Tag: Thadecdotes

Cassini and Me

In 2004, in the summer before my last year at NAU, I worked at USGS, on the Astrogeology Team. What I did there was nothing special, but it was a pretty special place to be, especially at that time.

I worked on a package called ISIS, Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers. It was software for processing high-resolution photos we received from sources including the Lunar Orbiter, the Mars Rover...and Cassini.

Cassini entered Saturn orbit shortly after I started working there. It was an exciting time. I got to spend a lot of time looking at images that looked a lot like these:

Enceladus features
Enceladus features.
I grabbed this image from FiveThirtyEight. Original source is, obviously, NASA.

My work on ISIS wasn't anything high-level or complicated. I edited makefiles, so that the ISIS source code (a mix of C and FORTRAN) would compile for different platforms. If memory serves, we supported Windows, OSX, Solaris, and x86 GNU/Linux.

My work wasn't glamorous, and I'm sure it's all long-gone for the codebase. But I was thrilled just to be on the team, to be part of something like that -- getting photos back from Saturn.

It's been more than thirteen years, and I've had nearly that many jobs, since my time at USGS. But I still feel that connection to the work and to the project. In all that time, every time I've see a headline about Cassini or Saturn, I've checked out the article. My favorite part is always the pictures.

Today, Cassini concludes its journey, burning up on entry into Saturn's atmosphere, transmitting data back for as long as it can.

It's been a good run. And I'll never forget the small part I played in it.

Cox Claims to Be Unable to Revoke a DHCP Lease

I've always advocated being kind to tech support people. They have a tough job, it's not their fault you have a problem, and they spend all day dealing with abuse from people who act like it is their fault.

Well, yesterday, for the first time in my life, I cursed out a phone support rep. I'm not proud of it, but in my defense, I'd been talking to support for 90 minutes by that point, and the last 30 of that had been a conversation where this tier-2 rep talked in circles, blamed me for problems with their server, repeatedly said she couldn't help me, refused to listen to my explanations of the problem, and acted like a condescending ass.

Seriously, this is the worst tech support experience I have ever had. Beating out the previous record-holder, the guy who told me that my burned-out power supply wasn't really burned-out, I was probably experiencing a software issue. After I told him there were burn marks on the power connector.

At least that one was funny. The conversation I had with Cox yesterday wasn't funny, just infuriating.

Here's what happened: on Monday evening, when I tried to send an E-Mail, I started getting this error:

An error occurred while sending mail: The mail server sent an incorrect greeting:
fed1rmimpo306.cox.net cox connection refused from [my IP address].

I tried unplugging the modem to see if I'd get a new IP assigned. No luck. I tried turning the computer off and then on again. No luck. I tried sending mail from other devices. Same result.

So on Tuesday afternoon, I pulled up Cox's live support chat to ask for some help.

The rep eventually told me he'd escalate, and that the issue should be fixed within 24 hours.

Just shy of 27 hours later, I pulled up Cox's live support chat again, to ask what the problem was.

The rep -- a different one this time -- quoted me this feedback from the ticket:

Good afternoon, the log below shows the username can send on our servers. This may be a software, device or network issue. Please review the notes and contact the customer.

In other words, they'd tested the wrong thing. The mail server was rejecting my connection, based on my IP address, before my mail client sent my username and password. And Cox's solution to this was...to confirm that my username and password were working.

I explained this to the rep, over the course of 75 excruciating minutes. I demonstrated by disconnecting my phone from my wifi network and sending an E-Mail while connected to my wireless carrier. It worked when I connected to Cox's SMTP server over LTE; the same mail app on the same phone failed when connected to my wifi.

I explained that the mail server was blocking connections from my IP address, and that they needed to either make it stop blocking my IP address or assign me a different IP address.

The rep told me that was impossible, that residential accounts use DHCP, which assigns IP addresses at random.

I told him that I know what DHCP is, and that I wasn't asking for a static IP address, I was just asking for someone to revoke my DHCP lease and assign my modem a new IP address from the DHCP pool.

