Monthly Archives: December 2013

Humor on your morning commute…

…is strictly forbidden. For some reason, the public WiFi on my train blocks both Cracked.com and xkcd.com. That’s really annoying on mornings when my RSS feed is bare. Of course, the ads on the Cracked app load just fine, so there’s that…

And yes, I know I’m sitting here complaining about the fact that my hand-held miracle device that connects to a wireless network on a moving train can’t connect to every site on the internet. I should probably feel a little more grateful, but I should probably be a lot of things that I’m not.

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Filed under Technology, Work

This is actually kind of a big deal (Mikko Hypponen cancels his RSA talk)

One speaker bailing on a conference may not seem like a terribly important event, but there’s a lot behind this. Mikko Hypponen is a very important name in security and his choice to cancel his speech at the RSA event is a clear indication that RSA has lost the support of security professionals outside the U.S. Of course, the RSA should have lost the support of every company outside the U.S. If I were making purchasing decisions, I would absolutely avoid any software that depended on RSA products. Hell, I’d do it in the U.S., too. Compromised security is worse than no security, and any company that accepted cash to compromise their product will probably never be able to regain any real degree of trust.

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Filed under Law Enforcement, Politics, Science

Ho ho ho! Santa Pancakes has some holiday music for you!

Image

Happy holidays everybody! I hope you all are having a lovely time. If you’re anything like me (and I have no reason to think you are, but bear with me), you’re probably a little bit jaded with all of the traditional Christmas music. That’s what I’m here for! Here are a few songs that keep me in the spirit without having to play my Bing Crosby 78’s again. Enjoy!

“Just Like Christmas” – Low (a surprisingly upbeat song from a band whose gloomy reputation is, I think, a bit overstated)

“A Snowflake Fell (and it Felt Like a Kiss)” – Glasvegas (and a surprisingly delicate tune from a band that has no reputation for subtlety)

“The Spirit of Giving” – The New Pornographers (heh heh heh, oh Dan Bejar you card)

“Christmas Song” – Mogwai (because I can never not listen to Mogwai)

Okay, everything after this point is a little more off-center. Proceed with caution. I like ’em, but your mileage may vary.

“A Christmas Duel” – The Hives and Cyndi Lauper (not even a little bit safe for work, but this is the Hives/Cyndi Lauper team-up you’ve been dreaming of)

“The Little Drummer Boy” – Bad Religion (It’s almost disappointing to hear Bad Religion play it so straight and I say this as an owner of their original holiday sampler, but they can sing and they can play and it’s a fun cover)

“Christmas At Ground Zero” – Weird Al Yankovic (because Weird Al. ’nuff said)

“Testament to Youth in Verse” – New Pornographers (this one’s actually a paean to teen celibacy, but it has sleighbells and a magnificent ending, so give it a listen)

 

 

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Filed under Music, Personal

My Most Favorite Comic Book Series (a list!)

I’ve been reading comics for a long, long time, but it wasn’t until a friend handed me Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen that I really took ’em seriously. I don’t mean “seriously” as “Serious Literature”; I’m not even sure what that means. I just mean that it wasn’t until Watchmen that I really got comics as a way to tell a story as opposed to a rambling, serialized that didn’t have any real sense of beginning or end. So, at the risk of spoiling the surprise, everything on my list is going to be from that era forward.

I read a lot of comics. I read enough that I’ve had to buy a few extra bookshelves to hold them. These are my favorites:

Planetary (Warren Ellis, John Cassaday) : This is the finest expression of what a comic book can be that I’ve ever encountered. I get that the more over-the-top Transmetropolitan may be better and is almost certain more important from a cultural standpoint, but Planetary is essentially the perfect book. It explores comic book tropes in a way that makes them fresh and wondrous. It’s never condescending to its subject matter. Almost all of the stories are stand-alones, but there’s an overarching story told in four acts that was very clearly planned from day one. Not only is Ellis in absolutely peak form (and that’s saying something), but John Cassaday does things I don’t think any other artist could have managed as well. He handles all of the different genres expertly and his ability to capture emotion in faces is unmatched. There’s a three panel, wordless scene with Elijah Snow and Anna Hark that will break your heart…in a good way. This really is what it’s all about.

