Tag: Local Business

Molé Stout

There's not really anything I could say about Valentine's Day that wouldn't be either a cliché banality or a banal cliché. So instead I'm going to talk about this Ska Brewing Molé Stout I bought at Top's yesterday.

It's good! It's dark, it's chocolatey, it's got a hint of peppers. And it's four bucks a six-pack at Top's! I will probably buy more.

Guess that's it. Off to dinner and Die Hard 5: Son of Die Hard.

Tweezil?

I had a meeting today for a local business that some clients of mine are working on opening.

It involves ziplines, and there was a demonstration of zipline technology.

One of the components -- a proprietary piece that helps keep carabiners shut -- is called a tweezil -- I'm not sure if I've got the spelling right, but that's how the guy pronounced it, anyway.

And he confirmed that yes in fact it is named after Dweezil Zappa, as a tribute, because its inventor is a huge Frank Zappa fan and vowed that his first great invention would bear that name.

(Can't find any documentation of this offhand online, so if anybody can lead me to more information I'd be happy to link it. But that's what the man said, anyway.)

Signage

Yesterday I went to a Cory Doctorow book signing at Changing Hands.

He was promoting his new book, Homeland, but the talk he gave was more general. It dealt with his usual pet issues: overbearing copyright law and its impact on ordinary citizens, and spyware that attempts to control our computers and how it makes them and us less safe. A lot of it was about Aaron Swartz, the talented programmer who developed RSS, helped build Reddit up, spent the last several years of his life fighting charges from the US Attorney threatening a decades-long prison sentence for copyright infringement (when the copyright holders themselves chose not to press charges), and took his own life last month. It's a sobering story -- obviously depression is a complicated thing and it's foolish to blame a person's suicide on one single cause, but I think any reasonable person can conclude that (1) the charges against him contributed to his decision and (2) they were wildly disproportionate to his alleged crime.

Sobering stuff, but a good talk and mostly light despite ending on a heavy note. Nobody in the audience recorded it, but Doctorow said the talk's been recorded elsewhere and that he'd provide a link once it was uploaded to YouTube. (Edit 2013-02-13: Per Doctorow's blog, the version of the speech he gave the next day at ASU has been posted on ustream: part 1, part 2.)

Before all that, I was sitting in the audience waiting for him to come out onstage. I was reading a copy of Circle of Enemies; the lady sitting next to me asked if it was an urban fantasy novel and when I said that it was, she handed me her business card and said that she was an urban fantasy author as well. Her name is Kater Cheek, she's a former student of Doctorow's, and the urban fantasy novel advertised on her card is Seeing Things. I bought a copy when I got home; haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

I mentioned that I'd recently put out a few audiobooks; she hadn't heard of ACX so I suggested she give it a look if she's interested in producing any of her own.

I talked to Doctorow a bit about audiobooks, too, when it came time for the actual booksigning. The guy in front of me asked if Homeland would be released as an audiobook; Cory said there were no plans at present, because he won't distribute through Audible until they offer a DRM-free option, and Audible is 90% of the market. He said he's looking at options with the Humble Bundle; when I got up there I wished him luck on that, and added that a Humble Audiobook Bundle could be a great help to narrators like myself who don't really have an alternative to Amazon but don't like DRM very damn much either. (I mentioned that, while I sell books on Audible, I can't be their customer, because they don't support my operating system. Crazy.)

Anyway, I asked him to sign my Nexus 7 case, because that's where I keep most of his books.

For Thad -- If you can't open it, you don't own it!  Cory

Which is really a twofer, because now my case has not only a drawing of a skull and crossbones by Cory Doctorow...

Speck's logo looks like an asshole

...it's also got a drawing of an asshole by Kurt Vonnegut.


(For the record, I haven't opened it but I'm pretty confident that I can. It looks easier than my Mac Mini, Wii, or old 60GB iPod, and I've opened them.)

Slow Day

Fiancée stayed home sick today, so I didn't get a chance to record anything.

Dizziness not as bad today; cough/breathing a little worse than when I was taking the full dose of the inhaler, but I'm much more functional so I think I'll probably keep it at a half-dose for now.

Puttered around today. Applied for a few jobs, took care of my lady, worked out, read a bit of Little Brother since Doctorow's signing Homeland at Changing Hands on Sunday and I'm thinking about going. Worked on my Wii homebrew configuration a bit; I haven't gotten my replacement lens in yet but now I've set it up so I can play backups from an external hard drive or SDHC card. (Speaking of, it looks like Sony's trying to get rid of a bunch of inventory; the local Fry's has 16GB cards for $9 and I've seen similar deals online, too.) Seemed like an appropriately Little Brother-y thing to do, though I'm still hoping I can get my Wii fixed up to just play my discs.