He told me that the only way to get a new IP address is to disconnect your modem for 24 hours.

I told him that was unacceptable, and I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to.

He gave me a number to call.

The person who answered the phone said she'd escalate to a tier-2 tech. I said, pointedly, that I did not understand why nobody had thought to do that in the preceding 75 minutes.

As it turns out, tier-2 techs are worse than tier-1 techs. Tier-1 techs at least know that they don't know everything, and are willing to ask for help from people who know more than they do. Tier-2 techs think they do know everything, will not ask for help from someone who knows more than they do, and certainly will not listen to a customer who knows more than they do.

Well, probably not all of them. But that was sure as hell my experience with the tier-2 tech I got stuck with.

First, she had the sheer gall to tell me my modem wasn't connected to the Internet.

I told her I could connect to websites, I could receive E-Mail, and that the error message on sending mail was not a timeout, it was a Connection Refused. I added that I was doing this from a computer that was connected to my router by a cable, that I had not accidentally jumped on somebody else's wifi.

She would have none of it. She insisted "We can't see your connection here, so you're not connected." Repeatedly. When I told her that I was clearly connected to the Internet, she just kept telling me that no, I wasn't.

Finally she told me to bypass my router and plug my desktop directly into my modem. I told her that this wouldn't fix anything, because this was happening from multiple devices that all had Internet access. She got huffy and standoffish and told me she couldn't help me if I wasn't willing to do what she asked.

So I did it. I climbed back behind my computer, traced the cable to the router, and swapped it with the one coming from the modem.

Absolutely nothing changed. Except that she said. "Oh. You're running a Linux computer? We don't support Linux."

I responded, "The operating system I am using is not relevant to whether your server is accepting connections from my IP address."

But some reps aren't interested in helping. They're only interested in finding an excuse for why they don't have to help you.

I asked her if there was any way she could determine why my IP was being blocked. I noted that it seemed to be on some sort of blacklist.

She asked if I'd checked whether it was on any public blacklist. I responded that I had, and that it had an expired listing on SORBS from 2013 -- well before it was my IP address; I've only lived in this house since 2014 --, that I hadn't found it in any other blacklist, and that a SORBS listing from over two years ago should not result in my suddenly losing the ability to connect to SMTP two days ago.

She said that if I was on a blacklist, those were handled by third parties and it was my responsibility to get de-listed. I explained that I did not see my IP on any currently-active blacklists, and asked if she could look up what was causing the rejection. She said she couldn't.

I asked if she could reset my IP. She said that the only way to do it would be to shut down my modem for 25 hours. (Already I had somehow lost another hour!)

I told her that was unacceptable, and asked how I could get it reset remotely.

She told me that was impossible, that residential accounts use DHCP, which assigns IP addresses at random, and that the only way to get a new DHCP address is to disconnect your modem for 25 hours.

I told her that it is not impossible, that the same router that provides DHCP leases is capable of revoking them, and that I needed somebody to do that for me.

We went round and round like this for awhile.

At one point, she said, "We can't do that; it's done automatically."

I responded that anything a computer does automatically can also be done manually, and that there is certainly someone in Cox who has the account access to log into the router that is assigning IP addresses and revoke a lease.

She started to explain DHCP to me again -- it was about the fifth time at this point -- and I snapped.

I shouted, "I know how DHCP works; I ran an ISP, for fuck's sake!"

I feel kinda bad about that.

I finally got pushed over to a supervisor -- another twenty minutes on hold -- who tried to tell me that Cox can't help me because they don't support third-party programs like what I'm using, and that if I could send messages from webmail, that's what I should do.

I said, "Are you seriously telling me that Cox does not support sending E-Mail from phones or tablets?"

The supervisor backed off that claim and said that she didn't really understand the technical stuff, that she could send me back to tier 2.

I responded that it had been two hours and I didn't think it was in anyone's best interest for me to continue this conversation, but that if I decided to call back tomorrow, what could I do to get some service?