Locke & Key (Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez) : I’ve never liked horror comics. They’ve just never been very scary to me. So, I was a little late to this Locke & Key party since I didn’t think it would my kind of thing. Oops. Joe Hill is a grade A storyteller. He’s so good that you’re not even really sure that you’re reading a horror story. It’s more like you’re reading a regular story that’s being invaded by dimly seen but incredibly powerful horrors just at the edge of your vision. Once things get moving, he does a stunning job of keeping up the suspense. There were many, many moments when I couldn’t imagine how the good guys would get out of a particular jam because it was just so well constructed, and then, when they (most of the time) escaped, it never felt like a cheat. Rodriguez has a brilliant, clean style that makes the scary parts so much scarier. Best scary comic I’ve ever read.

The Sandman – Season of Mists (Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones) : For some of the longer runs, I’m just going to pick my favorite story. This was the second Sandman collection I picked up, but it was the one that really got me hooked. Like Hill, Neil Gaiman is, above all else, a supremely gifted and knowledgeable storyteller. Sandman was originally marketed a scary comic, and while I can see a little of that, it’s mostly a platform for Gaiman to tell stories. This remains my favorite Sandman story because the side characters are so compelling. Lucifer, Loki, poor old Thor, Bast, Chaos…they’re all memorable, but none more so than Lucifer. I won’t spoil it, but when you get to the end of the entire series, you’ll see how, in a sense, this was the book that set the whole final act in motion.

Doom Patrol – The Painting That Ate Paris (Grant Morrison, Richard Case) : I learned more about art from this series than I did in all my years in school. The Brotherhood of Dada are, hands down, my favorite group of villains and Mr. Nobody is not only the coolest bad guy, he’s the coolest looking. Richard Case has a draftsman’s hand and he uses it to incredible effect in this series. The story itself may be the loopiest thing Morrison wrote (until maybe Seaguy). And then there’s the Crazy Jane issue. Yeah, that one hits just about every trigger there is. Read it at your peril. It’s incredible, but it’s also devastating.

Flaming Carrot Comics (Bob Burden) : Because, really, who doesn’t want to read about a guy with no powers in a carrot mask who shoots bad guys, kills Nazi boots, smokes a bubble pipe, gets ALL the girls, and struggles mightily with the English language? Don’t judge Burden’s work by the godawful Mysterymen movie. He writes and draws the funniest comics I’ve ever read.

Cassanova (Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon) : Reading Cassanova is like doing some amazing drug from the future that won’t exist until you invent it 20 years from today and it makes everything fast and colorful and absolutely, utterly insane. This is what I read when I want to feel a physical reaction to what I’m reading. It literally makes my blood pump faster. Who cares what it’s about (and it’s about everything!). We’re all so terribly excited!

Nextwave – Agents of H.A.T.E. (Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen) : You know, really, you could take almost anything Warren Ellis writes and it would qualify for some sort of “best of” list. He’s not just great; he’s consistently great. This mad little romp is one of those things that probably never should have been given the green light. Ellis takes a stack of forgotten and/or underused Marvel properties and turns them into one of the funniest comics you’ll ever read. It’s self-aware, sure, but that’s part of the fun. Immonen’s in on the joke and I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this book. A word of warning, though: The scene with Machine Man and the Celestials will make you spit whatever is in your mouth all over the book/screen/keyboard. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Tank Girl – (Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlett) : The original run is still the best. Unbelievably joyful and nihilistic at the same time, I have to be in the mood for Tank Girl, but when I am, nothing else will do. I can only imagine a Spider Jerusalem/Tank Girl team-up. The world might not recover. And sure, you can pretend like I think that would be a bad thing if you want…

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac – (Jhonen Vasquez) : Speaking of nihilistic…ok, this might be terribly Hot Topic of me, but this is a really great, darkly funny comic rewards re-reading more than you would probably expect. It’s extremely dense, the art takes some unraveling, but it’s a great ride. I still cannot believe they gave Vasquez a series on Nickelodeon

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol.1-2) – (Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill) : Forget the movie and, frankly, forget the Black Dossier and everything after it. Or not, if you like them. For me, the first two tales remain by far the strongest. Obviously, I have a thing for pastiche and the second book is so incredibly good, so seamless in the way in integrates its story elements, that you almost forget that this isn’t the original telling of that particular tale. Kudos to Kevin O’Neill, who maybe enjoys drawing gore a little too much (as if that were a thing).