Stray Thoughts

Bit of a sore throat today. Second consecutive day I haven't felt quite up to biking downtown for comics. Hope I'm not coming down with anything. I'm on a new inhaler (actually, I've started taking one I haven't taken in a couple years) but it started before that.

Speaking of meds, tried to buy my prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy last night, now that my COBRA's kicked in. They said my insurance card was rejected; when I said I was on COBRA they said I needed a new card. Today I called the COBRA line. When prompted, I entered the option for "I don't know my account number". So it asked me for other information -- first my zip code, then the month I was born, as a two-digit number. I entered 10 and it told me that was an invalid selection. I tried it again; it told me it was an invalid selection. Again and again. That was it. No other information, no option for exiting the loop; it just kept telling me that 10 was not a valid entry, and then telling me to enter the month I was born as a two-digit number. I tried 6-2, for the first two letters of October; I tried saying "October", "one-zero", "ten" -- same error message, over and over. Just for the hell of it I tried 11; got an error for that too. Then I pounded 0 until it disconnected the call, called back, and chose the option for "I don't have an account number" and was promptly connected to a human being.

She told me the pharmacy had been wrong, that my current card is the right one for COBRA, but that my insurance probably won't be processed until thirty days after I paid my first bill. Which is just grand, because my insurer took two months to get my information to COBRA in the first place. Man, health insurance in this country.

Speaking of horrible, kafkaesque looping menus, I also got an E-Mail from CareerBuilder asking me to fill out a survey. I usually do when they ask; I like to think it helps them improve their site, and sometimes they offer prizes.

But the goddamn thing was a mess. It kept asking me the same handful of questions, over and over again. Sometimes it would rearrange the order of the answers I could choose. I began to wonder if this was really a survey to see how I felt about CareerBuilder, or some grad student's psych project to see if my answers would change if the multiple-choice options were rearranged.

I spent about fifteen minutes at it, getting more and more of the same questions, and more and more complex and detailed questions that took longer and longer to answer, and then showed up again thirty seconds later -- and no, you couldn't just choose not to answer. Even if the question was "If you are currently working, how do you like your job?" and the options were "A lot", "Somewhat", or "Not at all" -- if you didn't select any of them, you'd get an error telling you you had to answer the question.

As you might expect, I did not answer the text-field questions more than once; when I started getting them repeatedly, I started putting in things like "I have already answered this question. If you need to find a competent Web developer to fix your survey, I know one who is currently looking for work."

It was about the time I noticed that the progress bar at the top of the page was actually decreasing -- it was at 55%, I clicked continue, and it changed to 53% -- that I finally gave up. I wrote something snarky in the last text box, hit Continue, and then clicked Exit Survey. They probably never saw my responses -- I'm guessing incomplete surveys aren't submitted -- but I did click Continue that one last time, just in case.

Other'n that, kind of a slow day. Got declined for an audiobook part (no big deal, that's part of the job; I'll record some more auditions tomorrow if my throat's better), called a contact for a job lead (left a voicemail). When my fiancée got home we took a trip up to Changing Hands; I bought a used copy of Starship Titanic (one of the few remaining Douglas Adams books I haven't read), and noticed that Cory Doctorow is going to be doing a signing next week. Guess you have to buy a book to get a ticket, so I suppose I should buy one of his books in print -- otherwise I guess I'd have him sign my Nexus 7, since that's where I've been keeping my copies of his books up to this point. Debating whether to go or not, but it would be fun.

Thursday

Stuck a new hard drive in my cousin's computer, biked on up to Changing Hands to pick up my copy of Circle of Enemies, grabbed a bite of dinner with my grandparents. A little bit of the ol' job search in there, plus some work on a couple of projects I'll probably talk about a little later. (And my uncle grabbed me a copy of Dragon Quest 6 as thanks for the computer work; on the list it goes.)

Tomorrow: Uncle Garth's military funeral and maybe a birthday lunch for Grandpa if he's feeling up to it.

Something weird about my cousin's laptop: the trackpad didn't work properly. At boot the left mouse click behaved like a right-click; on plugging in an external mouse, the external mouse would exhibit the same problem for several seconds -- and then it would correct itself, and both the external mouse and the trackpad would left-click correctly. (But only the external mouse would right-click correctly -- I never got the right-click on the trackpad to work at all.)