She said to ask for tier 2 again, and this time ask for a manager.

I'm debating whether I really want to deal with that kind of aggravation, or if I'd be happier just abandoning the Cox E-Mail address that I've been using for fifteen fucking years.

Incidentally, Cox just jacked its prices up by $7 a month. Why is it that every time the cost goes up, the quality of service goes down? I remember the first time they hiked my bill, they dropped Usenet service.

That was in 2009. Since then my bill's gone up $27. My service sucks; several times a day my connection just stops working and I have to restart the modem.

And of course I can't switch to another ISP, because there isn't one available at my address. My "choices", such as they are, are as follows:

  • Pay $74 a month for Cox
  • Steal wifi from a neighbor who's paying for Cox
  • See how far I can get using only my phone's data plan for Internet access

I'm pretty much fucked, like most Americans are on broadband access.

And the hell of it is, even if there were another provider available, all the alternatives seem to be even worse.

I mean, Christ, at least I don't have Time Warner or Comcast.

Pests

This morning I went into my bathroom and there were ants wandering around. They hadn't formed a line yet, but there were maybe a dozen, moving around and exploring. I didn't see them in any other rooms; I couldn't find where they were coming from but I think it was probably under the floor.

I squished as many as I could see (and took the bathroom rug out and threw it in the wash), but when I came back, more had come; there were about the same number as the first time.

I squished them again; more came again.

Then I had a bright idea: I turned my Roomba loose in the bathroom and closed the door.

The next time I went in? No ants, living or dead.

I was pretty pleased with myself, until I saw the black widow spider in my shower, at which point I decided yeah maybe it is time to call an exterminator.

Job Spammers are the Worst

I'm looking for work right now.

So I've got a current resume posted publicly up on CareerBuilder.

And oh God, the spam that brings.

It's kind of amazing how many hiring agencies seem to have taken a look at the scammers who sell penis pills and decided, "Yeah, that looks like a pretty good business strategy."

I'm inundated, every day, with postings for jobs that aren't even in my state. I've gotten ten of them this week alone (and one phone call), and it's only Wednesday morning.

Most of them seem to be coming through one single distributor, or at least one single software kit -- because they follow the same format, and if you click Unsubscribe, all the Unsubscribe pages look exactly the same except for the logo.

Needless to say, they do not actually honor the unsubscribe requests. These are spammers we're talking about.

Of course, the big problem here is that unlike the spambots selling Cialis, I can't just mark these as spam and rely on Bayesian filters to sort the wheat from the chaff -- because aside from the location, these postings are indistinguishable from real job posting E-Mails, of the sort I want and need, because I am trying to find a job. Job spammers have an in that other spammers don't: they're advertising something I actually want, they're just advertising it in a place I don't want it. So I can't filter out an entire class of E-Mails, because the risk of false positives is far too high.

Which leaves me relying on filtering by domain name. Which, as anybody knows, is unreliable Stone Age Whac-a-Mole shit, because spammers use all the domain names they can get their mitts on.

Still, it's better than nothing, and I'll be putting a list of the spam domains I've filtered so far at the end of this post -- maybe it'll be of some help to some other folks out there looking for work. And maybe it'll give these agencies a little bad publicity.

But first, here's a story about the absolute worst, slimiest job spam I've gotten to date.

It's from an organization called Strategic Staffing Solutions, which started out by straight-up brazenly lying to me. Here's a portion of the E-Mail I got, with the rep's last name and E-Mail redacted -- I don't want to rain down Internet mob justice on anybody, even if they are engaging in sleazy tactics; I just want to name and shame the company that encourages this type of behavior.

From: Adam [redacted] <[redacted]@strategicstaff.com>
Subject: data scientist - MO
01/26/2015 02:17 PM

Hello Thad Boyd,

Please contact me as I have many job opportunities to discuss.

We have 24 locations within the USA.

I have called your phone number about your resume. The phone number has been disconnected.

Would you be interested in this job position? Please send me your resume.