I should probably close by explaining a few omissions. Watchmen and Dark Knight are both landmark books and worthy of inclusion, but I just don’t enjoy reading them that much. They’re so dense that it feels like a chore to get through them. They’re undeniably great, but they’re not my favorites. The Invisibles suffered, in my opinion, from some seriously meandering storytelling that felt made up as it went along. It was incredible, but and, as a whole may be Morrison’s strongest work. Finally, why is there no Hellblazer? Look, I freakin’ love John Constantine and when a writer nails his voice, it’s magical. But, I couldn’t think of a single storyline I think of as a favorite, and the book’s quality was all over the place.

Looking back on the list, one thing that strikes me as that, in most cases, these stories are the works of a single writer and single artist. In every case, the two were incredibly in sync. There’s something about an artist and a writer who really get what the other is trying to do. “Greater than the sum of its parts” is, I think, the phrase.

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Filed under Books, Personal

The campaign that never was

The campaign that never was

If these were to appear all of the world, I’m sure G+ would listen and restore my account. Of course, this stencil would be bloody impossible to actually make, and using it would be illegal, so I’m not holding my breath. Still, it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?

Thanks to Strix.org.uk for the tools.

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23/12/2013 · 5:02 am

It’s the most wonderful time of the year (to release unsavory news)

Welp, now that the U.S. of A. is in full-on retail frenzy, some of the ickier tales of wrongdoing are seeping out to the press. It’s one of those Christmas traditions like the creepy elf that watches you all the time and completely undermines the supposed meaning of the holiday. I guess they figure that, if they let this stuff out when folks are distracted, the outrage won’t be nearly as great. Given that they’ve been doing this for many years, they must find it effective.

So, here’s a little coal for your stockings:

The NSA paid RSA $10,000,000 U.S. to make a broken encryption algorithm their default.   This is a Very Big Deal. This isn’t like bribing one company to put a back door in their systems to give the government access. This is like bribing the company that makes all the key locks in the country to provide the government with a skeleton key that opens all of ’em. RSA is the most trusted, most used provider of encryption services out there and it turns out that, not only have they been compromised, they’ve took cash and did it willingly (if not knowingly). Granting that there’s no such thing as completely unbreakable encryption, this is still a massive breach of trust. While RSA may not have known that the algorithm was compromised, the NSA was very much aware of what it was doing.

But hey, at least the NSA has been foiling nefarious terror plots, right? In a word: No. Not a one. The NSA has not stopped a single attack and yet its authority keeps growing and its budget keeps growing and…well, someone thinks they’re doing a good job. The question, then, is “What exactly is the job that they’re doing so well?”  I don’t know the answer, and I don’t mean to imply anything sinister by that. I am, however, not terribly encouraged by stories like this.

That’s enough “bah, humbug!” for now.  Excuse my while I go deal with that ^$#%%& elf that keeps staring at me…
elf-768x576

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Filed under Law Enforcement, Politics, Technology

The Best Part of Waking Up (on Sundays during the season)…

…is getting to see the highlights of an away win.

It’s getting to see the highlights of an away win we probably did not truly deserve.

It’s getting to see the highlights of an away win at QPR which we probably did not deserve.

It’s getting to see the highlights, including a red card for Joey Barton, of an away win at QPR which we did probably did not deserve.

It’s getting to see the highlights, including a red card for Joey Barton and Harry Redknapp’s sad sack reaction, of an away win at QPR which we probably did not deserve.

3rd on the table, 1 point out of the lead, and 12 games over the next 4 days.

Bring it on.

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Filed under Football

Courtesy of Mr. Wong

Cracked’s David Wong gave us one of those year end lists…actually, no, it’s more interesting than those lists. Mr. Wong is a cynical dude and his list has some bite to it: 5 Signs the Tech Industry Finally Ran Out Of Ideas In 2013.

Each entry has some merit and, as always, Wong’s worth reading, so please click the link and take a look.  I’ll just add a couple of notes:

5. Apple appears to have stopped innovating: This one seems true (from the outside), and its a bummer. Whether or not you’re a fan of Apple, it’s hard to deny that they’ve lead the consumer electronics market in some pretty interesting directions.