Drivers were up-to-date (and I tried uninstalling and reinstalling them) and the Toshiba Value-Add software was installed. Any other Toshiba users have this problem?

Concerning Hobbits

Well, I really liked The Hobbit. Though I'm a Tolkien geek (let's go through the list: read all the appendices in LotR, read The Silmarillion twice, Unfinished Tales, both volumes of The Book of Lost Tales, and The Lays of Beleriand; I've got a couple more books in the set that I haven't gotten around to because you can only read so many different versions of The Children of Húrin before you need a break) and I can understand the mixed reviews from people whose hearts aren't filled with joy at hearing Gandalf's semantic deconstruction of the phrase "Good morning."

Let me start off by saying, I saw the IMAX 3D version, but not the HFR version -- my local IMAX is still equipped with a film projector, no digital. (As such I didn't see the Star Trek feature or any trailers, either.) So I can't speak to HFR. The comments I've heard from family who have range from "It didn't make much difference" to "It gave me a headache, and the CG characters looked great but the human actors looked terrible."

All that said: there are plenty of other eccentricities to the film, and while I think they all come out okay, I can see why there's disagreement.

(Spoilers follow. Though I think they're pretty minor, all things considered.)

Foremost, It's the first of three three-hour movies adapted from a book that could be comfortably translated to 90 minutes.

And, related, it achieves that length by padding it out with tonally-inconsistent material from other books.

Much of which includes appearances by characters who aren't in the book, most of them from the LotR films.

Truth be told, I'm okay with all those things.

First: the reality is, while The Hobbit the book is a standalone novel which was published prior to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit the films are prequels to an already-successful movie trilogy. There are different expectations here -- and for continuity's sake, the audience wants to see familiar actors reprising their roles.

That said, none of it felt tacked-on to me. Even the framing sequence with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood -- well, okay, so it seems to imply that Bilbo wrote the whole book in a single day and that seems pretty nutty, but aside from that, it provides a sense of continuity with the LotR films, and also allows Holm to narrate the Dwarves' backstory.

Which I suppose brings me to the point of extraneous material: while this film pads out The Hobbit with material from other books (mostly Unfinished Tales), it adapts that material faithfully. There are some liberties here and there (like the White Council meeting in Rivendell instead of Lothlórien), but on the whole it's true to the backstory that Tolkien wrote.

And the thing is, considering The Hobbit as prequel instead of a standalone work, it's important to include the portions of the story that lead into Lord of the Rings. The Necromancer in Dol Guldur? Not only does that story lay the groundwork for LotR, it's also central to Gandalf's motivation. Why is the world's greatest wizard interested in thirteen Dwarves' quest to slay a dragon? Because he doesn't want Sauron to have a dragon. In The Hobbit as a standalone work, that's not really important -- Gandalf's just a mysterious and eccentric old wizard -- but coming from Lord of the Rings first, people are bound to wonder just what he's doing with Thorin's company, and where he's going all those times he wanders off. (And I'm hoping the sequels delve a little deeper into his meeting with Thráin.)

And to that end, bringing in Galadriel and Saruman for a powwow isn't just a tacked-on scene -- it's part of Gandalf's story. And moving it from Lothlórien to Rivendell makes good narrative sense. Plus it gives the movie a chance to depict Elrond in a way that's more consistent with Lord of the Rings -- because let's be honest here, in the books Elrond in The Hobbit and Elrond in LotR may as well be different characters.

(Poor old Christopher Lee, by the way -- he's really not looking so good. And am I correct in thinking he was green-screened in and wasn't even filmed in the same room with the other three actors? Nevertheless, it was good to see him and I'm glad he was in good enough health to shoot the scene.)

The downside, I suppose, is that it does bring in those tonal inconsistencies I mentioned. The Hobbit is a children's fairytale, while Lord of the Rings is an epic myth. They're very different books, written for different audiences -- and the movie version of The Hobbit tries to be both.

Personally I think it succeeds -- I think it does a great job of mixing the light elements of the Bilbo story with the darker ones of Gandalf's, and the Dwarves' backstory -- but I'll acknowledge there's something regrettable about a Hobbit movie that you wouldn't want to take your kids to see, lest the on-screen decapitation of Thrór give them nightmares.

That said, I'm perfectly all right with the trolls resembling the Three Stooges and the Great Goblin being a disgusting, bullfrog-throated wretch played by Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries. There may be some fans (casual or Serious) who don't care for those depictions, but I think they fit the story just fine.