Here are two job orders:

What followed were two job listings that have absolutely nothing to do with my education, training, or job experience.

So, straight into the circular file it went.

And then I thought, you know what? No. That line about trying to call me and my phone being disconnected was low. That's just a gross way to start any kind of relationship.

So I replied to the guy, and decided to press him on the "Your phone has been disconnected" lie.

From: Thad Boyd <[redacted]>
Subject: Re: data scientist - MO
01/27/2015 08:45 AM

Hi Adam,

I've had the same phone number for ten years, and haven't had any trouble receiving calls that I'm aware of. What number were you trying to call, and where did you get it?

He, of course, completely ignored my question, and responded with this boilerplate:

From: Adam [redacted] <[redacted]@strategicstaff.com>
Subject: Re: data scientist - MO
01/27/2015 09:55 AM

Hello Thad,

Please send me your resume.
Are you actively seeking work?

Please make use of Central Sourcing@STRATEGIC, as they can accelerate your recruiting.

I decided to press the issue one more time:

From: Thad Boyd <[redacted]>
Subject: Re: data scientist - MO
01/29/2015 09:52 AM

Hi Adam,

Yes, I'm actively seeking work.

Where did you say you got my contact details, and what phone number were you trying to call? I'd like to know if there's something wrong with my phone service. My grandfather is in the hospital right now and I need to know that people can reach me.

(And since he pretended not to notice my question about the phone, I pretended not to notice he'd asked for my resume.)

That last part is true, by the way -- Grandpa's going to be okay but he is currently in the hospital. I brought this up to make a point: lying to somebody about his phone being disconnected has consequences. If I had been gullible enough to believe his lie, I could have wound up wasting a good chunk of my day on the phone with Sprint, trying to figure out what was wrong with my phone service, and worrying all the time that I was missing important calls about a family member's health.

Lying to somebody like that -- what the hell is even the point? You think you're going to build a rapport with me by starting our relationship off by lying to me? Specifically, lying about something that could cause me a considerable amount of stress if I believed you? And how long do you think you can keep somebody believing the lie when you clearly have never even looked at his resume?

Does this actually work often enough to keep Strategic Staffing Solutions in business?

I sent that E-Mail out on the 29th. It's been four business days and I think it's a pretty safe bet that Adam's not going to be getting back to me. Not so much as a "Look, I'm sorry, they make us say that, there's no problem with your phone and I hope your grandpa gets better; is there any way I can still help you?" When faced with the potential consequences of his lie, he didn't take the thirty seconds it would have taken to come clean and apologize to me. He just chalked me up as a loss and moved on to the next sucker.

So I'm pretty comfortable in saying fuck Strategic Staffing Solutions, fuck their sleazy, dishonest recruitment tactics, and fuck the horse they rode in on. If you do business with Strategic Staffing Solutions, know that you are doing business with spammers and liars -- and that if they were so cavalier about lying to me, they're probably going to be more than happy to lie to you too.

Finally, here's a list of domains that have sent me job spam, and I'll probably add to it as time goes on. Please feel free to add them to your own spam filters. And hey, if this creates some negative word association for these domains on Google, I'd be pretty okay with that.

  • strategicstaff.com
  • enterprisesolutioninc.com
  • net2source.com
  • colcon.com
  • pyramidci.com
  • ittblazers.com
  • artechinfo.com
  • usgrpinc.com
  • diverselynx.com
  • axelon.com
  • h3-technologies.com
  • mondo.com
  • simplion.com
  • genuent.net
  • abacusservice.com
  • compnova.com
  • spectraforce.com
  • syscomtechinc.com
  • iit-inc.com
  • eteaminc.com
  • project1.com
  • globalsyst.com
  • ustsmail.com
  • ustechsolutionsinc.com
  • rconnectllc.com
  • lorventech.com
  • talentburst.com
  • softpath.net
  • waddellcareers.com
  • first-tek.com
  • quantitativesystems.com
  • advantageresourcing.com
  • gtt-it.com
  • mamsys.com
  • enterprise-logic.com
  • diversant.com
  • fortek.com
  • stemxpert.com
  • panzersolutions.com
  • opensystemstech.com
  • itstaffinc.com
  • princetoninformation.com
  • rjtcompuquest.com
  • greenlightstaff.com
  • judge.com
  • techdigitalcorp.com
  • ttiofusa.com

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.