4. 3D TV Failed, and Television Makers Are Lost as to What’s Next: I don’t think the fact that 3D TV failed is a huge shock. Personally, I’d love to see wearable LCDs, shirts made from sheets of transistors, that can display anything you want. I’m probably not enough of a market to matter, though.

3. Wearable Gadgets Arrived, and They’re As Ridiculous as You Thought: I take issue with this one a little because I do think wearable gadgets are going to be a very big thing and we’re very close to reaching the point where they’re worth owning. So, I think Wong is right, but not for long.

2. The New Game Consoles Arrived, Based on Features No One Could Want:  This one’s a lot like #4 to me. We’ve taken the concept about as far as it’s going to go on its own. It seems likely that TVs and consoles will melt away as unique entities before too terribly long.

1. 2013 Was the Year Google Finally Turned Evil: Google and I have been on less-than-friendly terms for some time now, so you can probably guess my opinion of this one. I wish it were otherwise.

So, yeah…there wasn’t a lot this year in tech that got me excited in a good way. If “Bitcoin” was one of the biggest stories out there, then it was a slow year indeed.

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Filed under Blogging, Technology

“They trust me…”

My very first reblog.

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Filed under Blogging

Where Am I (social network edition)?

In a sense, I’ve probably been using social networks for as long as I’ve been on the internet. Since I first joined AOL in 1993 and found myself hanging out in their chat rooms, I’ve been using computers and the internet to interact with communities. Just for my own sake, and yours if you find this sort of thing interesting, I thought I’d go over what does and doesn’t work for me in the current environment.

This post clocked in at 2,500 words and it wasn’t 2,500 words worth of interesting. Here’s the TL/DR and I’ll pare it down to the more useful stuff.

Facebook: Hate it but kind of have to use it.
Google+: Dislike it but liked the community.
Twitter: Like it and use it a lot, which surprises me.
MySpace: Weird but intriguing
LinkedIn: *sigh* Shouldn’t try to be a social network
World of Warcraft: Mediocre game, good network
WordPress + RSS: The content I want, but kind of at arm’s length

(you’re welcome)

The problem with both Facebook and Google+ of them is that they’re essentially marketing plays. They’re efforts to get you to reveal as much about yourself and your friends as possible. Facebook is refreshingly open about this. They don’t have any “don’t be evil” signs; they seem to be almost gleeful in their disregard for their users’ privacy. Google+ is a little more circumspect about it, or they were, until they started using user posts as advertisements for products. It’s unfortunate. Google was a brand I had considerable trust in, and they’ve really pulled out all the stops by making G+ semi-mandatory if you want to use Blogger or YouTube or Zagat and so on.

Now, on the lower end of the bandwidth spectrum, you have Twitter. I was not impressed with Twitter when I first heard of the concept and I did not expect it to last. To my surprise, I’ve found it to be a delight and something of lasting utility to me. The simplicity and brevity of it means that I can find what interests me very quickly. Plus, it’s been fun to watch celebrities interact. I remember when Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer first started going back and forth on Twitter and it was exceedingly charming to watch. I love seen Warren Ellis and John Scalzi rib each other. Twitter’s simple, easy to use, and very accessible. Plus, I can’t deny that my inner fanboy gets all giggly when @neilhimself or @amandapalmer interact with you.

You may not think of ‘em this way, but MMORPG’s are a special kind of social network. They’re games, sure, but they’re not terribly good games. What gives them longevity, more so than compelling game play, is the community. I have dear friends whose names I don’t know and whom I’ll probably never meet in person.

I don’t really think of this space as a social network. But, when you extend it out into RSS land, then we’re getting close. I have a list of blogs I follow (the Friends of Pancakes page) and I try to stop by and contribute to discussions from time to time. I love RSS. It lets me pull the content I’m interested in rather than letting Facebook or Google+ choose it for me. I’m still ticked at Google for killing GReader.

So, that’s where I am right now, and that’s too much socializing for me. Honestly, the only networks I’m particularly active on are this and Twitter. The others are just too much to pay attention to or somewhat inaccessible. We’ll see how it evolves, but that’s the current state of play.

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19/12/2013 · 9:42 pm