And then there's Radagast. His part of the story is probably the biggest departure from Tolkien's work, but, perhaps not coincidentally, was my favorite. Sylvester McCoy plays him as a wonderfully batty character who is nonetheless wise and compassionate -- not to mention a damn fine wizard. And Gandalf's respect for him, and Saruman's lack thereof, perfectly encapsulate the difference between those two characters: Gandalf sees the value in those who seem humble, meek, weak, or just plain weird, while Saruman's arrogance blinds him to the nature of true power. It's the same mistake he makes in judging Hobbits (though that's got the added dash of hypocrisy that he's quite happy to drink their wine and smoke their pipe-weed).

Which I suppose brings me to another criticism: We've seen this all before. Bilbo's opening narration about the fall of Erebor mirrors Galadriel's narration about the fall of Sauron in Fellowship of the Ring; the battle outside the gates of Moria looks an awful lot like that battle, too. (An aside: nice touch having Balin tell the story of the Dwarves' attempt to recapture Moria. I'm guessing most of the audience won't make the connection to Balin's Tomb in Fellowship, but it's a good bit for the fans.) The escape from Goblin Town is like the escape from Khazad-Dûm re-staged as a comedy. Hell, they even work Weathertop in there.

So, for all of that, I can see how this movie can feel like more of the same -- redundant, maybe even unnecessary.

But for my part, it didn't seem that way -- in fact, I'd say I really enjoyed the hell out of it.

Digital Demand

Two weeks ago I talked about how now is the greatest time in history to be a comics fan. Among other things, I mentioned Comixology. I've got concerns about Comixology -- it uses a proprietary, DRM-encumbered format, meaning there's a risk of a monopoly, same as any time a single major provider uses a proprietary, DRM-encumbered format -- but ultimately, I think that shit will work itself out. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned, shouldn't complain, shouldn't put pressure on Comixology and the publishers who use it to find another way -- but the music industry ultimately realized that a standards-compliant, DRM-free format was in its best interest, and the book publishers are beginning to get the message too; I think it's only a matter of time for comics. (TV and movies will be dead fucking last to get the message and will, like the music industry, wait until their bottom line has seriously suffered for their foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging stupidity, but they'll come around too.)

At any rate, those caveats in mind, I think that the recent announcement that Comixology is the third-highest earning iPad app of 2012 is a fucking good sign for the comics industry. It shows there's a big demand and it's getting bigger.

Moreover, while I've heard people express concern for years that digital comics will spell the end of print comics, they sure don't seem to be posing a threat -- which makes sense. The way I see it, people who get their comics through Comixology aren't any less likely to buy comics in print; if you've never bought a comic before, then you're not a lost sale, and if you have bought comics from bookstores or especially from specialty shops, you're not going to stop doing that just because you can get them on your iPad or what-have-you now.

For my part, I'm about to get a Nexus 7. For starters, the thing looks pretty small and I'm skeptical that it will even be satisfactory for reading comics on. Even if it is, I am confident it will not compare to the experience of reading a full-size comic.

That said, as I mentioned in that other post, there are a shitload of comics that are not currently in print, and if I find that it is comfortable to read comics on the Nexus 7, I will certainly start reading comics on it that are not available in my local comic shop.

That doesn't mean I'll stop shopping at my local comic shop. It doesn't even mean that I'll spend less money there. It just means I'll have one more way to experience comics (whether they're ones I've bought or acquired for free).

And while I love my local comic shop, it also means that people can make money selling comics to a niche audience without having to worry about print costs or Diamond minimum distribution numbers.

Ultimately, it's not a zero-sum game (except insofar as every consumer's entertainment budget is a zero-sum game). Digital comics doesn't mean the same audience gets the same comics from a different distributor, it means the potential for a new audience and different comics. And those are good things that make the medium richer for all of us.

More Random Thoughts

Got an E-Mail about a Win7 update needs doin'. Only a four-day job but it'd still be nice to get.

Dizzy again today. It had been awhile. Don't know what caused it; did not like it.

Those Threadless shirts came in, and so far they seem like quality merchandise! I am happy with them. The Groupon deal still appears to be going on; it's worth checking out. (Though I now find that both shirts have been marked down to about the price I paid with the coupon since I ordered -- oh well, it happens.)

Ate dinner at Cornish Pasty. Good food, good beer.

Arrow has turned out to be a surprisingly good show, but man the dialogue on tonight's was overwrought. Geoff Johns? Oh.