Day in the Life

Woke up this morning with a nasty headache. After some coffee and ibuprofen I managed to get it manageable enough that I made it to work, but I was still achy, and the extra coffee made me jittery besides.

Felt better by around lunchtime, and the second half of the day wasn't so bad. Aside from having some tedious tickets. The good news/bad news is that I've become the go-to guy for putting together websites for extra-difficult or -particular sets of requirements.

Latest OpenSUSE upgrade gave me a KP on reboot, but rolling back a few versions let me boot okay. Then my speakers were making horrible noises; inexplicably, rebooting and removing and reconnecting the audio cables didn't do anything but removing and reinserting the USB cable for the external sound card did.

Went out to my in-laws', played with my nephew, and ate a calzone from Spinato's, my favorite pizza place. Watched Jack the Giant Slayer on DVD. Entertaining if forgettable action flick.

Got home and saw the black widow who lived under my door was out. I first saw the little fucker a few weeks back; back then I tried to find something to smash it with but by the time I did it was gone. (I wear sandals in the summer, and I'm not about to try to step on a black widow with an open-toed shoe.) I vacuumed up its webs, sprayed Raid around the area, and hoped I'd killed it, and didn't see it again after that, but tonight made it clear that either that hadn't killed it or another one had moved into its spot.

Tonight I managed to get into the house and get my hands on a shoe (closed-toed) without disturbing it, and gave it a good and thorough smashing. Sprayed Raid around the threshold afterward, just in case it laid eggs. If it didn't work last time, I don't know if it will this time, but while I have stronger poisons I'd really rather not sprinkle them in an area where they're certain to be tracked into the house, so hopefully Raid will do.

...I just noticed I'd been reflexively writing "RAID" in all caps and went back and fixed it. Funny the things your mind does.

(The last time I took a typing test -- which was sometime around late 2005 or early 2006 -- the only error I made was writing "Thad" instead of "That". Obviously it's a word I write fairly frequently.)

Anyway, got a good 25 minutes left in the day; guess I should probably go find me a Zappa something to post.

The Zappas on Video Games

The benefits of being a pack rat:

Sharkey posted this on his blog in...according to the date stamp, November of 2002.

I remembered it a couple days ago and I thought, you know what? I bet I don't even have to dig through old hard drives to find it. I bet my obsessive process of backing up data and copying it over from old computer to new has survived two new computers, four different Linux distributions, and I don't even know how the hell many hard drives. (I am, after all, the guy who corrupted his hard drive when he installed Windows 98 and recovered the data in 2008.)

Anyhow, I was right. Sitting right here on my current computer, after all those moves.

(And then I get to thinking, "Wait...I've only gotten two new computers in the last decade?" But then I remember no, there's also the Mac Mini I used to have hooked up to my TV and now use as a backup server, the Win7 desktop I currently have hooked up to my TV, my laptop, my phone, my tablet, and assorted old towers that have managed to pile up in my office and get used occasionally for various purposes. Plus my wife's desktop and two laptops.)

You know, just the other day my coworkers were talking about Hoarders, and I commented that the nice thing about being a digital packrat is that the data I've been holding on to for decades doesn't take up a hell of a lot of space. My comic collection, on the other hand...

Anyhow, not the point. The point is, here's Innerview: The Zappas on Video Games, by Merl H Reagle, JoyStik, January 1983. Scanned by, and from the personal collection of, Scott Sharkey, and preserved through over a decade's worth of computer migrations by packrat Thaddeus R R Boyd.

