation point at the end. Which, for those of you who are as bad at basic arithmetic as whatever moron put that suggestion in a security tutorial, defeats the entire purpose of requiring a capital letter and a symbol.

Which is, of course, why requiring capital letters and symbols in the first place is stupid, because "make the first letter a capital and put an exclamation point at the end" is what pretty much everybody does to satisfy that requirement anyway, even without official company-sanctioned security tutorials assuring them that this is okay and totally better than just having an all-lowercase password because math class is tough.


Paperwork

It's been a busy couple of days. Should be able to get back to regular blogging soon, but not just at the moment. Sorry about that.