Innerview, Page 1Innerview, Page 2

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that games were already being scapegoated by politicians and the media for juvenile delinquency as far back as 1983.

I also love the story of Frank recording the noise in an airport arcade and then listening to it on the plane. I think he also tells the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book -- that or I've been misremembering where I read it for the past decade.

(Christ. An interview from 30 years ago which I've been copying from hard drive to hard drive for one-third of that time...)

Welcome Back to Astro City

One morning when I was fourteen years old, my uncle asked me, over Sunday breakfast, if I'd heard of Astro City.

"It's great," he told me. "There's this kid who comes to the big city because he wants to get a job as somebody's sidekick."

"Sounds like something out of The Tick," I said.

"Kind of," he responded, "except that it's played totally straight."

So I picked it up, and Uncle Jon was right -- it was wonderful.

I don't remember if #4 or #5 was my first issue, but in short order I'd bought all the back issues too, including the trade of the original miniseries. I haven't missed an issue in the 16 years since. And most of them have been downright sublime -- while, at worst, some were merely all right.

Astro City has disappeared a few times over the years, usually owing to writer Kurt Busiek's chronic health problems. Yesterday, after a nearly three-year hiatus, it relaunched with a new #1. And it was delightful.

Straight away we're introduced to a new character (though one, Kurt teases, who we've seen before) called the Broken Man. He looks like Bowie in Labyrinth or Dream in Sandman, and he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly as he narrates the rest of the issue.

And what an issue it is. It's new-reader friendly and makes for a great jumping-on point -- but it still manages to pack plenty of nods in for the old fans. Brian Kinney, the kid who came to Astro City in 1996 to become a sidekick? He's in there. And some other familiar faces are too.

It feels like going home. It feels like checking in on old friends you haven't seen in years. And there's only one other comic book that makes me feel like that: Love and Rockets. I think it takes a pretty specific set of variables -- a strong, singular vision by the same creators over a sustained period of time, who are willing to let you feel that passage of time as their characters grow and age, and who are confident enough in their world-building that they can take a break from the same old characters, explore the world, and check back in on the old cast a few years later.

Reading Astro City is like coming home. There's a purity to it, and a joy, and an earnestness. In a time when the superhero genre and superhero fandom are dominated by cynicism, Busiek, Anderson, and Ross aren't afraid to show a world that's bright and full of wonder. And to tell a story that has a complete beginning, middle, and end all in one issue, even if it is Part One of something.

It's not entirely free of irony -- the Broken Man makes a crack about the previous story arc a couple of pages in that made me laugh -- but it's cheerful. It's a book that remembers that superheroes can be both fun and awe-inspiring.

Or not. Because, as much as anything else, it's also a book about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives in an extraordinary world. Regular folks, going to work, living their lives, raising their families.

And that's why Astro City struck a chord. And why it continues to resonate, two decades in. The title aside, it's not really about the city -- though the city is certainly important -- and it's not about superheroes -- though they're pretty important too. It's about people.

And in the new Astro City #1, Kurt Busiek delivers a solid story, with faces new and old, new mysteries, and the prospect of plenty of adventure to come.

As for Brent Anderson, he's really hitting his stride again too. I was a little disappointed with some of his recent work as he began experimenting with digital inking, but in this issue he's back to his crisp old self. His Samaritan, in particular, is a joy to see again, and he handles the rest of the sizable cast with aplomb. Whether he's doing an action scene or just swooping in on an ordinary family, he keeps the action brisk and dynamic. And I'm particularly fond of the new, Kirby-inspired alien character who shows up near the end of the issue.

Ross's cover (I got the "main" one, I guess?) is great as always, but this time it's more remarkable for its composition than for its detail, as 2/3 of it is the dark shape of two doors opening out on the world. It fits the story nicely -- both reflecting the mysterious door as a focal point, and drawing attention to the reader looking in on this world from outside, another key element of the story.


So, by all means, go out and buy the new Astro City #1.

And in the meantime, the original, 1995-vintage Astro City #1 is free on Comixology.

If you want a few more recommendations, my favorites are the first three trades, Life in the Big City, Family Album, and Confession. You can read them in any order (chronology is important for the later ones, namely The Dark Age and Shining Stars, though those appear to be out-of-print at the moment anyway).

And while I urge you to support your local comic shop or independent bookseller, well, if you'd rather do the Amazon thing here are some links that I'll get a kickback on:

  1. Life in the Big City (original miniseries -- 6 self-contained issues)
  2. Family Album (ongoing series #1-#3, #10-#13 -- some self-contained issues and short story arcs)
  3. Confession (ongoing series #4-#9, a single story arc, plus a short story from #1/2)
  4. Tarnished Angel (#14-#20, another arc)
  5. Local Heroes (#21-#22, the eponymous 5-issue miniseries, the Supersonic one-shot, Since the Fire 9/11 tribute -- mostly self-contained single-issue stories; I think there's one two-parter in there)

...and from there it looks like kind of a mess, with The Dark Age and Shining Stars apparently out of print for the time being. I'm guessing that'll change soon; maybe I'll update this post when they're easily available again. Meantime, it looks like the individual issues are pretty easy to get ahold of.

Anyhow, all this to say...I love me some Astro City, and the new #1 did not disappoint. I'm glad it's back.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 1: Sonic Fandom ca. 1996

I'd like to talk about Archie v Penders, because it fascinates the hell out of me. In fact, I've got enough to say about it that I'll be on the subject for most of the week, if not longer.

But I should probably get some disclosure out of the way first.

First of all, my feelings on creators' rights are pretty well known.

And second, I corresponded with Ken Penders for years in the mid-1990's and he was pretty cool to me.

It may be hard to remember in these days where I can just get into a political debate with Ethan van Sciver or ask Kurt Busiek about his unpublished Final Fantasy comics, but it wasn't so long ago that most people didn't have the Internet and it wasn't common for fans to connect directly, personally, and regularly with comics creators.

The first cartoonist who I ever knew to directly engage his fans online was Ken Penders. (Not the first person, and not even the first person who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog at Archie -- that honor goes to editor Paul Castiglia, who likewise was a class act -- but the first person who was actually writing, drawing, and inking the things.)

In those days, the main place where I participated in Sonic fandom was on a mailing list run by Ron Bauerle. And when I say "mailing list" I mean something less sophisticated than an automated majordomo system; I mean people E-Mailed Ron and he forwarded those E-Mails to a list of addresses, manually, with some edits and comments of his own.

Ken was kind, engaged, patient, and forthcoming. He took the credit or blame for ideas that were his, and he was entirely candid about decisions that were forced on him by Archie or Sega.

I always liked the guy, though I grant I often had a funny way of showing it. I was thirteen, fourteen years old, and behaved about like you expect an angry, entitled, teenage member of comic book fandom to behave. And Ken was always patient and polite with me (and others), even when I didn't earn it.

In my defense, there were times when he actively and transparently trolled the fans. The biggest thing that ever happened on Ron's mailing list was when one day Ken posted -- in a fake casual, "oh by the way" manner -- that he'd just written a script where he killed off Princess Sally.

He may not have deserved all the vitriol he got for that -- but he did very clearly and deliberately invite it.

(And while I remember being nastier than I should have been, I won't recant the substance of my criticism of the story -- if possible, my disdain for the "women in refrigerators" and "revolving door of death" tropes has only deepened in the intervening years. It was a terrible idea, a terrible execution, and, all right, at least the "Director's Cut" reissue of #50 shows that editorial meddling made the comic even worse than if Ken had done it the way he wanted to.)

But again, I always liked Ken -- he was a nice, friendly, forthright guy, who made time for his fans. Even when I didn't like the comics he was writing or drawing, I still liked him.

And, nontrivially, I also think he's a big part of why Archie's Sonic comic is still out there.

The mid-1990's were a weird time for Sonic fandom. The cartoon had ended, and the games were going through what would become the longest dry spell in their history.

Nobody expected, fifteen and twenty years ago, that Sonic the Hedgehog would still be running in 2013, zooming toward issue #250. (And that fact is essential to understanding the current legal disputes. It looks to me like Archie got sloppy with its paperwork, precisely because this was a licensed comic that they didn't think would last. But more on that tomorrow.)

Indeed, Ken didn't tell us at the time, but there was every possibility that the book was going to end with #50. I mean, given that the story arc was called Endgame, that should have been obvious, in hindsight.

But Ken, more than anybody else, is the guy who kept the book afloat. He's the one who took the wheel in the teens (#16?) and decided the book should depart from the slapstick roots of the Scott Shaw/Mike Gallagher/Dave Manak era and generally start to look more like the Saturday morning cartoon. He wrote more complex, character-based stories. That's how the comic attracted an audience outside its 8-to-12-year-old target, how it managed to keep its 8-to-12-year-old target, and generally the reason there's still a Sonic comic at all. Ken believed in the book, he took it seriously, he made it the best he could. It wasn't always great -- in fact, there were times it was downright lousy. But a Ken Penders story was still usually better than anything printed in the first 15 issues.

And look, I quit reading Sonic comics ages ago. People say Ian Flynn is great and I take them at their word. I definitely acknowledge the possibility that he's writing better comics than Ken ever was. I don't know.

But I am pretty confident that Ian Potto would never have gotten a job writing Sonic the Hedgehog if not for Ken Penders. Firstly, because there wouldn't have been a Sonic comic if Ken hadn't shepherded it through some of its most turbulent years, and secondly, because it was guys like Ken, Paul, and Karl Bollers who interacted directly with the fandom and created an environment where fans like Flynn and Dawn Best could actually make the step to pro.

So anyhow, that's my bias in all this. I like Ken Penders as a dude. I like a lot of what he did when he wrote and drew Sonic and Knuckles. I don't like a lot of what he did, too -- and while a lot of that's down to editorial meddling by Archie and Sega, some of it is indeed down to decisions made by Ken himself.

But that's not why I think he's right and should win the case against Archie -- indeed, when he first announced he was pursuing legal remedies I thought he must be crazy, and said so, rather rudely.

But as the facts have come out, I've found myself believing Ken isn't just morally in the right, he's legally in the right.

And that doesn't have anything to do with whether I, or anyone else, actually like him, as a person or as a writer or as an artist.

That's a point Sonic fanboys just can't seem to grasp in this case: whether or not you personally like Ken Penders's Sonic and Knuckles comics is completely irrelevant to the merits of his legal case.

Car in the Shop, Wife in the ER

Welp, missed a Zappa post last night, for the second time since, what, last June?

And yeah it was because somebody was in the ER. I'm not saying your default assumption the next time I miss one should be that someone's in the hospital, but that's what it was this time.

It was a busy and stressful day. And it is kinda funny -- not laughable funny but, y'know, a bit of an odd little coincidence -- that it started with taking my car in to the shop and ended with me taking my wife in to the ER.

The good news is my wife's all right. (My car's all right too, which is a relief but not that damn important compared to my wife.) The bad news is they're not really sure what the hell was wrong with her; it was one of those nights where you spend 6 hours in the ER and they run a bunch of tests and tell you everything looks normal and they don't really know what the problem is. Which describes every trip to the ER I've made (as patient or accompanying a patient) in my adult life, really.

Still, the good news is she was better by the time we left the hospital than when we got there. She got the help she needed, and we ruled out anything serious. That's the thing to keep in mind when we get the bill. But it'd sure be nice if people were as easy to diagnose and fix as cars -- yup, the tread came off your tire; you'll be wanting a couple new tires.

Stayed home from work today to make sure she (and we're back to talking about my wife again now, not my car) was all right. Should be able to get back in tomorrow. Meantime, while she's lying down I'm seeing what I can't get done on one of my freelance projects -- hopefully that'll make up the money I'm losing from missing a day of work.